If someone mugs you for your wallet – give them your coat also.
If someone mugs you for your wallet – give them your coat also.
[Hang on to that! I’ll be back to it in a bit.]
Let’s hold hands and jump right into the briar patch! Just what is it that Jesus is trying to do to us this time? Let’s do inventory of our common life: Where are the Ancient Practices?
Have you ever considered why we would take up these ancient practices? Or why did ancient people take up these practices? Let me let you in on one of the obvious secrets – what I am about to tell you is the very seed-bed of the Good News in Christ.
MATTHEW 5:38 You have head it said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth but I say to you…
How many of you have heard of the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s? We actually have a descendent of the McCoys of Kentucky in this parish. Fortunately, we have no Hatfields from West Virginia on the roll so all is well (for now).
Please understand that an eye for an eye was a huge improvement over the practice of killing everybody in the family and having a “blood feud” that kills everyone in the neighborhood. Our justice system is a eye/eye –let the punishment fit the crime. Now Jesus begins where we are and says, You have heard it said… But I say to you!
If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;
Why the right cheek? You can only strike someone’s right cheek with the back of your hand, which to my way of thinking is more demeaning; as in “I will show you the back of my hand.
If anyone wants to sue and take your coat, give your cloak as well.
Here’s what we need to know about this. Turn in the Bible to Deuteronomy 24:10-13 [page 148 in the pew Bible]
When you make your neighbor a loan of any kind, you shall not go into the house to take the pledge. 11 You shall wait outside, while the person to whom you are making the loan brings the pledge out to you. 12 If the person is poor, you shall not sleep in the garment given you as the pledge. 13 You shall give the pledge back by sunset, so that your neighbor may sleep in the cloak and bless you; and it will be to your credit before the LORD your God.
A cloak could not be taken from a poor man. It was like a kilt – long piece of tartan cloth – pleat it on the floor over your belt, lie down on it, belt it around you for the day – it was all they had. It was called a PLAID = plaid. What Jesus is telling us, “So they take your suit and underwear, but rather than taking comfort that they at least can’t take your cloak — give it also!
If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.
If you had the bad luck to be on the road when the Roman Legion was on the march the soldiers were allowed (who was stopping them) to enlist you to carry their pack one mile. You choose to go on the second mile.
Give to everyone who begs from you and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
You don’t even run a credit check? You know the commercial that says, “We don’t care about your credit, we care about you!” Who are they kidding? This is foolish. This is good business. As you know when someone says to you, “It’s not about the money…” It’s always about the money.
Do an experiment. In front a 18 month old or a 2 year child set a $20.00 bill on fire. It’s just a piece of paper. Set the same bill on fire in front of a four year old; there is a look of horror and a scream goes up, “He’s burning money!”
These four situations are very different; what do they have in common? What they have in common is that what Jesus tells us to do is UN-NATURAL. It is not our first unthinking reaction! Remember what Thomas Moore wrote?
“The mind thinks, the body does and the soul Imagines.”
“You cannot trust your eyes if your imagination is out of focus.” – Mark Twain
Our imaginations must be converted! That is why we are taking up the ancient practices!!!! Because we must learn to do what does not come naturally and only the Triune God can do that! Love your enemies – Why, because praying for those who harm us – is the only way we have to convince people that the Holy Trinity is at work in the world.
That is, therefore, why we are not in the judgment business! Robert Farrar Capon was right on target when he said that people don’t need to be told how awful it will be when they go to hell. They know that already; they are already in hell.If a man is standing on the Hernando DeSoto bridge over the Mississippi about to jump, telling him that he will reach the water at 125 miles per hour and the impact is the same as falling on concrete and he will die! That man already knows that.
If we do not have a standard of caring greater than the jerk down the street and our ner-do-well brother-in-law; if our salt is not salty how beloved will anybody know Jesus loves them. If the Church is persecuted in the United States it will not because we are Christians, NO. it will because we are not Christian ENOUGH! We have to live our lives in such a way that the only way our community makes sense, is because God is real and transforming the souls of human beings.
