The Message, February 20, 2022, "Extravagant Love!"

The Message, February 20, 2022, "Extravagant Love!"

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
February 22, 2022

 

“Extravagant Love!”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Luke 6:27-38

[Show Video. Neighbors behaving badly.]

            That is precisely how Jesus wrote it up, right? If Jesus had had access to YouTube or TikTok, he could have put together a little video to show the people what he was talking about.

            This passage is a continuation of his Sermon on the Plain. He had just told us that the poor, the hungry and the weeping are blessed. He just told us that those who are attacked, reviled and excluded in HIS name are blessed.

            And then he said this:

            “Berate your neighbor! If someone bothers you … yell and scream at them!”

            “Show your rage! If someone cuts you off on the roadway … chase them down and crash into them! Or … if you happen to have a gun handy … shoot at them!”

            “Retaliate with violence! If someone makes your coffee wrong, or your soup too spicy … throw it in their face! And then call them derogatory racist names!”

            THAT is God’s new vision for the world!

            Okay … that is not exactly what he said.

            In last week’s message, we explored the radical new vision for the world in which the poor, hungry and weeping are blessed. And then Jesus said something even more radical, even more revolutionary.

            What he said is ridiculous! It is impossible to imagine.

            The people on the plain knew the Golden Rule: “Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.” That was as foundational a passage as there was in Hebrew thought and scripture. They recited it every day. And they are excellent words to live by.

            However, Jesus says … “If you hear me … do more. Love your enemies.”

            What?!?! Come on, Jesus! We have a hard enough time loving our neighbors! But you desire MORE from us?!

            Jewish teaching commands that one helps their enemies:

            “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it.” (Exodus 23:4-5)

            “Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
    when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice.” (Proverbs 24:17)

            Later rabbinic commentary speaks of aiding enemies in order to “subdue the evil inclination.”

            But Jesus takes the teaching farther. In fact, that is the hallmark of Jesus’ teaching … going farther. The entire Christian ethic is based upon doing the extra thing. Yes … follow the Golden Rule … and then do more. The essence of authentic Christian conduct is not simply refraining from doing bad things, but rather, actively doing GOOD things.

            Lesson One … the Golden Rule … love your neighbors … ALL of your neighbors. Love the poor ones, the hungry ones the weeping ones.

            But now … Lesson Two … love your enemies. This is advanced level Christian life.

            Throughout our lives we have likely heard, “Forgive and forget.” That is sage advice … but it is not good enough. It does not go far enough. It is not extra. Jesus is not calling us to be passive, but rather to be aggressive in our actions to undermine hostility and violence.

            Love our enemies with acts of kindness and generosity.

            Disarm the “enemy” by loving them.

            Expect nothing in return and love them anyway.

            Rise to a superior level of goodness and love. Not to shame them or rub their noses in it. But to live and love genuinely.

            That is not an easy task. We have become quick to react, quick to anger. We quickly consider ourselves to be “victims” of some assault. We are quick to think that the other person is wrong. That they are the jerk of the year!

            These feelings can cause us to react, to retaliate, even to seek revenge … even if that revenge is not physical violence, we may harbor violent thoughts and feelings in our hearts.

            What if we truly lived and loved as Jesus calls us to live and love? Imagine if people actually lived like this. Imagine if the followers of Jesus lived like this.

            There would be no more road rage incidents.
            There would not be any revenge.
            There would not be any hate crimes.
            There would not be any poverty. Property and possessions would not be nearly as important as making sure that your neighbor has enough and is taken care of.

            We have discussed the various words for love in Greek. The word that Jesus uses in this instance is agape or agapan. And as we have discussed, it has nothing to do with romantic love, or the love that we have for family, and the desire that we have for favorite things. This form of love “describes an active feeling of benevolence towards the other person; it means that no matter what that person does to us we will never allow ourselves to desire anything but their highest good; and we deliberately and purposefully go out of our way to be kind to them.” (William Barclay, The Daily Bible Study Series, The Gospel of Luke, revised edition; The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1975, p. 78)

            To love our enemies is not an act of the heart, it is an act of will. It is not just NOT reacting out of vengeance or retaliation. It is going out of our way to offer love, to be pro-active and respond with only the highest and best intentions.

