Sunday, February 20, 2022

Empowered to Do the Impossible

[Below you'll find both the video of today's 11:00 AM worship service with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio and the text of the sermon. Have a blessed week!]

Luke 6:27-38
Today in our Gospel lesson, Luke 6:27-38, Luke continues to share Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. The words are addressed to Jesus’ disciples. That includes you and me.

And just to be sure the we understand that He’s talking to us as individual believers, Jesus uses the second person personal pronoun throughout this part of His sermon. You see, unlike the English language, which has a single word for a person to address you, whether that you is one person or a million, Greek, the language in which the New Testament writers composed their gospels and books, has different words to address people, whether singularly or plurally. Throughout today’s gospel lesson, Jesus talks to you and me personally. He speaks to you and me as individual people who want to have life with God. Today Jesus says repeatedly in different ways, “Love your enemies, love the people who hate you.” That means turning the other cheek; giving to whoever asks of you; and so on. These words are directed not to governments or the Church as an institution, but to each of us, you and me, individually, as His disciples.

How do you react to this teaching? 

I can tell you how I, when I’m utterly honest, react. 

I think that if that’s how I need to live in order to be part of God’s eternal kingdom, I am in big trouble. The way Jesus tells it, to live a life acceptable to God, it seems that I need to go around with a sign on my head, saying, “Use me. Exploit me. Abuse me.” I like the idea of loving my enemy (sort of), as long as my enemy, the person who hates and disdains me, will love me too. Honestly, the commands Jesus gives to you and me as individual Christians today are impossible!

If that’s how they strike you, good! That means they’re doing their job, that God’s Law is doing what God’s Law is meant to do to us. 

The Law shows us our sinful natures. As the apostle Paul puts it in Romans 3:20: “...through the law we become conscious of our sin.” In His Law, God says, “Love God and love neighbor. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We may be inclined to agree that those are good ideas. But when we read the fine print, as in Jesus’ words to us today, we must admit our inability, by the power of our own will, to live like that. In fact, truth be told, you and I may not even want to live like that. My very revulsion toward the life of love to which Jesus calls me condemns me. Considering the impossibility of keeping Jesus’ Law of love, I feel like Paul, who writes, “Who will rescue me from this body that is taking me to death?” (Romans 7:24)

The answer, of course, is the One Who gives these commands, Jesus, God the Son and sinless man. 

It’s Jesus and only Jesus Who can save us from our unloving, sinful natures. Jesus perfectly kept God’s command that we love but because it’s His very nature to love. 

Jesus shows us that while we are sinners, God, Who is love, still loves us and wills to save by God’s grace all who trust in Him. 

On the cross, Jesus has done everything necessary for us to enter, live, and thrive in God’s eternal kingdom. (John 15:5)

The One Who commanded you to “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) 

The One Who commanded, “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also…” refused to retaliate when, during His trial, “[people] spit in his face and struck him with their fists…[while others] slapped him…” (Matthew 26:67) 

Jesus perfectly obeyed the command of God to you and me to love even those who hate us and because of Jesus' perfect obedience and sacrificial death for us, God the Father has opened eternity to us

This is why Jesus says a few chapters later in Luke’s gospel, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) In other words, to become heirs of what Christ achieved on the cross for sinners like you and me, we acknowledge our sin–our lovelessness–and turn to Jesus in trust. Jesus covers us in His perfect obedience…and He does even more than that.

But before we talk about what else Jesus does in the lives of those who believe in Him, we must address the question all of us wonder about when confronted with His words today: Are we supposed to love the spouse who’s been abusive, the classmate who’s been a bully, the authority who’s misused his power, the businessperson who’s exploited me or others? 

The short answer is yes. 

But this is why God has given, for our common benefit in this fallen world, governments, civil authorities, and parents. 

Without such authorities, Martin Luther said, Christians  would live in this world as “innocent lambs among ravenous wolves.” 

And so, the abused wife should love her abusive husband, but still call the police

The bullied child should love his tormentor, but still go to his parents and teachers. 

The command to love doesn’t mean that wrongdoers aren’t to be held accountable. In fact, there are times when the most loving thing we can do for others is to hold them accountable for their harmful or illegal actions. Even the Church is to have authority to hold its members accountable when any unrepentantly breach God’s commands. God recognizes that while we who believe in Jesus Christ already live in God’s eternal kingdom, we also live in a fallen world. And so, children need parents; schools need teachers and principals; communities and nations need law enforcement and those who enact laws for the common good.

Nonetheless, when we trust in the God we now know in Jesus Christ, God uses His Word to transform us from those indifferent to others to those who love even our enemies. The God we know in Jesus takes up residence in the lives of baptized believers and makes it possible for us to love even those who have hurt us

Our first lesson for today comes from Genesis and tells part of the story of Joseph, the son of Jacob, one of the patriarchs of the Jewish people. You know Jospeh's story well. Resentful of Jacob's love for him, ten of his brothers sell Joseph into slavery. Later, the victim of a false accusation, he goes to an Egyptian prison. Later still, God empowers Joseph to understand a dream God sent the Egyptian king, the Pharoah, and the Pharaoh puts him in charge of the first government rationing program in history, saving the lives of Egyptians and others in the Near East, including his own brothers and their families. Eventually, Jospeh is reunited with his father Jacob and the enire family. But then, Jacob dies and Josephe's brothers think, with the old man dead and gone, Joseph might use his power to take his revenge. Joseph is heartsick that his brothers would think such a thing. 

He assures them: “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” (Genesis 50:19-21) 

Joseph doesn’t deny that his brothers had acted as his enemies. He doesn't deny that his brothers have done wrong to him. 

But he could also see how God used his brothers’ hateful action to do God’s good. Because he lived in fellowship with God, Joseph was empowered to forgive and to love his brothers. God made it possible by His power for Joseph to do what would have been impossible in his own power. Joseph couldn't. God could.

Jesus commands us to love all people, even our enemies. We know this is impossible, although deep in our hearts we know that God’s command to love all people is right. 

This state of affairs would leave is in despair...except that there is good news! 

There is a Gospel! 

God has acted to break the power of sin and lovelessness that had us in its grip from the moment we were conceived. 

God has loved the unlovable and forgiven the unforgivable, including you and me

By the power of His love, given on the cross, God transforms spiritual orphans into His children and sends His Holy Spirit to make us agents of His love for everyone. 

We cannot resolve to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, no matter how good our intentions may be. 

But baptized believers in Jesus, sinners made saints by God’s forgiving grace and mercy gifted to us on the cross, can follow Jesus and, as He lives in us, be the means by which His love reaches a whole needy world. 

May Jesus fill us with His love each day. 

Let’s pray. 

Jesus, thank You for loving us in spite of our sin. Love the world through us. Amen