SERMON ON THE MOUNT: Kingdom Re-Action  Matthew 5:38-45

We are exploring the Sermon on the Mount this summer as a community.  We are sort of in the middle of Jesus’s teaching, it’s in the gospel of Matthew.  Matthew, one of Jesus’s disciples, records a collection of Jesus’s teachings in one place.  It’s probably the most famous sermon given EVER!  If you have your Bible, you can open to Matthew 5.  Over the last few weeks, we’ve explored some really light, fun subjects like adultery, lust, divorce, remarriage, being people who are honest.  Jesus decided to lighten up a little bit on us and today we’re talking about loving our enemies.  That should be easier, right?!  This is one of those passages that probably isn’t all that difficult to understand.  It’s just really difficult to live out.  It’s difficult to apply.  Let’s pray and ask Jesus that he would, by the power of his Spirit, open us up to what he would say.  Lord, we long to not only hear, but to obey, because we know that that’s where the foundation of our life is formed.  Father, that’s our posture today.  Would you move, would you convict, would you lead us to righteousness for our joy and for the sake of your name?  Amen.

The year was 525 BC, and King Cambyses II of Persia marched his army toward Egypt.  He knew something interesting about the Egyptian people. . .they had a deep love for cats.  They (the Persian army) carved into their shields an outline of a cat.  They brought with them hundreds of cats onto the battlefield.  In Egypt, it was a capital offense to kill a cat.  This battle was called the Battle of Pelusium, Persia vs. Egypt.  The Persians went onto the battlefield with hundred of cats.  Since the Egyptians so revered cats, they had a god named Bastet that was formed and shaped into the image of a cat.  They didn’t want to kill a cat so the Persians were throwing cats into the faces of the Egyptian army.  {For 38 years I’ve been wondering what good a cat is and now we’ve figured it out.}  What’s fascinating is that the Persians won this battle, hands down, without much of a fight at all, because the Egyptians were so nervous about hurting the cats.  Afterwards, to scorn and shame them (the Egyptians), they took the cats and rubbed them in their face after they won the battle.  I thought, “What a strange battle tactic!”  Can you imagine the strategy session?!  What a strange, ridiculous strategy!

Yet, I don’t think it’s the strangest strategy that’s ever been enacted to fight a war.  I actually think, as followers of Jesus, we have a stranger strategy.  I think we have a more ridiculous tactic, at least as far as the world would be concerned.  Can you imagine early followers of Christ, in the midst of a Roman Empire, where they all had friends who were pinned to Roman crosses and crucified as enemy of the state.  People, in the Romans’ eyes, who weren’t even worth the ground that they’re standing on.  Can you imagine the followers of Jesus gathered into a room and talking about how are we going to overthrow the Roman Empire?  How are we going to be the people who come out on the other end victorious?  Maybe we could gather enough of a following that we could get the voting block and win it that way.  Maybe we could get a bigger army than Rome.  Followers of Jesus would have looked around and gone that’s absolutely crazy, that’s insane, we’ll never get it that way.  I wonder if at any point in time there was a disciple or apostle who raised his hand and said, “You know what?  The Jesus way isn’t the way of a bigger or better army; it’s not the way of a bigger or better strategy; it’s not the way of the majority getting their way and imposing it on others.  The Jesus way is more ridiculous than bringing cats into battle.  What if we loved our enemies?”

Did you know that secular historians wrestled with this idea?  How in the world did this rag-tag band of early followers of Jesus, who had ZERO power, come to have massive influence?  How did people who had nothing to their name come to have significant impact in a kingdom that was dominated by a powerful empire?  It wasn’t through gaining a bigger army; it wasn’t through getting a voting block.  Anecdotally, post-Constantine and what happened to the church under Constantine in the Roman Empire, we have, as followers of Christ, bought the lie that if we can get the majority of the people behind us then we’ll be successful.  If we can get the majority of the people behind us then we’ll have influence.  We bought the lie in tying power and influence together.  Jesus wants to say to his early followers no, no, no, no, no, that’s not how you have influence.  It’s not by having the most power, it’s by having the greatest love.  If you want to see how my community will transform the world around them, it’s ridiculous!  It’s more insane than taking cats into battle.  But. . . .you step back and you look at the pages of history and as they turn they affirm that what Jesus said actually works.

