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Wednesday, April 5, 2017
Love and Prayer in the Mud (Luke 6.27-38)
:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."
:: Scripture and Music ::
Singing Together: Love Divine, All Loves Excelling (BEECHER)
Singing Together: All I Have is Christ (Kauflin, Sovereign Grace)
Offering of Music: I Believe This is Jesus (arr. McGlohon)
Hymn of Sending: Here is Love (Lowry, Redman)
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
Today we are in the same chapter (Luke 6) that we’ve been in for several weeks as we ask the question, “What does it mean to be blessed?” But today we move beyond the pairs of “Blessed are you if this… and woe to you if that…” to a different style of teaching by Jesus. He is still talking blessing though, but is remarkably directive (for him). So much of the time Jesus is asking questions or telling parables; but in today’s text he outright says DO THIS…. actually he says to do several things. But it is still in the context of blessing. Interestingly, we tend to think of blessing as something we receive, but Jesus links it here with a way of living in the world. Finally, another way to understand the more extended teaching today is that he is elaborating on what we looked at last week. I included last week’s blessing and woe in today’s readings:
Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.
As he continues in today’s text, Jesus turns to our side of that equation. How are we to respond and what are we to do when that particular “blessing” comes our way? What does it mean to engage and experience God’s blessing in that instance? Jesus tells us very directly: in return we are to LOVE, DO GOOD, and GIVE FREELY. He will circle through each response three times (as will we), but it is clear that the blessing comes through responding as Jesus would respond, showing the grace that God has shown. If you want specific instruction on how to be blessed, Jesus offers it here, giving much the same message that Jeremiah gave the Jewish exiles some 1000 years earlier: seek the blessing of your enemies and you will come to experience God’s blessing yourself.
Love, Do Good, Give Freely – the instructions (vv. 27-31)
I want to call the first pass through the triple command “the instructions.” Not only is Jesus simply directive here, he begins with “But I say to you who hear.” It’s the kind of thing parents might say to children: “Please turn your listening ears on!” And remember the context: Jesus has just said blessed are those who are hated, ostracized, insulted, and scorned for the sake of the Son of Man (Jesus). We saw last week that “for the sake of Jesus” includes what we say and do. In fact we ended up with the challenge from Colossians: “whatever you do, do it heartily as for the Lord.” So now Jesus is going to give some examples of what that looks like, particularly in the context of the kind of trouble those who serve him might face.
Each of the instructions is more than challenging, perhaps even shocking.
Love your enemies – These may be the very ones who hated, hurt, and came against you. It’s the last thing we’d want to do. I get that. I think Jesus understood that, too – completely understood. I think there are also qualifiers on this. This is not a universal teaching, for example, on how to treat an enemy in war or if someone is attacking your family. A fair starting point is the context already given: serving Christ. Jesus has already said that following him will make enemies of some people. What sense does it make, then, to stop following Christ when they stir up trouble. That would just serve their cause; if I trouble you for serving Jesus and your response is to stop serving Jesus and declare me YOUR enemy, then I’ve already succeeded. It is also important to define or qualify the meaning of ‘love’ here. It doesn’t (necessarily) mean giving an enemy a big ole’ hug. It is emulating what Jesus might do. For Jesus, love was sometimes forgiving, sometimes confrontational, always concerned for the truth and the well-being of the other. Love can be pretty tough when necessary; and sometimes that’s the right way to express love. But the point is the well-being, even the BLESSING, of others, even those we find unlovable or worse.
Do good to those who hate you – Similarly, Jesus tells us to do good to those who hate us. In fact, he offers several actions, keyed in large part to the trouble we were told to expect in v. 22 for following him. So, Jesus tells us to “do good to those who hate you,” “bless those who curse you,” and “pray for those who mistreat you.” All are, in some ways, similar to the challenge presented to us to love our enemies, but Jesus fleshes out for us some of the range of what that might look like. It can involve doing good or praying for the other. “Blessing” gets at the heart of it: we are to seek God’s best for the other first. This is going to be the common theme throughout the text today.
