Follow Me: Biblical Practices for Faithful Living
Challenging: Working for Liberation while Challenging Oppression
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Pentecost – June 5, 2022
Hear the Word of God from Luke 6:17-31.
He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.
And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.
“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
On this Pentecost Sunday, seven weeks past Easter Sunday in the year 2021, we have enjoyed a perfectly beautiful weekend. The weather has been amazing. There is so much that is good about this life, this earth, and the joy of daily living. I love the color of freshly cut grass and the wonderful smell of gardenias blooming. I enjoy the camaraderie of sports events, whether playing sports with others or watching with others.
I appreciate the memories often created this time of year with extended family members during summer vacations.
I value the diversity of the interesting human beings with whom I interact every day.
Even so, there are troublesome issues brewing all around us. We are shocked and so saddened by the continual onslaught of gun violence. There was another mass shooting last night. This time in Philadelphia. Which community will be grieving next?
We are concerned about the narratives we are hearing from friends and family members with long Covid. We are aware of serious mental health issues with our neighbors, and our siblings, and our kids. We grieve over an ongoing war in Ukraine, where so many are suffering needlessly, and the long term impact on people’s lives will be devastating.
We are wondering what in the world our U.S. economy is going to do, wondering whether anyone in the lower or middle classes will be able to afford food and gas to get to work.
Our “Follow Me” curriculum that we have been following has a theme this morning that focuses upon “working for liberation while challenging oppression.” Our related text is a portion of the Sermon on the Plain from the gospel of Luke. Jesus’ powerful and poignant words to that mixed crowd of first century Galileans still stands at the very top of all public discourses ever delivered in human history.
In Luke’s gospel, this striking sermon arrives just after Jesus has chosen the 12, and not long before he sends out the 12 to proclaim the kingdom of God. Jesus intentionally gathers these 12 along with a large crowd from all over Palestine “on a level place”. On this level plain, where all stood on equal footing before him, he outlines to all who would hear a new way of living in the world, a radically different way of seeing and acting in relation to one’s neighbors.
Love your enemies? Do good to those who hate you? Bless those who curse at you? Pray for your abusers? Turn the other cheek? Who can do this? Who can live like this?
What might enable someone or some group to be able to STOP in the gap between stimulus and response, and choose a loving, confident, courageous response? Jesus offered instructions about living in difficult circumstances by a different set of rules, by the rules of the kingdom of heaven.
Specifically, Jesus taught what would become known as the “Golden Rule”: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
This seems such a simple ideal and yet, in our daily lives and in the history of the world, so difficult to attain.
Much of the world lives with the ethic of the Silver Rule. Isocrates of the Greeks, Confucius of the East, and Philo, the great Jew of Alexandria, all spoke of “not doing unto others what you do not want them to do unto you.”
This is the Silver Rule, not the Golden Rule. The Silver Rule says, “you don’t hurt me and I won’t hurt you.”
The Golden Rule is quite different. The Golden Rule is proactive – Do unto others, cross that line, go beyond what is required or expected, not to harm or abuse, but to love and to help. Act with grace toward other persons, even when that other person or group does not deserve it, and especially if that other person or group is an enemy of some kind.
To live by the Golden Rule probably requires some experience of receiving the grace of God. Only the one who has been loved, who has been forgiven, who knows and understands grace, is able to extend that grace to others.
Friends, we live in a culture that seems to have forgotten the Golden Rule. What are teaching our kids these days? What lessons are being reinforced in the shows that we watch and the games that we play? Ours is a violent culture, both in our words and our deeds. Ours is a competitive culture, a stratified culture. We quickly label people and put them in boxes. We quickly draw lines in the sand between ourselves and some other group or party.
We quickly label who is “inside” our group and who is “outside”. We quickly make fun of the one who is different or distressed. We do the opposite of what Jesus has taught us – we hate our enemies.
We do bad things to those who hate us. We curse right back at those who curse us, and, instead of praying for our abusers, we work to find ways to abuse them right back. And when someone strikes out at us, we strike right back with vehement power, whether with harmful words on social media, or rumors among our friends, or violent attacks. Jesus taught his followers not to live like this, and not to play the victim.
