Luke 6:27-36 “Love & Mercy”
This last week at our Ed Center after school there was a friendly game of volleyball going on. In fact everyday we have kids coming in after school to play. One of the boys, however, decided in the middle of the play that he would have to take out his smart phone to do something on the screen. I do not know what.
Even though they are called smart phones, they do seem to make us pretty dumb. The boy was standing right next to the net in the middle of a volleyball game totally unawares of what was happening around him. Most unexpectedly and totally by accident a boy on the other side of the net hit the ball right towards the boy on the smart phone. He got hit squarely on the right cheek. The boy who had hit the ball immediately apologized for the errant hit.
What do you think happened? Was there a proverbial “turning of the cheek”? No, the boy put his smart phone away. He picked up the volleyball and with all his force struck back. Fortunately, the other boy was just able to duck away from the ball as it whizzed by his head. Shoot, I even had to get up from my chair and chastise them before the two boys took it to the next level.
Is that not our inborn human nature? If someone strikes us on the cheek, do we not turn and strike back at least twice as hard so that that person will be taught a lesson about striking people on the cheek?!
Some years back there was a movie called “The Hunt for Red October.” The movie was about the Soviet Era quest for a completely silent submarine that could launch a hundred nuclear warheads at the United States. This submarine was designed as a “first strike” weapon. It was not unrealistic in that adversaries of America have developed many first-strike weapons.
The anniversary of Pearl Harbor is coming up in two weeks’ time. Our human history is replete with “first strikes.” The idea being that one should strike the enemy and take him or her out before a chance of being hit. I think that is even more our human nature.
What Jesus is suggesting here is revolutionary in the history of the human race. Jesus is suggesting that our “first strike” against our enemy should be to show the love of God towards them. We do this because it is the godly thing to do. Read verse 35: “The Almighty. . . .is kind to the ungrateful and the evil ones (wicked).”
God shows mercy or “pity” towards those people who are so stuck in their human failed warlike natures. We should pity anyone who only lives in the anger and fear of being struck on the cheek. They know not the love of God in their lives.
What should we do with our enemies? We should somehow find the strength to love them despite our innate human nature. If we can love our enemy, then surely that person is no longer our enemy. I have thought about this most of my life. I think we all have! How do we stop hating? How do we stop the hate that takes over the world almost on a cyclical basis?
Where are we on that cycle right now? As reported by the New York City Police Department and reported in a variety of media, last year hate crimes in general spiked upwards at a rate of 42%. Hate crimes against Muslims up over 300%. Even hate crimes against Jews up a whopping 189%.
Many have wondered what on earth could be the cause of someone shooting up a country music concert in Las Vegas, a church in Texas, a school in California, and the list goes on and on. What makes people do that? Hate. I do not understand why we all do not understand what is causing this! It is purely hatred. This is what happens when people’s lives are taken over by hate. This is what happens when people get the idea to strike on the cheek in the first place! It is hate that drives that first strike.
Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. Why? If you do not, then the hatred will take over your life too. It will take over your family, your neighborhood, your state, your country, and the world.
You know, my whole life people have been telling me that I am supposed to hate Russia. I grew up in the Soviet Era. Indeed, I might have even a reason to hate Russia because I am German and have experienced the occupation of East Germany and the horrors of the communist regime of Erich Honecker, a puppet dictator installed by Russians.
Back in 2012 we accepted a Russian exchange student. That was going to be a challenge for me. Could I accept a Russian in my home for a full year? What if the old hatreds I had been taught come out again? Well, instead a whole lot of Christian loving took place, and I ended up even going to Russia to meet her family, too. This of course is the story of Nelli who stayed with us. How strange it was for Nelli’s family, born in the Soviet Union, to have an American drinking tea in the living room. All the hate that we had been taught washed away with a bit of tea!
That is not quite the end of the story. I wrote a book with Nelli about our experiences together in the family. Some of you have read the book. My uncle Olaf in Germany read my book, and was so moved by it that he sent me a three-page letter in the regular mail with a confession of sorts. In the early days of World War II, our family in Germany was assigned a nanny-housekeeper, a young girl who had been taken from her family in Nazi controlled Russia. My father and uncle had a Russian war slave to take care of them as children. I had never heard this story before. The idea that my sweat old German mother had owned a Russian slave girl was just incomprehensible at first.
In the letter from my uncle, he stated that he could never hate the Russians, even when they took over East Germany, because he had loved this childhood nanny so much. She was always sweet and kind to the family. We do not even know if she survived the war by the way. Love stopped him from hating.
That is it. The first step to loving your enemy is simply refusing to hate. We are being told day and night whom to hate through social media and regular news. We are told to hate the Democrats and hate the Republicans. We are told to hate the Chinese and hate the Russians. We are told to hate the immigrants. We are told to hate the Muslim. Likewise, the Muslim is being told to hate the Christian.
One of the craziest news stories of today comes out of the country of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. It is a majority Buddhist country. All young men in the Buddhist tradition are encouraged to join a monastery for at least one year. They shave their heads. They don the saffron robe. They beg for their food by going barefoot in the dirt streets of Myanmar. They go barefoot so that they will not step on any bug and thereby take an innocent life of a cockroach even.
These same pacifist monks have picked up AK47 kalshnikov automatic weapons to kill their Muslim Rohingya brothers and sisters in the western part of the country that borders Muslim Bangladesh. The current leader of the country of Myanmar is none other than Aung Suu Kyi, a Noble Peace Prize winner! She is apparently allowing this to take place! Why? They hate. This is what hate does. Lesson: don’t hate!
You know, if someone strikes you on the cheek, it is a challenge. The duel is supposed to follow. But, Jesus tells us that the real challenge is NOT to hate. The whole world wants you to hate. God wants you and commands you to love instead. Who are you going to listen to?
Did you notice the first line of our scripture for this morning? Verse 27, “But I say to you that listen. . . .” Got it? Jesus is only speaking to those who will listen. Guess what? The world is not listening to Jesus.
Yes, we have a listening problem in our world today. In the old days, and still in Jewish Synagogues around the world, the first commandment one hears when worship starts is the Great Shema—the Great “Listen” Command. Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel the Lord your God is Lord alone.” The first command is to listen. The second is to love as we read in the next line “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might.”
The bigger problem today with listening stems from our ability to only listen to what we want to hear. We get to choose which news channel to listen too. If someone says something on our Facebook feed that we do not like, we simply unfriend the person. Too many people today are tuning in and listening only to that which will feed their anger rather than lead them in Christian love and compassion.
Jesus says that His message of love is only for those who will listen to it: Did He know about cable news and the internet back then? Seems like it. Or, maybe this has always been the problem that we prefer to listen to that which is hateful. So, listen to this which is hard to hear: Mt 22:37, “You shall love the lord with all your heart, soul, and mind; You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Accept these commands from Jesus over your life, and pity or have mercy on those who continue to hate and will not listen to the Word of God.