Let us pray: Dear Savior, in the midst of a long, hard winter we’re all worn down a bit. The harsh elements have sapped us of energy and good cheer. Likewise, we’re worn down in spirit when we view the hard-heartedness of people we work with, live with, and care about. We share the Gospel with them, we let our light shine, but they don’t listen, don’t care, and more often than not, just walk away from You. Lord, renew our bodies and minds. Renew our souls. Renew our efforts to care and share the Gospel again and again and again. Do so by reminding us today that once-upon-a-time, they were us. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR LORD WHO DEMANDS PERFECTION FROM US AND ALSO GIVES IT TO US!
TEXT: Matthew 5: 38-48
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
There’s a positive and a negative to being an older pastor. The positive is that you’ve already seen and experienced almost everything that comes your way. We call it: seasoning. After Tirzah Krey’s funeral last summer, one of her relatives complimented me on how I handled everything by saying: “You’re a seasoned pastor.” The negative to this is that I no longer have the starry-eyed idealism of youth. It’s true. And so, I’m not as quick to jump on board with ideas or projects because I’ve seen how they often turn out. I’ve seen that idealism often gets tromped on by reality.
Christianity is in trouble in America. Synods, national groups, individual congregations are struggling for the most part. The reasons for this are multifaceted. 1. Christianity supports the traditional family unit, but modern man has tossed that aside. 2. Christianity lays moral constraints upon human behavior, but post-modern humans don’t like any constraints. 3. Christianity calls certain behaviors: sin and holds people guilty and accountable for them. But, modern man has found a work-around in that guilt and shame are considered very bad for the human spirit, akin to hate-crimes. 4. Christianity especially promotes the afterlife and holds out two distinct alternatives: heaven or hell. But, modern society has deemed that as mythological silliness and lives only for the moment. 5. Christianity teaches that God gives eternal salvation, makes us right with Him through Christ, as a gift. But our culture believes being a selfish taker is superior to being a thankful receiver. This is a product of gross pride coupled with evolutionary “only the strong survive.” 6. Christianity teaches the benefits of unconditional love, but our social engineers have turned that into: “love lite.” That is, they use the word a lot, but it’s totally superficial. It sounds good to the ear, but the responsibilities that come with true love are totally neglected—such as children born out of wedlock without a mom and a dad, abortion when it’s convenient, or being willing to tell someone they are wrong. Again, that’s called being judgmental instead of being loving. Well, I could go on, but again, you get my point.
Historic Lutherans such as us have to struggle in this environment. Attracting new members becomes an ongoing challenge. Years before people knew the church possessed something special. They knew something of the Bible and you didn’t have to converse to them about its truths in a literal vacuum. Today that’s all changed. Most Americans are ignorant and illiterate when it comes to Biblical truth. Thus, they live in the moment, try to “get ahead” or at least survive, and hold some vague hope that tomorrow just might be better. What that “better” is they have no clue.
By and large, people have forgotten that the Bible is the most revolutionary book ever written. It’s a manual for turning lives upside down. In His sermon on the mount Christ does just that. He shows us the chasm that exists between God’s thoughts and God’s ways and our own.
His hearers, unlike today, knew the OT. They knew the rigidity of God’s holy Law. So, when He quotes from the OT and says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth;'” well, they understood that reference regarding true justice in this world. But, then He goes on to say something amazing: “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.’ If someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
Does anyone actually act this way? Does anyone want to act this way? Of course not! We don’t welcome people that sucker punch us with the “knock-out” game. We call the cops! We don’t welcome drug dealers into our home, we try to put them in prison. If someone tries to sue us falsely, we go out and get a meaner attorney. If someone takes advantage of us, we do everything in our power to make sure it doesn’t happen again. So, what is Christ’s point here? Just this: unconditional love is impossible for humans to achieve or practice. Only God possesses such love and only God showed it with Christ’s suffering and death on the cross to save our love-starved souls.
This whole section is tough Law. It is designed to show us how far removed we really are from Godliness. Listen again: “You have heard that it was said (In the OT): ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you be sons 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 brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
It’s easy for Christians to mouth the word “love” but very difficult to put it into daily practice. It’s easy to evangelize those who actually want to hear the message about Christ but hard to share anything with those who immediately tune you out. However, Christ did just that. He did it with you and me. He still does it every day in our lives. We’re not perfect. Our love for others is not perfect. When was the last time you prayed to God to change the heart of someone who bullied you? Yet, on the cross Jesus said: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
Christ loves lost souls. He deeply cares for clueless people who are currently walking through life like zombies, living hell-bound dead. And He wants, expects, and demands that we do likewise. Right now you’re probably thinking: “Wow! I’m in trouble.” You don’t feel comfortable or superior, either. Good. This whole section is God’s Law which should never, ever, make us feel smug. So, what are we to do? How does Christianity retrieve its mojo? I’ll tell you how.—Turn to Jesus in humble faith, beg His mercy, and He’ll give it to you!
Christianity’s greatest strength is the wonderful, game-changing truth of God’s grace. He loves hurting souls and died to save them. He can and will change turmoiled lives by giving them His peace, His perfection, and His love. He begins that process with each of us and then uses our lives to care and share—one person at a time. It’s long, hard, and arduous, but never mind—we’re in it for eternity, aren’t we?
So, don’t give up sharing Jesus’ love with that co-worker or neighbor. Don’t be afraid to risk rejection. Just remember: Jesus hasn’t rejected you and “there but by the grace of God go I.” Amen