Updated: Mar 2, 2020
February 23, 2020
Matthew 5:38-48 (NRSV)
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,[a] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Things sure look different from up here rather than from my usual seat in the 3rdpew, on the left hand side of the sanctuary, 3 – 4 seats in! I think if I recall correctly, the last time I was behind the pulpit I was the 22-year-old church custodian pushing a vacuum. Most of you don’t know, but a few of you might still remember that I was the First Pres janitor for about 8 years. The salary this church provided to me through high school and college was very helpful as I earned my degree at Western Montana College. I am very thankful and indebted to you as my church family.
As I started to prepare for the message today, I thought, the scriptures that Aaron just shared were so straight forward! The message from Matthew was succinct. It was direct. It was clear. Ya Right! If that were the case, then the sermon would be done and we could all head to coffee hour a bit early today. You are not so lucky. As I continued to reflect on the message that I believe God intends for us to hear today, I found that I was challenged every step of the way. In fact, I found it a lot easier to hate my enemies, really hate a lot of things rather than to do as these scriptures instruct us to.
Has anyone ever told you to be perfect? That is the closing charge of Matthew’s message to us and the title of today’s message. Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.
· How many of us are perfect? – I was going to ask for a show of hands but remembered this is not one of my regular classrooms, so you are off the hook.
· How many of you know someone that is perfect?
· How hard is it to be perfect?
Tough questions with nearly impossible answers. The good news is that through the words found in Matthew 5:38-48 we hear and learn a lot about what this might look like in our life and in our church. Over the next several minutes, I will try to unpack the scripture to help us to think about what this difficult passage challenges us to do, even though at times, what we are encouraged to do, might feel or seem to be impossible.
If you will allow me a bit of grace, I am going to ask us to consider re-ordering some of this passage so that it is a bit easier to understand and apply these scriptures to our life today. There are three main points to today’s message. They are:
1.To love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you (5:43-44)
2.The challenge to Not resist the evildoer (5:38-42)
3.And to be perfect, therefore, as you heavenly Father is perfect (5:45-48)
Our first key point from these passages is to love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you. I would like us to think about that statement for a moment – Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you. As we reflect, I think that most of you would agree that it is pretty easy to love our neighbors (or at least most of them, most of the time) yet it is quite difficult for us to wrap our heads around loving our enemies. As we try to understand this concept, I would like to ask you to think about, who are our enemies?
· Are they the bullies that terrorize our kids on the playgrounds or in cyberspace?
· Are they the people we gossip about over coffee with our friends?
· Is it the neighbor that allows their dogs to poop on your lawn?
· Is it that annoying colleague or maybe even your boss?
· Or worse yet, is it a family member or a loved one that has hurt or betrayed you in some way?
I know that as I prepared for this message today, I felt that God was really challenging me to practice what I preach! Sometimes I am a bit slow to hear Gods words to me – occasionally, the Holy Spirit has to grab me by the shirt collar and say, “Richardson, listen to what I am trying to teach you!” I found this especially true, these past few weeks as I wrestled with God’s word.
As you might recall, in early February, Daniel talked with us about unresolved anger and the need for reconciliation. The foundation for his message was based on Matthew 5:23-24. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Pastor even said he would not be offended if someone needed to stand up, walk down the aisle, and leave the church in order to reconcile with their brother or sister. I noticed there wasn’t a huge rush to get to the door, yet, I wonder how many of us may have skipped a heartbeat and maybe became a bit uncomfortable and challenged by those words. I found myself grinning from ear to ear as I heard Daniel’s challenge, because it brought back a sweet memory of the value of loving my enemy. Let me explain. Several years ago, I was an athletic trainer at a small college in California. Debi and I had been married for a couple of years. We had a one-year-old and another on the way. I was very frustrated with my work. I had such disdain for a colleague in my department that I made a decision to start looking for a new job, somewhere else. If people were to label me at that time, I would have been described as a middle class, white, conservative Christian. The person that was the focus of my hatred was everything that I was not. You might have described us as polar opposites in our world view. As the story continues, my pastor at the time, Tom Carter, delivered a sermon that was titled: The Three Signs of a Sprit Filled Christian. To this day, I credit that message with shaping me into who I am today! I’ll be honest with you, I can’t remember what the first two signs were, but I distinctly remember the third as, Do you love your enemy? The message that day was based on this passage of scripture from Matthew chapter 5. Now I didn’t leave the church in the middle of the sermon, but I did go directly to this person’s office first thing Monday morning. I confessed the ill-will I had towards this person and I humbly asked for forgiveness. As I indicated previously, she and I had very different world views. She didn’t understand why I was bringing this to her nor was she aware of the ill-will I had harbored. When I asked for forgiveness she graciously forgave me.
