A sermon preached at the First Church UCC, Middletown, CT on September 12, 2021
Luke 6:27-42 —27 “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.”
39 He also told them a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. 41 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 42 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Twenty years ago, yesterday, was two days after the church I was then serving had closed. On Sunday, September 9, we shut the doors of our building for the last time. We put the organ into storage, sold the building, and dispersed what members were left to other churches in the greater Grand Rapids area. The next morning, I woke up to the attacks on 9-11. (nb: I thought 9/11 was a Monday, but was mistaken. It’s been corrected here.)
It was surreal. And at the same time, whatever effect it had in Grand Rapids Michigan was nothing to the effect it had here in Connecticut. I’ve listened to my colleagues share the stories of parishioners who died at work in the World Trade Center or on one of the airplanes. 9-11 was much more personal. It was not just our country that was attacked, but it was our neighbors, our friends, it was us.
People gathered in the following days, gathered in prayer, gathered in worship, gathered trying to understand how and why such an attack happened. We shared news of the heroes who ran into the buildings at the Pentagon and at the World Trade Center. We were community, family to one another.
It didn’t take long for our government to retaliate, and eventually kill Osama bin Laden, who’d planned the whole thing. But it’s been twenty years and we’re only now extricating ourselves from the idiocy of our whole attempt to re-make the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan which followed our retaliations.
The movie “The Princess Bride” popularized the saying “never get stuck in a land war in Asia”, but I always think of Dr. Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories, who limped because he’d fought in the Afghani Wars. Those were the wars about which Rudyard Kipling wrote in his poem “The Young British Soldier”:
When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.
For me, the single most important thing, the thing that held us together after the attack was our sense of community. It’s community I want to carry forward, community that I believe God is calling us to create.
It was community which held things together after the attacks. Church communities, communities of teachers, first responders, leaders, communities of all kinds. It was communities of people – not otherwise connected – who stood against those who would have (and did) attack Muslims and Sikhs in the aftermath of the attacks. It was communities which stood up for and advocated for better care for those who still suffer physically from their work at the crash site in New York City.
And it is communities today which hold the greatest hope for our future.
It is communities like this church community, places which have dedicated themselves to living out the world of Jesus as they were reported in Luke.
Jesus said, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you… give to everyone in need…do to others as you would have them do to you.
It would be so easy to look at these words and poke all kinds of holes in them because it’s easy to read them as hard and fast laws, rather than the guidelines to behavior that they really are.
Jesus is not saying that you may never protect yourself. He is not saying that when you’re dealing with a lying, cheating bully that you just have to give in and give up. What he is saying is that we are called to a kind of living which brings out the best in us and in others.
We know that life always requires a balancing act and that’s what this lesson is really all about. Always, always, always look to create community of live. Never, never, never allow someone to bully, cheat, steal without naming it. Let yourself grow, name your growing edges, at least to yourself, step into tomorrow, allow change to happen. Don’t be the blind person in your community, the one who cannot see and refuses to allow anyone else to see either.
Here’s the thing. It’s not just about us. It’s about our world and how we all work together. This past week, I was listening to Rabbi Angela Buchdahl of Central Synagogue in NYC, preaching at the first Rosh Hashanah service. She said that the community of faith was – in the wider community – a marker, a waystone. I’m from New England, so I tend to think in terms of lighthouses. Our existence, even when we do not always succeed, but our existence as a community which is trying as hard as it can to be a place of welcome, love, mercy and justice, is a lighthouse to those around us, because they know that here, there is at least one place, where that is happening. We are a safe harbor in a difficult and dangerous world.
May we always be a blessing to our world.