If you have your Bible, Matthew 5:38-45.  You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.”  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.  If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.  You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. 

So pretty low bar.  Most people, when they read the Sermon on the Mount, have this line of thinking where we go well this is such a high bar, Jesus must have expected that we would read this and know that we were going to fail and therefore, turn to God’s grace.  Turning to God’s grace, I say yes and amen, but Jesus expects people who are his followers to be living this out.  He expects us to let this teaching sit on us in such a way that it would mess with us a little bit that we would have to say, “I’ve got to die to MY kingdom in order to enter the kingdom of God.”  I’ve got to surrender some of my rights in order to enter the kingdom.  I don’t know about you, but as a high school student, I can remember wrestling with the ‘way of Jesus.’  I can remember sitting in a church—not all that dissimilar to this one—and hearing the Sermon on the Mount taught and thinking, “I don’t want anything to do with that.”  I don’t want to be walking down the halls of Smokey Hill High School and have somebody slug me in the face and be expected to turn the other cheek.  Is Jesus off his rocker here?!  Does he expect us to just be doormats?  Is that what we’re suppose to do?  And all these wrongs going on around us.  What in the world is Jesus actually saying?  He’s saying that allegiance to Him radically transforms not only the attitude we have towards people but the way that we act towards people.  Our attitude and our actions are radically transformed because of life in the kingdom.  {Slide reads:  Allegiance to Jesus transforms both our attitude and actions toward people.}

I had the chance to coach baseball again this summer. . . .a little nine-year-old Little League team.  I love coaching.  I get such joy seeing a child come and learn the game a little bit.  Learn how to take a good cut, baseball-wise, and step up to the plate and hit it.  I find so much joy in seeing what we do in practice actually executed on the field.  I find so much joy in seeing that because it happens SO LITTLE!!!  Most of the time!!!  I’m like, were you there on Wednesday?  Did somebody steal your brain in between Wednesday and Saturday, because we talked about this?!  You’re suppose to cut the ball off, right?!

I wonder how many times we come into a service and go Jesus, we agree with you?  Yes!  That’s how to throw the ball, that’s how to hit the ball, that’s how to live life!  We agree with you, Jesus.  Then we get out onto the field of life and we just go back to the way that we’ve always done things.  We just go back to what’s deeply ingrained in our soul.  What Jesus is going to gently press on us this morning is. . .look up at me for a second. . . .Jesus isn’t looking for admirers.  He’s not looking for people who agree with his teaching, who go, intellectually I get it, yeah.  He is looking for people who would follow Him.  It’s on the wall right out front.  It’s our mission as a church—to help people live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.  His teaching here isn’t one that’s difficult to understand—we’ll talk about some of the pieces that are nuanced and that I think, at the onset, are difficult, but ultimately, this teaching is really, actually, pretty straightforward.   But it’s easier understood here than it’s lived out in the world.  Martin Luther King, Jr., who lived this teaching out maybe better than anybody in our modern day, said it like this:  “One of the greatest tragedies of life is that men seldom bridge the gulf between profession and practice, between saying and doing.”

So the question in front of us today is not will we trust Jesus as Savior?  In fact, this passage is for people who’ve done that.  If you’re not a follower of Christ, you’re sort of off the hook this morning.  You get to look on to the way of Jesus and sort of window shop and go, wow, that’s a pretty drastic teaching.  But for people who have declared Jesus, you are my Lord, today he wants to say to you, am I also your rabbi?  Can I teach you HOW to live in my way with my heart?

As we’ve been doing the last few weeks, let me just point out a few things Jesus is NOT SAYING, then we’re going to jump into what he is saying.  Jesus is not saying you have to be a doormat.  In fact, he’s actually saying the opposite, and we’ll talk about that.  He’s not saying that if you’re in an abusive relationship or an abusive home or abusive situation that you’ve just got to continue to take it.  That’s not what he’s saying.  He’s also not saying that you MUST be a political pacifist if you’re going to live out this passage.  Although, I would say that there’s a massive stream of Christianity that has applied it that way.  You can wrestle with what you think it’s saying in that regard.  Here’s the last thing—This passage of Scripture is NOT saying that we do not combat and resist evil.  The church is called to be a prophetic voice that speaks up when things are wrong, that speaks out when people are dehumanized; we are not called to be passive observers of reality, we are called to be active participants in renewal.  Amen?

