God is up to something. Do you believe it? Today’s gospel from Luke comes hot on the heals of Luke’s Beatitudes that we heard last week. This is part of the same conversation that Jesus is having with the Disciples, and to that end, us as the Church.
What I really appreciate with Luke is his clarity of thought. There is no misinterpreting or misunderstanding what Luke has to say. His message is clear and you know exactly where you stand with him. Jesus, in Luke’s account, has a message for the Church. We are to first listen. If we are still wondering what to make of the beatitudes we heard last week, Jesus says, “listen.” My goodness how hard this can be. We live in a world, and we fall into this trapping too, where we fail to listen carefully and intentionally to what the other person, group or even our conscience is saying to us. We are so determined half the time that we are right and the other - whoever they may be - is wrong and we are going to make sure they understand just how wrong they are. We fail, all to often to listen, and thus we risk missing the kernel of truth or new understanding that is trying to be communicated to us.
Jesus says, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you” (Luke 6: 27-28). If listening is hard, loving our enemies, caring for those who hate us and blessing those who curse us is even harder, if not near impossible. When faced with such circumstances our natural and immediate instinct is to seek retribution, justice. We really want the other person to feel just as hurt as we are, so we lash out. But if we take the time, while we are in safe confines of pleasant company and friends to reflect on this, we soon realize that matching hate with hate, anger with anger, revenge with revenge only escalates the problem. Before long, what initially was a relatively minor issue becomes a whole different beast altogether.
But what if we matched hate with love, curse with compassion and cared for those who abuse us? What would happen? It is amazing what can happen when you confront the bully, the enemy in your life with love. It completely disarms them. For them, and for those of us who fall into this category, violence is the language they know. They have learned through painful experience that to get what they want, they have to fight for it. Because through their experience, that is how others have received what they wanted from them. Violence always begets violence.
But if we meet violence, in whatever form it comes, with love, it is completely disarming. They do not know what to do or how to react. Love is a completely different language from violence and hatred. Church, it is a simple concept that when we pay attention and start believing in the goodness of every human being, slowly but surely, hatred is turned to love and curse is turned into compassion and before long the person who we had written off as just another bully from the wrong side of town is able to channel their energy and drive into good. Why, because someone bothered to believe in them and give them a second chance that no one else would. When we pray for those who abuse you, you convert their soul. This is the business of the church.
Now here comes the rub church. Jesus says, “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6: 31). Did you catch that? Jesus says to us that we must do to others what we will have them do to us. In other words, we get to make the first move. Cause the thing is, when we make the first move, when we dare to leave our comfort zone and live into what Jesus is saying to us today, we get to change the world.
Father Gregory Boyle has written a book called, “Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship” and “Tattoos on the Heart”. I highly recommend these books to you because they speak more fully to our gospel today. There is also a facebook clip with Fr. Gregory talking about his experience with Home Boy, an organization that works with gang kids and rehabilitates them. Home Boy gives people, like Mario, in the Facebook clip a second chance. Fr. Gregory explains that Mario is living proof that when you, “ventilate the world with tenderness you change the world.” Fr. Gregory describes Mario as someone who is on the surface your typical hardened gang member. Tattoos everywhere, arms all sleeved out, his neck has his gang name. His eye lids have “The End” tattooed on them. Apparently so when he is lying in his coffin, “there can be no doubt.”
Father Gregory explains that he was taking Mario to his alma mater to do a presentation about his work with Home Boy. On this occasion, Fr. Gregory took Mario with him. Partly, Fr. Gregory explains, for the thrill of seeing gang members who have never flown on a plane before panic in the sky. When they arrive, as Mario and Father are walking down the street, people are crossing the road, mothers are clutching their children more closely. Father Gregory finds this interesting because he explains that if you were to ask someone who is the most gentle and kind person who works at Home Boy, it is not Father Gregory, but Mario. Mario sells baked good behind the counter.
After the presentation there is the usual Q&A. First question out the gate is from a women in the crowd who has a question for Mario. “What advise, what wisdom do you have for your children who are about to enter their teenage years?” Mario, still panicked from the whole experience says, “I just . . .” And he pauses, having to collect himself again, “I just don’t want them to turn out like me.” The woman replies, “Why not? You are loving, you are kind, you are gentle and wise. I hope they turn out like you.” The whole auditorium of 1000 people can’t stop clapping.
The point of Jesus’s teaching for us today is that when we break down the barriers and the stigma that separates us and we begin to see other people as human beings, beloved Children of God who are made for goodness, we can change the world. But it starts with us. We have to make the first move.
Church, God is up to something with us! Do you believe it? We come today to our Vestry meeting. We come to talk about the business of the church. There are the usual formalities of motions and budgets to pass, elections and appointments to be made. All these need to happen. But more importantly, our work today should compel us and point us towards a future for ourselves as a church. What are our hopes and dreams for us? Who do we believe we are now and who do we want to become? What are our core values and beliefs and do others know about them? This is the business of Vestry.