Sunday, September 27, 2015

Jesus: The Solid Foundation for Exceptional Love (Luke 6:46-49)... Plain Talking From Jesus: Showing Exceptional Love In LIght Of God's gracious Offer of Blessing (part 5)

The picture that goes with our service this week is of this wonderful small house balanced on top of a rock in the Drina River in Serbia.  

It sprung to prominence because of this photo by Hungarian photographer Irene Becker that made the shot of the day on the National Geographic website in 2012, you can even download it as wallpaper for your computer… and since then the river house has become somewhat of a tourist attraction.

But few people realised that it has been there for over 45 years. In 1969 a group of teenage boys spent much of the summer swimming in the river and they would haul themselves out on this rock to rest and sunbath and warm up. But while it was a peaceful place it wasn’t that comfortable. So they used the wood from a nearby abandoned shed to build a platform on the rock. Then the next year they floated and kayaked wood and building materials down the river to build the house. They still use the house for holidays, time with friends and to just get away from it all.

The rock must be solid and the house well-built because While it may look idyllic in these pictures the house has withstood storms and floods,…
…it’s been battered by torrents and the debris they hurl down flood fuelled currents, sometimes just by the skin of its teeth.  It’s a great illustration of the person in Jesus parable who builds their house on the rock, the person who builds their lives on hearing Jesus word and putting them into action… who show exceptional love in light of God’s gracious offer of blessing, the flood comes up and the storms rage against it but it remains solid.

Over the past month we’ve been working our way through Jesus sermon on the plain in Luke’s gospel. Today we come to look at Jesus conclusion: His final challenge to that large group of disciples who had gathered to hear him. He finishes with a question and a parable to illustrate what he is calling his followers to do. Again it’s one of Jesus most vivid word sketches. Again like the parables of Jesus about choosing which teacher to follow that we looked at last week it has an element of humour and absurdity about it… I mean who builds a house without a solid foundation...Right? Who calls Jesus “lord, Lord’ and then does not do what he says?… Again Jesus cuts to the chase, that at the heart of being a disciple is putting into effect the teaching of Jesus… Allowing Jesus to open our spiritual eyes and to work at changing us at a deep heart level so the fruits our lives produce will be Christ like…To Love our enemies and not to judge... That we will be merciful as our father is merciful. 

One of the charms of the river house is the way it seems to be precariously balance on top of such a small rock. It almost seems to defy gravity and our better judgement doesn’t it? I don’t think it should work but it does. Again it’s an interesting illustration of the affront of Jesus words here that the solid foundation for life is to be found in hearing and obeying him.

 AS we’d seen Jesusrevolution of grace of good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, release and liberty to the prisoner and oppressed and the declaration of the acceptable year of the Lord, had been going out to people the religious leaders of the day thought beyond God’s blessing that it had lead Jesus more and more into conflict with those religious leaders. In this sermon as well as giving ethical teaching to his followers Jesus places himself as the source of the true understanding and revelation of God. The sermon is about whose understanding of God’s character and kingdom is right. 

It’s the same challenge that Jesus gives to the world today. The person of Jesus and living by his teaching is the only way to truly know God and live a life of exceptional love. It’s kind of like asking us to build our lives on that little rock that sticks up in the river… amidst the swirl of different understandings and a current of tolerance that no one can make an exclusive claim to spiritual authority and truth.  But Jesus does. In the book of 1 Peter it talks about Jesus as the stumbling stone for many but also that the stone that the builder rejected has become the foundation stone, or the cap stone of the dwelling place of God. And Jesus stands as the contrasting rock for us, like the one in the Drina River that we either have to navigate round or land on and build upon.  NT Wright sums it up beautifully by saying;
“Jesus radical offer of new and abundant life is so all embracing and hence so all-demanding , that people try to find alternative ways. But they must be resisted, or the house will come down with a crash.”

In Jesus question about what it means to call him Lord, Lord and the subsequent parable we see that at the heart of discipleship is not knowledge but obedience, it’s not hearing but putting into action. It’s not about having the plan but doing the building. Earlier in the year we worked our way through the book of James and saw how James talks of faith and says that faith without works is dead. While historically people have taken that and wrestled with it at a deep theological level, how does it impact on the doctrine of salvation by grace not works, and they are good discussions to have, but for James it was very much like Jesus that our faith in Jesus should result in showing kindness and exceptional love. If you remember in James it was about resisting the pull of seeking status and comfort but rather to be caring for the poor and the disenfranchised. It was hearing Jesus words and putting them into practise. John Blanchard comments… (click for quote on screen)
“It is only when we add the discipleship of obedience to the raw material of truth that we have a structure that will stand the test of life.”