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, what in the world is Jesus saying?  If he’s not saying all those things, what’s he saying?  Matthew 5:38-39a. . . .let’s explore.  You have heard that it was said, {This was Jesus’s methodology of inviting them to a Bible study.  You’ve heard that it was said in Torah.  You’ve heard that it was said in your writings.} “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.”    In fact, there was three different times in the Old Testament scriptures that this law was given.  It was the law of limited retaliation (lex talionis in the Latin).  It means you could only wrong somebody back to the extent that they’ve wronged you.  There was this really interesting study they did at one point in time where they had somebody hit another person’s thumb and they rated the scale of how hard it was.  What happened was that our perception of the way that we’re treated is always more so than the way the person thinks they’re treating us.  So what happens?  The cyclical cycle of ‘you’ve wronged me and I’m going to wrong you and I’m going to get you back a little bit more than you got me and therefore an eye for a hand!’  Sounds pretty good sometimes, doesn’t it?  In the Old Testament scriptures, lex talionis, an eye for an eye, was actually a very gracious way of people interacting with each other.  I’m only going to wrong you as much as you wronged me, no more no less, we’re just going to make it even.  What Jesus points out is not that he disagrees with that, he just goes that’s a pretty low bar.

But I tell you (Jesus says), do not resist an evil person.  He invites us to a completely different way of interacting with people we perceive—and they might too—to be against us.  Paul, in the book of Romans (12:19-21), will say it like this:  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary:  “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Here’s what the teachings of Jesus and the Apostle Paul say:  You can EITHER get even or you can have influence.  You can EITHER try to get revenge or you can have massive impact on the people around you.  But you cannot do both.  You can EITHER have revenge or gospel influence, but you cannot have both.

So think of it, for the early followers of Jesus in the Roman empire how hard this must have been.  Probably about as hard as it is for you!  Can we admit that this is a radical teaching of Jesus, but if I could summarize it, here’s what he’s saying—Our attitude towards people has to be tough-minded: We refuse to allow the way we’re treated to determine the way we respond.  Oh gosh!!  Jesus, take your foot off the gas a little bit.  Isn’t it so easy to get in a ‘tit for tat’ type of interaction with people?  They did this to me, therefore I must do this to them.  Jesus says no, no, no, no, no, life in my kingdom is you do not have to do that.  You could allow creative engagement with the people around you to replace justified retaliation.  Instead of just retaliating—even if it’s your right—what if you thought about it a little more?  What if you took a step back and prayed and thought, “Jesus, how would you want me to interact with this person that’s just wronged me?”  What might that look like?

People in the early church, in the Roman empire, were wrestling with this.  Do you know what the number one emotion we have to get over to live with this is?  FEAR.  What’s going to happen to me?  What’s going to happen to me if I do that?  If I turn the other cheek, what happens?  If I go the extra mile, what happens?  I love the way Dallas Willard said it: “This world, with all its evil, is a perfectly good and safe place for anyone to be, no matter the circumstances, if they have only placed their lives in the hands of Jesus and his Father.”  So now, if we’re in the kingdom, we’re free.  We’re free to go Jesus, what would you have me do in this situation?  In order to not be ambiguous, Jesus says let me give you a few examples.  If you’re going what might this look like, that’s a great question.  Jesus is really glad you asked that, and he’s going to give you four pictures of what it might look like.  These are brilliant pictures of creative engagement rather than justified retaliation.

