Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Thursday, December 05, 2013
Mike Turgeon “Spiritual Identity: Denial is a river in Egypt” February 21, 2010
"But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 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. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.
Do to others as you would have them do to you. "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
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.
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. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
"Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 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." Luke 6:27-38
Should you ever wonder what it was that got Jesus launched on the road to crucifixion, this is it right here. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you. These commands have a way of separating the admirers of Jesus from the followers of Jesus from the haters of Jesus.
These words are so familiar to us now that they have lost most of their shock value. Don’t get me wrong, “Love your enemy” still makes us sit up and take notice, even offends the wounded parts of ourselves, the parts that cry out for revenge. But imagine this teaching introduced into a world where an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth was the predominant teaching.
At least now in our day we get it, if sometimes only intellectually, that the end result of the law of an ‘eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ would be a society where everyone is blind and toothless. (This quote is from the New Interpreter’s Bible. Vol. IX, page 148).
The human desire for retaliation is strong, often out of proportion. It is one of our impulses to take, not give. As we saw when Satan tempted Jesus in last week’s scripture, strong desires, especially disproportionate ones are vulnerable to manipulation, and when revenge is on the loose, violence is often not far behind.
So imagine the reaction among the powers that be, particularly the synagogue establishment when Jesus dropped ‘love your enemy’ into the cutthroat system of his day. Then Jesus takes it up a notch. He gets real specific on how to go the extra mile. And the rest, as they say, is history. When you take the ‘standard values’ and conventional wisdom of your day and dare to turn them upside down, there’s a hard rain that’s gonna‘ fall.
The overall thread for this sermon series was inspired by Luke’s Gospel, chapter 9:23, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves daily, take up their cross and follow me.” Luke was likely a friend of Paul, they seem to have traveled around together at some point, so the most important thing to remember about Luke’s Gospel was that the Jesus we see portrayed is one who is preaching the Gospel of salvation to all humanity, not just the Jews, not just male, and not just the free.
Now this sermon series on ‘those who would become followers’ was conceived back in November. There’s a certain peril involved in projecting sermon topics a couple months in advance. My colleague, Pastor Carole Bergman up in Willits and I took two full days out of our normal schedules at the end of last year to imagine what the New Year would bring between January 1st and Easter.
You take all your research books, your pet themes and scripture passages and then you try essentially to forecast the future. What will be happening on the First Sunday of Lent? Who might be sick, or who is in pain? What will our grandchild look like? What will our world look like?
May I suggest that forecasting the future is not for the easily optimistic, nor the terminally perky? Because no matter how lofty the rhetoric, how noble the ideal, if you want to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, this text right here just won’t go away. Sooner or later, you have to deal with this radical command.
The same is true outside of the pulpit--are you just convinced of Jesus, or are you convicted by Jesus?
What we’re reading today is actually the second part of this passage. The first part, the six verses just in front of this contains the Beatitudes according to Luke. When we say Beatitudes, the word means blessings. I’ve always thought of the Beatitudes as the positive balance to the Ten Commandments. With the Ten Commandments, you learn a lot about what you shouldn’t do, which is of course, the first step toward wholeness. It’s why kids learn the word “no” right after Mama and Dada. “No, Thou Shalt Not,” is the word they hear the most.
But with the Beatitudes you get the ‘rest of the story,’ guidance on what you should do.
Now, when it comes to the Beatitudes, we mostly prefer Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 5. In Matthew, the Beatitudes are delivered during the Sermon on the Mount. In Luke, we’re down here in the Sermon on the Plain. Matthew has Jesus speaking in a lofty location and Matthew’s Beatitudes tend to take on a bit of rhetorical flight. He tends to generalize the principles and people involved:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Mt 5:3
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Mt. 5:6.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Mt. 5:4.
Just in the choice of grammar, we get to admire those words from a distance, for the good ideas that they are.
Luke, on the other hand, is way too direct for comfort sometimes. Luke’s Jesus is not talking in general terms, he’s talking to you, he’s talking to me about some of the external situations we find ourselves in.
“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
“Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled.”
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.”
Now try as I might, I don’t see myself in that mix.
Oh, sure, Jesus does have some words for people like me, the rich, the well-fed, the laughing, the well-liked. You already got yours. Now get out there and make it happen for others.
