I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am pretty done with the snow. Yes, I know that we don’t get it that bad in Vancouver compared to the rest of Canada and apparently even Vegas. Yes, I know that the city has done a pretty good job with their new fleet of plows and the other preparations they had in place. Yes, I know that is very very temporary and if history tells us anything, the snow will be completely gone by like next week anyway.
But it’s just that… man alive people can’t drive. In general people in Vancouver aren’t the greatest drivers to begin with, a couple quick searches for “Vancouver drivers” on Youtube would probably give you enough videos to prove my point. And when you throw a little bit of snow in the mix? Oh goodness. It’s like everyone turns into one of two types: the ones that say “oh noes, there is a small amount of snow on the road, I better go 20 like always,” or the ones that are like “get out of the way of my mighty mighty SUV and bow down to my driving skill,” or a bonus type, “hey, hold my beer and watch this” as they do donuts on a public road. Seriously though, I remember a prof in college who came from Alberta ranting about the same thing and what he said stuck with me forever, “it’s snow. It’s white, it’s there, you drive through it.” So. Much. Truth.
And you know, it isn’t that I hate these drivers (mostly because there might be some of you in this room), but it’s just that… seriously either learn to drive in the snow or don’t drive in the snow. Take the bus, take a cab, stay at home, call someone who can drive in the snow for a ride, the options are endless. The biggest hazard when it comes to winter driving really is when you don’t understand what is and isn’t possible when it comes to snowy or even colder roads, and being either way too confident or way too unconfident is how those crazy winter collisions happen.
And yeah I know I might sound like I’m over confident too, but I would say in my own defense that really I just know what my car is and isn’t capable of, and I don’t take any chances especially if I have my kids in the car, because honestly if I ever got into an accident with them in the car, my wife would never let me forget it. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to drive super slow or super fast, but I do find myself taking a lot more of the small streets just to get away from the madness of the snow traffic filled with these already awful Vancouver drivers mixed with some snowy roads.
Why do I bring this up on this balmy Sunday? (that’s “balmy,” not “palmy,” Palmy Sunday isn’t for another 7 weeks). Well, Jesus says in today’s gospel that we are to “love our enemies” and when I was thinking about who I could consider my enemies… mehhhh…
The thing is these days in North America we don’t have enemies per se. Sure, there might be people out there who we don’t like, or are in competition with, or we would just rather not be around. There are people that we have drama with, disagreements with, or just don’t get along with. But enemies? I mean we’re not at war or anything. War against snow, maybe, but not real territory-defining war.
So when I read this, I think sure, I can love my enemies. I can love these drivers that I really think should just stay home. I can love that twitch I get in my eyes because my anxiety and annoyance levels are rising with every block I pass at a snail’s pace. I can even learn to love to snow and choose to follow my own advice and stay home where it is warm, comfortable, and not stuck in traffic. So I guess I can check this one off my list. Give me something harder or more difficult and challenging, Jesus, I got this one in the bag.
Do I really?
And don’t we do what I just did more often than not? I mean looking at what Jesus asks of us, things like love our enemies, turn the other cheek, lend a helping hand and think yeah, that’s totally me. I can do that. I do do that. In fact, I’m doing that right now! And we kind of check that one off our morality-to-do lists and move onto the next thing we’re supposed to do or not do like “don’t kill” and think, hey I didn’t do that so I guess I’m a good, totally upstanding and ethical and morally blameless citizen. We think we’re doing ok for ourselves. In fact, maybe we’re so good that, dare I say, we might not even really see the need for forgiveness, or redemption, or to the most extreme spectrum, grace or mercy. I mean we know we’re loved enough by our families, our friends, our fans, so we must be doing something good, right? So we don’t need some kind of extraneous love from some deity that is so hard to understand and impossible to see. In other words, maybe we don’t even need God.
Whoa, wait, we can’t say that! God is God, man, we can’t say we don’t need God. God is the reason for life, for all that we are, the Creator of all that we have! Sure, I can understand and appreciate that we can say that and even believe it at some level. But for the sake of just digging deeper I ask, why do we need God? If we’re so good and moral and upstanding, why do we need someone to forgive us? If we’re so disciplined and our heads are so screwed on right, why do we need the help of scripture to explain to us what is good and not so good? If we are so darned lovable, why do we even need to come to church week after week to be reminded that we are loved?
Truth is, if we are all those things, we wouldn’t need all those other things. If we are as good as we think, or as moral, or as lovable, we wouldn’t need God, and I know we don’t want to do that. So admitting that we do need God then, inversely is saying that we aren’t all those things we think are.
What a predicament. On the one hand we know that as Christians we claim the need God, but at the same time, we really would rather not admit our faults or take the blame or admit that we’re really not all that great drivers when it comes to snow, and maybe just focus on our good points, those things we really can just check off our moral-to-do lists, and pretend that everything is so very much hunky dory.
So perhaps, in this day and age in an area of the world where the term “enemies” is quite foreign, these enemies that Jesus is asking us to love is really just ourselves. Our egos. The parts of us that we don’t give the chance to see the light of day because we are ashamed, embarrassed, or maybe just too unwilling to even acknowledge their presence in our lives. We can’t admit them or own them, because then we won’t be the good upstanding citizens that we so want to be, so instead of just dealing with the fact that we aren’t, we hide the reasons why we aren’t, we fight a losing battle with them, we do what we can to beat them into submission but they keep rearing their ugly heads. We have become our own enemies.
But to this enemy, Jesus says love it so you can more readily love others. Those times that our egos beat us down, Jesus asks us to stand, be firm in your being forgiven and your position in God’s grace. When the evil within us attacks us, rips us apart, and strips us of our pride, Jesus says go ahead and give it your pride, for who you are and where you are going, you won’t need it.
Rather our confidence, our strength, our very identity comes from how God has created us. Not as perfect, but as recreated to be like perfect. Not as without sin, but graciously regarded as worthy to be forgiven. Not as loved because you have it all together, but loved because you don’t.
And when we see that, when we realise just how broken and depraved of righteousness we are, when we just own up to all the crap that we can be and do and throw at ourselves and each other, then we see how much God has loved and forgiven and been merciful, and that helps us to be able to love and forgive and be merciful to those who actually hurt us, actually wrong us, who we actually don’t like very much to the point that we can say that we even hate them. We can see how deep, how wide, how strong is the love of God. We can see how love has brought us together as a kingdom, a community, a body of Christ. We can see how love this strong, couldn’t even be held back by death but instead it rose from the grave of our hatred and anger and pretentious arrogance and told us that in spite of our sin, our inability to love, our sheer deplorable and wretched selves that we could still be regarded worthy by the God of the universe.
In other words, if we let that seed of arrogant egotistical self-propaganda die, new life full of grace and mercy will be raised within us.
For Jesus tells us different than what the world tells us. Jesus tells us that we are worthy. Jesus tells us that we are forgiven. Jesus tells us that we are loved, through the action of the cross that led to an empty tomb, we are loved. Through the promise of a God who will eternally be gracious and merciful, we are loved. Through all the wrongs, the faults, the sins of life and just being human, we are loved.
As we approach the end of this season after the Epiphany, where we learn of who this Christ child that was brought into the world in Christmas is, as we see how this Messiah is present and acts in our lives, as we see just how God continues to be with us, may we learn grace and mercy, learn forgiveness, and learn love for each other and for ourselves, through the work of Jesus Christ who came to give us identity, give us purpose, and give us life that really is life. Thanks be to God. Amen.