Here’s what he says (the first picture) — If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matt. 5:39b)  I used to read this:  If somebody slugs you in the face, let them slug you again.  That isn’t what Jesus says.  He’s very specific.  If somebody slaps you on the RIGHT cheek….  If you were to slap somebody on the right cheek, what hand would you use?  The left.  In this culture, the left hand was the dirty hand.  It was not used for eating or signing papers.  It was used for things like wiping.  It was not the clean hand.  In an honor-shame culture, Jesus is not—hear me on this—talking about somebody who is being abused, he’s talking about somebody who’s being demeaned.  He’s talking about somebody who’s socially getting pushed down, and either slapped with a left hand or back-handed with the right hand like a little child would have been.  It was a way to insult somebody.  Typically, we would imagine we have two responses in mind to that—two options.  We can either ‘eye for an eye’ slap them back OR we could run away.  Or we could do what I probably would have done in high school — slap and run.  Sort of a combo of both.  Jesus is going what if there’s a third way?  What if you look at the person who’s dishonoring you and demeaning you and turn the other cheek and say why don’t you hit me with your right hand and treat me like a man?  Why don’t you treat me like a person, because that’s what I am?  Jesus is inviting us to a way of being a creative influence where vulnerability replaces revenge.  When I feel like I need to defend myself, I lose my influence.

At work, when you feel like you need to defend yourself, when you feel like your honor has been violated and you need to get even in order to be right, Jesus would say you could do that but you lose your influence.  Isn’t it better to influence the people around you than just to get paid back?  Oh, it’s way better to win over the people around you rather than an eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth.  Jesus would say that you now, as an agent of the kingdom, can look for strong, creative ways to refuse to participate in the mutual ongoing hostility that is so rampant in our world and SO ineffective.  Can we agree?  Is it working for us?  Is a bomb for a bomb, a gun for a gun, and an eye for an eye…   How’s that working for us?  It’s not!  Jesus invites his people to a different way.  What if you embrace the posture of vulnerability instead of revenge?  What if you did that?

Here’s his second picture (Matt.5:40) —  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  First century dress codes are essential to understanding what Jesus is saying.  Somebody is being sued for their shirt.  In first century Israel, most people didn’t wear pants.  They would have an undershirt that was sort of their underwear that would be a long undershirt that would be used as an undergarment.  Over that would be a coat.  The coat is what they would use as a pillow at night or as a sleeping bag, but it was a way to keep themselves covered.  So a poor person is being sued by a wealthy person for their underwear.  Jesus says how about you give them your coat also.  What would happen?  They would be naked.  Everyone around would go that person’s naked.  Jesus is saying what if you didn’t let yourself cover up the wrongs that people are perpetrating against you?    As the one who’s a little bit lower on the social totem pole, as the one who doesn’t have as much socio-economic stability in your life, what if you pointed out this gross offense that’s being perpetrated against you by giving away another piece of your clothing?  Jesus is teaching a methodology for impact where he’s saying listen, what if you valued your impact that you were having more than the comfort you so dearly wanted?  Think about this for a moment with me, you guys.  The people who have made the greatest impact in our world are people who are willing to sacrifice a little bit of comfort, are they not?  People who are willing to have a hard conversation.  People who are willing to take a financial risk.  People who are willing to forgive when it would be easier to grow bitter.  These are the types of people who consistently, throughout time, have changed our world.

I think of Dr. Jeff Brodsky.  We have the joy of partnering with he and Joy International.  Every year we participate in the Barefoot Mile.  It’s coming up again this Saturday, July 21st, Clement Park, 9 o’clock.  For years, Jeff Brodsky’s been going barefoot in order to go, “Hey! There’s an issue we need to be aware of.”  He’s given away his coat in order to expose a wrong.  That’s what Jesus is teaching.  What if we valued our impact over our comfort?  How might that look?  What if we didn’t allow anxiety or fear to rule, but we were free to step into the places God’s called us to step into?  We might volunteer in our Kids’ or Student ministries.  We might have a conversation about our faith.  What ways are we stepping back from impact in favor of comfort?  Jesus says no, no, no, no, no, draw it out, embrace a posture of discomfort in order to have great impact.