It is most popular to think of the floods and torrents mentioned in Jesus parable as difficulties and troubles that can enter our lives and threaten to tear it all down. We use storm and rough waters as a way of talking about those things. It is true and comforting to know that this passage says that in knowing Jesus and putting his words into action in our lives we have a solid foundation that will resist and preserve through those troubles and storms. But we can miss some other truth from Jesus words here. 

The first is that putting Jesus words into practise from this sermon give us the solid foundation for standing and withstanding floods of injustice and currents of evil in our world. In the many different pictures of the river house the one constant in drought and flood, still mornings or stormy days where you can just make it out amidst the deluge is the flow and current of the river, yet the rock and the house remain solid. The way to stand against injustice to effect change is to be about that exceptional love of Jesus.  Detrick Bonhoeffer in his letters from prison talks of ministering both to fellow prisoners and with equal compassion ministering to his captors. While he had written a famous book on Jesus Sermon on the Mount it was only in that situation that he actually learned what it meant to put Jesus words into practise… We see the impact of non-violence in the civil rights movement and Ghandi’s use of Jesus teaching in his struggle for Indian independence. On a more personal level… When we talked about lovingour enemies I used the example of John Perkins a black American pastor and activist who was beaten by the Mississippi State Troopers and yet continued to work for justice and the gospel in that state… later in life Perkins was asked how did you overcome racism and bigotry…? and he replied “

We don’t like to think of God’s judgement that often, but this parable very much picks up the wording of the prophecy in Ezekiel 13 where God talks of sending storms and floods to tear down the shonkely built religion and state of Judea, founded on the words of the false prophets. The house in Ezekiel looked good on the outside it was whitewashed, a term that has come into our vocabulary from that passage to mean a cover up, here the whitewash tried to hide the building being structurally unsound. But God sees through the whitewash, God sees to the heart and so God would send his judgement. Jesus teaching here was to a large group of disciples gathered from all over the region and it acts as a way of sifting them and us. To distinguish between those whose affirmation of Jesus Lordship is nominal, or only on the surface, and those who embrace his message and let it flow into the very heart of them to the point that it begins to flow out again  in such practises as those outlines in his sermon. It is this last group that are genuine in addressing Jesus with the words “Lord, Lord”. 

 Finally I want to briefly look at two ways this passage speaks to us today…

The first is a challenge to the church. Many commentators make a link between what Jesus is saying here and the great building project of Jesus day: Herod’s temple refurbishments in Jerusalem. In Mark’s gospel on the afternoon of Jesus triumphant entry they go sightseeing and Jesus disciples point to the wonder and splendour of the temple and Jesus says that it will be destroyed. Again it is not built on a firm foundation of obeying and living out God’s word in Christ… So it will not stand with the shift of empires. The church has built some amazing structures, both buildings and organisations. They are wonderful and amazing, some even stand the test of time. Sometimes however it is easy to see what we have built makes us seem more like the Pharisees who resisted Jesus teaching rather than Jesus and his revolution of grace. In New Zealand after the Christchurch earthquakes we have been asked to look at our buildings and our foundations to see if they are up to scratch. And it is a call for us to hear Jesus says that’s a good idea as well. It is a call to hear Paul’s call to the Corinthians that we had read out today, to look at what we have built on the foundation of Christ, or really if we are building on that foundation. Reformation and renewal and revival come from Jesus call at the end of his sermon on the plain to look to build on putting his teaching into action. 

Lastly, that Jesus speaks directly to us individually today. This concluding parable has the feel of a TV show or a film where the fourth wall is broken. Where an actor turns from his filmic reality and looks or speaks directly to the camera as if aware of who is watching. It has the feel of the picture of a boat on tossing waves in CS Lewis’s ‘The voyage of the Dawn Treader” in the Narnia series where the water in the picture begins to spill into the very room the children are in. Because Jesus question talks of calling him “Lord, Lord” and at this stage in Luke’s gospel only two people have called Jesus Lord, Peter after the great catch of fish, and the leprous man whom Jesus heals, and his saying isn’t a critique of those two. Rather Jesus is speaking in a proleptic manner (Don’t worry I didn’t know what that meant either). He is speaking forwards to all who would later call him Lord Lord… the readers of Luke’s gospel and on into this room here today… and to those who read this on my blogsite...

