Luke 6:27-38 (Epiphany 7C)

St. John, Galveston 2/20/2022

Rev. Alan Taylor

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today’s message is based on the Gospel reading from Luke 6. It isn’t really odd or unusual to hear Jesus calling us to love one another. After all, He said elsewhere that love is the fulfillment of the Law. It’s the fulfillment of God’s Commandments. “Love the Lord, your God (He said), with all of your heart, mind, body and soul. And love your neighbor as yourself.” Which is to say, keeping God’s commandments isn’t simply about your actions, what you do or what you don’t do. Rather, it’s about your heart, whether or not you do what you do out of love for God and love for your neighbor. It is with that understanding of the commandments, that St. Paul later went on to say, “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

So, my assumption is that it doesn’t really strike any of us as odd or unusual to hear Jesus call us to love another. But, the thing is, here in Luke 6, He calls us well beyond our comfort zone, which is to love those who love us, to a zone that we likely find terribly uncomfortable, even impossible at times. He says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” He goes on to say, “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.”

The reason these words of Jesus are so hard for us is that loving our enemies is a completely unnatural thing for us to do. I mean, do you find it easy to love those who hate you, or to bless those who curse you, or to pray for those who abuse you? Or, is it more to your liking to collect debts in life, to do everything in your power to make people pay for what they owe you? These are, of course, rhetorical questions. But, they are important questions because they show us that what God commands is beyond our ability to accomplish. He sets the bar so high, not to frustrate us and to drive us away from Him, but to drive us away from ourselves. 

The fact is, God often calls us in life to the impossible. Even faith itself, trust in God, the call to love Him with our whole heart, mind, body and soul, is impossible for us. Over and over again, the Scriptures tell us that the things of God are spiritually discerned, and therefore, it is the Holy Spirit who must change our hearts from unwilling to willing. As St. Paul said, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” Since the things of God are folly to us and since they are discerned spiritually, it is, “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

God often calls us in life to the impossible. To trust in Christ is impossible for us, but with God, “all things are possible.” The call to love your enemies as yourself is a part of that call too. The impossibility of it is all too clear to us. Our hearts are so often fractured and broken, they’re damaged from years of abuse and hurt. Even more, they’re scarred by sin and evil. So, how are we to begin to love our enemies and to bless those who have cursed us and to pray for those who have abused us?

Well, at the end of this section of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus directed His disciples, and us, to the power that enables us to do those things that are impossible for us, including loving our enemies. He says, “(God) is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Elsewhere in the Bible, we’re told that “we love because He first loved us.” As it is with love, so it is with mercy. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

As I’ve said before, when we view our sin and our sinfulness as relatively insignificant, we also tend to think of the Gospel in a similar way. In other words, people who see themselves as only slightly sinful, also see themselves as only needing a small measure of God’s grace and forgiveness in Christ Jesus. Conversely, as we come to realize and confess our utter lostness apart from Christ, we see just how amazing God’s grace and forgiveness in Christ are toward us. 

St. Paul reminds us of where we came from before we found ourselves standing in this grace and forgiveness of God. “Consider your calling, brothers (he says): not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” 

Martin Luther once said, “when I look at myself, I don’t see how I can be saved. But when I look at Christ, I don’t see how I can be lost.” The power to love our enemies doesn’t come from us, from deep down in our hearts. Rather, it comes from outside of us, from Christ, who loved us, who loved you unto death, even death on a cross. The mercy that God showed to us, to you, in giving His only-begotten Son to die for you, is the mercy that can, by God’s grace, flow from you to others, even to your enemies. 

“God (says Jesus) is kind to the ungrateful and evil.” Two men stood before God one day to pray. One of them said, “I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this (man who is here with me today praying). I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’”

The other man stood humbly before God. In fact, he wouldn’t even lift up his eyes to heaven. He just stood there, beating his breast in contrition and remorse. He said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Unlike the first man, who saw himself as worthy of God’s love and mercy, this man knew that if he were to receive anything, anything at all from God, it would have come from God’s kindness.  

The story I just told you also comes from Luke’s Gospel. After encountering the two men in the temple, Jesus said, “I tell you, this man (the second man) went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

When I look at myself, I don’t see how I can be saved. But, when I look at Christ, I don’t see how I can be lost. Likewise, when I look at my enemy, the one who has cursed me and even abused me, I don’t see how I can love him, or her. But, when I look at Christ, I don’t see how I can’t. I say that, because the mercy and forgiveness that God has given me in Christ, is greater than anything that I could ever ask, or even think.

“Lord of glory, You have bought us

With your lifeblood as the price,

Never grudging for the lost ones

That tremendous sacrifice.

Give us faith to truth You boldly,

Hope, to stay our souls on You;

But, oh, best of all Your graces,

With Your love our love renew.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +