Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. ” (Matthew 5:38–48, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Over the last few weeks we’ve had some tough texts to look at. And Jesus is relentless. He pushes the law on us to the nth degree. And now, today he says we have to be perfect. Let alone that we are to love our enemies. But that’s what he says we are to do today. Love our enemies. This is getting harder every day isn’t it. Our world is becoming increasingly hostile to what we hold dear, what we believe, teach and confess. If you don’t believe me just try speaking out publicly against homosexual marriage. If I were to say right now even in this room, God is not in favor of homosexual marriage and he considers homosexual activity sinful, I can feel the cringe. You know what it’s like in school, work, and all around. You just don’t want to even cross the topic. You disagree with what people are saying but you dare not speak out because you don’t want to be accused of being homophobic. And that’s just the tip of the proverbial ice burg. Women pastors, closed communion, seven day creation, the lodge and more. Some of you in this very room have problem with the way we believe, teach and confess about at least one of these topics. You don’t have to leave this room at all to find trouble in the world with the things of the church. But, even so you’re pretty safe here, but out there! Well, it can get downright hostile. And Jesus says love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. This is exactly what he’s talking about. The people who hate you because of what you believe. He wants you to love them. So what does Jesus want? Does he want us to be the target of persecution? Does he want us to be relegated to kook status?
Actually, Jesus is calling us to something quite radical. He is asking something even more than just disagreeing with the politics of the day. Jesus says our lives are to be lives that are lived with a reckless generosity. Sure he’s speaking a bit stronger than he means here to make the point. But Jesus really does mean we should be giving to people who need it. And look he doesn’t say anything about making sure they use it for the right purposes, either. The whole thing about the going two miles had to do with Roman soldiers. They were allowed to conscript anyone to carry their packs one mile. Their purposes weren’t always good. But Jesus says carry it two instead. The point isn’t how what is given is used. The point is to serve… “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” After all just look what he does. He gives good things to all people, even those who are openly hostile to him. He sends rain on everyone. He gives good high paying jobs to people who only use them for their own selfish purposes. We are called to give with this sort of naïve attitude, simply because there is a need.
Saint Paul makes some sense of this for us. In Romans he writes:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ” (Romans 12:14–21, ESV)
It’s that overcome evil with good part that conforms most to what we are talking about here… “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” This is very much who God is. He loves and gives us what is needed without any merit or worthiness in me and you, or even those who live down the street in direct opposition to God’s commands. And if we are God’s children, this is who we are also. There is, of course, no better example of this than God becoming man in Jesus Christ. In fact, even though in this text Jesus calls us to this radical naïve way of life, the text isn’t really about us it is about him. Out of his radical grace and mercy he causes the rain to fall on the just and unjust. Out of his radical love and mercy he does exactly what this text says.
Listen to how Isaiah describes Jesus work, hundreds of years before Jesus walked in human sandals.
But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. ” (Isaiah 53:5, ESV)
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. ” (Isaiah 53:7, ESV)
…because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. ” (Isaiah 53:12b, ESV)
He pours out the rain of forgiveness on all transgressors. He dies on the cross for sinners who don’t deserve it. He dies on the cross for you and for me. Even though, so often, we treat people as they deserve instead of the way God would have us treat them. We gladly accept God’s kindness to us but turn around and place conditions on our kindness to others. Such is the life of a sinful person. Such is the nature of God’s great love in Jesus Christ. In that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Back to Romans and St. Paul:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. ” (Romans 5:6–11, ESV)
You see how this applies to everyone, not just our friends, not just those who agree with us politically, or culturally, but it applies even to God’s enemies. Because actually that’s what we were too, God’s enemies. Sinners living in a broken relationship to God. But we have received reconciliation. We have are God’s children. We are called to be God’s children in how we interact with the world, especially our enemies, those who persecute us, those who hate us…
Back to what Jesus says about being perfect. I know the text here says you must be perfect. But without going into a grammar lesson, I believe a better translation is “you shall be perfect.” Why does this make a difference? It sounds an awful lot like Leviticus 19:2. God is speaks to the people through Moses giving them the Ten Commandments. “You shall be holy” because I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt. Certainly God is giving law here. You shall be holy. You shall be perfect. Jesus is certainly saying he wants us to keep the commandments. He wants us to love God and our neighbors. It is a very strong word of law, one that we fall well short of keeping. But it is also a very strong word of Gospel. He’s talking about what happens to those who by faith cling to Jesus Christ crucified. You shall be holy. You shall be perfect. This is God working in us through his Word, through his Sacraments, to be exactly what he has already declared us to be. We are forgiven sinners, perfect and holy in God’s sight because of Jesus. And yet we struggle to do what is good and right even love our enemies. But we do what we are. Forgiven sinners cling to Jesus in faith, looking to him alone for forgiveness. And then doing what he calls us to do. Saint Ambrose (a church father, bishop of Milan in the 4th century) said “Faith is the mother of a good will and doing what is right.” Saint Paul says the same in Ephesians,
For 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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ” (Ephesians 2:8–10, ESV)
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.