“Jesus’ Upside-Down World”
by the reverend Peter W. Allen
Hingham Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
February 24, 2019
What if I stepped up into this pulpit and said popcorn and bacon tasted bad and that Brussels sprouts and liver were the best foods ever? Some of you would agree, but most of you would probably make a squishy face.
What of I stepped up into this pulpit and told you that black was white, low was high, cold was hot, and weak was strong?
You’d all have some questions, wouldn’t you?
Although we mostly embrace what Jesus has to say in the four Gospel accounts, sometimes he gets a little extreme. Like today. And I have questions. I hope you do, too.
Today, in Luke’s version of Jesus’ ministry, we take up where we left off last week, looking at what is traditionally called the Sermon on the Plain — and we have questions. It’s kind of like Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, but way more challenging, at least in my opinion.
While Matthew’s Jesus calls for a higher righteousness, a more rigorous moral standard than the people of that day were used to hearing about, Luke’s Jesus turns the world completely upside down.
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.
He goes on to say that if someone takes something from us, we shouldn’t even try to get it back.
This is one of those, Wait, what? moments in the Bible. What is this all about?
I am sure that you have your own reasons for questioning this teaching. Perhaps some of them are personal, but let me start with some history.
Slavery. Shouldn’t those whose ancestors were enslaved be allowed to be angry, especially because there have never been official reparations offered to former slaves or their descendants? What about Jim Crow and the way that people of color have suffered from all kinds of prejudice and abuse since those years?
Why should they be asked to bless those who have cursed them?
And now let’s talk about women. Why should those who have been held back, those who were expected to please the powerful, those whose bodies have been beaten, controlled, and violated…
Why should they be expected to pray for their abusers? Isn’t that asking too much?
And how about Native Americans? Their land. Their way life. Their source of food. Their dignity. Their language and customs and spiritual pathways. All taken from them.
Why should they be expected to be silent in the face of all that that was wrenched from them so violently and heartlessly?
I know that gay people have come a really long way in our society, especially over the last twenty years or so, but after all they have endured throughout history and even today in many countries and in many of our own United States, why should they be asked to bless those who curse them?
I know this may sound blasphemous coming from a preacher’s mouth, but, Jesus, are you crazy?
Crazy like a fox, maybe?
In other words, maybe Jesus’ craziness is rooted in a very deep wisdom. Perhaps his vision of an upside-down world is rooted in his fascination with the prophets of Israel, the prophets who called upon the wealthy and the powerful to look out for the poor and marginalized. These prophets shaped Jesus’ ministry. They provided a roadmap for his life.
All of Jesus’ parables, sayings, and actions were based in the prophet’s priorities: God wants a relationship with us. The Spirit is active and present in our lives as individuals and as communities (in other words, God is still speaking.). God wants us to love our neighbors, especially the most vulnerable among us and those who are different from us.
But what about this idea that we should love our enemies? What about those who have really hurt us? Maybe I shouldn’t say “us.” As a straight, white, male with loving parents, I haven’t been abused or exploited or taken advantage of like many others have been.
So, what about you? What do you think of this teaching? What’s it all about? Is Jesus being insensitive to those who have been hurt? Is he asking too much?
I would understand if some of you said, yeah, Jesus is asking too much here. At least when it comes to active, conscious racism… sexual and physical abuse… and other personal harm. Maybe that you’ve suffered.
What I would suggest to all of us is that Jesus was not interested in dismissing our hurts. He wanted to heal our hurts! But he was passionate about moving us closer to God and each other, including those who have hurt us and those whom we have hurt.
So, let me suggest that we create a special category for those who have done us harm. Bad parents. Enemies in war. Horrible bosses. Ex- boyfriends, girlfriends, ex-husbands and wives. Bullies. Disloyal friends.
We don’t have to like them. We don’t have to accept that what they’ve done to us was OK. It wasn’t OK. And there has to be accountability.
But, in the eyes of God, as we understand God in the heart of Jesus, God looks upon our enemies as beloved children. And that creates for us a goal, a place where our journey might take us, toward forgiveness, toward love for even the most unlovable people we know out there.
Our sister, Kate Kallis, set me a hymn called, Christ, Your words of Love Confound Us. Perfect for this morning. It starts:
Christ, your words of love confound us,
even as we give you praise,
for the lessons that you teach us seem
so far from this world’s ways.
How can we love those who hate us?
How can we love enemies?
What of people who abuse us?
How can we love even these?
Yes, how can we?
How can God love them? And yet, this is the nature of the God who loves us as well.
The world we have created… This world where we forced Native Americans onto the worst land possible… This world where the most vulnerable have been not cared for but rather rejected and ignored and abused and jailed… This world where we still haven’t figured out how men and women can share power… This world where we are dragging our feet when it comes to protecting our environment… This world needs to be turned upside down, right? Yes.
OK, maybe you don’t think so. Maybe, like me, your life has been really good and an upside-down world doesn’t sound so attractive. The right side up world has treated us well.
And yet, Jesus came not to preserve the way things are, but to bring new life to all God’s children — the good, the bad, and the in-between.
And so, my fellow in-betweeners, I offer you my love and my encouragement, as your pastor, as we move toward the beautiful upside-down world that Jesus envisions for us all and is creating among us.
The last few lines of that hymn are:
May we do, Lord, unto others
as we’d have them also do.
You have shown us: Love is action.
May we love, and make things new.