Sunday Message for 20 February 2022: “Enemies & Golden Guidance”

Today’s message is Part II of vital topics within Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. As in last Sunday’s coverage of the Beatitudes, Jesus again offers transforming moral guidance.

“ ‘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 ‘ ” (Luke 6:27). What a challenging verse! Enemies and haters are not easy to handle. It is a common response to want to fight back when someone attacks; it’s human nature. But in the kingdom of heaven different forces are working. Instead of following the brutality of an eye-for-an-eye Old Testament teaching, Jesus suggested an entirely different attitude, guided by love and self-sacrifice.

It’s monumentally difficult to endure harsh criticism and persecution from enemies. Whether in ancient or modern times, receiving abuse can detract from a joyful life. What is Jesus asking you to do when you are attacked? Brace yourself, because Jesus doesn’t pull any literary punches: “ ‘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’ “ (Luke 6: 29). Even when you’re attacked and robbed Jesus seems to be declaring that you should not fight back. This type of teaching is controversial because of the way it suggests becoming a victim, in accepting criminal behavior without recourse.

What lay behind Jesus’ extreme teaching? Jesus’ startling statements are often described as “hyperbole,” which is wording designed to exaggerate for the purpose of grabbing attention. The nature of reading and learning from the Bible (or any book) entails discerning what was in the mind of the author. If Jesus did say and intend all his words to be taken literally then people are challenged to live accordingly. To be intellectually honest requires accepting the possibility that the words in the Bible may be literal transcriptions of Jesus’ teaching.

On the other hand, nagging questions persist about Jesus’ red-letter words in modern, elegantly-bound Bibles. Dare anyone smugly conclude that they can recite an errorless transcript of what was in Jesus’ mind? There is no faultless, independent way to know the whole truth of what was in Jesus’ head when verses and words are ascribed to him. So, to be intellectually honest also means that Jesus may not have said or meant certain things that are ascribed to him.

Amid persistent doubts about biblical inerrancy and inspiration, Jesus’ teachings nonetheless remain insightful spiritual guidance, intended to help people live a better life. For this reason, both enthusiastic believers and cynical skeptics are invited to embrace the principles that Jesus taught, even if some of the wording remains questionable.

Consider another monumental, reverberating verse:

“ ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’ “ (Luke 6:31). This iconic verse has come to be known as the Golden Rule, the most succinct, powerful statement of what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. Many folks have said that if you emphasize only one verse, one teaching from the Bible then the Golden Rule is it.

Even people who are neither religious nor spiritual embrace the wisdom of the Golden Rule, suggesting that if the Golden rule were more widely practiced then there would not be much need for religion. Whatever the case, the Golden Rule remains compelling, and if you can find ways to accomplish the Golden Rule then you’re well into fulfilling Jesus’ core teaching.

Loving other people is difficult; loving people who hate you even more so. Love is messy but God is calling you to transcend what is easy and convenient. Trying to love in the extreme way Jesus taught remains one of the toughest possible demands. Through faith, there’s a crisis of choice, of each person needing to choose to love others. People who value humanity and who want to follow God can perceive the Golden Rule as liberating. Therefore, embrace the Almighty and strive for more love toward everyone.

–Reverend Larry Hoxey

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