Getting to the Heart of Luke
Rev. Tasha Blackburn
June 2, 2019
I do not want to say this to you this morning but, sadly, I believe it is true: there will be pastors in pulpits in our town today who will preach a message of doom upon our city. They will say that this terrible flooding is God’s judgment upon us and that this is divine retribution, calling us to repent. I wish I didn’t believe this but, sadly, we know that this is a common response to disaster and, when it is preached, it is labeled “Christian teaching.”
When Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, televangelist Pat Robertson declared that it was God’s judgment upon our country for our abortion laws. When Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston Colorado pastor and radio host Kevin Swanson announced on his show that the storm was God’s judgment upon that city because of their liberal mayor. In their sermons this morning they will pull from the Genesis texts of the destruction of Soddom and Gomorrah or of Noah and the flood.
We are a people who believe in the need for repentance for we know, as Paul wrote to the Romans, “we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Striving to follow Jesus and repenting when we have fallen off the path are critical aspects of our faith. Forgive the pun please but we are wading in deep water when we speak of the mystery of God’s ways and the nature of his judgment but please hear this clearly: as Christians, this is NOT who we believe God is and it is NOT how we believe he behaves.
Of course, there are scriptures to point to when God uses the natural world to make his point. But we are followers of Jesus and, as his disciples, we know that the greatest image we have of who God is is found in him. The greatest pointer we have to the mystery of God’s character we get from what he teaches. The Bible is the Word of God but Jesus teaches us how to read it better. This is especially important to remember when hard times come.
Remember that Jesus himself taught, “You have heard it said ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I tell you, turn the other cheek.” He was quoting scripture—chapter and verse—and then he transformed it for us so that we could better know who God really is. God is not “an eye for an eye.” We had gotten that wrong and Jesus let us know. And in this sixth chapter of Luke Jesus makes very clear this startling message: God loves his enemies. As Jesus puts it: “God is kind to the ungrateful and merciful to the wicked.”
We can miss that part because the first part of his teaching is so difficult—that we are to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. But we have that difficult demand BECAUSE of the second part; because GOD loves his enemies. He shows them kindness and mercy. This means that even if God does hate us—even if we have turned from him, becoming his enemy and needing to repent—he does not send floods to devastate us. That is not how he treats his children. Jesus says, that is not how he treats even his enemies.
You might be thinking, “Well, other pulpits may preach the judgment message but I am here because this one doesn’t. I don’t believe in any of that stuff anyway so why speak of it?” But as much as we try to get beyond this misunderstanding of God, we can catch ourselves clutching it tightly. When we receive a diagnosis, when our marriage is suffering, when we face untimely grief, when our home is flooded, we can catch ourselves wondering: does God not love me anymore? Is God angry with me? Or, even more simply, has God left me?
These niggling questions find their dark root in that same misunderstanding of who God is. So please hear it again and hear it clearly: God is the one who loves even his enemies. He showers them with kindness and mercy, not terror and pain.
Does that mean that there is no judgment with God? No, it doesn’t. But Jesus is telling us that we have misunderstood the mystery of divine judgment when we start to link suffering to sin. Like when his disciples pointed to the blind man and asked Jesus, “Who sinned there? This man or his parents?” and it is as if Jesus cannot comprehend why they would ask such a ludicrous thing. In our efforts to make sense of suffering, let’s make sure we don’t do the same thing.
Who God is, incomprehensibly, is that he is the one who loves his enemies. Don’t miss this life-altering truth because of the difficult teaching that came before. And don’t miss that it is the nature of God that led to the difficult teaching in the first place. WE are to love our enemies as well. It is not easy news to hear but it is good news. Jesus tells us that we are God’s children and the way we will know we are in the family is if we act like God does: if we, incomprehensibly, are the ones who love those who hate us.
Of course, the positive way to state this is that we are called to treat everyone like a neighbor. Surely the tornado and the flood of these last couple of weeks have at least taught us that. And we have seen such beautiful examples of that in this time.
When Brenda Davis’ home had a tree land on its roof during the tornado she did what any smart person would do. She got up that next morning…and came to Sunday School and church. By the time she pulled up in her driveway that afternoon her yard was full of people. They were cleaning the debris and removing the tree and letting her know that she was their neighbor. When John and Suzanne Tripp began putting together sand bags to protect their now-flooded home, Suzanne said they were immediately surrounded by teenagers they’d never met who filled and loaded their bags for them, letting them know that they were their neighbors. Every day for more than a week people have been offering their boats and their time to reach folks in the Riverlyn neighborhood to check on them and take them supplies. All as evidence that what we really are to each other is neighbors. All of us, neighbors to each other.
Is it easy to love our enemies? To do good to those who hate you? To bless those who curse you? Of course not. It is not easy at all. But it is good. It is good because we do it because God loves them—he loves all who have sinned and fallen short of his glory. If God can do that for us, for even his enemies, we can answer his call and we can do it too. When we fulfill this difficult call—show this hard love—it is how God will recognize us as family. That’s what Jesus says.
Haven’t we learned from these last days that life is fragile? It is too fragile and precious to be filled with resentments and bitterness, to be built on hate for our enemies. Let’s build our lives on being a child of God instead. Amen.