OK, so who remembers hearing this phrase (or some form of it) … when you were a kid growing up as a kid. “Treat others the way you want them to treat you.” Go ahead, raise your hands … if you have heard this phrase or some variant of it growing up. Yuppers. Me, too. The world calls it “The Golden Rule”.
If you lived in a household in which Scripture verses were spoken as part of your family dialogue you might remember the phrase using these words … recite along with me if you like … “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Please note that these exact words are in the Bible … at least, not exactly … it is close. The Bible we read from in church, the New Revised Standard Version reads “do TO others as you would have them do TO you.” We’ve inserted the “unto” into this version in our minds as a nod to the old King James Version and its fondness for old English words like “unto.”
In any case, it is a phrase that works. Most of us who are parents teach this to our children … it is a formula for success. We recognize that there will always be some who will take advantage of your goodness. But in general, when you lead with positive actions, others are inclined to respond positively to you. And if our Gospel Lesson was only this one single verse today … if we only read Luke chapter 6, verse 31, I could stop preaching right now … we could sing our hymn of the day … and everyone could leave as happy campers. Yeah, well … stinks to be you, I guess … because we unfortunately have a little more to deal with. That’s because ol’ Jesus adds just a teensie weensie bit more to that simple and sensible phrase. You know the added parts I’m talking about … we just heard them a few minutes ago … those verses we try to ignore. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you … Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. … If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also … Enough? Awww come on, let’s hear just a little more… If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. It is a proclamation we can hardly embrace. It is a description of a world that we can hardly understand. It goes against everything that makes sense to us. It sounds like an invitation to chaos. Right? … right!
BUT … but … if we are honest with ourselves, we could easily ask ourselves the question … “Is the world in which we live really any less crazy than the one Jesus describes?” For a moment, consider the very real possibility that our world is not that much different from the 1st century Palestine in which Jesus lived. The specifics might be a little different … we might use different language to describe what we see at work around us … but both worlds have injustice, and greed, and estrangement, and poverty. Both worlds have people who struggle with reconciliation … and with generosity … and with peace. Both worlds experience estrangement … and division … and fear. So maybe Jesus words aren’t as crazy as they sound.
Hear again this mini-summary that Jesus speaks a little more than halfway through today’s lesson. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Jesus first reminds us that both those we think of as good and those we think of as bad, are all God’s children. Why you ask, is Jesus kind to the ungrateful and the wicked? … because they are part of God’s family. God is not quick to write off any of us as sons and daughters.
Now maybe you all live pretty perfect lives, so you figure you don’t have anything to worry about. But it can get pretty dark in here (HEART) sometimes … and it can get pretty ugly up here (HEAD) sometimes. Some days I am extremely thankful that God is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
Jesus also reminds us first that our world is a work in progress … just as you and I are works in progress. Try as we may, our best efforts at embracing this radical grace of God may not happen; we may not accomplish everything God hopes for in our lifetime. But the reward is still great for the “children of the Most High.” We may not see the great reconciliation of the world fully realized in our lifetime … but that does not allow us to take shortcuts, and judge those in this world that we see as the wicked and ungrateful. We are called as the church to embody love and service and goodness even to those … and maybe especially to those, who we see as wicked and ungrateful.
One of our Lutheran rock stars, David Lose wrote these words in his weekly sermon blog this week. They are printed on the inside cover of your bulletin, if you would like to revisit them later. Lose writes: The only thing that invites love that transcends self-interest, you see, is being loved. And the one thing that prompts mercy that is not self-serving is receiving mercy. In short, David Lose points us to God as the source of love and mercy. He reminds us that the only way to be merciful, is to be someone who has experienced mercy. And he invited us to consider those places where we find that unconditional mercy, and seek them out as places where we are transformed by God’s mercy. We have all three pretty significant expressions of God’s mercy present among us here this morning. We have the mercy of God experienced in our sacramental celebration of bread and wine at our late service today … maybe one of these days it will be celebrated at all of our Sunday services. We also see God’s mercy in our baptismal service which will also shout out God’s sacramental love for Katelyn, Caiden and Justyce-Ann … AND for you and me … at the 10:45 service. And we have the gift of God’s word at every one of our services … and even if the Word of God is not officially a sacrament, it is sacramental in the way it communicates God’s presence to us.
So rejoice and be glad. God’s work among us is not yet done. God’s presence is alive and well in our worship and in our world. And if you have a day where you feel particularly wicked or ungrateful … well, God still loves you, too. Amen.