In last week’s Gospel lesson, Luke introduced the “Sermon on the Plain” by writing: “Jesus came down and stood on a level place.” Jesus didn’t preach from some lofty mountain top, far above the daily hubbub of life, with all of its attendant crises. Jesus came down… and stooped to heal and encourage and spread the Good News of God’s kingdom to the poor and the hungry, the sick in body, mind and spirit, and those who mourned… who were all pressing in around him. He pronounced them blessed… and reassured them that, despite all of their travails, they had God’s attention. And then he looked up at his disciples and invited them to go “all-in…” to join him down there on the plain, the place where God’s attention was focused, and help him turn the world upside down.
And we’re still down there on the plain with Jesus this week, learning more about how we can live into our vocations as bringers of God’s kingdom. I don’t know about y’all, but it seemed like we had our work cut out for us last week… stooping to spread the love of Christ to the poor and the hungry, the sick in body mind and spirit and those who mourn… people who don’t look like we do, or live like we do, or speak or worship like we do, or smell like we do. We are to stoop to help with worldly stuff when we can, stuff like food and medicine and shelter… but mostly we’re just to be with them and love them. Really love them. But today—today—we’re told it’s not enough to love and help those less-fortunate than we are… that that, by itself, won’t turn the world upside down. No. Today Jesus tells us that we must we must also love—and bless—our enemies. People who hate us. And persecute us. And abuse us. That’s too much! Surely, there must be some mistake!
But then, Jesus doubles down: if someone sucker punches you, don’t assume a defensive posture. Open up. If someone steals your stuff, ask them what else they need. Share your wealth: give what you can, when you can, expecting nothing in return—not changed behavior, not even a thank you. And finally Jesus tells us, in no uncertain terms, that we’re not to judge, or condemn, but always be merciful and forgive. Pie in the sky, huh? I wonder how often we’re tempted to pat ourselves on the back and say, “Well, I’m not perfect, but I do the best I can, which is certainly better than some folks…. Isn’t it funny that, when confronted with our own inadequacies, our first instinct is often to minimize our own offenses by focusing on the shortcomings of others? Whether or not we name the Other, are we not still propping ourselves up at the expense of another person or group of people? Yes, we are. And I’m pretty sure I know what Jesus would have to say about that.
What kind of a world would this be if, rather than putting up our dukes and giving tit-for-tat every time we felt wronged or offended, we opened up and made ourselves vulnerable, perhaps drawing out the humanity of our enemy in the process? What if, instead of holding on tight to all of the “stuff” on which we stake our worldly security each day—and by stuff I’m not simply referring to tangible stuff like money and possessions, but also to other things like position and privilege, time-honored customs and traditions, even our heritage as a particular people and nation—what if we released our death grip on these temporal assets and offered up everything we hold dear—everything—to help bring about God’s kingdom on earth, trusting in Almighty Providence to give us those things which we truly need?
Perhaps you’ve heard it said that it’s much harder to hold anger and hatred in your heart for someone when you pray for them. Imagine what it would be like if we stopped judging and condemning people who disagree with us about the best way to cure all of the world’s ills and started praying hard for them instead. And I don’t mean simply praying for them to come around to our way of thinking. I mean praying for their peace and well-being. Their comfort and their safety. I mean praying for them to grow into deeper relationship with God. That they will continue to become the creatures God created them to be more-and-more each day. I wonder, if we did that… if we could all bring ourselves to do that… how long it would be before our enemies were no longer enemies, but only fellow travelers on the road to kingdom come?
So, I’ll cut to the chase: Jesus tells us that the measure we give… is the measure we’ll get back. In other words, we’ll get out of this earthly sojourn precisely what we put into it. And what a measure it is! If we can bring ourselves to accept half of the teachings in Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain, we’ll not only please God, we’ll also be happier in the here and now. We’re here to learn and to do. We’re here to learn kindness… to be present with and serve the least of these, like Jesus was. We’re here to learn to place our trust in God and God alone, and to give up all of our worldly assets and aspirations to help bring about God’s kingdom, like Jesus did. We’re here to learn how to love and to refrain from judging, and to leave all of that in God’s hands, like Jesus showed us how to do. Stoop. Love. Bless. Give. Do unto others…. Be merciful. Don’t judge. Forgive. These are the teachings of the Sermon on the Plain. This is the good measure with which we’ve been blessed and entrusted. How much will we give? And how much will we get back?
I expect we’ll all find out soon enough.