You see, it was a that time I surrendered to the Holy Spirit, listened to God’s call in my life, and acted upon His word. The result, I received His perfect peace – a peace that surpasses all understanding. Debi and I talked about the happenings of the day, prayed together and made a decision we were staying put. We were no longer looking for a new place to be, because the Lord revealed that the problem was, my heart, and not someone else.
Does that sound a little bit like Daniels four points from a few weeks ago? If you remember, he challenged us with the importance of when needing to reconcile with others (or in this case, my hatred for my enemy) we are to:
Pray – for discernment and wisdom, ask that the Spirit of God would change our hearts to reflect love, patience, gentleness and self-control.
Go – and be reconciled. Accept responsibility for the hurt and ill-will that we have caused and may be harboring.
Ask - for forgiveness. This vulnerability allows for God’s grace and healing to fill us.
Stay – in relationship with “your enemy” if possible.
Paul Harvey in his radio broadcast, used to finish a story with the phrase; And now, you know the rest of the story. I would like to modify that slightly with the following: And now for the rest of my story. On Tuesday of the same week that I decided to love my enemy, I received a phone call from Dave Kendall, the head athletic trainer at Western Montana College. Dave was a close friend and mentor to me. He told me of an opening for a Head Athletic Trainer/Athletic Training Program Director at Whitworth College in Spokane Washington. As you may know, Whitworth is a Presbyterian College and the alma mater of our own Callie Triller. Dave told me that he thought I would be a good fit for the job, he didn’t tell me that he was applying for it a well. On Wednesday of that week, I prepared a resume and cover letter with the intention of applying for the job. On Thursday, I put the application in the mail for 24-hour delivery, because the positon closed on that Friday. On Friday, I packed our first box as God’s perfect peace – remember that peace I talked about a few moments ago, the peace that surpasses all understanding, filled my heart, and I continued to pack one box every day until I went for the interview, was offered the positon, and ultimately moved. There is even more to the story but we will save it for a later time.
I can think of all kinds of examples in our world today where we need to love our enemies. All I have to do is mention the word “politics” and for many of us there is an emotional response of what looks and feels like hatred along party lines – regardless of which party we might affiliate with. How many times as we struggle with our enemies, is it really evidence of what is happening or maybe NOT HAPPENING in our own hearts?
The second key point from our scriptures today is to NOT resist the evil doer. As you may have noticed, this is where I have reversed the order of the scriptures. Hopefully, you will understand why as this unfolds. In preparation for today’s message, I wondered about the origin or history of the saying, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We have all probably heard or even used those terms several times throughout our life’s. What I learned is that these phrases come from the Old Testament law and can be found in Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, and Deuteronomy 19:12. The law allowed one to retaliate in equal proportion to the offense. In other words, if someone pokes your eye out, you have the legal right to do the same to them. Same for a tooth, hand, foot, burn, wound, bruise and so on – you get the point. It is in the second half of verse 30 that Matthew challenges us with the concept of grace. That passage states: But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. By turning the other cheek, we reveal God’s grace. Let me explain, I learned early in my walk as a Christian to think about Grace through the following acronym: God’s Redemption at Christ’s Expense. Grace tells us that we no longer need to claim the law and retaliate, but rather that Christ has already paid the expense on our behalf, through His pain, suffering, death and resurrection on the cross! In other words, don’t retaliate as stated in the law, but extend grace to the evil doer. The law says, you get what you deserve. Grace tells us to give back to them, what they don’t deserve – a touch of God’s amazing grace.
As we move into the next scriptures, Biblical scholars aren’t clear about how we should consider Matthew 5:40–42. We are unsure if those challenges are to be taken literally or to be considered figuratively. From what I understand, it doesn’t really matter which way you consider it. Those scriptures provide examples for us on how to live our lives as children of our Father in heaven. Think about ways to:
1.Go the extra mile (even if it is inconvenient for us to do so)
2.Give generously of your time and talents (even when it seems and feels like too much is already asked of us)
3.Break the cycle of revenge (by extending grace).
