“But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you."
Love your enemies, do nice things to those who hate you, bless the ones who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…in what world does any of this make sense?
Not ours. Our world rejects stuff like this because it makes us seem weak and vulnerable. We like power, and we love to flex it every chance we get.
Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t it our world that killed Jesus for asking us to live this way? To live so loving and kind that it will cause the very foundations of our world to crumble?
Last week talked about having a choice – you could choose to be kind to someone or not. I challenged you to go out and do a random act of kindness as a way to spread God’s love, and to rattle the world we know. It was a feel good message. Who doesn’t like kindness, especially when someone is kind to you?
But then Jesus takes this idea one giant step farther; to a place we don’t often like to go so willingly. He calls us to show kindness to someone whose political views, or morals, or language is different.
He wants me to share my heart and home with people who not only don’t like me, but down right hate me? Why would Jesus do this? It’s if as if he is setting us up to get hurt, or worst, rejected?
Rarely do I find a chance to quote Bob Marley. But when I do I take. Like an ancient wise man he said, "Being vulnerable is the only way to allow your heart to feel true pleasure.”
If the godfather of reggae is correct, then maybe Jesus is telling us that we are going to have to risk being vulnerable if we want to truly live life and open our hearts to receive all its wonderful benefits.
Jesus is calling us to confront our enemy head on, and instead of retaliating with anger and harm, we are to bless them and love them. We can choose to let go of our ego and fears (as Richard Rohr calls it our ‘false self’). Or we can build walls and put on armor to protect ourselves and keep people away. Jesus calls us to be our ‘true self’ even if it means feeling defenseless from time to time.
I remember my first sermon in front of my peers at school. In spite of being totally prepared, or having years of public speaking under my belt, I was a nervous wreck. What if I messed up a word? What if my theology was wrong? What if I looked stupid or embarrassed myself? Yes, what if? Was the world going to come to an end if I did?
During the peer evaluation, I admitted what I had been feeling only to discover I was not alone. We all felt this way, afraid to vulnerable and exposed as something less than we wanted to be.
What I learned was there’s a beneficial side of vulnerability in that it can help you forge a connection with those around you. By showing people who you are – the real, faulty, bumbling you – you open yourself up to be loved and welcomed. Love is scary. But it’s also liberating and beautiful.
As researcher and author Brené Brown so famously said, “What makes us vulnerable is what makes us beautiful.” (Watch her 2010 TED talk on vulnerability here) She describes vulnerability is “allowing ourselves to be seen,” even if others might see us lacking. As my beloved wife so often tells me, “We are perfect will all our imperfections.” Jesus isn’t calling us to be perfect, just faithful. In faith we find our beauty and strength. Not ours per se, but the one who dwells in us.
So let us not fear doing what Jesus is calling us to do. Instead choose to be faithful to his words. If we set Jesus as our example, if we live as he lived and receive the same blessings from God, then that means we too also have to be vulnerable – knowing there’s a big possibility we too will be misunderstood, labeled, or worst of all, rejected.
So what if this happens? Will the world come to an end because we chose to love as he loved? Yes! Our world will and should come crashing down. Isn’t that point Jesus is always making? His way of life and love shakes the foundations of our world, so the Kingdom of God can be fully revealed!
Jesus taught us that whenever we rise above the hatred, or set aside anger, or let go of our ego’s and pettiness to embrace love, especially God’s love, a part of our world cracks and falls away. It’s like Jesus is punching holes in our walls or stealing a part of armor, piece-by-piece so others can get a good look at what God’s love is like.
To follow the way of Jesus – to live and love with such faith that not even death causes us to tremble – means to live with so much love and kindness that other’s can’t help but see God’s world revealed. That’s the beauty of being vulnerable, and the joy of having faith in Jesus. Like I tend to say, this is not an easy order. Faith, like love and kindness, takes practice.
It’s like marriage, in that it requires falling in love many times, over and over with the same person. Constantly smashing holes your heart so life’s joys and pleasures can flow in and out of you, even if it means there might be more times of giving without receiving.
A good relationship is all about letting go of your false self, even if it means you will be vulnerable or have to be a servant to all. Or to put it another way, a good relationship is knowing Kathleen is always right.
As the saying goes, “Love is not love until love is vulnerable.” No one knew this better than Jesus, who wore his heart on his sleeve. And bled it out on the cross. To know Jesus is to know that such love begins with treating others as you want to be treated; to be forgiving and merciful like God is to you.
This will no doubt leave us open to hurt. But so what? It also opens us up to love. And guess what? Love hurts! It hurts because it breaks our world apart. And hammers nails in us as God constructs a new world.
As Jesus said, anyone can love his or her spouse, or kids, or even people who show love to you. What takes faith, is to love those who hate you, and despise you and want to do you harm.
Given all the anger, rage and vitriol in our world, there are plenty of real life opportunities to put Jesus’ words to practice. And who knows what good things our love and kindness might produce.
Last week I challenged you to do a random act of kindness in your community. This week I’m challenging you to go one step further – to do something that pushes you out of your comfort zone where the only support you have is your faith in God who is faithful to you.
So I challenge you to forgive someone who has hurt you. Or to make amends with someone you have caused harm to. Be kind to the bully and the hard-hearted. Listen intently to the self-centered without judgment. Bless someone who doesn’t deserve your time muchless your blessing. Pray for an enemy.
Because the way I see it, if every heart can be smashed open…if even a small part of our walls can be penetrated…then God’s love can enter and do what it does best.
If we choose to do what Jesus is calling us to do, then how many clenched fists and angry red eyes would be left starring back at us? How many people would be left feeling scared or afraid?
Jesus isn’t setting us up to fail, or to be harmed in anyway. Instead Jesus is freeing us of our vulnerabilities, insecurities, and fears so that we can live life fully and abundantly, both now and forever.
So go out on a limb and show God’s love to someone who may or may not deserve it, go punch a hole or two in your wall or protective barrier, and be who God has made you to truly be…holy.