… On what will you build your life? Have you found the rock the solid foundation for life of hearing Jesus words and putting them into action?... 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sight Impediment, Horticultural Identificantion and Who to Follow (Luke 6:39-46): Plain Talking From Jesus: A Call To Exceptional Love in Light of God's Gracious Offer Of Blessing (Part 4)

 When we lived in Napier I had some problems with my eyes. It meant a couple of trips to wellington for operations and after that a check-up. Kris took me down in our car for the operations, but I went by bus for the check-up by myself.  I stayed with my good friend Keith and his family overnight and he took me into the clinic the next morning. The doctor decided I needed to have an injection of steroids into my eyes. The after effect of the steroid injection was that I had a white out… It was like a blizzard except the snow was in my eyeballs.  I couldn’t see a thing and wouldn’t until the drug dissolved into the fluid in my eyes. 

Keith had gone to visit one of his parishioners at the hospital while I was being seen and I don’t know how I did it but I managed to walk out of the clinic, down the stairs, clutching the handrail feeling each step with my foot and out into the carpark and off to where I thought we’d parked the car. And I stood there waiting for Keith to come back. I jumped when Keith spoke to me, because he had walked across the car park right up to me, nose to nose,  and I hadn’t seen him coming. He told me I was standing beside the wrong car and lead me to his car… we drove to a café in Newtown and he had to guide me across the road into the café and to a table. Over an hour a cup of coffee and some good conversation the café slowly came into view like it was emerging out of a deep, deep fog. After that Keith helped me to get to the wellington train station to catch a bus home.  He got me on the right bus and by the time I got back to Napier my eyes were fine again. I had to trust Keith to be my guide, I had to trust in his integrity his eye sight and in his friendship … I felt safe with him as my guide. 

Ironically that experience of blindness gave me some insight in to the parables or riddles that Jesus starts the last section of his sermon on the plains with… Can the blind lead the blind? Can you get a speck out of someone else’s eye unless you get rid of the log or plank in your own? You can judge a tree by its fruit… Some plain talking about being careful about which life guide we choose and also how the call to show exceptional love in light of God’s gracious offering of blessing calls us to have a deep change of heart that can only come, as we see next week, from Knowing Jesus listening to him and putting what he says into practise in our lives.  

The sayings of Jesus that we are looking at today are some his most vivid word pictures. We are used to thinking of Jesus words being very serious so we often miss that yes they are supposed to be funny… The blind leading the blind is absurd.  Can you imagine Keith driving me round Wellington without his glasses or simply that he was blind and I’d never noticed it. I couldn’t help think of that vintage cartoon character mr MaGoo where the humour comes from the fact that despite being as blind as a bat Mcgoo manages to bungle his way through.  Being unaware of a log sticking out of your eye…is also absurd…Can you imagine going to a doctor with a speck in your eye only to be greeted by someone whose right eye is impaled by a chair leg and he says sit still I’ll just get it with these razor sharp tweezers. Or growing a bramble bush and as summer comes to an end going down and looking to see if you’ve got grapes. It is what makes them memorable and just maybe as Jesus is saying some very serious things here that the best way to broach the subject is with humour… and it is absurd to look to the spiritually blind for guidance, to try and remove the speck from other peoples eyes when your own view is so flawed, and we do need to look for good fruit that comes from a good heart in those we let speak into our lives and lead us. 

To understand these parables we need to put them in the context of Jesus sermon. As we had been working our way through Jesus early ministry in Luke we’d seen that his revolution of grace had  reached out to those that the religious leaders of the day viewed as sinners and outcasts, it had lead Jesus further and further into conflict with them. In these saying Jesus is contrasting himself with these other teachers. AS NT Wright puts it ‘each is a about rival teachers, rival visions of the Kingdom, about solutions that leave the depth of the problem untouched.”

The blind leading the blind is a warning that those who cannot see cannot lead us. The application is that a student is not above their teacher, but when fully trained will be like their teacher. All the way through the gospel Jesus accuses the Pharisees and religious leaders of being spiritual blind to who he is and to the nature of God and his Kingdom. These spiritually blind leaders will lead the people into a ditch. They will only produce more people like themselves. We need to find a teacher and guide with faith and spiritual eyesight. It underscores the need for trustworthy and insightful guidance for life. Jesus with his display of God’s grace and mercy shows us that he is the one who can best fit that role. It’s also a challenge to his disciples because they would soon move from being simple followers to leaders, and for them then and us now we need as the book of Hebrews says to fix our eyes firmly on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith... 

