Demonizing The Other

Sermon Text – 11.03.2019
 
[Luke 6:27-36 and John 4:7-14]
 

 

Once upon a time two men lived in a small village and got into a terrible dispute that they simply could not resolve. So they decided to talk to the town elder, the wisest man in town. The first man went to the wise man’s house and told his version of what happened. When he finished the wise man said, “You are absolutely right.” The next night, the second man called upon the wise man and told his side of the story. The wise man responded, “You are absolutely right.” Afterwards the wise man’s wife scolded her husband. “Those two men told you two completely different stories and you told them both that they were absolutely right. That’s impossible – they can’t both be absolutely right.” The wise man turned to his wife and said, “You’re absolutely right.”
 

Today is the start of a new sermon series called Controversy in the Church. Each week for the month of November we are going to “take on” one of the major controversies that we deal with in the church. I’ll be honest, I am equal parts thrilled and terrified of this sermon series. I have talked about this sermon series to various people over the last year or so, and I’ve gotten all sorts of responses. Some people say – wow, I can’t wait for those sermons. And others say – can you tell us ahead of time which week is which topic so I know when to skip church? But I want to challenge you all – you need to be here for this sermon series. I think some people are afraid. I’ve talked a little bit in the past about where I stand on certain issues, and from my preaching there can be no doubt that I take the bible very seriously. And I think some of you are excited because you think that this is the sermon series where I FINALLY take a side and attack the other side – you know what? Let’s not even use generalities. I think the conservatives in this church are excited that I will finally put the liberals in their place. And the progressives are scared, because for the most part you like me – and you’re worried that this series is where I show my true colors and start attacking you. [pause] You see, I actually wrote this sermon series three years ago, and I think it’s something we need in this congregation. But I waited a full year before I put it in the sermon calendar, because to have these conversations requires trust. You didn’t know me, so I couldn’t ask – but now I am asking you to trust me. By this point, those of you who have been around since I got here – you know me fairly well. Can you each trust me enough to put down the swords, come to the table and engage with love. You see, today is not about one side or the other, but rather the process. Today is about the conversation – or better said, the lack thereof. Today I want to talk about how we demonize the other. Are you ready for this? Me neither. Alright, let’s go.

 
 

          So we’re going to start with Luke chapter six. I think most people know that this is in the bible. I think we all know it’s in there, but this is probably the most ignored text in the whole bible. And here’s why, [read v27-28]. I don’t know about you – but that sounds like a big list of stuff that I do not want to do. Now, in case you thought you could rationalize or wiggle your way out of it. “Well, they didn’t really mean LOVE your enemies.” In case you were tempted to ignore those verses, they follow it up with a list of practical applications. None of which sound fun. [read v29-30]. Anybody here grow up with siblings? Brothers and sisters? Alright, so you’ve broken this rule – right? I got two younger brothers and a sister we raised like a brother. Wrestling and fighting was a way of life growing up. And you know what – not once did I whack my brother upside the head and have him turn around and say, “go ahead – hit me on the other side.” You see why I say this is the most ignored text in the bible? These words are directly from Jesus’ lips, and yet we do not follow them. There is no Christian teaching for revenge, no Christian version of retaliation. Jesus teaches us to replace hatred with love. Love your enemies. 

       
   The text continues, [read 32-34]. Three verses, three examples – 1 message. Even sinners do that. If you only love those who love you, do good for those who do good or lend money to those who give back – don’t be proud of yourself. Big deal, that means nothing. Everyone does that, that is not special, that is not impressive – that’s is not God’s love. As Christians, we are designed to be set apart – to go above and beyond. To love outside our circles, to do good to everyone. The objection, because there’s always an objection, the objection is why? Why should I be nice if they’re not nice to me? Why should I love when I get nothing back. The simple answer is because God told us to. Yes, I know you don’t want to and I don’t care. Do it anyways. Love your enemies and pray for those who hurt you. Do it because Jesus said so. But even beyond that, think about this, picking and choosing in the areas of love and doing good is what got us where we are. Eye for an eye, revenge, twisted ideas of justice – that’s what got us into this mess. The only thing that will get us out is changing the formula. There is a never-ending cycle of pain out there in the world, or rather it’s a million little cycles of pain – he hurt me, so I hurt him, so he hurts me, so I hurt him. And it goes around and around forever. The only way to stop the wars, stop the hatred, stop the killing to begin responding to hatred with love. So I guess that’s two answers. Why should I bother loving my enemy?  First, God told you to. Which should be enough, but if you need another reason. Number 2, it’s the only way we fix this messed up world we live in. Replace hatred with love.