Here’s the next picture he paints:  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.   You may know the context:  In the Roman Empire, a Roman soldier, part of a Roman garrison, could be marching along and, at any point, could call somebody who was a citizen of the country they were occupying to carry their gear a mile.  Imagine planning a nice picnic for your family on Sabbath, sitting around a lake enjoying it.  You just sat down with your lamb chops and hummus and a Roman soldier comes up and says to you, “Carry my gear.”  Oh man!  Jesus wants to step into this moment that most of his listeners have had where they’ve been inconvenienced by the Roman empire.  Jesus goes, I know, everything in you wants to go one mile, drop their gear, and tell them to go back to wherever they came from.  Jesus says what if you started to see the people around you, not just as soldiers, but as sons and daughters of somebody?  Not as people of the state of Rome, but as image bearers of God, and as people having a ridiculously hard day.  Instead of dehumanizing the people that are against us, what if as followers of Jesus, we started to have compassion on them?  Isn’t it so easy to dehumanize the people we don’t like?  Jesus says what if you look for ways to actually serve the people around you?  Even people who were inconvenient.  I often think it would be way easier to share my Google calendar with Jesus so he could bring me opportunities to serve him that fit in the slots that I have open.  Anyone with me?  What I found is that he has a copy of my Google calendar and he often picks the most inconvenient times to bring people into my life.  The question is in those moments are we willing to serve people?  Are we willing to go the extra mile and extend compassion, maybe relationally or maybe financially?  It’s not a lot.  Jesus isn’t saying that you always have to do this.  That’s not his point.  His point is you could if you wanted to, it’s an option for you now.  Instead of bitterly gritting your teeth, going one mile, and dropping it saying, “I’m out!”

So vulnerability replaces revenge.  Impact replaces comfort.  Compassion replaces inconvenience.  And finally, here’s what Jesus says:  Give.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one what wants to borrow from you. (Matt. 5:42)   Jesus uses an illustration of a story that everyone of his listeners would have understood, and we understand too.  There’s certain people in our life that are needy.  There’s certain people in our life that always seem to be sort of in the place where they want something from us.  Jesus says what if you looked at those people. . . . .I don’t know about you, I often make up a story about how they got to where they got.  If they would have made these decisions, like I’ve made, then they wouldn’t be in this position, right?  If they just pulled themselves up by their bootstraps—like I’ve done—then they’d be okay.  You know what that’s called?  Judgment.  It’s called judgment.  Jesus is saying that we’re so prone to doing this.  When someone is needy, what if instead of judging and coming up with a story, what if you were generous to them?  It doesn’t mean you have to give to every single person you see that’s in need.  It means that your heart is now free from making up a story so that you can love the people that the Spirit would say, “I’m calling you to step into this.”  Sometimes these are called EGR people.  Extra. Grace. Required. People.  Do you know some people like that?  If you don’t, you ARE people like that!  Jesus is saying maybe it’s a gift of food.  Maybe it’s a gift of honesty.  Maybe it’s a gift of truth or confrontation or money.  He’s saying you are free to look at the people in front of you to see them as people and to give them what you think they need the most.  That’s the freedom.  That’s the kingdom freedom.  We’re tough-minded, our attitude’s changed by the gospel, we don’t just respond to people based on how they treat us.  We actually respond to people based on how we’ve treated by God.  And it changes everything.  Four little vignettes, stories, that Jesus talks about.  Aren’t they just beautiful and brilliant?  I think they are.  When your head and your heart are not consumed with revenge, you’re free to love the people around you creatively and invite them to step into the kingdom.

Here’s the way Jesus continues.  It’s easier now.  It’s really simple.  You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  {Ironically, you can find the command ‘love your neighbor’ all throughout the Old Testament, specifically Leviticus 19, but you cannot find ‘hate your enemy’ ANYWHERE in the Old Testament.  So Jesus is picking up a particular teaching that has been popular in THAT day, that took the Scriptures and combined them with some other thoughts.}  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matt. 5:43-44)  Do you know the number one factor, for every person in this room, that determines whether or not we like somebody?  Is if we think they like us.  It’s the number one factor.  We often surround ourselves with people who look like us and talk like us, ’cause we love us some us, right?  Everybody does.  Jesus is pushing back against that.  You could find out that Mother Teresa didn’t like you.  You’re like. . . Mother Teresa!  Did she ever do anything great?!  Jesus is pushing back against that mentality and saying what if, what if, what if.  What if you were not only tough-minded, but what if you were tender-hearted?  What if you refuse to allow your tribal allegiance to determine the extent of your love?  {Slide:  Tender-hearted: We refuse to allow our tribal allegiance to determine the extent of our love.}  What if you refuse to allow the lines that have been drawn in the sand. . . .maybe the flag that you fly, the language that you speak, the color of skin that you have. . . .what if you refuse to allow, whatever tribe you’re a part of, to determine that’s the extent of my love?  What Jesus is doing is looking at his followers and saying, “As a follower of mine, as a disciple and as an apprentice of mine, you do not any longer get to determine and choose who you love.”  You love whoever is in front of you.  THAT’S the calling of followers of the way of Jesus.  You don’t get to choose WHO you love, you can choose HOW you love, but you do not get to choose WHO.