That is what came before our passage. You know, the easy stuff. I’m sure I read this piece of scripture back there in late November as I was trying to forecast the future. I know I thought about it, but not like I’m thinking about it today.
We are 5 days into the season of Lent, the traditional time when the church lifts up our need for confession and repentance. The most apt image for Lent is the desert.
Lent is the season where we remember how Jesus searched his soul for 40 days, doing battle with inner demons. Now, with this text, Jesus is asking us to search our souls. This is not a test, this is your life calling. Jesus isn’t looking for admirers, he is seeking followers. And those who would follow will need to repent, to ‘turn around.‘ In order to follow, one must deny themselves daily.
Jesus is asking me to deny the self that hates my enemies, does bad to those who hate me, curses those who curse me, and seeks revenge on those who abuse me. That self is the one that must conform to the will of Jesus.
But what happens when you deny yourself, even if it is an ugly self? Is there anything left underneath? What is my spiritual identity if I give up my old familiar identity?
First, it is helpful to distinguish between simple denial and self-denial.
It just so happens that we get some clear guidance from another text this morning, the one that comes from our friend Paul the Apostle. And if anyone has Jesus credentials, it is Paul. Remember, Paul at first was Saul of Tarsus, himself a Pharisee. Part of that Jewish synagogue establishment. The same Saul described in the Book of Acts as: “...Saul, breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord...” Acts 9:1a. That same Saul, later renamed Paul, who virtually summed up his life when he wrote in his Letter to the Romans:
“...I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want; but I do the very thing I hate.” Romans 7:15
This is the basis for simple denial. And who doesn’t have moments like these, don’t do what you want, instead do what you hate? I won’t have that drink, I won’t smoke that dope, I won’t continue eating when I’m not hungry, I won’t hit her again, until you find myself doing those very things.
Thank you, Paul. By courageously naming your reality, you’ve allowed us to see our own selves better.
Paul’s words are words of true enlightenment because they fearlessly name and expose the demon of simple denial--the unwillingness to face our own reality. No, Virginia, denial is not merely that exotic river in Egypt. And to add insult to injury, we’ve invented the all-time laughable response to simple denial. “I’m not in denial. What are you talking about? Maybe you’re in denial.”
We’re good. We are really good, aren’t we? Good at deceiving ourselves.
Paul has some further truth.
“...I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” Romans 7:18b.
We need help, brothers and sisters. We need help if we are going to move from the destruction of simple denial to a healthy form of denial--self denial, the self-denial of repentance, so we may move on to discipleship. We have a perfect identity, and it is our spiritual identity in Christ.
Far too often the direction in which we are headed is going to need not just a 30 degree or a 90 degree, or a 120 degree, but a 180 degree course correction. A total repentance, a total turning around if we are going to face Jesus fully in his light.
Luke’s text today points us in that new direction. Are we merely going to bring Jesus into our worldview, make him conform to our standards, or will we be transformed and converted into his worldview and adopt his standards? Will we admire, or will we follow?
Because if we wish to follow, these are our marching orders.
“...Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
The Golden Rule. I love the breakdown that comes with this. It’s easy to love loved ones. You can do that in your sleep. Try loving your cranky neighbor, your addicted spouse, the un-loveable, the un-touchable. Give away your money, turn the other cheek, give something to the derelict you’ll never see again.
Did I say I love that breakdown? It freaks me out, calls my bluff, indicts me, brings me to my knees.
What makes this teaching so powerful and so scary is how Jesus taught it. With his life. What has allowed us to get so comfortable with this lesson, to the point of wearing down it’s shock value is all the stuff that we have piled on top of Jesus for the last 2000 years. Like dripping water on a boulder, we have watered down and smoothed out this most radical message delivered in the most radical way. Anything to distract ourselves from the piercing nature of what Jesus meant. You have watered it down. I have smoothed it over. We all stand accused.
The power of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is that he never thought of himself as a martyr. He was seeking God’s will. What we have later added on top of him, we must forget all about if we are to hear his commands. Do all these hard things, every day, and your turning, your repentance, will be complete. Perhaps then, we will be able to ride down the river with him, the river of self-denial.