Welcome to worship for this 7th Sunday after the Epiphany, February 20, 2022! We are glad that you are here!
The bulletin for this worship service can be found here. The bulletin will have the order and words of worship with your responses in bold, the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW, and the sermon in full. The words that you need to know as well as the lyrics for the hymns will be seen on your screen and the sermon is included on this page after the worship video. So the bulletin is very optional as some just like to look ahead.
For an enhanced worship service at home, you may consider having a lit candle in your space for most of the service and to be extinguished near the end of the service during the sending hymn. You can also have something small to eat and drink prepared for communion. These are also optional but meant to help you in your connection with the wider community while we are still living in these pandemic times.
May God’s love and grace bring you joy and peace, now and always!
Merciful God, by your Word provides for all that we need, and may we be drawn close in your Spirit that we might discover your will and live by your abundant grace, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Out of all the controversial stuff that Jesus has said as recorded in our scriptures, I would think that today’s “Love your enemies” ranks right up there with other gems like, “the first will be last and the last will be first” and “your sins are forgiven.” They might not sound too controversial to us in this day and age, mostly because… well… we’re kind of awesome.
I mean, we know that the first will be last and the last will be first because we’ve heard it so, so many times before. Not to mention that we’re already number one in our books, and we’re humble enough to admit it, so I guess we don’t have too far to go. And our sins forgiven? Well obviously, that one is easy, our sins are so minimal that we make God’s job so much easier. And of course, we also know to love our enemies because that is what we do all the time, don’t we? We’re nice to pretty much everyone. Well, everyone that isn’t too different from us, at least. But we’d still give them the time of day if they specifically asked nicely and politely exactly when we are feeling extra generous. So yeah, this isn’t too controversial for us because these are things that are so ingrained in who we are as exemplary citizens already.
But back in bible times, this stuff that Jesus said, well it was unheard of. People were only loved when they were loveable and those people only had to love others who were the same. People were only forgiven by already being righteous, I mean that stuff was earned, you know. It takes sacrifice and discipline and in some cases, penance. It wasn’t given away haphazardly as Jesus insinuated. And only the first were first as determined by those who were first. Oh and by the way those who were first also determined who was last, and of course that didn’t include themselves, so… yeah.
So Jesus saying these things, well, it turned their lives around, flipped society right over, proposed a new way of living that was so radical, so different, so crazy. Jesus’ words to these people were so out there in terms of how we can now see the world, that he was rejected by those aforementioned “firsts”. Jesus telling them to just love their enemies was so atrocious that frankly it cost Jesus his life.
And we look at this from our comfy 21st century theological armchairs and we think to ourselves, that would never be us. We would never be tempted like that to kill someone over something like this. We would neverbe so unruly and angry and hateful toward our enemies, let alone a Rabbi and supposed Messiah. We would never kill Jesus.
Or would we…?
I mean, of course, we wouldn’t kill Jesus if he were standing physically in front of us, no that would be crazy talk. Mostly because we probably wouldn’t kill anyone standing in front of us or anywhere else for that matter, because literally killing someone is too much for most people to handle, in spite of what all the action movies and media tells us. So of course we wouldn’t actually be like those people who killed Jesus back then. But if you think about it, they weren’t really like that either.
In that they didn’t actually kill Jesus. The Roman soldiers did that. The people, the religious leaders, the “firsts” of that time, just cheered it on.
And that is something that I think we might do. We might cheer on the death of Jesus and then say that it wasn’t us. We might encourage those who deny Jesus in their lives and then claim that it was for the greater good. We might stand behind and rally for very unchristian values and hide behind poor theology and logic to gaslight anyone who might offer a different viewpoint or possibility in the name of being always right.
I mean, this is what got Jesus killed. Very literally so. This idea that we and those who agree with us are always right. And anything that opposes that right, however logical it can be, is automatically labelled as wrong or false or maybe even evil. It has to be, because the premise is already established that we are always right. And so we reject anything that disagrees with us, we gaslight anyone who opposes us, and we kill our enemies… mostly figuratively but sometimes unfortunately literally as well.
“Love your enemy” as Jesus said. Suddenly, maybe this is a bit controversial for us after all. Maybe this isn’t as easy as we thought. Maybe we need to ponder these words a bit… or a lot… more deeply.
And I know at this point some of you out there might be thinking, “I know exactly who he is talking about… he’s talking about them” with the “them” as being who you might consider as your enemy right now. They need to smarten up, they need to see the truth, they need to jump over to our side and learn to love us. And I have to say, I’m actually not. So then there could be some of you now who might be thinking, “Wait a second, that means this jerk is talking about me! How dare he think he knows me better than I know myself??” and then effectively label me your enemy. To which I say, I’m not actually doing that either. The fact of the matter truly is, that I’m talking about myself.
While I don’t actually consider myself to have many enemies if any at all, there are a lot of people out there that I would rather not love. While I can openly say that I need God’s forgiveness, I’d be hard pressed to be able to list out my own sins of the past 24 hours, the past month, or even the past year because I choose either to not recognise them or I justify them with my own skewed logic and worldview. While I would never ever kill anyone (I don’t think), I know that I push Jesus, or at least his teachings, out of my life in more ways that I am embarrassed to admit. And I’ve learned to hate myself for it.
“Love your enemy” as Jesus said.
This isn’t easy, you know. It isn’t easy because we like to hate those who we hate. We like to disagree with those who make us feel more right because they are so wrong. We like to deny that maybe… just maybe… we can be our own worst enemy causing us to sometimes having a hard time loving ourselves.
And I think this is what Jesus meant by loving your enemies. Love those you don’t like, and also love those parts in yourself that you hate. Don’t go around pointing your fingers at others saying, “See? They’re not loving toward me and that is why they’re my enemy” but instead think about how you may or may not be so loving towards them, perhaps because you see in them the parts of yourself that you don’t like. Then perhaps we might all learn to see and recognise how all of us, and I mean all of us, are in deep and dire need of a Saviour.
The good news in this humbling and sobering fact is that God has already made provision for it. In that even in our sinfulness, we are freely forgiven. We have been promised this grace from the beginning of time, and that nothing can remove us from God’s love. That, and knowing that while we might have thought that we were the first, but now see that we’re not so much, God continues to make us like the first, equally loved and welcomed into the kingdom of God. And it’s in this kingdom that we have been so lovingly welcomed into where we can perhaps learn to, as a wise friend always reminds me of, to love God and to love neighbour and to which I would add also love our enemies and maybe even ourselves.
So these controversial words of Jesus continues to be controversial even in this day and age. We might not recognise the struggle with them but it is there. However, these controversial words that perhaps fall on deaf ears are also life giving, grace inducing, and full of welcoming love. We can be lifted up by them in knowing that while we are to love, that we can also know that we are loved.
As we come near the end of this season after the Epiphany, may we continue to see God living among us and loving us in spite of our sin, showing us the ways of grace and mercy, and revealing to all the forgiveness that is stretched out to even you and me. Thanks be to God. Amen.