The second parable Speaks very much into the way the Pharisees had focused on increasingly more minute details of the law and had missed the central and important part of God’s call to show mercy and love. They had come to focus more and more on Israel being separate and holy and had forgotten that Israel was to be the light of the world. In psychological terms what Jesus is describing is called transference, we look at the faults in others and it enables us to ignore our own inadequacies.  The heart if the Christian life is that we look at our own lives and we allow God to bring wholeness and healing to our lives and then and only then are we able to remove the speck from our brothers eye. Jesus uses the word hypocrite here, we can put on the mask of righteousness and holiness and try and maintain it by spotting the faults in others but to be a spiritual leader we need to have a deeper transformation, one that does not judge and criticise but is aware of the exceptional love they have been shown in Christ and his forgiveness and who will then use that as the lens to look and minister to others… and with love to address the specks looking for healing and wholeness.  Again it points us to Jesus as that teacher and leader, who has good eye sight who sees into the heart of human beings and can be trusted to deal with the logs and specks in our eyes.

It would be easy to think that it was just the Pharisees that has this problem of speck hunting instead of plank removing…but it is a danger for religious people and in particular the church down through the ages. The Russian Orthodox Church, so the story goes, were embroiled and consumed by a debate over vestments and clerical garb, at the time that the Bolshevik revolution occurred. They were in no position in that time to provide moral and spiritual leadership to the nation.  We have to ask, Are we just seack-ulators? Do we have tunnel vision zeroing in on the speck in each other’s eyes unaware of the plank in our own? and will we miss that revolution of God’s grace?

The third one switches metaphors from problems with impaired vision to a crash course in Horticultural identification. That you judge a tree by its fruit. A good tree will bear good fruit and a bad tree bad fruit. You can’t expect to get grapes off a brier or figs from thorn bushes.  I may have mentioned it before, but every time I read this passage I get this very bitter taste in my mouth…Because when we lived in Rotorua we had this tree in our front yard… It looked like a cheery tree… when it bloomed it looked like cheery tree blossoms and when it developed fruit they looked like cherries…Which I thought was great because the Carter family love cherries… In summer holidays when and where we can we will buy a box of them and drive along the road eating them and spitting the stones out of the sun and moon roof of our van. So I thought I’d taste these fruit and see how sweet they were… They weren’t at all… they sent my face into all sorts of contortions because of their bitterness… Yes they were nice looking fruit but it was a decorative cherry tree not an eating cherry tree. The fruit proved it…You could only tell the difference when you bit into them. Jesus says you can only tell what kind of tree it is, what kind of leader and teacher you are following, what kind of person we are, by the fruit in their and our, lives. What is in their hearts will eventually manifest itself in their lives. 

Now we need to realise that a tree only fruits at certain times and at the end of a process of growth maturing and times of flowering and blossoming and also barren times. We don’t judge people by a one off incident or a single character fault, but it’s a long process of what their life produces. In John’s gospel Jesus uses the metaphor from the old testament of the grape vine where Jesus is the vine and we are the branches and we are being pruned and tended by the gardener to produce fruit and the branches only being able to produce fruit as they abide in Jesus. It again is a call for us to look to Jesus and see the fruit of who he is and to look to and abide in him. As we’ve followed Jesus through the gospel story we see the fruit he produces good news for the poor, recovery of sight for the blind release and liberty for the oppressed, the announcement of the acceptable year of the lord, that gracious offer of blessing the mercy of God the Father being given to people, as we look forwards to the cross and we see the mercy and love of God in Jesus death to bring about our salvation, and establish the kingdom of God, the sending of the Holy Spirit on his people to continue to lead and guide us, to show us Jesus and his words. 

How does this apply to us today… There are many practical points from these three parables that help us to show exceptional love: That we need to open the eyes of our heart as we sang earlier, to allow ourselves to have spiritual insight and look with the eyes of Jesus. It may be as simple to pray and act out of the attitude” Jesus help me to see this person as you do?” The call to look at our own lives and see our blind spots and need for change and transformation and not to avoid that by looking at the specks in other people’s eyes. I try and pray when I see faults in others, Jesus show me how I need to change in that area or attitude… That we treat people like trees and look for the fruit they produce in the long and be willing to commit to tending and encouraging healthy growth. While Jesus uses the image of fig trees and grape vines, I’ve had different fruit picking jobs in my life, and sometimes like with berry picking to get to the good fruit you had to get past the thorns.  

Secondly, these vivid word sketches invite us to see a process of transformation in our lives, each parable invites us to look deeper and deeper into who we are. Exceptional love comes from more than just having our spiritual eyes opened, It invites us to go beyond simply comparing ourselves with others and the outward appearance, to being prepared to open ourselves up to the light of Christ and allow him to bring change and transformation so as we said last week we can look and act through the lens of Christ’s Love it goes right down to the heartwood, where our character and our fruit reflect that knowing and experiencing and obeying the love of Jesus. We need a change of heart. I actually believe that for Christianity to bring lasting societal change calls for us not only to work for it but to be about calling people to come to Jesus and have him change their lives. Evangelism and social justice go hand in hand...