That word ‘love’ is such a slippery word, isn’t it?  We read it and sometimes we have romantic love in mind.  There’s a number of different words, in the Greek, that Jesus could have chosen for this word ‘love.’  He chose the word “agape.”  It’s this Greek word that means to wish and to will for someone’s good.  It has action attached to it.  You can’t agape somebody and not have it come out in the way that you treat them.  To wish and to will for the good of another.  Jesus says, to his followers, look up at me for a moment, you’ve never met somebody you weren’t called to love.  In fact, your battle is not against flesh and blood.  You’ve never met a person who was your enemy.  Your battle is not against flesh and blood, it’s against powers and authorities, the enemy in this dark world, but it’s not against people! (Eph.6:12)  You’ve never met somebody who you were not called to love.

Jesus makes this point.  Just look around.  Do an experiment, he says.  Next time it rains in your neighborhood, go stand in the middle of your street and look up.  Then look down your street. . . . .there’s probably some really nice people on your street, and maybe some who follow the way of Jesus, and then, my guess is, you have a jerk neighbor somewhere down the road, right?  Walk down to his house when it’s raining and see if the rain is hitting jerk-neighbor’s lawn?  Yes!  When the sun came up, did it come up on jerk-neighbor’s house too?  Yeah.  What Jesus says is wired into the fabric and fiber of creation is the ridiculous generosity of God.  Theologians call this Common Grace.  It’s everywhere!  It’s oftentimes so common we miss it.  But Jesus says just look around you.  The sun rises, the rain comes—and it’s a picture of the love of God—on every person.  What he says is when you live in the way where you don’t just love the people who are like you, but love the people who are opposed to you, you start to look like God.  He says you may be children of your Father.  It was an idiom, it was a picture.   It was like saying someone was ‘a chip off the old block,’  they’re exactly like their dad.  When we love radically, we become a reflection of our Father, our Father in heaven.

He gives you two practical things you can do.  First, what if you prayed for those who are your enemies?  When was the last time you did that?  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a great little book called “Life Together,”  makes this point.  It’s true, try it.  He says:  “It’s really hard to hate somebody you pray for.”  Try it.  Jesus says you can pray for them, or, second, you could love them or bless them.  What if you looked for active practical ways to bless the people who curse you?  What if, in light of this teaching this week, you just said, “Jesus, point out for me somebody who I disagree with, or somebody I just don’t like a whole lot, somebody who rubs me the wrong way, and give me a vision for what it looks like to love them this week.”  {Watch you start getting all these ridiculous gifts from the friends around you who are sitting here, and you’re like am I everybody’s enemy?}  What if you did that this week?  Because Jesus is calling the church to be a light to the world, a city on a hill, and I believe, maybe more than ever, that our world needs us to step into this calling.  To not just be admirers and go Jesus, we like that, we agree with that, but to be people who live it out.  Do you know why it’s so hard to imagine what would happen if we actually did this?  I’ve been reflecting on this a lot in my life this week.  I’m like, “God, why is it so hard for me to imagine what it might be like if I did this?”  I just sense the Spirit say to me, “It’s because you do it so infrequently.”  Maybe you do too.

Here’s how he closes:  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  {I don’t know that he’s talking about a tangible reward, maybe a heavenly reward at some point, but I do know that he’s talking, AT LEAST, about what we would call an intrinsic reward.  If you’ve ever loved your enemies, if you’ve ever prayed for those who persecute you, you know that that boomerangs back on your soul and God enlightens something, enlivens something in you and there’s a blessing that’s intrinsic in living in the way of Jesus.}  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:46-48)

The word ‘perfect’ in the Greek is the word ‘telios.’  It means to fulfill, or to take to an appointed culmination.  You could read it ‘mature.’  Therefore, be mature, grow into maturity.  What does Christian maturity look like?  How do we measure maturity as a follower of Jesus?  It’s not based on how many Bible verses you can recite.  It’s not based on how many classes you’ve taken.  It’s not based on how good a theologian you are or how many questions you can answer in apologetics.  Maturity, as a follower of Jesus, is based on one thing. . . . .LOVE.  That’s what Jesus is teaching.

