Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Hard words. . .

Sermon for Epiphany 7C, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, February 24, 2019.

    Jesus speaks hard words of love in our Gospel reading; and we don’t want to listen.  “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Lk 6:27-28). … I don’t think so Jesus.  Why should I?  They don’t deserve it.  We don’t want to love our enemies; to do them good, to bless them, or even pray for them.  They don’t deserve this kind of love...but then again, neither do we. 
    We don’t deserve love.  No one does, because love isn’t earned...it’s given.  But that’s not how we see it.  For us love is earned.  Just think about it.  Who in your life do you love?  
    This past week I asked the preschoolers this very same question during chapel.  I told them to close their eyes and think about someone they loved.  Who do you think their number one answer was: MOM.  Of course, it was mom.  Almost every single child thought about mom, not dad, but mom.  Why is that?  Why do you think kids love their mom?  I didn’t ask the why, but I’m pretty sure if I did they would have said something like, “Because she plays with me,” or “Because she makes me lunch.”  For us, love is earned.  We can deny this all we want, but the truth is that’s how we view love and that’s how we operate. 
We love others because of what they’ve done for us, what they’ve given us.  Again, think about the people you love; your friends and family.  Don’t you love those who are nicer to you just a little bit more than others who are just there?  When we were teenagers, didn’t we yell “I hate you” at our parents when they wouldn’t let us do something or give us what we wanted?  This is how we work with love.  If someone is good to us, then we’ll be good to them and love them.  But if they’ve harmed us, if they’ve done us wrong, or if we simply think they’ve done something wrong; well, then they’ll get no love from us. 
This makes sense; tit for tat.  You get what you earn.  All the great action movies and TV shows that we love have heroes who’ve been wronged and seek revenge on the evil doers; giving them what they deserve.  We cheer when the bad guy gets his.  That’s how it’s supposed to be.  We can’t wrap our minds around loving someone who’s sinned against us.  We look at Joseph’s reactions to his brothers in Genesis and scratch our heads.  His brothers didn’t deserve love.  Those who’ve wronged us don’t deserve our love.  They deserve our hate and to be punished; but so do we.  We don’t deserve God’s love, and yet that’s exactly what we’ve received. 
God’s love for you is different from the love that we have.  It’s not based on anything you do.  God doesn’t love you because you’ve been good to Him.  He doesn’t love you because you’ve earned it.  No, you don’t deserve God’s love.  What you deserve is everlasting condemnation and punishment.  You’ve done God wrong.  You’ve sinned against Him in thought, word, and deed.  You’ve heard His word and you’ve actively ignored it.  You’ve trespassed and sinned against God.  This isn’t small.  It’s not simply mistakes or accidents.  Because you’re a sinner you’re an active enemy of God, opposed to Him and His will at every turn.  And because of this, the very last thing you deserve is God’s love...but He gives it to you anyways, because that’s who He is.  God is love (1 Jn 4:16).
St. Paul put it best when he said, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).  The love of God is seen in His Son, whom He gave to die in your place.  Christ received what you justly deserve, and you’re given the free gift of God.  Jesus’ sacrificed His life for yours.  He gave everything for you, so that you might be forgiven, so that the quilt of your sin might be taken away.  Jesus died so that God could take you from being His enemy and make you His beloved children.  Christ is the very definition of love.  He fulfilled those hard words of love. 
Jesus loved His enemies and did good to those who hated Him.  He blessed those who cursed Him.  He turned His cheek when the soldiers spit upon Him and beat Him.  He didn’t resist as they stripped Him naked, taking His cloak and tunic.  He prayed for those who abused Him as they nailed Him to the cross: “Father forgive them” (Lk 23:34).  All this Christ did, all this Christ endured for you, because of His love for you...not because you’ve earned it, but because God wanted you.  He did what needed to be done so that you could be saved, so that you could be His beloved child. 
    You and I, we’ve received God’s love.  You’ve received it in the cleansing waters of baptism.  You’ve received it in the freeing words of Christ’s absolution.  You’ve received it in the life-giving body & blood of Communion.  You’ve received all of this freely, by God’s grace and mercy.  God didn’t deny His love for you because of your sin…so then how can we deny God’s love to those who’ve sinned against us?  We can’t.  Since we’re God’s beloved children, we can’t help but show love to those who’ve harmed us, who’ve trespassed against us.  We can listen to those hard words of love. 
    This love is contrary to the world.  The world says, “Love those who love you and hate those you hate you.”  But if we do that, what benefit is it for us?  That’s how sinners act, that’s how our Old Adam operates.  But we’re the forgiven children of God.  We’ve been made new in Christ; and therefore, we should live like it.  Jesus calls us to “Be merciful even as [our] Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36).  This means we love like God, loving all people, even our enemies. 
This love always gives.  It helps those in need without thinking about what we might get in return.  It gives grace and mercy.  It gives forgiveness.  This love doesn’t judge and condemn.  Instead it builds up and encourages. 
Even though we don’t deserve it, God loves us.  He sent His Son to redeem us from our sins, to turn us from being His enemies into being His beloved children.  Having received this love, how can we not love others the same?  There’s no tit for tat with Christ’s love.  No judgement or condemnation.  The love of Christ drives us to act contrary to the way of the world.  Instead of revenge, we show mercy.  Instead of punishment we share grace; because that’s what we’ve received from our Father.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 

No comments: