Summary: "Love" should be more than just a buzzword for Christians. God showed his love for us when we were still sinners. Likewise, we should love our friends and our enemies alike and show it by treating them the way we want to be treated.
[This sermon was preached on 8 July 2018, 7th Sunday after Pentecost / 3rd year, ELCF Lectionary]
Years ago, a man came to me for help. His life was in a mess. When he looked to the past, he saw many relationships that had shipwrecked. Several of them were still haunting him almost daily. His present family and work relationships were tainted with self-centeredness, jealousy and guilt. Nothing in his life worked. And it was all the fault of the others.
I offered him biblical counseling. We talked about his issues and relationships and attitudes with an open Bible. I gave him homework to do. But the next time we met, it felt as if we were back where we started. He was not ready to listen to me. He was not ready either to accept the message from the Bible as God’s message to him in his specific situation. He was not ready to act on the advice he was getting. In effect, he said: “No, I cannot do that. Give me something else. Don’t tell me to change. Tell the others. Do something about my circumstances. I am the victim, not the cause.”
You won’t be surprised then, that after a few counseling sessions I discontinued our meetings. It was useless.
If you believe in God, you may seek advice from him every so often. One year, when I was teaching 15-year old youth in confirmation camp, we had a Q&A session. They could ask anything they wanted, and they could do it anonymously by writing their question on a slip of paper and putting it in the Question Box. Surprisingly many questions were of the kind: What should I do in a situation like this? What does the Bible say about this? How does God want me to act or choose?
But it is not just the 15-year olds—those without life experience and with their whole life ahead of them. We all, young and old, want to know how we should go forward in life, what choices to make, how to address difficult issues. And so we pray to God and ask him: “Please, show me what is your will in this matter.”
Of course, we don’t always get answers. But often we do. Some are so basic that we find them in the Ten Commandments: “Keep the Sabbath holy! Honor your father and mother! Don’t steal!” Many of our issues and questions can be brought back to basic ethical matters of right and wrong. But the Bible addresses life issues elsewhere as well. And if we keep our Bibles open, we will discover God’s speech and hear his voice. I spoke about this last week in my sermon. God breathes through the words of the Bible. The word of God is alive and active.
But then, if the answer is not what we want to hear, we say “No!” We ask God for another option. And if he doesn’t give one—i.e. if he is not willing to change his mind—we walk out disappointed at God, because he did not provide us with what we would consider a reasonable, viable and doable alternative. In the end, we draw the line of what is acceptable and reasonable. And God should not cross that line. He should not try to force us out of our comfort zone.
Our New Testament reading from the letter to the Hebrews opens with a stern warning:
“See to it that you do not refuse (or resist) him who speaks!”
It is one thing not to hear God speak. It is quite another to hear him and not to listen or not to obey.
Our Gospel reading from Luke 6 sets us right in the middle of a long teaching session of Jesus, that is called the Sermon on the Plain. In Matthew we can find much of the same teaching in Matthew 5–7, which is called the Sermon on the Mount. These sermons contain some very tough and radical teaching about what it means to be citizens of God’s Kingdom and followers of Jesus. The teaching is so tough and radical, that we often seek ways of softening it and smoothing its rough edges. As such, we are not willing to accept it as God’s will for our lives.
The 16th century Protestant reformers Martin Luther and Jean Calvin, after recovering the gospel of grace, sought to define what relevance there is left in the law and the commandments of the Bible for us who are saved by grace. They came to the conclusion that the commandments still have three functions, three vital tasks in the life of a Christian.
The first is to maintain law and order in society. God’s law defines what is ethically right and wrong. And in a Christian society that should be reflected in the law and order of the country. Fear of shame and punishment will make many people abide by the rules. That is number one.