“The Glory of Our Faith: To Love As Jesus Loved” Feb. 24, 2019
“The Glory of Our Faith: To Love as Jesus Loved”
1 Corinthians 15:35-38,42-50
From the Jewish website Aish.com I found this little gem about forgiveness. Rabbi Epstein was giving his Yom Kippur sermon about forgiveness and during his speech he asked his congregation, “how many of you have forgiven your enemies?” About half held up their hands. He then rephrased his question, “how many of you want to forgive your enemies?” Slowly, every hand in the congregation went up, except for one. Little old Sadie Horowitz.
“Mrs. Horowitz?” inquired the Rabbi, “are you not willing to forgive your enemies, especially on this Day of Atonement when God forgives us all?” “I don’t have any enemies” Mrs. Horowitz replied, smiling sweetly.
“Mrs. Horowitz, that is most impressive. How old are you?”
“Ninety-eight,” she replied
“Oh Mrs. Horowitz, what a blessing and a lesson to us all you are. This is remarkable. Would you please stand up and in front of this congregation tell us all how a person can live ninety- eight years and not have an enemy in the world?”
Little old Mrs. Horowitz got up slowly, smiled, faced the congregation, and said “I outlived all those old yentes, that’s how.”
This will be our 7th week in the season of Epiphany – that is the time period between January 6th and Ash Wednesday. And during this time, we have read from the prophets Jeremiah & Isaiah, we have read from Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth, have looked at the Psalms of David, and have visited again the early ministry of Christ as told in the gospel of Luke. This is normal stuff for this time of year, but this time around I have tried to preach these timeless scriptures with a different twist. I have looked at them as a way to explore our faith: our individual faith, our faith as a congregation, and our faith as United Methodists. And it’s been challenging – challenging because rethinking our faith will always require a certain level of honesty that, well…is not always that comfortable.
For example, while reading the 2nd part of the well known “Sermon on the Plain” in the gospel of Luke, it occurred to me how easy it is for us to dismiss the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” – hmm. “If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer them the other one as well. If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt either.” Wonderful sentiments, don’t you think? But honestly, it just ain’t going to happen; not for those of us who live in the real world. And so – let’s be honest – we dismiss them. We blow them off, and we do that in a few different ways. One of my favorite Lutheran theologians, David Lose, explains is best, and I’m paraphrasing here:
“We might dismiss it by assuming Jesus is setting us up with an impossible command, forcing us to admit our need, sin, brokenness, or whatever and driving us to the good news of Jesus’ promise of forgiveness and grace. (I’ll admit I think of this as the Lutheran option.) Or we might dismiss it as the naïve instructions of a dreamer, someone whose head was always in the clouds, someone who clearly didn’t understand how the world really works. And sometimes we dismiss it by assuming we actually follow it pretty well (which, of course, takes a fair amount of self-delusion) which in turn gives us the responsibility, burden (and, I suspect, secret delight) of making sure every one else is following it.” End quote.
Let’s face it: when Jesus told his disciples to love their enemies and do good to those who do them rotten, he was telling us as well. These commands – these rules – will drive us to distraction. They’re naïve, ineffective, and downright confusing. /// But what if? What if these aren’t commands at all, but instead are a promise? The promise, essentially, that it doesn’t have to be this way. That there is another option. That we can treat others the way we want to be treated. Mr. Lose goes on to say, “That there is enough, more than enough – love, attention, food, worth, honor, time – to go around. That no matter how hard you play by the rules of the world you’re still trapped in the death and the loss that is part and parcel of this world, but that this world isn’t the only one.” Jesus isn’t offering us a set of rules for how to live in this world, he’s inviting us to live in his world, in his kingdom; he’s inviting us to live in his glory. He’s inviting us to love as Jesus loves with the promise that it will change the world. To love the unlovable, to forgive the unforgivable – that’s crazy talk. It’s radical, it’s out of line, but one of the greatest gifts of our faith is that that kind of love is still possible. That’s a promise.
I’d like to leave you with a story submitted by Ray Cazis about the power of forgiveness. “Corrie ten Boom and her family resisted the Nazis by hiding Jews in their home during WWII. They were ultimately discovered and sent to a concentration camp. Corrie barely survived until the end of the war; her family members died in captivity. Seared by this terrible trial by fire, Corrie’s faith in God also survived, and she spent much of her time in the post-war years traveling in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, sharing her faith in Christ. On one occasion in 1947, while speaking in a church in Munich, she noticed a balding man in a gray overcoat near the rear of the basement room. She had been speaking on the subject of God’s forgiveness, but her heart froze within her when she recognized the man. She could picture him as she had seen him so many times before, in his blue Nazi uniform with the visored cap—the cruelest of the guards at the Ravensbruck Camp where Corrie had suffered the most horrible indignities, and where her own sister had died. Yet here he was, at the end of her talk, coming up the aisle toward her with his hand thrust out. “Thank you for your fine message,” he said. “How wonderful it is to know that all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”
Yes, Corrie had said that. She had spoken so easily of God’s forgiveness, but here was a man whom she despised and condemned with every fiber of her being. She couldn’t take his hand! She couldn’t extend forgiveness to this Nazi oppressor! She realized that this man didn’t remember her—how could he remember one prisoner among thousands?
“You mentioned Ravensbruck,” the man continued, his hand still extended. “I was a guard there. I’m ashamed to admit it, but it’s true. But since then, I’ve come to know Jesus as my Lord and Savior. It has been hard for me to forgive myself for all the cruel things I did but I know that God has forgiven me. And please, if you would, I would like to hear from your lips too that God has forgiven me.” And Corrie recorded her response in her book:
I stood there—I whose sins had again and again been forgiven—and could not forgive. It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it. I knew that. It was as simple and as horrible as that. And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. And so, woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me.
And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, and sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. “I forgive you, brother,” I cried. “With all my heart!”
For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.”
(Lk 6:27) Jesus tells us, But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. This is the glory of our faith, this is the glory of being the church: that we can love as Christ loves.
Amen & Shalom