Just as we did for Advent, we will be posting a series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday’s sermon scripture during this season of Epiphany. You may use these devotions as you want – for yourself, with a group or as a family; all at once, or broken up throughout the week. We suggest you start with the Scripture readings before you engage the other pieces. Enjoy!
Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain continues this week. We will not be covering the entire sermon that goes through the end of Luke 6, but it would be good to read the whole thing (Luke 6:17-49) after the devotion this week. Jesus spends more time talking about how one might follow him well or poorly. As he speaks, he has more challenging words and ideas for us.
We come to church to remember to whom we belong, and that each one of us is loved by God just the same, no matter what, that what we have is not connected to any sort of supernatural assignment of worth. And that is the good news in the passage we read this week. There is a difficult message about love…for everyone. In last week’s passage, Jesus says that we are blessed if we are excluded, hated, and when people say bad things about us. This week, he tells us to love the people who have done those things!
He also says a bunch of other really important challenging things. He says to give generously and freely without expecting to receive anything back. He talks about responding calmly and resolutely, but without anger, when someone insults and injures you by slapping you on the cheek (there is a lot of disrespect in this action). He says we should treat others as you wish to be treated. These are all deeply important practices in building and maintaining our faith. But it is what he says next that really drives it all home.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?”
Jesus knows how difficult it is to love those who seek to hurt you, those who take advantage of you, or put you down. But, we know it is pretty easy to love those who are being kind and generous to us. We feel warm feelings toward those people, which can be part of a loving feeling. However, there is a reason that people who are getting married say vows to one another and their community that they will be faithful in times that are good and times that are bad.
Even those who we love deeply will be hard to love sometimes. We will disagree, perhaps deeply. We will lose jobs, say hurtful things, be careless with each other’s things and feelings, and get stressed out. Remembering that we love each other, and choosing to love each day helps us work together to get through those times.
Loving our enemies is like going through the bad times with our closest loved ones, only much more of the time and without receiving any help from the other person. We can use the same practices to remember our call to love the most unlovable people in our lives as we might with those we love.
First, breathe. Then, remember that what we don’t like in this person’s words or actions may be a) something not terrible, just something we disagree with, and/or b) driven by fear, anger or hurt that we do not know about. Even if this person truly is hurting you or others with their words or actions, we cannot change anything if we respond in kind. Then, pray. It is amazing what can happen to our hearts when we pray. We may see something in this person or situation we had not noticed before that makes things more clear. We may simply just be able to respond in a better way than our first instincts, even if we don’t have any definitive answers or solutions to the problem.
This is the posture Jesus has just asked us to take in the world. Jesus tells us to give freely without expecting anything in return. This applies to our love and forgiveness as well. We give them because when we love others we are changed for the better. Whether they are is up to them and God. Yes, in your love you open a door for others to walk through, but none of us can control what someone else will do then. Jesus says we should not expect anything in return. That does us no good.
There is enough love for everyone to keep loving and never stop. We do not need to receive anything back because our source of that love is God, not each other. Who are we? Beloved. Who do we belong to? God. We are God’s beloved, no matter what. And that is more than enough love for all of us, forever.
- Who is someone who has hurt you, and it was or is hard to forgive them and love them?
- Think about that person, and pray for them. What feelings come up as you pray? Are they different than the feelings you had before?
- We may have acted in ways that make us the enemy being prayed for and loved. What kind of feelings do you have as you think about being considered an enemy?
- How would you like to change those situations if you could? What if you never receive forgiveness from someone? Will we still want to change how we treat(ed) them?
Loving God, we mess up all the time. We hurt each other, and as we do, hurt You. Yet You love us anyway, no matter what. Help us to love others the way You love us. Amen.