But most importantly, in these riddles Jesus points us to himself as the guide and teacher that can be trusted. The call to show exceptional love in response to God’s gracious offer of Blessing is a call to come and to trust and to respond to the exceptional lover Jesus. How can we show such love unless we know the one who shows such love that we are led by one who shows such love, that we experience the transforming love and presence of one who shows such love, Jesus Christ. Jesus has come from the very heart of God and sees and knows it, Jesus righteousness is not a mask an act, it comes from a clear vision of the Kingdom and purposes and grace of God. The fruit that Jesus produces comes from a good and pure heart…that reflects the love and very nature of God. AS we are going to see next week the way for us to respond to that; to allow ourselves to have a clearer vision of Jesus as the mist falls from our eyes is to hear what Jesus says and to put it into practise in our lives.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Eyes Wide Open.... Judge not:Show exceptional love and again no excpetions (luke 6:36-45)... Plain Talking From jesus: The Call to Show exceptional Love in Light Of God's Gracious Blessing (Part 3)

It’s interesting how often the bible passage I’m preaching on will pop up in different places during the week…

 I opened my email on Monday morning to find a post in a Facebook group I’m part of, called Christianity discussed… it was  set up by a friend from when I worked at the university… It’s a place where people can discuss Christianity and he posts a question each week to stimulate that discussion… this week it was the verse about not judging from Matthews gospel and the question that people often ask about it… does this mean we shouldn’t judge between good and evil? Is there such a thing as good judging? 

I got Lee Child’s latest book ‘Make Me’ for Father’s Day… It’s one of my guilty pleasures that I’m a Jack Reacher fan… In a discussion in the story about a website that sells drugs to enable people to commit suicide in as painless way as possible a character says to Reacher … ‘Who am I too judge. They’re meeting a need.”  And it for me summed up the way some use this saying of Jesus in our society today… to abdicate making moral decisions.

I had the privilege of having Steve Farrelly who runs the break club in schools in Manurewa and Glen Innes speak at our Living Well retirement seminar on Friday. Steve talked about people coming to him and asking him to pray for them. He talked of being approached by a woman who is like the community leader. Her lesbian relationship had broken up and she and her young child were needing Housing New Zealand to provide them with accommodation. She asked Steve If his God could help her? Steve's an honest guy and  dmitted to us that  his theology got a bit challenged by this and he wondering if God could… But decided he would not judge and would leave it up to God to decide… So said he’d pray for her. She said great let’s do it now… Steve prayed for her to get a house in the middle of a school playground with the kids swirling around them. That afternoon she got a phone call and was in a place right away. Steve says since then people have said well justmaybe Steve's God can help me... That sounds like the way people responded to Jesus revolution of grace as well doesn't it?
 ‘Judge not’ is one of Jesus most well-known sayings and its one that we do wrestle with understanding and applying in our lives.  So this morning I want to unpack this plain talking from Jesus. How does this fit into the sermon on the plain and Jesus call to show exceptional love in light of God’s gracious offer of blessing? In what ways can we apply it in our lives that will enable us to follow his footsteps more clearly?

 This may sound like rather a strange place to start but…Sometimes giving titles to sections in our Bible’s is not helpful. We can split up parts that actually go together and while the titles are there to help with understanding they can get in the way. This is one instance where it happens…. The Niv splits this off from whats gone before but in Luke Jesus teaching on “Do not judge” fits with Jesus teaching on love your enemy that we looked at last week.  It’s not a new section. While Luke is a gentile and a greek, the thought structure of this sermon is very Jewish… It is a saying of Jesus. The main point is in the middle and then on either side of that is teaching that mirrors each other.  In this case the central important focus is ‘be merciful just as your father is merciful…  and as Joel  Green summarises the command to judge not is nothing but the command to love ones enemies stated negatively ‘. It follows the same logic as Luke’s version of the beatitudes where to help people understand each blessing is mirrored in a corresponding woe. ”blessed are the poor, theirs is the kingdom of God, woe to the rich, you have already received your comfort… “ Love your enemies, do not judge.

 Leading up to Jesus sermon Jesus ministry had been to show mercy and God’s blessing and liberation to people that the religious people of his day had written off as being outside and beyond the scope of who was acceptable to God, of who could be blessed by God. They had judged them… It lead Jesus revolution of grace more and more into conflict with the religious leaders of the day, in this section of his sermon Jesus is telling his disciples that they should be like their father rather than the religious leaders around them.  Not to judge but to show mercy and forgiveness and generosity to all.

