The words of Jesus:
27 “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. 30 Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. 31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you.
32 “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! 33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! 34 And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.
35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. 36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.
In the 1970’s when I was in High School, the football coaches didn’t have much empathy. We would begin 2 a day workouts in August with Texas’ standard triple digit heat. My head coaches favorite saying on those days was: “It’s 110 in shade boys. Aren’t you glad we ain’t working out in the shade.” Just saying that out loud still makes the hair on my neck stand up. If we got hurt (as long as there wasn’t a bone sticking out somewhere), they would say: “Just play through the pain.”
35 years later, the surgeon who was getting paid to fix my spine told me that “playing through the pain back then probably wasn’t such a good idea.” Playing through the pain when I was young, caused much greater pain & injury to my spine in later years.
As a society, I think we have been trying to play through the pain.
America, us, our society has been taking injury after injury. This is the week we have to stop playing through the pain.
This week started out like any other week. I began working on the homily early in the week. I had planned to do a few weeks on Luke 6 one of the longer extended records of Jesus’ teaching. This week was going to start with the first section: Blessed are the poor.
However, by the time Friday morning got here, that homily didn’t seem to fit. So, I put it aside.
On Friday morning, a group of us served our neighbors at the Mobile Food Pantry. Since we were out early that day, I had not yet fully digested the violence that had occurred on Thursday evening. I knew the broad outline of what had happened, but not much else. They ask me to pray before we started serving food.
I began the prayer by quoting scripture. I couldn’t remember the whole verse, but I remembered the last part: “Joy comes with the morning.” So, I prayed. I don’t know exactly what I said, but it went something like this: “Loving God, last night our world was shattered by violence, but you promise that joy comes with the morning.”
We did experienced some joy that morning as we were able to help those in need, but the truth is that when I got home and began reading the details of what had happened in Dallas, I didn’t feel much joy.
The truth is: I felt like our world had been turned upside down.
Thirty miles to the east, Dallas police officers: Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamariripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, and Lorne Ahrens died in a senseless act of violence. Seven other officers and civilians were injured.
Emotions rushed over me. Fear. Sympathy for these families. Anger. Shame. Then, it all just became an emotional hollowness.
How had we gotten to this point? How had our world got turned so upside down?
But Thursday night didn’t happened in a vacuum. It started earlier in the week with the deaths at the hands of the police of Alton Stering in Baton Rouge, LA & Phlilando Castile, in Minneapolis.
It even started earlier this year when 5 people went to Wednesday night prayer and bible study in Charleston, NC but never went home because they were violently and senselessly murdered.
It started even earlier with Trayvon Martin, with Eric Garner, and with Ferguson Missouri.
It has been fueled by politicians who thrust themselves in front of us on the news trying to score political points with scare tactics and hate-speech.
In the last few days, foreign countries have issued travel warnings to their citizens who have dark skin because they don’t believe they will be safe in the United States.
Since I became your pastor 8 months ago, there have been 179 mass shootings in the U.S. Your session and I have been working with the Bedford Police to develop our own active shooter plan to protect you in case it happens here. I never dreamed I would have to make such a plan. There wasn’t a class on that in seminary 25 years ago.
It just seemed to me that the violence, hatred, anger and bigotry has flipped our world upside down. We can’t ignore the pain anymore. We may not want to believe it, but we don’t live in Mayberry. We can’t ignore the pain anymore.
In the last few months, my world — our world — seemed to me to have been turned upside down.
So I went back to the words in Jesus’ sermon. I re-read it. I thought about the world in which Jesus lived and taught. The Romans occupied his homeland. They brought peace through violence and torture. The poor were regularly cheated and exploited. Racial bigotry and hatred was everywhere. Romans hated Jews. Jews hated Samaritans. Zealot terrorist attacks randomly brought death and destruction.
That was when I realized that our world wasn’t upside down at all. The world was violently rolling along as it has throughout history. Bigotry, hatred, anger, terrorists.
Jesus was talking to people that day over 2000 years ago, who experienced a world very much like ours. With his words, with his message, however, it was Jesus who wanted to really turn the world upside down.
In Jesus’ time, just like today, our natural response to violence is more violence. More hatred. Stronger bigotry. But Jesus wanted to turn our natural response on its head.
He said love your enemy. Pray for your enemy. Lend to your enemy. Forgive your enemy. Jesus wants us to respond to bigotry and violence with crazy, generous love. Perfect love casts out fear.
Think it through for just a moment. If every human being on the planet followed the ethical teaching of Jesus. Our world really would be upside down. There would not be any more violence. There would not be vicious murders of police. There would not be violence and anger toward someone just because of their skin color.
I know I sound like Pollyanna, but this is exactly what Jesus is saying. Jesus wants us to turn the world’s normal responses upside down. Respond to anger with love. Respond to violence with forgiveness. Pray for our enemies. Do to others as you would like them to do to you.
Guess what? Not everyone in the world is going to follow Jesus’ teaching. But shouldn’t those of us who call ourselves Christians follow his teaching?
When we see racial bigotry and violence, we can’t keep ignoring it? We can’t respond to violence with violence?
I think it is time that we quit trying to play through the pain. We have to recognize that if we try to ignore our problems, they won’t just go away. We can’t let things continue as they are because we know that that only leads to greater pain later.
Instead, we need to take positive action — action based in God-like generosity toward others. We need to do to others only that which we want done to us. We have to put down the TV remote and get involved.
The man who cowardly shot 12 people from a position of safety, was a veteran who served in a war to keep me and you safe. We may never fully know what caused him to turn from a soldier to a murder, but I can guarantee it wasn’t love. Love doesn’t create violence.
We must love with God-like generosity. It sounds simple. It may even sound like a foreign language to our independent, Texas, “stand your ground” mindset.
But, if each of us, in our own lives, follows Jesus example of loving with God-like generosity, we might, at least for a little while, in a small pieces, for a few people, turn our world upside down like Jesus wanted.