Jabbok Dawn

Tumbling in the Sand

The Persistent God

blackjesus

The texts for Sunday, February 19, 2017:  Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18;  Psalm 119:33-40; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23; and Matthew 5:38-48

Well, this morning, we are sure confronted
in the texts with an awful lot of “to dos”
commandments to follow.

Love your enemies.
Pray for those who persecute you.
Give to those that beg from you.
Do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
Leave behind the excess, the abundance, for those in need…
Do not lie.
Do not steal.
Do not defraud.
You shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Actually, I suppose all the previous commands could be summed up by the last:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Your poor neighbor
Your rich neighbor
Your hated neighbor who you call an enemy
Your neighbor who treats you badly.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

This is quite a radically difficult set of commandments, really.
Just to pick one … it’s so hard to leave behind the excess for others. You know, we tend to keep more than we need, just in case.
Just in case there is a shortage or we figured wrong or …

And then, of course, it’s pretty nearly impossible to pray
for our enemies
and even harder to love them—

To even imagine ever actually trying to live these commands out,
I think we would have to have an entirely different view of the world
that we are taught —

I think we’d have to live with a sense of abundance rather than the scarcity that we generally believe.
We’d have to come to believe that there really is enough for everyone.
That there really is not risk that another person coming along will keep us from having what we actually need to live.

I think we’d have to live with a sense of equanimity about the world.
As Jesus says, the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous.
The sun rises on the good and the evil.
Essentially, each of us, no matter who we are or what we’ve done
stands equally before a loving and just God.
We all have the same value.

And finally, I think we’d really have to believe that everyone else are actually human beings, too.
And that might be the hardest thing to believe of all.
That those who are least like us are actually just like us.
Human. With loves and hates. Hopes and dreams.
Frustrations and sorrows.
Fears and joys.

I really think that if we could hold on to these things,
they would keep us from becoming the very thing we least want to be.

Or maybe that would be better said in the negative:

When we don’t believe in these things — that there is enough in this world, that we are all equal, and in the humanity of all — we more, often than not, find in ourselves (or find ourselves doing) the very evil that we despise in others.

To illustrate this, I want to share a story from the Dalai Lama about forgiveness and compassion.

“I believe one should forgive the person or persons who have committed atrocities against oneself and mankind. But this does not necessarily mean one should forget about the atrocities committed. In fact, one should be aware and remember these experiences so that efforts can be made to check the reoccurrence of such atrocities in the future.

I fine such an attitude especially helpful in dealing with the Chinese government’s stand of the Tibetan people’s struggle to regain freedom. Since China’s invasion of Tibet in 1949-50, more than 1.2 million Tibetans, one-fifth of the country’s population, have lost their lives due to massacre, execution, starvation, and suicide. Yet for more than four decades we have struggled to keep our cause alive and preserve our Buddhist culture of nonviolence and compassion.

It would be easy to become angry at these tragic events and atrocities. Labeling the Chinese as our enemies, we could self-righteously condemn them for their brutality and dismiss them as unworthy of further thought or consideration. But that is not the Buddhist way.

Here I would like to relate a very interesting incident. A few years back, a Tibetan monk who had served about eighteen years in a Chinese prison in Tibet came to see me after his escape to India … During the course of the meeting I had asked him what he felt was the biggest threat or danger while he was in prison. I was amazed by his answer. It was extraordinary and inspiring. I was expecting him to say something else; instead he said that what he most feared was losing his compassion for the Chinese.”

This is not only the Buddhist way, this is the way of Christ.

In recognizing the humanity of others and insisting on our own humanity we refuse to become the kind of person who creates enemies that are less than or more than human — less or more than children standing before a God of grace and love — the same as us. And therefore, redeemable, forgivable, and open to possible transformation through love.

But before we all despair at how hard this all is, especially if we are to imagine that these laws must be kept perfectly
— I mean Jesus uses that word, right? —
I want you to know that the Greek is not so harsh as the English.

Instead, in the Greek, Jesus says that we should persist, not be perfect.
We persist as our heavenly Father persists.

Love your enemies.
Pray for those who persecute you.
Give to those that beg from you.
Do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
Leave behind the excess, the abundance, for those in need…
Do not lie.
Do not steal.
Do not defraud.
You shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself—

these are perhaps less laws that must be kept
as they are practices in persistence.

Persistent resistance against evil that divides and abuses us.
Persistent resistance agains hating others and making them enemies.
Persistent resistance against the belief there isn’t enough in this world for everyone.
Persistent resistance against powers that would destroy us.

Because our God is a God who persists —
who persists in pouring out goodness and grace on all
who persists in seeking after the lost and hurting
who persists in justice for the least of these
who persists in being near the lonely
who persists —
in loving you.

Loving you with the kind of love that turned the other cheek
that went naked before the court
that carried a cross
that broke death itself
so that nothing would separate you
from the persistent
love of God
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Amen

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This entry was posted on February 22, 2017 by in Sermons and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

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