 

    God loves us. And there’s no good reason for that. We do NOT deserve that love, but he gives it all the same. God loves us. And so our response is that we must love others. This is not a suggestion, it’s not a convenience or a really good idea. This is a command. Truth is – we don’t want to. Can we admit that to ourselves? We do not want to love everyone. It’s hard work. Sometimes it’s painful, sometimes it’s unpleasant. We don’t mind loving some people. People we like, people who agree with us, even people who are grateful. We don’t mind loving some people, but we do not want to love everyone. It’s actually a very simple formula: God loves us, and so we must love others. The first step is to recognize that you don’t deserve God’s love – let me show you what I mean. Some people think that they deserve God’s love. “I’m a good person, so God has to love me.” I deserve that love, I earned it by helping a homeless person, or donating money, or volunteering. I’m awesome, and so I deserve God’s love. Truth is, if you think you’re a good person, you are less likely to give love and mercy to others. If you realize that none of us deserve God’s love – that we are all screw ups together, then gratitude for God’s love helps us share that love with everyone. If we think we deserve grace, we are less likely to give it to others. Because we want them to earn it. God loves us unconditionally, without condition, so we must do the same. So the first step is to realize that God loves us, and so we must love others.
 

          The second part is we must love one another in an engaging way. This applies to every single area of our life. We have forgotten how to connect as human beings. The conversation is disappearing. Trump Vs Democrats, Pro-life VS-Pro-choice, LGBT rights VS Religious liberty, racisms, sexism. If you want to see how bad it’s gotten – go look at a youtube comment section. I’m kidding, don’t ever look at the youtube comment section. It’s embarrassing how awful some of that stuff gets. We can’t remember how to talk to one another. We talk AT one another all the time. We shout and scream and beat our chest – but we don’t expect them to listen. We certainly don’t listen to their side! We just wait for their lips to stop moving before we start talking again. Here’s what the social process looks like in our country. Pick an issue – any issue. Nobody tries to convince anyone anymore. There is no dialogue. You get together with a bunch of people who think what you think, you make up clever phrases, put them on bumper stickers and then attack anyone and everyone else. That’s not a conversation, that’s a cult – and they come in all shapes and sizes. Are you as tired of this as I am? If we want different results we have to put in different work. We must learn to love one another in an engaging way.

 
 

           In the gospel of John chapter 4, there’s a story that a lot of people call the “woman at the well.” Real quick, basically it went like this. There was once a woman who made a lot of mistakes. She had had five husbands already, and was living with some guy she wasn’t married to. On top of that she was a Samaritan, which at that time Samaritans and Jews hated each other. And so Jesus, very clearly a Jewish man, comes up and asks her for a drink of water. And she can’t figure him out. He says, “Please give me a drink.” And she says, “Why are you talking to me? You are on the other side. We’re supposed to hate each other.” And she starts talking about the different reasons they are supposed to be fighting, not talking. Verse 21 he says, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter.” Now this woman was a sinner, she screwed up in her past, 5 divorces – and it doesn’t change what Jesus said. He said some harsh things about divorce. But he doesn’t start there, with judgment or condemnation. That wouldn’t help. He starts with, “Please give me a drink.” He engages her in a loving way, and she’s so surprised – even his disciples didn’t understand. Says when they found him, they were shocked he would talk to this woman. It’s crazy, the way he was just sitting and talking with her – but you know what? It worked. Not only does this woman believe in Jesus, but she becomes a witness and tells everyone else about him. Like our scripture lesson from Luke says, “Be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” This story, the woman at the well. You can find it in John chapter 4 – this is a model for us and how we deal with people we disagree with. With the life he lived, Jesus teaches us how to have the conversation, by starting with compassion. Even when we disagree, we must learn to love one another in an engaging way.

       
    Now I have one final note before we get going. Compassion does not mean you do not have conviction. It’s a very good thing to have conviction. Believe what you believe strongly! I don’t want to create wishy-washy Christians who just sort of go along with whatever makes the most people happy. Believe what you believe – but engage in a compassionate, loving manner. Here’s the prayer that I’m going to use a lot this month – Steel our resolve, confirm our convictions and soften our hearts.
 
 

For the rest of November we are going to be in this sermon series about controversy. Each week we will engage one of the hot-button issues in the church. We are going to face them head on. Next week we’re going to talk about women in leadership, then homosexuality and we’ll finish up with abortion. But what I want you to see is that there is a deeper message in this series – beyond the controversy. There is a message about how we treat one another, how we love and respect one another in the midst of struggle. We are going to treat each issue with compassion AND conviction (it can be done, I promise). This sermon series is designed for anyone and everyone who has ever had a disagreement. Bring your friends; it’s time to see if we really do have open doors, open hearts and open minds. And so I’ll leave you with this – May you love your enemy because you are sick and tired of the cycle of hatred the world offers. May you engage in a loving conversation with those you disagree with. And may God give you equal parts compassion and conviction. Amen.    


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