Sunday, January 6, 2013
Life in the New Kingdom
Luke 6:27 ¶ “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
Luke 6:28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
Luke 6:29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
Luke 6:30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.
Luke 6:31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Luke 6:32 ¶ “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
Luke 6:33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
Luke 6:34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
Luke 6:35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
Luke 6:36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
Right here in the center of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus lays out what kind of responses come from one who has already joined in to live in the new kingdom. Life in this new kingdom is counter-cultural. It is like nothing that the disciples have ever heard and I'm sure that it leaves them wondering. The Israelites, to whom he was speaking, had been looking for political solutions to their problems and now Jesus is providing a solution of peace. Not only had they looked for political solutions, but they were willing to use force when necessary. Now Jesus is telling them that those who are a part of his kingdom will have a completely different response. Instead of fighting off our enemies Jesus says we are to love them. Instead of building up our weapons of war against them, we are to look for ways to do good to those who hate us. Not only are we to do good but we are to go so far as to bless them and pray for them.
The Kingdom of God functions on many different levels. First of all we live within the kingdom on a personal level or sphere. There will always be those who can find fault in us and won't like us. How do we respond to them? I have to confess that there have been times in my life that I have kind of a defensive visceral response to people like this -- but then there is the deep breath and time for kingdom response. Our call is to be like Christ and live in the kingdom. It is not our call to vindicate ourselves and Jesus says to expect nothing in return from those who may be our enemies. Nothing! He tells us to simply do good and realize that our reward is not here on this earth, but in heaven!
As the corporate body of Christ that lives and operates within the kingdom we must also be concerned about larger responses to our enemies. What about the Church in the United States and her concern that she is being attacked by the government? What would Jesus expect the kingdom response to be for the Church? Do the rules of the kingdom suddenly change, or are we also to love our enemy, bless them and pray for them? It seems pretty clearly that this is Jesus' command not only to his individual followers but to his bride -- the Church.
And finally how is that played out on the larger global sphere? How do we respond to the needs of a world around us -- or to those who will claim to be our enemies? Life in the kingdom would suggest that we are to learn how to love them and share with them when they are in need. The final verse of the entire section wraps up the entire command with the statement, "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." The structure of this sentence suggests that it mirrors the command from the Old Testament that we are to be holy as God is holy! Is there a connection between holiness and mercy? Could it be that to be the holy people of God -- to be people of holiness -- means that we learn how to show mercy? It seems that this would be true if the goal of holiness is Christlikeness. The kingdom of God that Jesus ushered in was a kingdom in which we are invited to respond as Jesus would respond. Yes, it turns everything upside down and it should make us stop and think, realizing that life within the kingdom is radically different than life in the world. I just wonder how much we have accepted the rational explanations of the world around us and tried to adopt them into the kingdom. There were times when there was nothing rational about Jesus' preaching, but rather something incredibly radical. That is the kingdom into which we are now invited to live and participate.
In the kingdom a holy people are a merciful people!
Lord, thank you for extending your love and kingdom toward us -- toward your people who are so unworthy. We love you and we worship you and we ask for your strength and wisdom to live as citizens of your kingdom. Amen.