Vaughn Crowe-Tipton relates to this passage like many of us might. He writes, “Congregations respond to this text in the same way my children respond to seeing cook spinach on their plate at dinner. No matter how much I explain the nutritional value, no one around the table really wants to dig in.”
Even someone who loves Jesus as much as I do can have trouble swallowing these words. Even with the spiritual nourishment I long for, it’s hard for me to take that first bite. These words are difficult to hear, and even more difficult to do. But in ignoring them, I think we miss out on something much bigger.
Jesus isn’t just giving us a list of rules, but a way of life that is grounded in the way of God. Before we look at them, I want to remind us of something Jesus said in John’s gospel.
He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you know my Father. And from now on you do know him and have seen him.” Jesus’ ministry was all about showing us who God is.
Unfortunately, this passage has been weaponized by religious leaders in the past. But I don’t think Jesus wants us to have more religious doctrine. He’s merely telling us…if you want to know the way to God, to know God’s truth, then look at what he does and do it.
Then you will discover what life is really about. Thus, the Apostle Paul kept one consistent message in all of his writings: “Be imitators of Christ.”
Through him we find God. And by mirroring him others might to. This often means entering into those spaces where there are people who disagree with you, despise you, and downright hate you. Enter those spaces between and ask yourself, “What will it take me to be like Jesus in this situation right now?”
This takes us back to Luke’s gospel, where the Message translates it like this. “Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then take the initiative and do it for them first. Because the effort you make can inspire others to do the same.”
That’s the one thing I want us all to remember this week: Take the initiative to be like Jesus. Love. Help. Bless. Give. This is what the Kingdom of God is all about. Not only will you get out what you put in. But sometimes you might get more than you could ever imagine.
Think of it like this: If you want to live in a peace-filled world, then bring your peace in the world. And more peace will follow. But if you pick on someone, expect to be picked on. If you judge, you will be judged. If someone harms you or steals from you, Jesus says don’t retaliate because it will only produce more of the same. But just as violence begets more violence. Generosity begets more generosity.
Again, I don’t think he’s telling us what to do as much as he is inviting us to participate with him in the Kingdom of God. Here in Anamesa, we are given a choice. We can love our enemies, or we can hate them. We know what choice Jesus made.
Here in this sacred space between hate and love, we can pray for those who want to harm us or we can curse them. Jesus didn’t choose the easy way out. Instead of holding on to anger and resentment, he made the harder choice to forgive and show mercy. In all the ways of Jesus we see how God works to redeem the world.
But what will the world see in us? Especially we who take the name of Christ as our identity?
We might not be perfect or even very good at doing these things Jesus asks. Yet he calls us into the world to live out our God-created identity all so others will come to see what they are made of. As followers of Christ, we are to carry the light of Divine love in every nook and cranny of life.
This is imperative now more than ever because it’s in the many spaces of Anamesa, nations and politics threaten the spirit of love. Racism and nationalism are frightening away our spirit of unity. And bigotry and apathy are weakening our spirit of generosity.
That old song was right, there really is a thin line between love and hate. And yet, this is where our Lord has placed us to be who God made us to be. We are God’s beloved. Jesus wants us to start acting as if we believe that is true.
Through Christ, we have been given God’s Spirit …our holy wingman that pushes us out of our comfort zone and nudges us into loving, caring, blessing, and giving – with no strings attached. This is the way, to the truth and life of God’s love that has been given to us, and to all.
It doesn’t matter the color of your skin, where you were born or who you love. It doesn’t matter what politic or religious affiliation you embrace. The Holy Spirit weaves us all together in the space between all our differences because God has made us all one together no matter where or who we are.
Scripture tells us that we are all made in God’s divine image. The same image as Jesus. Like him, we were filled with the same breath of God, to reflect God’s love in the flesh.
Desmond TuTu wrote, “We are each a God-carrier, a tabernacle of the Holy Spirit, indwelt by God the holy and most blessed Trinity. To treat one such as less than this is not just wrong, it is veritably blasphemous and sacrilegious.” This is what makes it possible to love those who hate us.
The way I see it, the world doesn’t need more religion. It needs more love. Because love is the way that leads us to God. The more we put in, the more we get out. We know how much God was willing to give. God went all in. And so did Jesus. Now it’s up to us. We know what to do because we know what Jesus did.
In closing I want to share a little text exchange I had with Rev Dawn on Friday while I was working on this message. It was a simple question: “What are you up to?” And my answer was simply “Trying to keep busy so I didn’t fall behind.”
In her infamous wisdom she shot back, “Aren’t we always behind?” While I know she was talking about our workload, it got me thinking about something else Jesus said.
Again, the Message translation says this. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. Follow me and I will show you how.” This is what faith is all about. Falling behind and following the one who leads us home into God’s heart.
Loving. Caring. Blessing. Giving. These are the footsteps of Christ we are called to step into. It might sound difficult, but the reason for this is simple. You might be the person who needs those things one day. The measure we give…will be given back in life-giving ways that only God is capable of producing.
Jesus has called us to be a new community where God’s unconditional love is the standard by which all things are measured. This is true in the space between you and me, just as it is between us and them.
I would challenge you to set an intention this week to practice living into your divine best. Start each morning by praying, “Lord help me love like you today.” Then go out and live it as if you mean it.
Jesus said, if you do this… “your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High.”
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”