These followers had no position or power. They were not allowed to vote or run for office. They lived under the thumb of the Roman government. They had known oppression and abuse for generations, and they were looking for a Messiah to save them from their distress. Jesus’ congregation in Galilee long ago mostly included the poor and the hungry, those who had reason to weep, those who were looked down upon and abused by the powers that be.
When Jesus said, turn the other cheek, he was advocating for them to engage in non-violent opposition. In first century Palestine, one’s left hand was held for personal care, and one’s right hand for interaction with others.
For a “greater” person to strike a “lesser” person, they would do so with the back of the hand. If I were to strike you with the back of my right hand, and then you were to turn the other cheek, then I would be forced to strike you with my open hand, which would signal that I would then be treating you as an equal.
Jesus taught his followers that their lives were not to be shaped or determined by the Roman soldiers who abused them, nor by the Jewish ruling classes who looked down upon them and excluded them. Jesus taught them that they were to take the initiative, not by responding in kind or complaining, but to act according to a different set of rules, according to the principles of the kingdom of heaven.
Do good to those who hate you. Pray for those who abuse you. Bless those that curse you. Instead of fear, courage. Instead of reciprocity, helpfulness. Instead of revenge, love. Instead of hate, undeserved grace. Instead of self-centeredness, uncommon generosity, even in the face of abusive and harmful forces.
If a soldier forces you to carry his pack for a mile, shame him by carrying it a second mile. If anyone takes your coat, give them your shirt as well. Do not be defined by the values of this world, but live with a different mentality.
Jesus was teaching his followers to combat the “scarcity mentality” so prevalent in human history. So much of the world lives from a position of spiritual weakness and fear. Those who are weak and afraid hate their enemies and want to do evil to them. Those who are weak and afraid, if they lend, do so reluctantly, and then make sure they get everything back with plenty of interest.
Those who operate from fear and weakness quickly judge others – the way they look, the way they dress, the way they talk, where they are from. Those who are weak and afraid quickly condemn others… mostly because they have experienced being condemned. Those who are weak and afraid do not forgive and tend to hold onto grudges and then retaliate, in order to get back at the other.
Those who are spiritually weak and afraid do not give very much. They hold tight to what they have. They operate out of that “scarcity mentality”, that “there is not enough to go around, and I had better get what I can while I can.”
These reactive positions, reacting to the whims of others, and not according to God’s will, belies the “scarcity mentality”, the kind of eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth mentality that will ultimately leave the whole world blind and toothless.
Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other brave souls understood the power in Jesus’ teaching when he encouraged his followers to live from a position of spiritual strength. When one lives in a position of spiritual strength, then one can act in a loving manner toward an enemy and do good to those who abuse them. A spiritually strong person can lend to those in need expecting nothing in return. When one is operating from a position of strength, one can forgive, even when forgiveness is undeserved. Operating from a position of strength, one is able to give freely, anticipating that in some way, in God’s own time, some benefit may or may not return.
To live by the Golden Rule and operate in a proactive manner according to God’s will, is to live according to an “abundance mentality”, trusting that there will be enough to go around. There will be enough love, enough grace, enough mercy, even enough economic resources for all. Living by this “abundance mentality” will not leave the world blind and toothless, but ultimately will diminish oppression and nurture liberation for all people.
On this Pentecost Sunday, we are reminded of those first disciples who were hiding out in Jerusalem. They were afraid of the Jews. They were afraid of the Romans. They were afraid to speak up and speak out. But on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit was poured out among them and they acted with spiritual strength. They went out into the streets and spoke as the Spirit enabled and inspired them. They reached out to a diverse gathering of persons from all over the Mediterranean basin. They initiated a holy movement that changed the world forever.
The presence of the Holy Spirit enabled the followers of Jesus to act from their convictions, and not from their fears.
The good news of the gospel is that we are not alone. We are never left to our own devices. The Spirit will show up once again to empower us. The Spirit of Jesus is among us, and we are able, by God’s grace, to do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
At the Table, we are reminded that there is a different set of rules, a different mindset in the kingdom of heaven.
At the Table, we are strengthened anew to live differently, to teach our children differently, to set a different course for our individual lives and the health of our community.
At this Table, we learn to live and act not from our fears, but from our convictions. We learn not to be afraid of scarcity, but to live confidently in the abundance available in God’s coming kingdom.
To God be the glory. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
June 5, 2022