In preparation for Conference 2020 we continue, as a Circuit and in smaller groups in our churches, to discuss Marriage and Relationships, welcoming opportunities to share our thoughts and feelings.
Revd. Joseph Neil Adams has submitted the following, very relevant, sermon delivered on Sunday 24th February 2019.
Luke 6:27-38 (NRSV)
Love for Enemies
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."
You could be forgiven for thinking that Jesus advice here isn't particularly helpful. If this kind of advice is followed won't we end up being trodden all over? Does this teaching simply give every bully and aggressive person permission to do to us whatever they like?
You could be forgiven for thinking that, but it is not the lesson. The amazing truth at the heart of this message is that our dignity does not depend on how others treat us but in living and loving as God has called us to love.
We are not called to be trodden all over but instead to be revolutionaries just like Jesus was; revolutionaries for a new radical way of living where love is much more important than power.
The Jewish faith back in Leviticus 19:15-18 offers advice on how to behave towards your family, your tribe, your neighbours
15 You shall not render an unjust judgement; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbour. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderera among your people, and you shall not profit by the bloodb of your neighbour: I am the Lord.
17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbour, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.
Now of course you could say that is the natural way of living; loving our family, your tribe, your neighbours. It isn't always easy to even do that, but we have a good stab at it don't we?
The challenge here is, for those who want to be Christians, to go deeper into the loving way of God. Jesus goes further, much, much further offering a radical alternative way which the world and the church has struggled with ever since. To love not just family and tribe and those we like, but everyone – up to and including our enemies.
How can we as Christians show the world how to love and live like this when don't like and have conflicts within the Church?
Christian communities are never uniform – people hold different political views – competing contrasting convictions and strong opinions about everything from fox hunting to the EU, from abortion to politics. Yet we know even though we belong to different social groups week by week we gather to worship God and, hopefully, to build up the Body of Christ in our own community and the locality in which we live. Why? Because we know that what separates us is as nothing when compared to the fact that Jesus is Lord.
We are meant to be able to live together and love one another outside our own natural groupings – that was the amazing testimony about the early church – look how these Christian's love one another – yet the sad truth is that the Church acts just as tribally and lacks love just as violently as the rest of the world.
Love even your enemies and turn the other cheek doesn't seem to be the mantra we live by within the Church, the Circuit, the Connexion.
An example of that can be seen from the way the dialogue about human relationships for example has been treated.
We need to practice a much more grown up Christian level of love for one another if we are going to have any success in being the shining witness of God's love into our community that Jesus needs us to be.
We have to learn to love one another and share worship with each other even when we disagree about politics or other issues like human sexuality, yet tragically the opposite is true. There are people who have stayed away from Churches because they disagree with someone in leadership and only attend when they are not there. That has certainly happened here with a small number of people refusing to attend worship I lead because I am a gay man.
Is that in the spirit of Jesus teaching here?
There are Methodist's who think it is acceptable to boycott Church when fellow Methodist's they happy to disagree with are leading.
That has happened here when people get up and walk out of coffee mornings for example if I come in.
Is that in the spirit of Jesus teaching?
There is at least one Church in this Circuit I am not welcome to even attend because I am a gay man.
Is that in the spirit of Jesus teaching?
If we cannot show the love of God for our sisters and brothers in Christ who we see how can we claim to love God who we cannot see?
If we cannot show the love of God for our sisters and brothers then we will never ever be able to show it to others, and the radical revolutionary way of Jesus of loving your enemies will always be a goal that is beyond our grasp.
This passage is trying to get us all to understand that it is more important to be loving than right, much more important to be compassionate and able to see the good in others than it is to have the soundest theology and be right and the winner of any debate.
Can we learn to live and love like that?
Oscar Romero a Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador in El Salvador who was assassinated in March 1980 while he was a leading Mass because he wanted to preach love and oppose violence from the left and right. Romero was a hero of our faith and he stood up to powers and authority within and without the Church to tell everyone and anyone that radical love was everything
Let us not tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world. Let us not tire of preaching love. Though we see that waves of violence succeed in drowning the fire of Christian love, love must win out; it is the only thing that can.
We need to have the same kind of passion for the love of God, the radical inclusive welcoming generous love of God that Romero had. Our communities desperately need us to preach and speak of love – to show the love of God in way we treat one another.
We need to know this one truth – love is what matters only love.
Love, love, love.
Not being right.
Not theology or dogma,
Love, love, love.
We have to shout about this truth and make the gospel heard.
We have to go beyond what might be expected in a club or other organisation – being willing to sacrifice something of our own self-interest in order to create harmony.
Such a community is a powerful witness to the world and will attract others to us. If you don't want to be in that kind of inclusive welcoming generous grace filled community maybe Methodism isn't for you after all.
So, are you up to the challenge?
Will you love like this and follow in the footsteps our Jesus, or will you find a way to live according to rules that are not Jesus's but your own? You can do that of course but let's at least be honest and not pretend to be disciples following Jesus because you know it really isn't true.
In Jesus name may the message of love conquer our hearts and lead us to create the kind of revolutionary kingdom where all are welcome, and love wins.