But, friends, we can only live in the kingdom if we know first that we have been loved by the King.   I want to end by pressing this onto us, I hope it falls like a weight on our souls that we get how much we have been loved.  Because this is the King who was on trial and was slapped.  He turned the other cheek.  They didn’t just take his outer garment and they didn’t just take his undergarment, they took everything that he owned, stripped him bare, humiliated and naked; had scornful words lobbed in his direction and he hangs on the cross, naked and exposed, in order to declare that you are loved and you’re forgiven.  Based on nothing that you have done but based on EVERYTHING he’s accomplished on your behalf.  This is not the King that just goes one extra mile; this is the King who carries his cross all the way up to Calvary’s hill where he hangs and he dies.  And he gives GENEROUSLY.  He does look down on people in judgment.  Who’s glad that that’s the case?  Amen.  He doesn’t look on us with judgment saying, “They just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” or “If they were a little bit more like me they’d get it all together.”  He looks down on us in GRACE and generously loves his enemies.  When we were the enemies of God, Christ loved us and died for us, welcoming us as children of God.  Amen!

Friends, it’s that love when it sits on us that actually frees us to not just admire the words of Jesus, but to live them.  And that’s the calling.  I’m convinced that there will be opportunities for you this week that you think are meant to destroy you, but what God wants to do is develop you.  So I’m going to invite you to have one phrase in mind this week:  Opposition is my Opportunity.  When I’m wronged—somebody cuts me off in traffic or cuts in front of me at a grocery store. . . .opposition is my opportunity.  When I’m criticized or somebody speaks negatively against me or maybe says something that’s even untrue about me. . . . .opposition is my opportunity.  When I’m taken advantage of, when I’m not thanked, when I feel like I just got run over. . . .opposition is my opportunity.  When I’m hated, not because of anything I’ve done, but because of who I am. . . . opposition is my opportunity.  Maybe in that opportunity we deliver a cup of cold water or a kind word in return.  When your head and your heart are not consumed with hate, you are free to love, and when you love, you’ve never looked more like Jesus in your life.

If your looking for a few ideas of what this looks like, I commend to you Bob Goff’s work, Everybody Always.  A friend gave me this book recently and I read it.  There are a number of stories in it that I could share with you of Bob Goff going into jails in Uganda and ministering to witch doctors and all sorts of crazy things.  But there was one story, for me, that stood out.  It was the story of Bob Goff going to teach at a church in Texas.  He was away from his wife and was hurrying to get back to his home and wife.  He was running late.  He was returning a rental car and chose the line that he thought would move the quickest because it was the shortest.  As he got stuck in that line, he realized it might have been the shortest because the guy at the counter was the most incompetent person on the face of the planet.  Bob tells the story of sitting in his car wrestling, impatiently. . . . .I chose the wrong line. . . .this guy, this moron. . . . .all these things going through his head.  Jesus does some work in his heart and his life as he sits in this line.  He gets to the front of the line and the guy says, “How was your trip?”  Bob says that there were a lot of things he wanted to say.  He responded, “I had a great time.  The car was awesome.  You’re awesome.  Airplanes are awesome.  Life is awesome.  I hope you have a great day!”  He missed his plane.  He was walking through the airport and he heard these feet come up behind him and felt this finger tap his shoulder.  He turned around and here’s the guy from that line.  The guy looks at him and says, “Mr. Goff, I just want you to know that I was at church today, and that sermon that you gave was the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard.  Thank you so much,” and he walked away.

We don’t choose who we love, we just choose how.  We never know how God might use that to change somebody’s life, to change somebody’s eternity, and also to change us.  So Jesus, I pray that this week, you would help us see opposition as our opportunity.  That in the great words of Martin Luther King, Jr., that we’d recognize,  “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  That you would make us people of great influence, not because we have the most power, not because we have the majority, but just simply because we live in ridiculous, radical love.  Would you transform our lives and the lives of the people around us by it, we pray.  In Jesus’ name. . . .Amen.