Rev. Matthew Zickler’s Sermon for February 19, 2017

February 19, 2017
Matthew 5:38-48

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson previously read. Amen.

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.”  We hear Jesus quote these words “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth,” which are from Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, and we get confused.  We think that this means that Jesus is totally contradicting the Old Testament, that He’s throwing all of it out.  In fact, we take this to mean that perhaps there should be no redress for crimes.  To be clear this is spoken to individuals.  This isn’t saying the government should let everyone do whatever they want.  The government is a divine institution as we see in Romans 13—that doesn’t mean it always governs according to God’s will, to be sure.  No.  But what it does mean is that the government has authority to punish those who break laws.  As Paul says, they are “Agents of God’s wrath against evil doers.”  This means that when the prosecutor puts someone in jail, he’s not sinning.  When the warden keeps order in the jail he’s not sinning.  Even when the executioner flips the switch, he’s not sinning.  None of them should get self-righteous pleasure out of getting some kind of revenge on “bad guys.”  But they aren’t sinning.  In their work, they are to not turn the other cheek, so to speak.

But this is to you in your life as a Christian.  You are to not resist an evildoer.  And, if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, you are to turn the other also.  Even with your enemies.  This means that, like we talked about last week, when someone harms you or does something to you to offend you, what should you do?  Forgive them.  It doesn’t matter who it is.  It doesn’t matter what they’ve done.  You should, and not only should, but must forgive them.  God commands you to give up your anger and your right to get vengeance.  It is demanded of you.  So, if you are angry at someone, like I said last week.  Let it go.  Forgive them.  Are you angry with your spouse?  Let it go, forgive them.  Are you angry with someone at work?  Let it go, forgive them.  Are you angry with someone in the pew next to you?  Let it go, forgive them.  Are you angry with someone who has attacked your faith?  Let it go.  Forgive them.  And yes, I am talking to you.  Yes you, not the person sitting next to you.  You can’t control what they think, but you can control your anger.  Let it go.

In fact, Jesus even said for you to forgive those who persecute you.  He said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”  God shows His love in that even those who are rampantly opposed to Him still receive sunlight for food and rain for drink.  So, love your enemies.  He said to even pray for them.

When I reflect on that, I am reminded of what I once heard Dr. John Kleinig say at a presentation.  For those of you who haven’t heard me talk about him, or who didn’t read his book with us last summer for our book reading, Dr. Kleinig is an Australian Lutheran pastor and retired seminary professor.  I was at a presentation he gave for pastors and he was talking with a number of men who had been offended by someone in their congregation.  What was His advice?  Was it for the pastors to stand up and defame the people who had offended them?  To call them out from the pulpit?  To drag their names through the mud?  No.  His advice was just what Jesus said: to pray for them.  He said to pray for those people, and then, do you know what he said his own experience was?  It was that when he prayed for someone who offended him, it wasn’t that the person had a glorious epiphany where they saw all of their faults and repented perfectly, and made everything right.  No, Dr. Kleinig said that when he prayed for someone who offended him, he actually began to care for that person rather than be angry with them.  His own heart actually began to soften toward them.  Now I can’t promise that this will happen for you, but this is what Jesus calls you to do.

In fact, we are to love people so much that when someone asks you for something, even sues you for it—as Jesus says “if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile” Give them more.  When someone is need, provide it for them.  “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”  I am reminded of a story I heard once heard, that I am guessing it’s not real, but it makes the point.  It was about a Christian man who was held up at gunpoint with the robber demanding the man’s wallet.  Well, the man obliged, then before the robber could flee, the man said, “wait, wait, you know it’s cold tonight, you need a hat and gloves if you’re going to be out on the streets.”  And he gave the robber his hat and gloves.  Then he said, “oh and here take my jacket too.”  Then he said, “Oh also, your shoes are worn, take mine.  The pavement is hard.”  And by the end the robber was so struck by the man’s generosity, that he lowered the gun, and gave everything back, at which point the man took the robber to a meal at a restaurant and shared the Gospel with him, where he was converted.