 To judge not is not a command against discerning what is right, but not to write people off.   Jesus follows it up by saying do not condemn, forgive, be generous these are all a reflection in our life of the Love that the Father has shown us in Jesus Christ. God loves us, God does not write us off, god forgives, god generously blesses …  at the centre of the gospel message… God sent his only son into the world not to judge and write us off but to save us and restore us to wholeness in Christ. The mercy and justice of the father is shown most clearly in the cross. In fact In John’s gospel john says Jesus did not come to condemn but that we condemn ourselves by walking away from that great offer of grace and love in Christ.   NT Wright comments on this passage by saying this is a list of instructions based on which God you believe in… a gloomy God, a penny pinching God a God who only came to make life more difficult and salvation near impossible… or a God that is gracious and generous and willing to forgive and how we live is how we reflect that belief to the people around us.

 There is a wonderful picture here of the generosity of God in showing mercy…in this passage. Where Jesus uses the picture of a grain merchant in the market place who is not only not stingy but unfair to himself in his generosity. Grain merchants would use a measure to sell to the public. The picture here is of a grain merchant not just being willing to fill a container but after it has been filled to the top pressing the grain down to make sure that the air pockets and spaces between the grains are compressed so the container is full, but more than that instead of simply then filling it to be level with the top continues to pour out more until it is heaped up and spilling down the sides. This is the generosity that God shows, and this is how we too should show generosity and love to others. Rather than to be stingy with God’s love and limit it to those we judge as being deserving of God’s kindness and ours.

We find it hard to deal with the way that Jesus says we will be treated in the same way as we treat others in this section. If we see this section of the sermon mirroring Jesus earlier teaching on love your enemies then to judge least you be judged is a negative application of 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. It is true that the person who is harsh and critical in the treatment of others will find that people are likely to treat them in the same way, likewise generosity and kindness can be contagious.   It hard to say it but also to judge and not love and not forgive just might be like holding a mirror up that shows we do not have the love of God in our hearts’.

 Jesus follows this further reflection on loving ones enemies with two parables. They are part of another section of his sermon looking at choosing carefully which teacher you will follow, but they help us to understand Jesus teaching on not judging.  They both have to do with spiritual eyesight. The blind leading the blind and someone trying to remove a speak from someone’s eye without being aware of a log in their own. We’ll look at them a bit more fully next week, but they speak to us of the fact that to judge we actually need to have our eyes wide open and un affected by any impediment. We are limited in seeing the outside of human beings or just the little bit they will allow us to see of who they really are, but God looks on the heart and sees the all and is still merciful and generous and kind. We look with very human eyes and categories and understanding, but God who is merciful looks and see all, sees with the eyes of Christ.

 Ok how does that work itself out in the world today… I’ve thought of that mainly in terms of our celebrating humanity as God’s creation today… a couple of big scale things…

… One of the ways we judge each other in the world today is along racial lines… This passage speaks to us in a world where we wrestle with racism and racial stereotyping that in God’s kingdom we are to show exceptional love. The church is to be a place where all are welcomed and valued… It is one of the biggest challenges for us in our increasingly multi-cultural twenty first century how we can be a truly multi-cultural family together. It is going to take not judging, forgiveness, generosity of spirit and resources, dominant cultures learning to give away space and time and power. It’s a jounrey I think we are just starting along and we can’t afford to live in a city or society where Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week…

Secondly, We are called in scripture to make moral judgements weather something is right or wrong. In some cases that is a hard and exacting and challenging process. We can find ourselves going against the flow of popular belief and society as a whole. But that does not mean that we do not show kindness and compassion and seek justice for people we disagree with or believe do those wrong things.  Gay marriage is one such issue for me at the moment… I believe that God’s design for the expression of human sexuality is within the confines of a loving mutual marriage between a man and a woman, but I am pleased to see that we have addressed some of the injustices those in long term same sex relationships faced. That they can be recognised as next of kin…that they share some of the benefits and the responsibilities that we have in our secular democratic society. It is a hard road as well but we are called to journey with people with some sex attraction in what it means to be a follower of Jesus and true brothers and sisters in Christ… It is a journey I think we are only beginning a church in western society to walk. It is a road of sacrificial love, it one that will call us to put into practise as a church that wise saying…In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty, and in all things love.

 Lastly, I found this wonderful line drawing by Peter Berkin called ‘Eyes wide open’ which he graciously allows people to use and copy which sums up Jesus teaching about loving enemies and not judging in terms of our vision. That we view people with love in our eyes… no not that batter your eyelids, pupil expanding stare for a long time and longingly into someone’s eyes, with a goofy smile on your face and that pounding, pounding in your heart.... your breath getting heavier... as you lean in and... well not that kind of love in youeyes rather the lens of the exceptional love God has shown us in Christ.  I am always aware that we have tactile learners amongst us, so I’m going to invite us to finish today with an illustration of what this means. I’d like to  invite you to make some binoculars with your hands shaped like a heart and to look through it. We don’t judge because we look with the love of Christ. WE don’t write off but show exceptional love no exceptions… we show kindness, forgiveness and generousity as we would want to be shown, as God has shown us...

