September 29, 2019

Sermon – The Second Sunday of Luke 2019

PASTORAL SERMON
The Second Sunday of Luke
By V. Rev. Timothy Baclig
September 29, 2019

Today’s Gospel lesson is taken from our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount. It includes what has been commonly known as The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It is the basic principle of morality presupposing all that we share in common with all human beings. You and I – all of us want to be treated fairly, especially when it pertains to matters which involve our role in society as citizens or members of an organization. Children can be very sensitive to the subject of fairness.

However, Christian morality only begins with the Golden Rule. Christian morality involves something more than the idea of fairness—and this is the point of today’s lesson. Christian morality is anchored not only on the principle of fairness, it goes beyond it.

The Lord said, “As you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if 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.”

Similarly, we hear the Holy Apostle Paul write: (Romans 12:9-21) Never pay back evil for evil… If it is possible, as much as (it) depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord. Therefore, if your enemy is hungry feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The entire context our Lord’s teaching in the Gospel proves that Christian moral ethics is not the same as Judaic moral ethics. Over and over again, Jesus’ words begin with the phrase: You’ve heard it said... but I say unto you...

In St. Matthew’s Gospel we hear the same lesson beginning with the words: You have heard it said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies, [bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you], and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your heavenly Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-45)

The Golden Rule heard in today’s Gospel is a case of simple justice—taught in the Old Covenant law: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth… however, in the Lord’s teaching: returning deed for deed is placed in positive terms.

In Jesus’ day, the Golden Rule was also taught in its negative form by Rabbi Hillel. Rabbi Hillel said: do not do to others whatever you do not wish them to do to you. Now, why do you think that Jesus chose to express the Golden Rule in positive terms?

The world we live in today is not very different from what preoccupied the thinking of people in Jesus’ day. We see and hear a great deal of bad news each day and experience tremendous sadness to the point that we become numb and callous about what can be done to change things; to make a positive difference in our world; to correct situations. And so, things that go wrong seem to be the norm. There is a great deal of injustice and fairness very often doesn’t seem possible.

As I was preparing for this message I gave a lot of thought about how difficult it is for children to understand this message in light of fairness. Being treated fairly is something that a child can become very sensitive to. It’s because children need our love and attention.

Today’s gospel lesson should not be interpreted in such a way to imply that Christians are pacifists. Any notion that practicing what is being taught in today’s lesson strips a Christian of his/her dignity is totally false. Christians believe in justice and mutual respect. Consequently, is not unchristian in behaving or responding for the cause of what is just and right. Instead, the important point is that we do not act or respond in the same manner as others do. There are ways to properly respond in each and every circumstance. Our response, however, is not to behave in ways that cause us to be identified with those whose purpose is to do evil or to harm others; or in cases of war - to become what our enemy is.

The personal price of a positive response is always greater for the Christian. This is because as Christians we do not understand and perceive the struggle or the battle in the same way as others do. And so, it is necessary that a Christian recognize that being a disciple requires personal sacrifices; and that this includes everything about our life: as a husband or wife, a father or mother, or even a person who may be single.

We believe that Christ has overcome the world and all evil. His words recorded in St. John’s Gospel are: “In the world you will have tribulation but take courage, I have overcome the world” (John 1633b). Moreover, Christ triumphed over the Evil One; “trampled down death,” transforming it to a means of life by His own Death. There is nothing more to be done or to think that what Christ has accomplished is somehow incomplete. What He has done was something that only He could do. His very words on the Cross were: “It is finished!” And so our battles, are battles of the Cross that each of us is called to accept. The Cross we bear, however, is the armament for our salvation. It is called, “a weapon of peace.”

Jesus taught the meaning of love by example. It is the principle of unconditional and sacrificial love. Christ’s Golden Rule is taking one’s neighbor upon oneself just as the Good Samaritan had compassion on the wounded Jew, a supposed enemy, and interrupted his own journey in order to help him.

Christ Himself is the supreme model of the Good Samaritan seeking to bind and heal humanity’s wounds, and suffering persecution in the process. He voluntarily submitted to abuse, insults, beatings, betrayal and crucifixion by those whom He came to help! From the Cross He prayed: Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing. Christ lived out His own teaching about love: The greatest love a person can have for his friends is to give his life for them (John 15:13).

There are those who think that the teachings of Christ are extremely difficult and that we would be foolish to even try to practice them. They are partly correct. The teachings of Christ are not only difficult . . . they are impossible for those whose life has not changed, whose life is always about “getting even.” A Christian believes that his or her life is living with a renewed nature; as one who has been forgiven and believes in the practice of forgiveness. As Christians we could not possibly live according to the teaching of Christ unless we lived in the spiritual realm of the grace of God.

Christian morality is not a matter of human efforts trying to measure up to the highest standards ever imaginable, which would always end up in failure, but it is a way of life in union with Christ through which we receive forgiveness and spiritual power enabling us to live according to Christ’s teachings. You and I cannot forgive others unless we know and have experienced God’s forgiveness for ourselves. Without this experience life will only be miserable. In fact without God’s forgiveness, there is only hell’s torment. In the same way you and I cannot be merciful if you and I have not experienced receiving mercy. And finally, it is extremely difficult to love unconditionally unless you and I personally know the full meaning of the Cross.

Central to the Good News of Christ is not a set of ethical standards, but living as a citizen of the Kingdom of God by being united to Christ. Jesus lived, taught and acted in the fullness of the Holy Spirit, in voluntarily submitting to the will of His Father - our Heavenly Father. The Apostles preached and served others by the power of the Holy Spirit as men and women who knew that they were loved and forgiven; some, like Peter and Paul, who personally experienced God’s mercy in ways that were unimaginable. We live our lives by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Thus Christian morality cannot be viewed in isolation from our total life as baptized Christians, who are here and now, today and tomorrow: citizens of God’s Kingdom who have been forgiven, and live lives by the power of God’s grace

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