Something has changed within me / Something is not the same / I'm through with playing by the rules / Of someone else's game / Too late for second-guessing / Too late to go back to sleep / It's time to trust my instincts / Close my eyes and leap!
It’s a heavy day today. The weather is heavy, leaden, gray, promising a deluge later on, flood warnings abound. It weighs upon us. The rodent predicted spring may be early as promised, but it seems a long time coming. It’s a heavy day today. A glance through local and national and even international news feels like a cement block settling onto our shoulders. Border wars, tear gas and shooting, sports figures and actors and politicians detained and accused, harassment and hatred in our own deep end of the pool - heaviness pulls at us, dragging at every attempt to move forward. Forward, a way forward? Or the inertia of gravity that pulls into stagnation, into division and fear, into a lack of trust and choosing of sides. We are not immune to the effects of gravity. In the church, in the world, in you and in me. It is what it is. Just learn to live with it, that’s the advice of some. Get used to it. You can’t fight it, you can’t change it, it is as fundamental to the human condition as gravity.
It's time to try defying gravity / I think I'll try defying gravity / And you can't pull me down / I'm through accepting limits / 'Cause someone says they're so / Some things I cannot change / But 'til I try, I'll never know! / Too long I've been afraid of / Losing love I guess I've lost / Well, if that's love / It comes at much too high a cost! / I'd sooner buy defying gravity / Kiss me goodbye, I'm defying gravity / And you can't pull me down
Our Showstoppers series is ending on shaky ground. Shaky? Well, there are witches. Some will take offense at the very idea. Some will recoil at the thought that we might find something of value, hear something of the gospel in the words of a witch.
Wicked is a musical that I love. I was captivated by it the first time I saw it years ago. It is a retelling, a prequel to use the lingo, to the classic children’s story “The Wizard of Oz.” And there are witches and wizards, talking animals and munchkins, yeah, ok. But Wicked is about witches and wizards in the same way “To Kill a Mockingbird” is about ornithology. It’s really about good and evil and how it is sometime hard to tell one from the other, or about how good can sometimes feel like evil, or help can often harm, and truth can sound like a lie and lies become a new truth. All of which sounds an awful lot like something Jesus said.
Luke 6:27-38 "But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 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. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."
“I say to you that listen.” Are these words we really want to hear, to really listen to and perhaps change our lives around? Well, no, let’s be honest. We live in a world that nurses grudges, that licks wounds, that lives to get even. Talk about your swimming against the tide. Talk about defying gravity. These words of Jesus here in the Gospel of Luke sound like a note out of tune in the symphony of our lives. Love your enemies? Come on!
Take a look though, take a listen. Listen to this rethinking of how we live in community. “Love your enemies” he says. But how do we do that? We whine and complain and run off with a million excuses, a million justifications as to why that not only won’t work but it isn’t even humanly possible. Listen Jesus, what you are asking is not going to work in the world in which we live. Whether we are talking about international enemies, where an expression of love for those enemies will get us labeled a traitor to our nation or soft on terrorism, or bleeding hearts or who knows what else; or talking about personal enemies who just make our lives the living hell that it can be from time to time until we develop enough backbone to get rid of them. Surely you aren’t asking us to just put up with bad treatment because Christians are supposed to be the welcome mat for the world, allowing anyone and everyone to wipe their feet on us!
Slow down, He would say, just listen for a moment, please? Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. But how in the world... Shh, listen. Bless those who curse you. Are you kidding me, those no good .... Quiet! Listen. Pray for those who abuse you. OK, now you’ve gone too far, Jesus. That just isn’t right, to put up with abuse is simply wrong, just wrong.
Listen, please just listen. Watch what he does here. On one level he is repeating the same charge four times. Love your enemies. Love those who hate you. Love those who curse you. Love those who abuse you. Repetition to make the point. But on another level he is shifting the call. Love, do good, bless, pray for. Do you see, do you hear? Jesus doesn’t tell us to just take it. He doesn’t tell us to just be the door mat of anyone and everyone. What he tells us is don’t become them. Don’t harbor the kind of hate that allows abuse and cursing to happen. Turn it around. Turn it over. But notice the distance, “do good” means encounter, get close enough to impact a life somehow. “Bless” is at arms length. When curses are being hurled, you might need to step back. Step back and gather yourself so that you can hurl blessings in return. But step back, blessings aren’t in your face, they are laid at your feet. They are handed out at a bit of distance. And then “pray,” when the abuser is at work, then get away, get far away, run to safety. But don’t carry the hate with you, run from it too. Instead from your safe place you pray, pray for God’s healing and God’s love to transform the abuser. Leave behind the inclination to hurt back, as you have been hurt. It doesn’t help in the healing. It doesn’t make right what has been a horrible wrong. Let it go, and love. Love from a distance. Or better yet, pray, pray that God’s love can do what your love is incapable of at the moment. Pray that God steps in and loves your enemies through you. Suddenly gravity doesn’t seem insurmountable. Still scary, but not insurmountable.
“Too long I’ve been afraid of losing love I guess I lost.” Do we lose something in the process. Well, yeah, according to the world we lose something. According to a revenge culture we lose something. That’s why Jesus goes on to talk about losing. If you always want to be even, what good is that? If you always want pay back what good is that? If you always get love in return for your love, it is really love? The love we lose in the process of defying gravity, becomes the love that sustains us as we fly. It becomes the love that transforms, the love that surrenders. The love that pours out regardless of the return. The love that is like God.
Why be kind? For the good it does? No. Though it does do good, powerful good. For the feeling it gives us? No. Though those feelings are wonderful by-products of doing kindness. Why do acts of kindness? Because that’s what God does. And the reward we get is that we can participate in that love. We can love like God loves. That’s why we do it. Because God does. And it starts with listening. Deeply enough to hear. Jesus speaks to those who listen.
Something has changed within me, within us. Something is not the same. See, just knowing this, just hearing this and everything changes. We can no longer ignore the way the world is. It’s time to try defying gravity. To try it is His way. To love like He loves.