February 24, 2019
As I was preparing for today’s sermon, I was introduced to a short story by Flannery O’Connor. For those of you that do not know who Flannery O’Connor is, she grew up in Savanah, Georgia and was shaped by the thoughts of the south in the early twentieth century.
The short story that I encountered is called Revelation, and it details the visit of Ruby Turpin and her husband Claud to the local doctor’s office. The conversation that ensues among those waiting to see the doctor are ones that you may expect to hear in the south in the middle of the twentieth century. There is also much self-talk as Ruby looks around the room and nearly rejoices that she is better than almost everyone else that is waiting. For this she is thankful, and she could not decide if she had to choose, whether she would be better off being born as white trash or from African descent. I will admit, reading this story in 2019 made me a little squeamish, yet I also remembered when it was written. The scene in the doctor’s office concludes with Ruby being attacked and called a “wart hog from hell.”
As I read this short story, I was feeling almost as confused as reading our gospel lesson from Luke. Jesus challenges his listeners by telling them the very thing that they least likely want to do. I am sure that we could agree with this. You want us to love our enemy? Offer to let someone to strike the other cheek after they have assaulted us? Give to everyone who begs? These commands seem nearly impossible.
However, the grace and love of God tips the world upside down as we are challenged to do the very things that do not appear to come naturally.
In spite of this, we are still challenged. The news as of late has been rampant with things that we should not approve of, however, we are still supposed to love those people. Those that appear racist and benefit from their own perceived superiority? How about those that sexually assault others; are they supposed to get a free ride? We can review history and point out all the ill-fit leaders that killed millions and ruled with iron fists, and yet are these are still the people that Jesus wants us to love?
It is easy for certain pastors to fill stadiums to preach sermons that are easy to listen to and sound more like self-help lectures. If Jesus were to preach like this, the course of Christianity as we know it would have been drastically changed. Jesus does not sugar coat it though. He addresses what we need, not what we want to hear. The trouble arises, when we think we are all good. Like Ruby, praise be to God that we are who we are, and we are not that person over there.
Jesus’ words should wake us up. “These words cut across the grain of the natural response to perceived enemies of those who may curse what we value. ‘Do to others as they do to us’ may not be golden, but in reality it is the rule by which life should be lived.” Jesus has set the bar too high! How can we expect to reach the commands that he has preached?
Jesus calls us to love! What if we did not look at this sermon from Jesus as commands, but rather as a promise? A promise of what is being done in this world. A promise of the kingdom of God coming and residing in our very world. A promise that we do not have to hold grudges or keep score of who did what to wrong us.
When we cannot live up to the expectations of a command, we quite often find ourselves living in fear of not being able to follow the command. Fear of what may happen to us. However, with a promise, we encounter grace and love that is unbounding. It is that same grace and love that Jesus wants us to share with others. We are to forgive. David Lose shared in his commentary this week, “each time we forgive each other, are we not interrupting the cause and effect laws of this world. I mean love deserves love, hate deserves hate, deeds both good and bad should be repaid in kind, force must be returned with force, violence begets violence, and so on and so on. And yet when you forgive, you interrupt this endless cycle and create something new.” Within that forgiveness lies the love of Christ.
The love that Jesus speaks of here does not mean a romantic love, liking, or even friendship. This love, agape, is a whole-hearted, unreserved, unconditional desire for the well-being of the other. In this love we do not hesitate. We do not worry about what it is going to cost us, and we do not worry about being paid in return. In agape love, our desire is purely in the well-being of the other. While we may dislike our enemies, because after all they are our enemies, Jesus challenges us to still desire their well being and in that, maybe a true relationship will be planted.
Ruby frets over the pronouncement by a random stranger, a perceived enemy, that she is a “warthog from hell.” A church going woman, how can someone call her such a thing. She then has a vision. A vision of a parade marching to heaven with those that she assumed were lower in importance than her getting into heaven first! She was in line as well, but at the end. How could those she looked down upon get into heaven first? It is here that Ruby found what it truly meant to love and experience the grace of God. For that, all she could hear were the shouts of Hallelujah.
pray. God of grace, you call us to love our enemies and at this we often grit
our teeth. May we immerse ourselves in your Son, Jesus Christ, to truly learn what
this means and be changed through your endless grace. Amen.
 Charles Bugg. Feasting on the Word, Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C Volume 1. (pg 382).