Give freely to the thief – Finally, Jesus speaks of lending, even to those who have ‘taken’ from us. I’ve expressed this a little more loosely as “giving freely” even when someone has not been as generous. This might be where the rubber hits the road for us. So and so was not generous to me; in fact, he took advantage of me… stole from me. But Jesus says to be generous. Give them another chance. Don’t give them just as good (or bad!) as they gave you. Do better than that; be generous and open-handed. I can’t help but think of the old stories of the Hatfield and McCoy feuds, or the old gangs of New York. There is just a perpetual cycle of revenge and payback and it never ends. But as he did when he entered the world, Jesus offers a way to break that pattern. Love; do good; give freely.
Love, Do Good, Give Freely – the surprise (vv. 32-34)
Then he repeats the three commands in a different kind of format. This sounds more like Jesus; there’s a question with each one, and something to make you think. And he turns our expectations on their heads. I call this “the surprise.”
Each statement follows a similar pattern: if you do these things for those who don’t do them to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that much.
If you love those who love you… if you do good to those who do good to you… if you lend/give to those from whom you expect to receive… what credit is that to you? Even sinners do those things.
Break the pattern of this world, says Jesus. Don’t measure your actions, thoughts, and feelings by those of other human beings. He hasn’t gotten there yet, but we already sense it coming: measure your actions, thoughts, and feelings by those you have received from God through Jesus. As you love God, you will find yourselves loving others. This is a practical outworking of that Great Commandment. It is an outworking of God’s great covenant promise: I will bless you that you might be a blessing in the world to others.
It’s a surprise because we are not used to thinking that way. We are used to “me first” and “what’s in it for me” and “that’s not fair!” But those were all the things Jesus set aside to come live and teach and make a home among us. And he says that blessing is not a one-way gift from God to you; it is a lived reflection of God’s intent toward us.
Love, Do Good, Give Freely – the example (vv. 35-38)
Finally, he restates the three commands one last time, most concisely: “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend (give), expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great…” (v. 35) We looked last week at ‘reward,’ not some kind of extra bonus in heaven or on earth, but salvation itself. He says it here: you will be sons (that is, inheritors) of the Most High, not because God rewards good behavior, but because God’s salvation is the very blessing being described here. I compared it to Jeremiah early on in the sermon: he told God’s people, who were so desperate for God’s blessing, “Seek the shalom-blessing of the city and in their peace you will know peace.” As we participate in God’s family, in following Christ, we realize the blessing that we already have in him.
From there Jesus moves to the thing we were anticipating. He provides the example for our love, doing good, and giving freely. It is God, Himself.
“For God, Himself, is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” (v. 35)
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (v. 36)
Then he makes another move to say that “by our standard of measure it will be measured to us.” (v. 38) So whether kindness, mercy, judging, condemning, pardoning, or giving, our pattern is set by God. And our measure is set by God. Again, this all began with Jesus saying “Blessed are you” if you run into trouble on my account and “Woe to you” if you merely live for the approval of others. All this is set in that context.
Pressed Down, Shaken Together, Running Over (v. 38)
Rather than dodging trouble by denying Christ with our words or actions, Jesus is teaching us how to lean into our faith and honor him in the midst of that trouble. Said again in Jeremiah’s words, go the extra mile to bless those who are against you and you will experience the blessing that you yourself seek as you see them encounter God.
The final image of a “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over” (v. 38) is a picture of God’s generosity. It is not trying to skimp you on what I give to you, but giving you a good portion (whether of wheat or forgiveness); I’m going to make sure as much grain gets into the measure as possible, shaking and packing it down. And even then I’m not going to stop, but let it flow over the top. That’s how God has loved, done good, and given freely to us. And it’s the example Jesus gives us for how we are to live in relation to others, even those towards whom it is the hardest to do so.
May you know that blessing; may you be that kind of blessing. Amen.