Now, obviously as we hear that story, we shouldn’t necessarily expect that our generosity is going to immediately convert someone in this case, nor should we expect to be robbed by someone who amazingly wears the same size shoes, jacket and hat as us.  But the point is something we should take.  Even if we aren’t going to convert someone—and the reality is that we never convert anyone, the Holy Spirit always does—but the point is, we should still be generous.  We love to love.  We don’t love because we expect something to change in the person.  It’s very easy for us to assume that we should just be able to love people who offend us a little bit, and then they’ll improve.  That’s not always going to happen.

We also don’t love so that we can get repayment for sins committed against us.  And this is where it gets so difficult, isn’t it?  When someone does something to offend us, or offend someone we love, or even to demonstrate an opposition for God we think that we need to stand up and demand justice.  We think that we need to make this person our enemy and demand retribution.  In other words, we look at the situation and see where we have been hurt, and think about how we want to be made whole again, right?  Isn’t that the issue?  When someone harms us, we feel as though somehow, we’re incomplete?

Thinking about this, I was taken back this week at my circuit meeting to a term that I love that relates well to this: navel gazing.  It speaks of how we always turn things back upon ourselves.  We look at what we want, what we feel, what we demand.  And we don’t look around us.  Now to be clear, this term of “Navel Gazing,” is traced back to St. Augustine and it talks specifically about how we come up with ideas about God and theology, even about our goodness and righteousness by look at our theological belly buttons.  But as the pastor said as circuit this week.  Don’t do that!  Don’t look at your belly button. Belly buttons are gross!  Don’t look inside yourself for theological truth.  Don’t look inside yourself to your faith, or to how you feel to know about God.  Look at what God’s Word says.  Look at Jesus.  All the more don’t look at where YOU have been harmed by someone, and what YOU think they should suffer for that. No forgive them!  Look at what God wants!

And what does He want?  Perfection.  Be perfect as your Father in heaven is Perfect.  Be absolutely without blemish.  Of course you’re not, are you?  What do we always say as people?  No one’s perfect, right?  In fact, haven’t we even made such a point of that to excuse our sin?  No one’s perfect so that to err is human.  But real humanity is not what we see.  We see broken and fallen humanity.  We see a humanity that is so broken by sin, it always falls short before God.  In fact, do you know what Paul says?  He says that our sin makes us an enemy to God.  Your sin makes you God’s enemy before Him.  Your sin deserves for God demand every punishment imaginable.  It deserves for Him to demand retribution from you, just as you would like to demand it from the one who has offended you.

But as Paul says, “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.”  God takes the demand to love your enemies very seriously because that is exactly what He has done for you.  When you were His enemy, He shed His blood on the cross for you.  Where you had offended Him, He stepped in and paid the price for you.  And now by His resurrection, He not only gives you hat, gloves, a jacket and shoes, He utterly clothes you in the robe of Jesus’ righteousness in baptism, where He has made you His own.  He not only gives you new life in Jesus, He feeds you in that new life with the very body and blood which was sacrificed for you on the altar of the cross.  And He gives to you and He gives you, going four miles to the one you ask, giving you not only the blessings of a roof over your head and food to eat, but He gives you the riches of His Eternal Kingdom.  His generosity and grace overflows.

In fact, besides the fact that He has loved you and forgiven you where you have sinned against Him and offended Him, He even atones for the sins that are committed against you.  Just as you have that sense of incompleteness that comes from the offense that others commit against you, He has made you whole in Christ.  He has atoned for whatever anyone has done against you, against those you love, and even against His own Kingdom.  And in that, then you can see how He can demand perfection.

Of course, it’s also noteworthy that in Greek that wording there isn’t imperative.  That is, in the Greek it doesn’t say “BE PERFECT!” No, it says something far more beautiful.  It says it in the future tense.  It speaks a promise.  “YOU WILL be perfect.”  You will be perfect, because of Jesus.  Jesus and His life, His atoning sacrificial death, and His resurrection are perfection for you.  Perfection whereby God will make you perfect forever.  And when you know you will be perfected, repaid for every wrong committed against you, then you know you don’t have to worry about an eye for an eye, but you can turn the other cheek.  Amen.

Rev. Matthew Zickler