Now for just last bit of business and I’m done. Verse 48 “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” That translation has been source of a lot of mischief; people in despair because they know they can’t ever be perfect and the others who, God help us, have convinced themselves that they are perfect.
Give it up. The better translation is, “Be whole, therefore, as your heavenly Father is whole.” Not, no mistakes or errors but wholeness, compassion, affection, kindness, generosity, joy, turning the other cheek, being naked for God’s sake, carrying the burdens of others, willingly, thus fulfilling the law of Christ, generous to those in need; investing in the Kingdom of God, where the economy is based, not on scarcity, but on superabundance.
I’m done. Amen.
I think this is called cross-over.
The True Self experiences reality as radical grace.
— Richard Rohr
The birth of a baby is a grand event. All that possibility without any of the cost resides in that crib. An American myth is that any child can grow up to be President of the United States! The shadow of that is that someone grows up to be the godfather of organized crime. All parents must consider the future with at least notions of growing old surrounded by generations of loving descendents.
Eve and Adam were not comforted in their old age by their progeny. We don’t know where they moved after Eden but eating the fruit of opposites had opened their eyes. What they saw was hardly worth it as things went from bad to worse. The terrible consequences of taking on more freight than humans were constructed to bear devolved into tragedy.
The young Adamson boys had great promise. For reasons not obvious to the reader God accepted the blood sacrifice of Abel but not the vegetable offering of Cain. Cain’s face “fell” the text tells us. In Genesis 4:6 God tells Cain that evil is crouching at the door to take him and he must resist it. Of course he does not resist it. He kills his brother.
Go find a copy of the 1955 film of the Steinbeck Movie East of Eden. The author and filmmaker masterfully display the tension between the brothers and their gifts and their needs for approval. But the death of the younger brother is not the end of the story. Look up the scene in the Garden where the brothers vie for the attentions of a young woman. It is brilliant film making. But then the novel is celebrated as perhaps the “great American novel.” Get a copy. Good reading.
“Although one of the fundamental ideas in East of Eden is that evil is an innate and inescapable human problem, the novel also sets forth hope that each individual has the freedom to overcome evil by his or her own choice. This idea of free choice is encapsulated in the Hebrew word timshel, the meaning of which Adam’s housekeeper, Lee, has researched. The word, which translates to “thou mayest,” appears in the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible, when God tells Cain that he has the freedom to choose to overcome sin. Lee sees this idea of free will as central to the human condition—in fact, he says that timshel might be the “most important word in the world.” [Sparknotes.com]
In Luke 5:12 a leper said to Jesus that he could heal him if he wanted to. “I want to,” replied Jesus touching him and making him whole. Hans Kung in his book Christianity speaks of the basic model of Jesus that echoes timshel”Jesus Christ represents a basic model of a view of life and a way of life which can be realized in many ways. He is in person, both positively and negatively, the invitation (You may), the call (You shall) and the challenge (You can) for the individual and society. Specifically, he makes possible:
The key New Testament concept of Christian ethics is discipleship of Christ. This of course is exactly what many have taken up at Saint John’s with Renewal Work. Many have heard the invitation, YOU MAY, in Saint John’s Reads. Regular Bible reading moves our soul such that we then may well hear the call; YOU SHALL, to come and follow Jesus more closely and consistently. Like morning after night we hear the challenge, YOU CAN! For what God desires from us he gives us grace for the doing.
YOU MAY – YOU SHALL – YOU CAN.
John W. Sewell
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
― Hunter S. Thompson
Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening
into the house and gate of heaven,
to enter into that gate and dwell in that house,
where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling,
but one equal light;
no noise nor silence, but one equal music;
no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession;
no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity;
in the habitations of thy glory and dominion world without end. — John Donne
This may be my favorite poem. I read it often in sermons at funerals as it gets at something intangible that touches me deeply. Donne puts his inspired finger square on the point and that point is at the beginning. Since the day of disobedience and the eviction of our for-bearers from the Garden of Bliss, we ride, caught on the horns of a dilemma of opposites.
