Loving and gracious God, renew us with your heavenly grace, and in all our weakness sustain us by your mighty power, Amen
When we look at the gospel passage for today, and of course, the bulletin cover, it doesn’t seem the best theme to prepare us for our Vestry Meeting at noon.
The narrative today starts with a direct call to love our enemies. How challenging is it to love those who don’t like us, those who despise us, and who make our life difficult? Most of us can relate to that. At work, in our family and yes in the church there are people we find challenging. It is human nature to be defensive, to be upset by the words and actions of others, and Jesus is calling us to grow up, face our fears. Yes, we are called to pray for those who don’t like you. It’s a tall order because as we go through life we sometimes take ourselves too seriously and when we do it never goes well. So Jesus is saying, step back, and don’t be triggered by those who provoke and upset you and pray for those who hate you. How easy it is to pray for those you like and those you love, but so much more demanding to pray for those whom you neither love nor even like.
As one commentator (Henrich) suggests, what Jesus is talking about is something radically unlike our usual experience. A world where we live for one another rather than for ourselves. Where we see the thriving of all God’s creatures, not just some. Jesus calls us to love, to do good, to give and to pray for everyone. Especially we are asked to pray for those we don’t want to pray for, those who hurt us, even those who abuse us, for by doing so, such people no longer can hold power over us. As the same commentator suggests, the passage is summed in one verse: ‘Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful’.
All that power that flows from Jesus is dedicated to and will bring about, a very different world, God’s world. The power will level the playing field no matter what rules we have established to create and protect our positions. The thriving of all creatures in God’s realm requires a different ethos from those customarily in place. Jesus quickly lists a bunch of imperatives that describe the behaviour for those still listening. The very first imperative: ‘love’, is followed by some quite concrete examples. Do good; don’t just think well of others, but do good too. Pray for, bless, give, and do.
Those who follow Jesus are to live as God operates, mercifully and generous beyond expectation, beyond comprehension. The norm for the world is what ‘sinners’ do very well indeed: they love, lend, and do good. But for the disciples, for God’s people, loving, lending, and doing good are all about generosity that does not draw boundaries based on the responses of others. It is important to keep in mind that love in this passage, is about willing good for another and acting on that will.
Jesus in this passage is very clear about making sure that the disciples (meaning his followers) understand the cost of discipleship.
If people follow him, it is going to cost. It will be no easy ride. So from the get-go, Jesus wants them to understand that to follow him is about loving one’s enemies. This is a tall order. Sometimes it is hard enough to love our friends and family, but asking us to love our enemies?
The call is to love everyone and expect nothing in return. To love even those who show no love towards you. The expectation is not to judge other people (which of course most of us love to do), not to condemn others, and not to forgive in hopes of being forgiven. In short, we are asked to do to others as we would expect them to do to us.
And when we think about it, the people who usually inspire us most. are those who cannot worry about what is happening to them, who aren’t obsessed with what others think, but who quietly get on with living their lives as God intended.
And this type of action not only sustains and feeds us; it for sure builds up the community.
Of course, the people of Luke’s time lived in occupation as some of our congregation have done. Those same people were often exploited as some of our congregation have been. And although few of us live in poverty, some of us have challenges to make our financial resources fit our budget.
So our lives are intended to be modelled on God’s way of responding to humanity, which is to be good to both the wicked and ungrateful as well as to the faithful and descent. In Greek, the word for ‘kind’ is related to the word for ‘grace'.
At times I think we see glimpses of how this can work, most often when we see other people acting as Jesus suggest with both integrity and graciousness. It is not easy to live this way, but it will transform our lives, make a huge difference in the communities of which we are a part, and we will become the joyful, wonderful, hopeful people Jesus wants us to be.
Today at Vestry, our Annual Meeting, we take stock, give thanks for the year just completed, and look ahead to the future.
The Vestry Book tells of all the ministry that has taken place in our parish in the second year of the pandemic. There is much to celebrate in terms of Zoom, in-person worship, pastoral care and support, and sacrificial giving. This is not a moment to sit back and rest from our labours, but we do rightly thank many people who make this parish what it is.
As we reflect today, let us also continue to ask God to bless us in our journey, both as individuals and as a congregation, as we make our way to God, who is our source, our encourager and our goal.