20 February 2011/Epiphany 7A - Lev 19:1-2,9-18/Ps119:33-40/I Cor3:10-11,16-23/Mt 5:38-48
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Mount Calvary Episcopal Church, Baltimore
Love Your Neighbor - Love Your Enemies - Be Perfect
Last week God asked us to make a choice: choose blessing or curse, life or death. We live in a culture that believes in "free choices." But when put to us this way, is there really a choice?
Evidently there is, for one look at the world today would seem to indicate that we, collectively and individually, have not made the obvious choice.
So on this Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, after the "manifestation of Christ" to the world, the point gets sharpened. The correct choice, it appears, involves Loving our neighbors, Loving our enemies, and, oh, in our spare time, Be Prefect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect!
Some might think this is taking imago Dei a tad too far - the idea that we are created in the image of God. And if it is God's image to be gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing (as it is written from one end of the Old Testament to the other), then what more is there to be said than that?
Evidently quite a bit! Someone has suggested that the commandment to "Love" concerns not feelings but "deeds that reflect faithfulness to the covenant." As detailed in Leviticus, this means not "cutting the corners" of the fields (not maximizing harvest and profit!) but leaving the gleanings for the poor. It means not defrauding one's neighbor, no slander, not hating others, and not taking vengeance or bearing a grudge (ouch!). That last one sure takes a lot of the fun out of life. We are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves - which in this narcissistic age of ours becomes a truly monumental command! And, we are to be Holy "because I the Lord your God am Holy."
To which Jesus adds turning the other cheek, giving up your coat and your cloak, going the extra mile, giving to everyone who begs, loving your enemies, greet everyone, and in your spare time, be perfect.
Some of this has been misconstrued - and with good reason. Those who are "in charge" or "in power" would like us to turn the other cheek. Never mind that what Jesus has in mind is an act of civil disobedience - a challenge to those in charge, at the time the Roman military. Jesus who at every turn resists evil was not counseling us not to resist evil - but rather offers strategies for confronting evil and exposing it for what it is - evil!
Rather, non-retaliation is meant to break the cycle of violence in confrontations of people of unequal power and status. A backhanded slap (only the right hand would be used) is meant to insult and humiliate. Turning the other cheek invites a second slap to be with the palm of the hand, which in the Roman Empire signaled the one being slapped as an equal. To be struck a second time with the palm would humiliate the one doing the slapping. So understood, no second slap would be made, breaking the cycle of violence which may be a step toward reconciliation.
Similarly, a debtor ending up naked before a magistrate, after handing over all garments to a creditor, places shame on said creditor - the assertion being that one who observes the nakedness is shamed. Finally, being impressed by a Roman Centurion to carry his backpack a mile but carrying it "the extra mile" creates a dilemma for the soldier who may be punished for exacting excessive service!
Oh, and if that were not enough, we are to welcome and greet our enemies, wishing for their well-being. That is, to be a welcoming Christian community means more than a friendly or even hearty salutation! It means loving our enemies.
Such strategies are acts of civil disobedience, not the actions of door-mat, milk-toast Christians, but rather forcing truth and justice to confront power, especially the power of domination and humiliation. Such is the way, it turns out, is the way of Perfection.
Such strategies were adopted by Ghandi in India, Martin King, Rosa Parks and Pauli Murray in America, and today in the streets of Cairo. One might even construe that our holding our ground in this chapel is in some way a living out of our Lord's command to Love our Neighbors.
That we are here this morning is in a great part thanks to those who have gone before us with lives of such spiritual perfection, risking come what may for the opportunity to worship and follow the Lord and Savior who calls us also to be perfect.
Now in Annapolis the struggle to speak truth to power continues on behalf of our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers. In the days ahead the drama will play out for equal rights and protection for those who wish to live in faithful, loving relationships. In Cairo, Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Iran, Afghanistan,, the streets of Baltimore and no doubt countless other places around the world, the struggle for equal rights and protection plays itself out in dramas like those Jesus portrays every day.
We pray for the greatest gift which is love to be poured into our hearts so that whatever we do will embody the kind of action and deeds that will identify us as faithful to the covenant into which we were baptized - a covenant that says we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, not some people, not a lot of people, but all people! A covenant that says we will strive for justice and peace for all people, not some people, not a lot of people, but all people.
This is what it means to be a people who choose life! This is what it means to be Holy. This is what it means to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect! For we belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God!
Sadly, there is lots of loving that needs to be done both at home and abroad. The Good News is that God in Christ, through Baptism and Eucharist, equips us to be perfect as God is perfect, for the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
To" be perfect" is not an indictment of our failings: it is a promise that says we may love the world as God has loved us!
To God be the glory, this day and every day, Amen.