Sermon: Hard Love

February 24, 2019
Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany

Luke 6:27-38

by Eric Anderson

“Love your enemies,” said Jesus.

Do I have to?

Can’t I just go home and hide instead?

This is one of the times when Christianity seems wildly impractical. It’s also one of the times when Christianity seems to favor the oppressor over the oppressed. This text has been quoted, over and over again, to the victims of domestic violence. “Turn the other cheek,” they’re told, “and with luck, you’ll shame your spouse, or your partner, or your parent, into sudden virtue.”

I think you can guess how often that actually works.

As Ronald Allen observes, though, Jesus didn’t give us a set of rules here. These are, “case studies, focal instances or representative examples of mercy in action in the circumstances besetting Luke’s world. Listeners can then reason their way into how to put the values of the Realm reflected in these imperatives into practice [in] other situations.”

That makes it worth our while to understand the social setting in which Jesus offered these case studies. According to David Ewart, “Striking the cheek was the way a master disciplined a slave or servant; the way he asserted his authority; the way he put you back in line.

“And at the time of Jesus, there was a proper way to do this. You would stand facing your master, and he would strike your right cheek with the back of his his right hand.

“Because this was the proper way to strike the cheek, doing it any other way would be a loss of face.

“So imagine what happens if, after having been struck on the right cheek, you stand there and silently turn your head and seemingly offer your left cheek?

“If you act this out, you’ll see that it is not possible to strike the left cheek with the back of the right hand.

“Standing there offering your left cheek actually becomes an act of resistance. Your master is unable to discipline you in the accepted fashion – his powerlessness is exposed for all to see – and with that he is shamed and dishonoured. And. More importantly. You have exposed the reality that master and slave are not in the right relationship reflective of the Good News.”

Turning the other cheek may have been like the four young black men who took a seat at a “whites only” lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, on February 1, 1960.

It was a way to resist oppression, a way to refuse cooperation with it, a way to demand a better way.

Jesus did not tell his followers that they had to ceaselessly submit to violence. He told them to find a way to resist that violence without becoming violent themselves. He told them to surpass those who do evil, and not to emulate them.

Does that really mean, though, that we should “love” them?

I suspect this won’t surprise anybody, but the love Jesus spoke about here is not the love of, or of the Valentine’s Day holiday. The word Luke used to translate Jesus’ Aramaic into Greek was “agape,” which is a love that has to do with someone else’s needs and welfare, and not with my attraction. Agape isn’t an emotional state, it’s a state of commitment. And let’s face it, it is not in people’s best interests to stand before God as someone who has abused others.

It could lead to a change in emotion. As Kathryn Matthews writes, “It’s possible that generosity, for example, even when you don’t feel like it, leads to greater love and commitment to someone, or “something,” like one’s church. When I worked in stewardship ministry, I often shared how much more I loved my church after I gave to support its ministry, not unlike the way one loves one’s children (or grandchildren) even more after caring for them, day in and day out.”

But I also know that sometimes it doesn’t. There are people in my life to whom I’ve given over and over again, and frankly, that gets old, particularly if I have to make sacrifices to do it. I remember being driven nearly to tears as a new father with a cranky baby who seemed determined to starve me – he’d start crying just as I finished making my lunch.

I just had to get used to caring for him, living out my commitment to his life and welfare, with a rumbling stomach.

Recent days have been filled with instances of the Church being complicit in much worse than interrupting a father’s lunch. Roman Catholic priests and Southern Baptist ministers have repeatedly abused their authority and abused their parishioners; further, they have not been held accountable for it. Laura Everett, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, wrote last night, “I have dedicated my life to the Church, and lately it is breaking my heart. I’m weary of the smugness of some progressive Christians who are happy to point out the sins of more conservative traditions, with some pretty think logs in our own eyes, especially in the ways that racism and white supremacy compound the current harm. I’m weary of the anger of more conservative Christians blaming the current negative news on the media, the gays, the ordination of women, the liberals, or the lack of biblical literacy, without serious reckoning with our systems of secrecy, control, abuse, clericalism, and cover-up. I am weary of it all. And I’m angry. I am furiously angry [at] the damage done in the name of Christ.”

Yes, Reverend Everett. So am I.

Sometimes we have to love through the anger, love through the heartbreak, love through the oppression and the ignorance and through evil itself. That’s when love gets hard, and more than hard. That’s also when love goes beyond all human measure, and when it starts to transform the world. When love gets there, it does good for the wrongdoer by delivering them from their captivity to their own interests. It does good for the neighbor by bringing them to their best selves.

Bernice King, Executive Director of the King Center, writes, “Jesus didn’t call it ‘social justice.’ He simply called it Love. If we would only Love our neighbors beyond comfort, borders, race, religion and other differences that we’ve allowed to be barriers, ‘social justice’ would be a given. Love makes justice happen.”

Yes, it does. And as the daughter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Coretta Scott King, Bernice King also knows just how hard that love is.

There’s our challenge. There’s our call. To hard love.

Love that is action regardless of our feelings. Love that resists evil in order to transform it. Love that refuses to consent to violence in use or abuse. Love that is angry at damage done to people and to the Church. Love that founds a society in justice.

Hard love.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

Hard Love

There are differences between the prepared text and the sermon as delivered. That’s how things go.

Photo by Eric Anderson.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on February 24, 2019

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