Sunday, February 2, 2020

Love like Jesus

Micah 6:1-8; Matthew 5:1-12



Israel’s Prophets have one main message: “Return to faithfulness in your God.” Especially in Lent we hear this message, return to the Lord. Seven hundred years before Jesus, Micah and Isaiah warned the people of Israel, the Northern Kingdom, that bad things would happen if they continued ignoring God’s commandments.

Micah complains that wealthy people are taking advantage of poor people and making them even more poor. Wealthy people believe that perfectly performing the rituals will make up for their unjust treatment of poor people. They even sometimes brag about how perfectly they behave, how righteous they are.


But in this passage, it is clear that God doesn’t want rituals, perfect or otherwise. God wants fairness, justice, for all of God’s people. Micah’s message is summarized in one verse: God requires us to act with justice, to love being merciful, and to be humble, to not assume we are right in God’s eyes.


Image result for sermon on the mount location"Seven hundred years later, Jesus makes the same point: it is the unfortunate people who have God’s blessing, not the rich and powerful ones. This is in contrast to the popular belief that if you had wealth, you were blessed. If you were poor, you must have done something to make God unhappy with you, and you were not blessed.


Starting in Galilee, Jesus begins to preach to large crowds. This time, he climbs the hill at the north end of the sea of Galilee. Because the lake and the hill amplify sound it is a sort of natural amphitheater. The crowds can sit on the shore or up the hill and listen.


Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes. In this first sermon, he makes it clear that God wants to bless the less fortunate people as much as the fortunate people. The version of the Beatitudes in Luke are more pointed – they speak directly about relief for those who are poor, those who weep, those who are hated.

The Beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel are more about our spiritual condition. Do we feel disconnected from God, or abandoned by God? Do we feel sadness because we have lost loved ones, or meaningful work, or a long-time home? Do we feel we have no power, because others are always making decisions that benefit them and not us? Jesus is saying in these beatitudes that God knows how we feel and wants us to know there will be justice for us.


The Beatitudes are also about praising those who are actively working for God’s purposes in the world. Jesus praises those who seek to bring peace, those who offer mercy. And, Jesus lifts up those who suffer persecution for challenging the powerful.


These principles, these values, feel as counter-cultural today as they did in Jesus’ time, in Micah’s time, in Moses’ time. They are not new, but we humans continue to ignore them in favor of making ourselves comfortable.


… I am well aware that some of you agree with me when I talk about justice for all people. And I am also aware that some of you disagree with me on certain issues. With these texts today, it gives me an opportunity to talk about why I believe in justice for all.


It’s not my own idea; it’s what Jesus says and does throughout the gospels, throughout his ministry. It’s what the apostles taught. It’s what tradition has taught throughout the centuries. It’s also what many people have resisted, because they wanted more wealth, more power, more control over how things are done.

For example: The woman caught in adultery was fleeing the men who wanted to stone her for her sin. Jesus confronted them, asking if any of them were without sin. Of course, none of them wanted to say they were perfect. Jesus told the woman to go and sin no more.


-- So where was the justice? Is it found in allowing the woman to leave, and in challenging the men to let her go? Is it in taking notice that the men who were in the adulterous relationship with her were not being punished? Is the woman to be punished for loving someone who was supposed to be unavailable? Or for being so poor she had no choice but to sell her body in exchange for food? Where indeed is the justice?

“Jesus was political, highly political, just not in the way anyone wanted him to be.” There were several groups of Jews in Jesus’ time; they could be understood to be similar to today’s partisan political parties. The Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Zealots, and the Essenes understood scripture and how to run their community in different ways. Jesus never joined any of these groups. He was political, but not partisan.


There is a difference between being political and being partisan. Being political means being involved in government: for example, registering voters, voting, advocating for a change in the laws. For example, the women and men who advocated for giving women the ability to vote 100 years ago were political, not partisan. Campaigning for a stoplight at a dangerous corner is political, not partisan.


Partisan means claiming a connection to a political party and advocating for the values that party supports. Admittedly, it is harder today to make the distinction. But I try hard to speak for justice as Jesus envisions it, not as the Republican Party or Democrat Party define it. If it sounds too much like one party or the other, it may mean that the ideas and values of that party differ from what Jesus wants for all of us.


There is a comic strip that challenges us to think and act more like Jesus. It’s called Coffee with Jesus. Each week, Jesus has a conversation with someone. They all learn something from Jesus. The dialog goes like this. ( From a book by David Wilkie) 


Ann says: It’s weird, Jesus, but I just met some followers of yours who are on the complete opposite end of the political spectrum from me.


Jesus says: GASP!


Ann says: Very funny, Jesus … but I just don’t see how they can reconcile their faith with their position on …


Jesus interrupts: I’ll handle the reconciling, Ann. Your job is to love them … or ... maybe just not hate them. … Baby steps.

Let’s return to the Beatitudes. Jesus is saying to us in this list of blessings that with God’s help, we are called to  be the ones doing the comforting for those who are in distress. With God’s help, we are called to  be the ones offering mercy. With God’s help, we are called to be the ones making life more just for those who are oppressed. With God’s help, when we choose to follow Jesus, when we are called to follow Jesus, we are called to follow his way of life, even if it is not popular with some folks.

Jesus’ way of life is love. Love for everyone, including his enemies. Let’s remember that it is possible to love those who disagree with our opinions, with our politics, with our partisan affiliation. Jesus loves you, and he loves those who are hurting just as much as he loves you. Let us show each other how much Jesus loves all of us. Let us love like Jesus.