Scripture: Leviticus 19:9-18, Matthew 5:38-48
Title: More than Tolerance
***sermons are meant to be heard, so listen along here***
Have you ever stopped to think about some of the unwritten rules we follow, often without thinking about it?
Like how everyone faces the door in an elevator.
Or how you never ask someone how much money they make.
How you let people off the train before getting on.
How if someone is waiting for you to cross the street you usually move a little quicker.
How you don’t ever ask for tech help without first rebooting.
Or how you never, ever, EVER ask a woman anything regarding childbearing. Ever. Ever ever.
There are two unwritten rules Jesus references today as well…
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is the first one
The second is love your neighbor hate your enemy.
When Jesus says, “you have heard it said”
He’s calling out the unwritten rule.
He’s saying, you guys have heard people say that this is how things go.
And you know this is how things DO go.
Eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.
This is the way we roll.
This isn’t an ancient church characteristic either.
We’re pretty good at this unwritten rule too.
Someone says something we don’t agree with, what usually happens first?
This is when social media can be so damaging.
It teaches us that people who disagree with us are fundamentally bad.
We call them stupid.
We say they are snowflakes (so fragile and delicate they are so easily offended… funny that this is used universally for both sides right now)
Someone calls you dumb then you call them dumb and the whole thing is derailed.
Jesus says that’s not how we roll you guys.
If someone says something, we let them say it.
We don’t strike back.
This kind of response is shocking when it happens.
Because it is completely unexpected.
Do you remember when, in 2007, a man walked into an Amish school and shot 10 girls, killing 5.
Do you remember how the families of those girls responded?
They forgave him.
And it was astounding to the watching world.
Despite having to bury their own children the day before, they went to the shooter’s funeral.
They hugged his mother. They grieved with her.
And what made it so was that it was the opposite reaction of what was expected.
If they had been mad, no one would have thought twice about it.
If they had blamed the mother for raising such a man, people would have understood.
But they didn’t.
“If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give them your shirt as well”
For decades this verse has been used to justify abuse, or even justify staying in an abusive relationship. That is so wrong on both accounts. This is about taking a stand for humanity, and justice.
Jesus isn’t saying don’t react.
He isn’t telling people to have no boundaries.
He is saying don’t respond in kind.
Don’t answer violence with violence.
Boundaries are necessary to preserve human dignity.
This isn’t about abuse, it’s about taking a stand for the sake of humanity.
Love for the sake of your neighbor.
Jesus isn’t asking for something easy.
He’s asking us to do the impossible.
This isn’t tolerance.
Tolerance is “allowing the practice or existence of something or someone that one does not like or agree with – without interference.”
(I mean, by that definition we’re not all that good at tolerance either are we?)
But Jesus is asking for something more than tolerance.
He’s asking for love.
Radical, beyond the expected, love.
Then, as if that wasn’t subversive enough – he goes even further –
“You have heard it said you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy”
We have all heard this, or at least felt it.
And it makes sense.
Love the ones you know.
The ones you agree with.
The ones that look like you.
Hate the ones who are against you.
Who disagree with you.
Who believe something different than you do.
See, in the time of Jesus, they knew who was in or out.
You were either a Jew or Gentile.
And it was obvious.
By the way they talked, dressed, where they worshiped, their place in the temple, what they ate, how they interacted with others, it was all clearly outlined to show who was worthy of love and mercy and who was not.
BUT – Jesus says – But that’s not how this works anymore.
Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.
Say what Jesus?
He says even the worst guys, those tax collectors, they love those who love them. It’s not actually that hard.
If you’re with me, Jesus says, you’ve got to be about something different.
Something that sets you apart.
Something that changes the world.
That kind of love is powerful.
When we hear this, it’s not really that surprising that Jesus gets killed is it?
He’s really pushing the boundaries of what people are comfortable with. Still today we’re not totally comfortable with this.
Love those on the outside.
The ones who need it, no matter what they look like, worship, or where they are from.
Even if they are the ones you’ve been told to hate your whole life.
This feels like an impossible call for us as Christ followers. Doesn’t it?
As we sit here and listen to these words of Christ we KNOW we are missing the mark.
And what makes it even more difficult is what Jesus says next: Be perfect therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.
God loves you this way – perfectly – so you love others the same way.
Oh. Only that. No pressure.
As a perfectionist, I don’t really need any help with putting pressure on myself, so these words have caused me a little anxiety in my journey of faith.
Because I know I miss the mark, and I know the tendency to push harder and do more and try until I can’t try anything else, and I know how exhausting that is, and how that cannot possibly be what God has in mind for me. Even though it says perfect.
So I’ve spent some time on that word – perfect.
In Greek it’s telos.
Which, you will all be relieved to know, doesn’t mean perfect.
It means the end-goal, end result, or the purpose.
In other words, Jesus says become the end-goal, as God is the end goal.
Eugene Peterson says this verse as “live out your God-created identity”
Become who you were meant to be.
Help bring about the Kingdom of God in the world.
This isn’t a command for perfection, but a reminder of the gift we already have been given.
Be fully the child of God who I have made you to be.
We’ve been created by a God who loves us, who gifted us with grace and mercy even when we didn’t deserve it.
And now we are called to go and do the same.
To all of those in need.
Even the ones we might not agree with or think deserve it for whatever reason.
St Augustine once said “recieve who you are, become what you’ve received.”
In a few moments we are going to gather around the table and receive a reminder of who we are – chosen, forgiven, loved children of God, and then we are called to become that very thing for the sake of the other.
What a call.
What a challenge.
What a gift.
This week I connected with Matt Popovits, pastor of Our Savior New York, a Lutheran church in Queens, because I read a post of his about mercy not being political. It was so challenging you guys, and I have been wanting to share it with you ever since I read it. Pr Matt sent me a video version, and since they are his words, I’d like to have him close us out here today: (Watch here)
What a call.
What a challenge.
What a gift.