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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
February 24, 2019 at 10:30 AM
Central Passage
Luke 6:27-38
Subject
Epiphany 7C
Description

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: February 24, 2019 – Epiphany 7C

Luke 6:27-38

 

The Christ Life

 

            Right before Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, the legal expert asks the question, “And who is my neighbor?” After pondering the Gospel for this Sunday, I have a similar question. “Who is my enemy?”

 

            Both Testaments of the Bible presume that you and I will have enemies. And both Testaments command that we show compassion and concern for them. Exodus 23:4-5 says: “When you happen to come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey that has wandered off, you should bring it back to them.
5 When you see a donkey that belongs to someone who hates you and it’s lying down under its load and you are inclined not to help set it free, you must help set it free.” In a more disturbing vein, which Paul quotes in his Letter to the Romans, Proverbs 25:21-22 says, “If your enemies are starving, feed them some bread; if they are thirsty, give them water to drink.22 By doing this, you will heap burning coals on their heads, and the Lord will reward you.”

 

            But who are they? I admit, I’ve had a pretty privileged life. And part of a life of privilege is the privilege to ignore or otherwise pretend that one’s enemies don’t exist, or perhaps more disturbingly, that I am not an enemy to someone else. No one is out there oppressing me on a society-wide level for my race, religion, sexuality, gender, or national origin. But people of my race, religion, sexuality, gender, and national origin harm others for who they are. There are religious leaders who draw strict lines around who’s in and who’s out among God’s people, almost always based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The MeToo movement has uncovered the dark secret that many men in power have sexually harmed many women and even other men (remember Terry Crews?). And despite a bogus hate crime charge in Chicago by actor Jussie Smollet, there was another story about self-described white nationalist Christopher Paul Hasson, who allegedly plotted an attack against certain journalists and politicians. The point is this: I may not think of anyone else as my enemy. Not in my nice, protected little world. But others may see me exactly that way – not because I have done these things to other people, but because I have kept silence while people like me did them.

 

            That’s hard to accept. Accepting that truth – that I may be someone else’s enemy – requires the courage to look in the mirror of God’s law. In Luther’s explanation to the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder”, he writes, “We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.”[1] We don’t just get to say we’ve kept the Fifth Commandment because we haven’t killed anyone. Luther, in that infuriating manner he has, turns this negative commandment into a positive one. Not only are we to refrain from harming our neighbors, but we are to help and support them in all their needs. We are to take their stories seriously. We are to support our neighbor in every way that we can – financially, emotionally, spiritually. And if we’re honest, we’ll realize that none of us has measured up to this. Sure, there are times, probably many times, we’ve shown this kind of concern for our neighbor. But none of us have done this all the time. We have not – cannot – keep this commandment perfectly.

 

            On our own, we are lost, selfish creatures turned in on ourselves. And the only way that we can be saved from this never-ending cycle of denial, blame, and sin is to die.

 

            You heard me correctly. We have to die in order to live as a child of God. To live the Christ Life, the old Adam and Eve must die. But here’s the good news. The big part of that death has already happened. It happened when Jesus took the weight of the world’s sin on himself. Instead of retaliating against his enemies, he utterly absorbed it on the cross. In Luke’s Gospel, he even prays for forgiveness for his torturers and murderers, saying, “They know not what they do.” On that cross, Jesus takes all our hate, all our rage, all our self-centeredness, all our self-worship, all our ways that deny God as God – in short, all our sin which leads to death – and triumphs over it by his own death and resurrection. All those parts of ourselves which lead us away from God are mortally wounded. Their days are numbered. Jesus has already gone through the Big Death for us.

 

            And in our baptism, we, too, go through that Big Death. Most of us were babies when we were baptized. So that makes this more shocking. One of the first things your parents did after you were born was bring to you to this font to drown you. To bury you with Jesus in that Big Death. Why? So that you could rise as a new person; as a new creation now and in the age to come. So that as Christ is, you are now by God’s forbearance and will be fully in the life to come. To live the Christ Life. In his Letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “When we were baptized into Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too, might live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

 

            This life is filled with many “little deaths” and “little resurrections”; a whole process of death and resurrection. Whenever we realize the ways we have harmed one another, treated other people like “issues” to be overcome, or simply kept the status quo with our silence, Jesus calls us to return to the waters of baptism and drown. To kill once again that sinful nature of ours by repentance and reception of God’s forgiveness. And being forgiven, raised creatures of God, to seek ways of bringing reparation and restoration to our world.

 

            Paul says in our reading from 1st Corinthians that the body we have is but a seed of the body we will have at the resurrection. I take that to mean that not just our physical selves, but our whole being – physical, emotional, spiritual – will be raised up in a glorified form we can scarcely imagine. We have one example of this glorified life – that of Jesus after he was raised from the dead. And as unbelievable as it may seem to us on this side of glory, that fully resurrected life waits for us after we go through our other death – the death which compared to baptism is little – physical death. As Jesus says in Luke after he appears to the disciples, “This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all nations….” Life and forgiveness in the risen Christ are given for you and me. Counting on that fundamental truth, we can have courage to live as the resurrected people we will one day fully be. Amen.

 

© 2019, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.

 

           

 

[1] Kolb, R., Wengert, T. J., & Arand, C. P. (2000). The Book of Concord: the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (p. 352). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.