If evil and good were not enough to learn, all the opposites imaginable caught us like wires, a nest, no a web of wires pulling in contradiction: up/down – in/out – come/go – black/white – friend/foe – hate and love and endless pullings such that we scream for release.
Through the maze, thicket of consternation and briars of expediency God longs for us; His Son came for us and The Holy Ghost schemes for that through union with God all contradictions, all opposites meet that we may be one, even as the Father and the Son are One!
It is here that Donne speaks the eternal truth:
no noise nor silence, but one equal music;
no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession;
no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity.
We shall be One and beloved it will be enough.
William H. Harris’ Bring Us O Lord God sung by the choir of King’s College Cambridge
Section of a Commencement Speech at Northeastern University – May 10, 2012
“I spent thirty years being a soldier in the Cold War. I stood watch on the Iron Curtain in Germany, as a corps commander and as a lieutenant. I fought in Vietnam for two years—an extension of that conflict. I served in Korea, on the demilitarized zone. It finally ended for me—finally!—on a day in 1988 in the Kremlin. I was National Security Advisor to President Reagan, and he was getting ready for his first trip ever to the “Evil Empire.” He was going to go to Moscow. And he sent me to Moscow first to talk to this interesting new leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, and to see what he was really planning to do.
It was a very difficult meeting. President Gorbachev kept beating up on me, and criticizing my role as a soldier for all of those years, and criticizing the right wing of the party that Reagan represented, thinking they didn’t understand the changes he was making. He was opening up his country. He was reforming his political and economic systems. And he didn’t think we understood.
And I just sat there watching him, impassiveness on my face. Finally he realized he wasn’t getting to me, and he stopped. He paused. He looked up. And then he had an idea and looked back down. Then he stared unsmiling across the table at me. His eyes were twinkling. And he gently says to me, “Ah, General, General. I’m so very, very sorry. You will have to find a new enemy.”
And I thought to myself, “I don’t want to.” I have a whole career invested in this enemy. Thirty years! Just because you’re having a bad year, why do I have to change?
But he was having a bad century. Within two years of that meeting in the Kremlin, the Iron Curtain was gone. That border I had guarded so many times. The Soviet Union was gone. Germany was unified. The Warsaw Pact disappeared. And Gorbachev had to step down, because he was a reformer, and they needed a revolution.”
The general as a Christian saw the theological dimensions of the General Secretary’s remark. It occurs to me that this is the “shift” at the core of the Gospel. It is no mistake, I think, that the central Christian symbol is a cross, one of the cruelest ways to die devised (so far). That Cross is a sign of contradiction that if held long enough (and we are willing) turns into paradox: the way of death is become the way to life! To focus just on the horrible sufferings of Jesus (though worthwhile to contemplate) is to miss the deeper mystery.
This is the mystery at the very recesses of our feeble intuition of God. It appears, since Jesus came to clearly reveal God what is important to know is that God is like Jesus! That being true then there is in the God-head a kind of power that transcends the transactional power of force. We are comfortable with this especially when we have the power but we find in familiar even as we cringe.
What Jesus tells us, I think, is that the power of relationship is greater than the power of force. Robert Farrar Capon helped me learn this when he wrote of the difference. He pointed out that the most important things in life cannot be willed.
This is also the reality, I believe, that makes Alcoholics Anonymous work. No one has ever gotten into recovery by the will. Oh, you can quit drinking by will power. It is what AA folk call a “dry drunk”. You will find them among the most angry people you will ever meet. The profound irony pointing toward contradiction and beyond to paradox is that what cannot be willed into being can be surrendered into being. Giving up willfulness releases the energy to accomplish the very thing that the will can never do.
No one can make another person their enemy if that person is unwilling. As Gorbachev said to General Powell, “I’m taking your enemy away.” In someways the West has been looking for a replacement ever since.
Think on these matters. This way leads to life though it go through the valley of the shadow of death. JWS