            That is what distinguishes us as Christians. Anyone can be kind to their neighbors. Anyone can be kind to strangers. Anyone can be kind to the people that are kind to them. Anyone can be decent and considerate to the grocery store clerk or the barista that makes a mistake. Christians distinguish themselves by doing more … doing extra … showing love … doing good. Even for those who are not good to us.

            Think of the best thing that you can do for the “worst” person … and go ahead and do it.

            Think of something that you would really like someone to do for you … and do it for someone else.

            Think of someone to whom you are tempted to be nasty … and lavish them with kindness and generosity.

            That is what Jesus’ vision for the world looks like.

            Thank about taking a stroll through the heart of a city and seeing nothing but gray concrete everywhere … and suddenly you come upon a beautiful flower that is growing up through a crack in the sidewalk. That beauty in the middle of a fractured stone is what this teaching is all about.

            This is all about an act of will. And it is about a change in the attitudes of our hearts.

            This is not about comparing ourselves to our neighbors or those whom we perceive to be our enemies. It is not about saying or thinking, “BUT LOOK! Look at how they are behaving! See what they did to me!”

            This teaching is NOT about comparing ourselves to our neighbors. It is about comparing ourselves to … God. It is about reflecting God!

            “You will be children of the Most High.”

            Being children of God means that we emulate the parent … God. The character of God dictates that we practice a love that is not limited by other people’s responses or behaviors toward us. For God is kind to the grateful and the wicked. Be merciful as God is merciful.

            Love first. Love no matter what.

            Of course, last week’s lesson ended with a series of warnings … the woes. This week’s lesson concludes with its own warning … a prohibition against judgment.

            Much of our difficulty loving our neighbors and our “enemies” stems from our inclination to judge. In our lesson today on advanced Christian conduct, Jesus instructs us: judge not, condemn not. Just stop.

            Easy … right?

Stop judging. Judgment puts us in a position to feel morally superior to the other.

            Stop condemning. After we have judged our neighbor or our “enemy” we assess a penalty upon them

            Stop judging. Stop condemning. Love. Just love.

            Father Gregory Boyle is the founder and director of Homeboy Ministries in Los Angeles, California. The aim of Homeboy Ministries is to help men and women get out of the street gang lifestyle and mentality. He offers them counseling, training, support, and more importantly … love.

            In his book, Barking to the Choir, he devotes a chapter to the issue of judgment. The average person witnessing the behaviors of some of his trainees would likely be shocked. We would be shocked by the things that they say and do. We might be tempted to cast judgment upon them and determine that they are nothing more than a bunch of irredeemable street punks. However, he points out that we have no idea what burdens they carry. Even he does not always know, and sometimes he is amazed.

            He writes: “The ultimate measure of the health in any community might well reside in our ability to stand in awe at what folks have to carry rather than in judgment of how they carry it.” (Gregory Boyle, Barking at the Choir, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, New York, NY, 2017, p. 51)

            He goes on to cite fourteenth century mystic Dame Julian of Norwich. She thought that the truest and most authentic spiritual life was one that produced awe, humility and love. And said that we are at our most unhealthy when we engage in judgment. Judgment creates the distance that moves us away from one another. (ibid,. p. 54)

            Boyle concludes by saying, “Dropping the enormous burden of judgment allows us to make of ourselves what God wants the world to ultimately be: people who stand in awe. Judgment, after all, takes up all the room you need for loving.” (ibid., p. 57)

            Jesus followed those two warnings, those prohibitions against judgment and condemnation with to action steps: forgive and give.

            The word that he used for ‘forgive’ means: ‘to pardon, set free.’ Rather than holding the other prisoner with the memory that we hold of their “offense,” we set them free. And in doing so, we set ourselves free. No longer do we carry the burden of being their jailer.

            And then give. Possess a generous spirit. And what do we give? Loving kindness.

            Children of the Most High, let us imitate our heavenly parent. Let us love as God loves. Not simply because that is what Jesus tells us to do, but because that is who we are. Let us reflect God!

            Let us love first.

            Let us love no matter what.

            Amen.



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