I am honored to be here to speak to you in worship. I am excited about it being today. You see, I am a church reader board junkie. I drive by your building multiple times during each week, and I have appreciated seeing your reader board: TWEET OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM TWEET YOU. Every time I read it, I think, “You get this!”
Let me read to you the Gospel passage assigned to today from the Revised Common Lectionary. Jesus has come down to the plain to teach the multitudes about kingdom living. This “Sermon on the Plain” is Luke’s version of the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew:
Luke 6:27-38 – 27“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away….Okay, so it was really only about 16 years ago, but Eastern Kentucky is in its own little galaxy…I was called to do a graveside service for a family that I had not ever met. The deceased’s last name was Hatfield. He was a Mason, and this was to be my first Mason funeral service, so I was intrigued. I was escorted to a rural cemetery that was located next to the Big Sandy River – West Virginia lay within view just across the river. As we waited for family members to show up, one of the daughters of the deceased showed me around the cemetery. We were apparently in a family area of this cemetery because there were a lot of relatives…all named Hatfield. There seemed to be a lot of family pride in her voice.
Now, you may have a clue as to where I am going with this, but at the time, I was still intrigued with the idea of Mason ritual during the service, and I wasn’t cluing into what I was seeing and hearing at all. Then suddenly it hit me. I was in the heart of Appalachian. I was walking among deceased Hatfields….So I flippantly asked (thinking I was making a joke), “So, I don’t suppose there are any McCoys buried here, are there?” And she firmly responded, “No way. They wouldn’t be caught dead here. They are across the river in West Virginia”
You can probably imagine the look of surprise on the face of this naïve native North Westerner. “You mean…that feud is real?” I asked in shocked surprise. I had honestly thought it was a made-up dispute. But she affirmed my question.
“Is it still going on?” I asked, still in a state of disbelief. Again, she affirmed the question.
“So, why don’t Hatfields and McCoys like each other? Why did the feud start?” She didn’t have an answer. I don’t quite remember if I said this or just thought it, but knowing me, the words were most likely bluntly vocalized, “Then, why don’t they just get over it?” Again, she had no answer. At this point, I figured I didn’t want to start another feud so I dropped the subject and did the graveside service, asking questions about Mason ritual and avoiding any other discussion on feuds. Yet, I left that cemetery dumbfounded thinking that there really must be another way of dealing with differences than hating each other – and possibly hurting each other.
How we treat (and tweet) others matters. We get this. I believe it safe to say that the majority of us have known this, this Golden Rule as laid out by Jesus, for the majority of our lives. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31). Every major religion, and even religions you may not even heard of, has their own version of the same. For example:
Islam: “Pay, Oh Children of Adam, as you would love to be paid, and be just as you would love to have justice!” and “As you would have people do to you, do to them; and what you dislike to be done to you, don’t do to them.”
Hinduism: “Those acts that you consider good when done to you, do those to others, none else.”
Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” — Udanavarga 5:18
Confucianism: “What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.”
And many others….
We try to practice this in our lives, and we teach our children to do the same. We teach them to be kind and polite to others, to return your shopping cart, to tip your server, to hold the door open for another, to offer your seat in a crowd, to pick up the piece of trash that is blowing away. We teach our children that small acts of kindness, like the many and growing rings that form when a small pebble is dropped into a still pool, can have a ripple effect.
How we treat others matters. We get this.
But if we get it, and if the majority of humanity has heard this, why is there so much negativity and anger and fear and division in our lives? In our communities? In our country? In our world?
The problem is, what Jesus is asking us to do is downright difficult. It is relatively simple to love a stranger we know nothing about, to donate food to people we haven’t met, to open a door for someone who looks pretty harmless, to have a decent conversation with someone we agree with, to maintain a pleasant relationship with the neighbor whose yard is well-kept and whose dogs don’t bark at 5:30 in the morning.
But what about the guy on the street who is panhandling at the very same corner for months on end? What about the parent who has abused and then lost her children because of drug addiction? What about the neighbor who parties and plays loud music until the wee hours of the morning? What about that guy who cut you off in traffic and almost caused you to have an accident? What about the “friend” who has strong differing opinions that you and is not afraid to let you know? How about the one who belongs to a different religious or political affiliation than you? What about the ones that our culture or our groups of belonging have taught us to hate? What about the white-supremist? The terrorist? The bigot? The one who has harmed your family and has wronged you? The McCoy? How do we love them? And why do we even have to?
Why do we have to love our enemies when anger punishment, retaliation, and revenge seem so much safer and so much more satisfying? Well…at least for the present.
The answer to that is two-fold: First of all, Jesus tells us to. Period. And if that is not enough for you, the second reason is the ripple effect. How we treat others matters. Just as a small pebble dropped into a pool causes ripples that reach the furthest shore, what we do to or for others, what we throw into the pool of human relationships, can make an entire world of difference.
There is a lot of anger, hatred, mistrust and division in the world. There is a lot in our own country. Angry tweets, disregard for the humanity of others, divisive rhetoric, misleading promises or commitments, and the desire of power and revenge coming from a few at the top have had a negative affect on the dynamic of many of our personal relationships. Hate crimes have been on the rise. And many have been moved to a sense of hopelessness. In this state of hopelessness, what can we who have no fame, no platform, no powerful voice, no twitter account do to change this downward course?
Jesus tells us, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others [not as they do to you, but] as you would have them do to you.”
The Dali Lama says, “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”
The Rev. Dr. MLK says, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
How we treat others matters. What we throw into the pool, ripples to ends of the earth. And, just imagine: “If we could spread love as quickly as we spread hate and negativity, what an amazing world we would live in.”
This message was given at Spokane Friends Church by Lauri Clark-Strait on February 24, 2019