February 12, 2017
Sermon: “It’s Not About You”, Rev. Steve Anderson
Matthew 5:38-46 & Mark 9:33-37
Valentine’s day—give valentines to everyone in class, not just friends so that no one will be hurt. Do good for friends and those that are not our friends …
The opening words of Rick Warren’s classic book A Purpose Driven Life are “It’s not about you”. Warren suggests that if we are searching for purpose in life that we start with God. When we think about God, what is the first thing that you think about? Maybe the birth of Jesus, or creation, or some miracle that Jesus performed. For me, it is grace: God’s undeserved love for me, something that I did nothing to earn or achieve. Beyond this being an awesome, wonderful thing, what difference does it make in how I live my life? When I think about undeserved love, I think about the different relationships in our lives.
We all do things in relationships that are inappropriate and need to be forgiven by people in our lives even though we may not deserve it. We do and say stupid, insensitive things, and we deserve to be punished. When we are forgiven, the relationship is held together and strengthened. Let’s pretend that you do something, intentionally or unintentionally that causes me to lose a tooth. I haul off and knock out one of your teeth. Does it stop there? Do we call a truce, shake hands and walk away. Often, this does not happen. We don’t call it even. Instead we look for ways to get back. We keep at it. There is no winner, just two bloody, toothless people.
Several years ago I worked for the American Cancer Society as a Fund Raiser. The computers in our offices were connected so we could communicate without going through the internet. One day I received an email that one of my coworkers had sent to me accidently. It was addressed to a third person in our office, but he had pushed the wrong button and sent it to me. The problem was that he had been extremely critical of me. Frankly it was pretty nasty. I guess that I had several options. I could have deleted it and gone on with my day. I could have forwarded it to our supervisor and probably have gotten them in trouble. I could have taken it back to them and laid into them about what a jerk they had been. What I did was reply to the email that they must have meant to send the email to someone else and that I wanted them to know of their error. A couple of minutes later, my coworker came into my office and apologized for what they had written. I told them that I forgave them and that as far as I was concerned the matter was over.
Over the years we have heard that we should fight fire with fire. But do you know what happens when you throw gasoline on a fire? It blows up in your face. We get caught up in the fire. Reconciliation is never won through retaliation. In addition to the fact that life is not about you, the other gem of wisdom that I want to share today is that life is not fair.
We have all been hurt by people and things that are not fair. At that point, we can stick our heads in the sand, ignore it and pretend that it’s not happening. We can marshal our forces and try to defeat the situation that we are dealing with. We can run for the hills and hope that the bad situation does not follow us. You know the unfairness of our world. Someone cuts us off in traffic or makes a turn at an intersection when it was clearly our turn. I’m talking about serious things, and so we complain to anyone who we think will listen. We drive too fast and then blame the icy road for the accident. We don’t invest our best efforts, and wonder why our plans fail. The desire to harm others who have hurt us is not new.
The ancient Jews had laws that limited the level of retaliation to the level of pain that we receive. If someone accidentally or intentionally poked out your eye, you could not ask for more than the right to do the same to them. There were no million dollar personal damage lawsuits for minor violations. Along with limiting the amount, was the stipulation that we should not settle things ourselves. There is always a process to be carried out by the proper authorities.
Did you know that there is an established process if you have a question, concern or problem with something that I do or say, and it does not involve talking about it with everyone you know? The first step is to talk with me. Those who have spoken to me privately about things can attest that I’m really a pretty nice person. I have never chewed anyone’s head off. I cannot promise that I will change my thinking, but I will listen and think about what you are saying and feeling as long as you listen to the thought process that went into my statement or action.
You don’t have to agree with me, but I hope that you will try to understand why I did or said what I did. If you want to continue talking, we can invite our SPRC chair, or the SPRC committee to sit down with us and try to figure things out. If we still can’t resolve the situation we’ll invite our District Superintendent to visit with us.
Israel had been occupied for about 100 years. One of the rules was that the soldiers could force the civilians to carry their heavy packs one mile. Jesus was saying, “why not surprise them and carry it two miles”. It was common for people in those days to sue each other for articles of clothing. A tunic was sort of like a one piece long sleeved tee shirt and yoga pants. The cloak was kind of a cross between a blanket and a poncho that was important to have on cool nights. Jesus is saying here that if someone wants something that you have, give them more than they ask for. Now this does not mean that if you are robbed that you should write the thief a check and give them your debit card and pin number, and then help them find money that you have hidden around the house and then give them your car and tell them to call if they need anything else.
Nor, are we to excuse the abuse of power or the unrestrained and unrestricted deeds that people do. We are not being called to be doormats, but Jesus is saying that we can choose our reactions to things. When we retaliate, the other person is more likely to do the same. Usually people don’t call it even. Instead, we keep at it with no real winner. Everyone loses.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used to say that love was the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. This topsy turvey reversal of how we should live with people invites us to go beyond the law, to move beyond obligation. Sure, the laws set the standard for how we are to live. It sets the minimum. Can you imagine how embarrassed the soldiers were when they took advantage of this unjust decree and Christians kept going after they met the minimum? I’m sure they wondered what was going on with these crazy, smiling Christians. Most of the reason they commanded people to carry their packs was to humiliate them. If the people were not humiliated, what’s the fun in that? I think that Jesus was intentional when he took this rule that made some people submissive to another group that was especially cruel to them and suggested that anyone can do the minimum required by law.
To follow Christ we do more than is required of us, more than people expect, and we do it in love. Going the second mile only works as we put our own egos and agendas aside and take on the mind of Christ. Instead of responding in a normal human way and retaliating when we feel put out, or just begrudgingly do the minimum, Jesus calls us to realize that retaliation and demanding our own rights merely feeds the selfish, sinful desires of our own heart. We have the choice of escalating conflict or eliminating it.
You can wish that when you do something loving for people that they will say that you are a loving person. The reality is that it is not about you and your rights or your ego or your needs. Life is about doing the right thing. You may wish that everyone was sitting around talking about you, but the reality is that the Christian faith is about a loving God who cared so much for our world that God created a way for us to be reconnected through faith in Jesus as our lord and savior.
The way of living that Jesus proposes may not be easy or comfortable and natural, but it works. When things begin to get tense in a relationship, we can either become irritable or respond in kindness and gentleness. We make this decision, not based on how nice a person is, but because of who Jesus is in our lives. The choice is ours. We can take matters into our own hands and try to crawl to the top of the heap, or we can show people how Christ lives in us. Jesus is hoping that we would develop our character to the point where we are not concerned about asserting our own rights. He desires that we look at others through his eyes, eyes of compassion which sees people based on their needs.
Let me ask a question. Is anyone brought closer to the kingdom of God by us asserting our rights, or our retaliation? I think that the answer is obvious. We do not win people to Christ by beating them up. We don’t become more like Christ by asserting our rights. That’s really what this sermon is all about. Are we secure enough in Christ? Are we big enough to withstand looking like losers? Do we have to prove ourselves to others, or can we let Christ’s love and forgiveness shine through us? I think we can if we remember that the Christian faith is about Christ, not about us. Amen.