Posted on Tue, Feb 22, 2011
Rev. Jim Merritt's Sermon February 20, 2011
Walking the Extra Mile
Rev. Jim Merritt
February 20, 2011
This morning we will finish the passage of scripture we started last week. The entire section from Matthew 5: 21 – 48, is important for us to consider together. Remember last week’s lesson in a nutshell was “Let your YES be YES and let your NO be NO. We talked about the fact that God gives us free will and that God calls us to manage our anger and to always honor our relationships. We were reminded that anger unmanaged would burn our spiritual houses down. We thought together about the importance of relationships of many kinds and about our own long term commitments to them. Remembering all of that, let us take it a few steps further as we consider this second section of the passage.
I love what Episcopal Priest Rick Morley called his sermon on this passage, he called it. “Loving those who give us the willies.” Isn’t that fun? He said, “Living with the values of the Kin-dom…entails serious work on love. Really, it should keep us busy for awhile…and for always.”
Last week we noted a series of six antitheses. We think first today about the Antithesis on Non-Retaliation. The pattern last week was, “You have heard it said… but I say. This week’s pattern is “whoever…to whoever,” and it not only prohibits violence but it also demands that force and brutality be met with abounding goodness. A very difficult lesson for all of us.
The Rev. Dr. George Hermanson offers some excellent insights to the meaning of this passage based on its original language and historical context. Let’s think about this business of Slapping the right cheek. This was done by Masters to their servants and slaves. It was always done by hitting with the back of the right hand across the right cheek. The blow was about asserting status and power over the other. This is not about random violence or fighting among friends or enemies. It is about rank, privilege and power. And to preserve the master’s honor, it is crucial that everything must be done according to the socially accepted protocols. The slave must obediently stand facing the master without external coercion. The Master must strike only the right cheek; and only with the back of the right hand. Any variation on this would demonstrate that the Master was not in control and would result in a public loss of face.
Now imagine your boss or your Master has just slapped you on your right cheek, and without saying a word you silently turn your head to expose your left cheek. It looks like you are becoming doubly subservient; doubly accepting your master's authority over you. But you are actually rendering your master powerless! Turning your head hides your right cheek and presents your left cheek. But the angle of your head will be such that the master can see, but cannot strike your left cheek with the back of his right hand. CAREFULLY try this with a friend and you'll see what happens. Doing this would publicly expose the master to shame and ridicule. You would appear to be meek and servile; obediently waiting for a second blow. But the Master would be totally helpless. His only options would be to hit you with the palm of his right hand, or use his left hand, or walk away. All three would cause him to lose face.
Through the example of this kind of servant who faces violence with abounding goodness, with mindfulness and with self-control we learn how to turn violence to our advantage. Let me be clear here, neither I nor the gospel suggest for one second here. What we do suggest, however, is that our good response to another’s violence can disarm the aggressor and can turn what might otherwise be a devastating situation into an opportunity for us to live into God’s abounding goodness.
The final antithesis deals with the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Professor Daniel Harrington writes that “(the gospel) urges that love include even enemies and uses the example of God’s care for all creatures to challenge us to avoid restricting love only to those who can benefit us or already love us. You see, if I say, “I love my mother,” that’s nice and why would I not love her. She has spent my entire life being good to me and looking out for me and taking care of me and loving me. How could I not love her? And if I say I love my partner, what’s the big deal out that. We’ve spent seventeen years together trying to make a difference in each other’s lives, sticking with it even when it was hard, doing ministry together, taking care of each other’s families together. Of course I love him. Where the rubber hits the road, my sisters and brothers is when I try to love somebody like Terry Jones at Dove Outreach World, or when I try to love the Jerry Falwell’s and Pat Robertsons of the world whose teaching I consider false prophecy. The rubber hits the road when I try to love politicians and preachers who still say I’m an abomination, or waitresses or baristas who give me bad service, or people who yell at my friends, like one did last week, “FAG” as they drive down the street. It is SO difficult for me to love these people and I still know that when the gospel writer uses the word translated, “neighbor,” all of these people are included. Even the ones that it would be easy for me to hate are included when the gospel tells me to love my neighbor. It includes the ones who give me the willies.
What is this kind of love? Let me clear that it is not the love that says we have to feel deep affection for them. It does not mean we have to bring them home with us or invite them to lunch or dinner with us or spend our private time with them. It does, however, mean that when we show concern for others by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving water to those who are thirsty and helping provide shelter to the homeless, they are included. It does mean that when our church proudly advertizes that we are “Spreading the good news of God’s inclusive love,” they are included. When they grieve; we grieve. When they celebrate; we celebrate with them. God never called anyone to be a doormat, and God calls us to love our neighbors – ALL of them, as ourselves.
Who is your neighbor today, my friend? Who drives you nuts? Who gives you the willies? Who has acted out violence against you? Hold on to that thought;
Love them, turn their violence into opportunities to demonstrate God’s amazing goodness. Never be a doormat and always do serious work on love. It is not easy. It will keep us busy for awhile…and for always…and that is what it means to walk the extra mile for Jesus.
God bless you today. AMEN.