Sermon on the Mount[Given February 23, 2014 by The Rev. Fr. Marcus Halley – St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church – Kansas City, MO]

But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. (Matthew 5:39)

Come, Holy Spirit, and kindle the fire that is in us. Take our lips and speak through them. Take our hearts and see through them. Take our souls and set them on fire. +

Say what, Jesus?

Now you’ve said some crazy stuff before, but now you’ve lost it.

Between you and me, I think Jesus got into the sacristy closet and has been drinking a little bit too much communion wine.

Am I alone? Am I the only one who thinks that Jesus is taking this love stuff too far?

I can’t be alone. The people hearing Jesus’ “Sermon in the Mount” must’ve been just as baffled.

You see, scholars believe the Gospel of Matthew was written around 80 – 90 C.E. In the year 70 C.E., the Roman army entered Jerusalem and brutally put down a Jewish rebellion, destroyed the Temple, and massacred the population. In 64 C.E., the Roman Emperor Nero began systematically persecuting Christians.

So when this Gospel was written, the community that Matthew as writing to – a Jewish-Christian community – would have been oh too familiar with oppression and persecution.

And yet here is Jesus’ command – “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

There seems to be a sharp disconnect. This Gospel stands in dialectical opposition to what I really want to do.

When a man in Florida opens fire into a car of unarmed Black teenagers, killing one of them because their music was “too loud” and a jury can’t decide whether or not that constitutes murder, I don’t want to love.

When I hear about lawmakers in Arizona passing a law that makes is legal to discriminate against someone simply because they are Gay or Lesbian under the guise of Religious Freedom, I don’t want to love.

Yet love we must.

You see, in telling us to love at all times, Jesus is making it abundantly clear that it is love, not hate, that is the gold standard for our world. Hates comes and goes, but since God is love, love is stable, love is secure, love is permanent.

But the kind of love that Jesus calls for us to walk in is not a February 14th; dozen roses; greeting card; chubby, winged-babies floating on puffy, white clouds kind of love. That love is great. But the kind of love Jesus is talking about in our Gospel is different. It’s a crazy, counter-cultural, counter-intuitive, Calvary-kind-of-love.

The Calvary-kind-of-love that Jesus is referring to is different because it 1) resets the dynamic, 2) reforms our destiny, and 3) reaffirms our dignity.

That Calvary-Kind-of-Love RESETS the dynamic.

When someone hates us, our natural reaction is to hate them back. It seems only right, right? Fight fire with fire. Give them a taste of their own medicine.

Hate may be our response, but God is calling us to reset. Responding is being controlled. Resetting is taking control.

I was recently told about a new app called “Yik Yak” that allows people to send messages to everyone within a certain mile radius anonymously. Some young people have chosen to use this as a tool for bullying, saying some pretty hurtful things about their classmates. In a situation like this, it would be so easy to respond with anger or hate, but certain young people have chosen instead to show love. For every anonymous, negative message about a person, students are responding with tidal waves of loving and affirming ones. That’s taking control.

You see in God’s economy, hate only begets more hate, darkness only begets more darkness. It is only through walking in love that we can hope to make a difference in this world.

This is the premise behind Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King’s Non-violent resistance. Change in the world can only come about when we reset the dynamic, when we take control of the situation, when we refuse to give ourselves over the temptation to hate.

When King was accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, he stated “I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

Love, may seem weak and unrealistic, but it is actually the fullness of reality. To act, and live, and speak, and give, and abide in love even in a world that is stifled with hate is to stop the downward spiral and to move towards a fuller expression of the Reign of God.

This Calvary-kind-of-love not only RESETS the dynamic, but it also REFORMS our destiny.

We are being formed. Whether we know it or not, whether we like it or not, whether we care or not, we are being formed into something. Every time we turn on the television, or read a book, or have a conversation we are being formed and if we aren’t careful, if we don’t make formation an intention, we may find ourselves formed into something that is not in line with the Reign of God.

That’s why this church takes very seriously offering opportunities for intentional Christian Formation for our children, our youth, and our adults. Formation is not just a thing for kids. It doesn’t become irrelevant once we reach a certain age. As long as we have breath in our bodies, we are called by God to be raised into the full stature of Christ.

Let me give you an example. One of the ways that we can be raised into the full stature of Christ is by observing the 4th of the 10 Commandments – “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” I was reading something somewhere that said that this is the only commandment that we willingly break and then brag about it. It seems like we pride ourselves on our overly busy schedules. But even Jesus took Sabbath. Even Jesus stepped away from the crowds and stopped long enough to rest.

So every Thursday in Lent, we are having a Christian Formation opportunity that we’re calling Rest: It’s Not a Four-Letter Word. All of our Clergy and Christian Formation Coordinators will participate in this series that teaches us why it is important to rest and how we can better observe Sabbath in our lives.

Church is a wonderful example of an intentional community of formation. At her best, the Church is a family, a community, helping to form one another more into the image of Christ. It is here that we learn the stories of our faith, hear of the everlasting love of God, share in the sacraments of our Lord, and are empowered to go out into the world to proclaim the Good News.

When Jesus calls us to be “Holy,” he is calling us to be formed after the image of God. He is calling for the best of our selves to be brought out of us and illuminated by the light of Christ.

Love does that. When we live in love, surround ourselves in love, and grow in love, we soon become what is all around us. We are soon conformed after the image of a God who is “love.”

That Calvary-kind-of-love not only RESETS the dynamic, and not only does it REFORMS our destiny, but is also REAFFIRMS our dignity.

Too often when this passage of scripture is read it is interpreted as granting divine sanction to being a door mat.

Too often we make “silently accepting abuse” a spiritual practice.

Too often we grant nobility to what is harmful to our bodies and our souls.

I would suggest that this is an incorrect reading of this scripture. The culture during which our Gospel was written was governed by norms of acceptable behavior. When our Gospel talks about “if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to them the other too” it presupposes that you would be struck by their right hand because the left hand was thought of as unclean and was reserved for unseemly uses. Therefore for someone to strike you on your right cheek with their right hand they would have to backhand you. Striking someone with the back of the hand was the acceptable way a person of a higher station would hit someone of a lower station. So to “turn the other cheek” meant that the person would have to hit you with the palm of their right hand. It was a protest. It was like saying “I am your equal. I am human just like you are.”

That Calvary-kind-of-love resists dehumanization by affirming equality. When Jesus stands in front of this crowd of poor peasants, farmers, and shepherds, he is telling them something big. No wonder they were amazed at the end. He is telling them “You are a human being and don’t you ever allow anyone to diminish you.”

That’s a Calvary-kind-of-love. That’s the kind of love that says I love myself too much to shrink back from the fullness of my humanity, the fullness of who I am.

In her famous poem “Our Greatest Fear,” Marianne Williamson writes

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other

people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

And this is what I want to close with. You are beautiful, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous, and when you live into your reality, you let other people know that it’s okay to do the same.

You are a child of God, bought with a price, redeemed, loved and loving, and when you live into what it means to be children of God, you let the world know that it’s okay to be counted among God’s beloved children.

That’s what it means to live into that Calvary-kind-of-love – it means that we never let hate, not in form of a bullet from a gun or an unjust law or a text message, tempt us to hide our light.