I would like to share another story with you of a time when I witnessed breaking the cycle of revenge, by extending grace. As I had previously mentioned, I worked at Whitworth College for over 20 years. During my time there, I received a FIPSE Fellowship to study Japanese language and culture. The goal of my fellowship was to take sports medicine majors to live in Japan for a month at a time to consider the differences between Eastern and Western approaches to health care; to explore Shintoism, Buddhism, and Christianity; and to expand and shape the worldview of my students. I’ve been leading study tours to Japan since the early 90’s and one on one of the trips I witnessed this cycle of revenge being broken. All of our students were able to experience a homestay thought the tour. At the conclusion of one of the homestay weekends, one of the students named Lisa shared the story of her experience. She had been hosted by a traditional, three generation Japanese family. It was a fun, challenging experience for Lisa and her host family. At the last family dinner of the weekend, Lisa noticed that Grandma was not with them. Lisa asked her host sister, “where is Grandma?”, as she wanted to be able to tell her goodbye before she returned to campus. The host sister indicated that Grandma wasn’t feeling well and would not be joining them for the evening. As the evening events continued, Lisa asked many questions about the family and their history. When Lisa asked about the grandfather, the conversation changed. The family told Lisa that Grandpa had died from cancer. Lisa respectfully expressed her condolences, and the family went on to tell her the cancer was the result of radiation exposure from the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima Japan. You see, grandpas job was to run the ferry that transported the bodies of those killed during the bombing. At about that time, Grandma came out of her room carrying a box. Grandma had been crying and she wanted to say good bye to Lisa. She said to Lisa that she (meaning Lisa) was the first American she had ever seen in real life. Grandma had harbored a resentment towards all Americans because wehad been the cause of Grandpas death. Then, Grandma offered a gift to Lisa and through translation, described her as the beautiful daughter that she had never known. Translated another way, Grandma extended grace and peace as there was a change in her heart, because of who Lisa was and the life she lived. So you might be wondering what was the gift? It was the kimono that Grandma had been married in. In Japanese culture, the kimono is a gift of great honor and Grandma honored Lisa not only with her kimono but with one of the most valued gifts possible, a changed heart. The cycle of revenge, and in this case, hatred and ill-will was broken.
I see through so many examples, the many ways that the people of this church go above and beyond, give graciously, and extend grace. Let me share with you a few examples: One of the first calls I received when my dad became very ill with cancer was from Mel Rice. Mel you might not remember this but you told me that if we needed anything, ramps built, doors widened, supports attached, whatever we needed to just let you know. That call meant so much to our family when we needed it the most. I would venture to bet that there is not one person in this building who has not been touched by the generosity of folks like John and Mary Ellen Wilkerson. They are true citizens of the kingdom of heaven as they give generously without expecting anything in return. I was recently moved when I learned of the dozens if not hundreds of stocking caps and mittens that were made with love and donated freely by members of this congregation to those who needed them. I regularly see the basket in the narthex overflowing with gifts to those served by Love Inc. I could spend the rest of the day talking about ways that you the people of this church minister to others, but I need to get to our third point of the sermon.
Hang in there, this one is short and sweet – I’m almost done. The third point of our passage takes us back to where we began about 15 minutes ago. We are told by Matthew in verse 48 to, Be Perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. You might be thinking, so why is this so important? Our answer comes from the first half of verse 45 where it says, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. Children of our heavenly Father. The second half of verse 45 tells us, as his children, he makes the sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends his rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. As we reflect on what it means to be God’s chosen children, it is easy for us to love our neighbors. Yet, as believers, and God’s children, we are called to a higher calling. We are called to hard love. I really like the way that Eugene Peterson in The Message translates this passage. Matthew Chapter 5:48 says, “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
As I finish, I would like to remind all of us of the importance of extending God’s grace. As children of our Father in Heaven, you have been called to be people of grace. Remember the law says to give them what they deserve. As God’s children, give them what they don’t deserve, a touch of Grace through Christ’s love as he lives in us. All of this helps us to fulfil the challenge to be perfect – as believers we are to live generously and graciously as God lives towards you.
Thanks be to God.
Let’s close in prayer.