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Call To Exceptional Love... No Exceptions: jesus says Love Your Enemies (Luke 6:27-36)... Plain Talking From Jesus (part 2)

John Perkin’s brother was unjustly killed by a white police officer in Mississippi in 1947… sadly things don’t seem to have changed much, do they?… Perkin’s grew up in a closed society that economically oppressed and worked at dehumanising  black people. Having left for California to find a better life he became a Christian and felt God’s call to go back to the south with a message of salvation, reconciliation and God’s Kingdom… His Christian faith lead to him be involved in the civil rights movement and in 1970 he was ambushed and himself beaten and tortured by Mississippi State Police troopers. In the forward to his biography “Let Justice Roll Down” he says  ‘our story is not one of bitterness-it is a story of love and the triumphs of God’s Love… He continued to work for reconciliation between white and black as equals in the south… But he is very honest and real about the difficult challenge of Jesus call to love your enemies.

“for repentance and forgiveness to work in my life,” He said “God had to see me through months of agony and pain after being beaten almost to death. The Lord had to lead me through great times of soul-searching. And it wasn’t until I could look at a Mississipi Highway Patrolman; fully uniformed and ready for service, and look at him without feeling a sense of bitterness, that I could really begin to relate my faith in a creative way to the task of reconciliation and evangelism.- I have overcome that sense of bitterness, in my own heart-even through it was caused by my enemy, God had to replace it with His love.”

In the sermon on the plain Jesus calls his disciples to show exceptional love in light of God’s gracious blessing. In some plain talking from Jesus, in his most well know and radical ethical teaching, he says and there are no exceptions… “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you…”. A call that echoes down through history, in the face of suffering, persecution, injustice and sounds in our world today, be it in the Middle East, where despite concerns of a genocide of Syrian and Iraq Christians other middle eastern Christians sacrificially care for Muslim refugees displaced by the same war and terror. We need to hear and see that example as western countries and open borders, doors and homes to these same people… And It sounds in our own lives as we face people and situations that while maybe not as harsh still batter at us and challenge our resolve to live as followers of Jesus.

Jesus had started his sermon with a list of blessings and woes that we looked at last week that outlined the gracious offer of God’s Blessing to the poor, the hungry, the sorrow filled and the persecuted. An offer that summed up his ministry and mission of liberation and restoration, that spoke hope to those wrestling with poverty pain grief and injustice and gave his disciples the assurance that they could love extravagantly and exceptionally and generously because God can be trusted to care for and bless them.  Now with the words ‘but to you who are listening’ he starts a new section, in the context his focus is on that group of disciples that had come from many different regions. This is how they were to act. They are to love their enemies, do good to those who hate them, bless those who curse pray for those who persecute you.

It shows us that Christian love is not about feelings or emotions as much as an active expression of grace and kindness to others. It is not that feeling you feel when you feel the felling you’ve never felt before, but rather concrete expressions of kindness and grace. Do good, bless, pray… and Jesus gives a series of other practical examples from everyday Jewish life

If someone slaps you, turn the other cheek. This has been very prominent in the non-violet protest movement, not striking back. We may not meet with physical violence, but the slap in Jewish culture was an insult more than a physical assault. In our own culture the slap of words on our hearts can sting as much as a slap on the cheek. ‘shot’s fired is a term for such words that’s gaining some traction at the moment and you know it’s hard not to return fire, to want to lob devastating retorts back… But Jesus says turn the other cheek. No it’s not that we accept being a punching bag never that, but are committed to a relationship with that person which leaves us vulnerable to further insults. In light of the history of the early church it could also be seen as referring to being thrown out of the synagogue, ostracised by Jewish society and the Christians were prepared to still reach out to love these people. 

If some takes your coat, is about the Jewish legal system where a coat could be taken as collateral on a loan or debt, but it had to be returned to the person at night, when it got cold… and you couldn’t take the undershirt. In the book of Amos in the Old Testament the prophet talks of the rich celebrating religious festival while sitting on the cloaks of the poor that they have taken and not returned. It’s hard to translate into today but it has the idea of not simply doing what we are legally demanded or expected to do, but rather be willing to go beyond that even if it is a matter of sacrifice for us. Matthew gives the illustration of Jesus response to the Roman law requiring a person to carry a roman soldier’s load for a kilometre and Jesus saying…go the extra mile.

Give to anyone who asks, speaks of being willing to be generous it’s not about what we can get back in return. Ancient near eastern society was built on a system of reciprocity… That you would give with the expectation that you receive something in return. Not just in terms of a loan, but in terms of patronage. Jesus calls us to show love that goes beyond that system. In fact he pays close attention to that with a series of questions about lending and showing hospitality and goodness only to those who will pay you back? What credit does that do us? Even the sinners and pagans do that… It’s not exceptional love rather its expect-ional love. I expect something in return. You could call it cupboard love… We should not expect things back. After that series of questions he reiterates his call to love your enemies and ties it into the list of beatitudes that has gone before, our reward is not in the good life but the God life. It is God who blesses us and give us our reward. 

Jesus sums up this kind of love with two ethical motivations

The first has become known as the golden rule… that we should do to others as you would have them do to you. And to follow that rule says John Blanchard will be to guarantee warm-hearted, generous, thoughtful, sacrificial kindness and that is love at its best”. Exceptional love no exceptions. In Matthews gospel Jesus saying to love your enemies is presented in a way that it is to correct the religious thinking of the day. People were quite happy to obey the command to love your neighbour as yourself. But they had added the expression ‘but hate your enemy’. In fact some were wanting to limit who they should be good to by qualifying and quantifying it, remember the parable of the good Samaritan was given in response to the question “but who is my neighbour?”, in that case Jesus explained it as anyone with a need. Here Jesus correct the understanding of the command to love you neighbour as yourself by defining the neighbour as simply the other, the other is to be loved as we would love ourselves.

The second ethical motivation is the very nature of God.  God is merciful and kind to those who are wicked and ungrateful and therefore we should be merciful as our father is merciful. The family resemblance is not shown in facial similarities after all no one has seen God but in a similarity of character. This again leads us to the cross… to the great mercy of God shown in sending his son into the world to bring about reconciliation between humanity and himself, to pay the debt we could not pay. To seek and save the lost, while we were yet sinners.

Anglican bishop Festo Kevingere was forced to flee from his homeland of Uganda because of the very real danger of death at the hands of the tyrannical dictator Idi Amin. He wasn’t even able to attend the funeral of his good friend arch bishop Janani Luwumu who killed at a meeting at Amin’s palace… a meeting called because the bishops had spoken out about Amin’s crimes… Festo known as the Billy Graham of Africa later wrote in a book called ‘I Love Idid Amin’,  "On the cross, Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, because they know not what they do.' As evil as Idi Amin is, how can I do less toward him?" “ be merciful” said Jesus “just as your father is merciful”.

How does this apply to us today?A few thoughts.

Firstly, can I say that it does not mean that we become punching bags, door mats, seen as glorified sanctified bottomless ATM machines for the unscrupulous? This is not passive acceptance of evil or injustice, rather it is strong love. It is the power of God to bring change and transformation in this world. Paul sums it up in Romans by saying “do not return evil for evil, but rather overcome evil with Good”. In the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says blessed are the meek for they will inherit the world. We have often mistaken meek to mean weak. But as I’ve said before Meekness is about the whole of our strength being harnessed for the common good, the best good of others, God’s vision of the kingdom of God and justice and not being distracted or turned aside by insult or injury or thought of personal prosperity or protection. The image that often goes with that is the Clydesdale horse perfectly trained to pull a great weight where its master directs, all its strength harnessed to the task, and its blinkered so it is focused on that task and not distracted. 

Secondly, As the church we can often have that expect-ional love mentality… We do mission with the expectation that people will come to church. But we are called to love exceptionally… sacrificially… like with Jesus that the power would go out from us to bring healing and wholeness because of the passion of God, and in the compassion of God. The flip side of that is that is that we need to remember that sharing that exceptional love is also sharing the story of the exceptional lover and we can forget that that is the most loving thing that we can do for people.

Lastly, when we look at this passage of Jesus to love your enemies its easy and inspirational to look at the great examples in extreme circumstances but that isn’t always helpful in everyday life is it? So I thought I’d just finish with some very practical advice from Leonard Sweet’s book soulsalsa. Four daily  practices of humility that Sweet says help us to show God’s mercy and grace to the people around us. Just as we have been shown that mercy and grace… (click for each one to come up on PowerPoint)

I have no right to critique someone if I can’t celebrate them first. Celebration comes before critique.

I should not argue with anybody until I can state their position back to them in a way that they approve. Understanding and empathy are the starting point of love and  comes first.

Listen to friends for confidence and courage but listen to enemies for wisdom and information. Our enemies are human being as well that we can learn from them.

I recognize it’s my choice…Will I spread compliments or complaints?