Sermon on the Mount Series - Sermon #5 - Learning to See Each Other
Rev. April S Blaine, Given on Sunday, August 25, 2013
Sometimes, it’s really hard to SEE each other.
Last Sunday night, hundreds of student organizations gathered on the oval at OSU for the annual Involvement Fair. This event that happens during Welcome Week, gathers tens of thousands of students in hopes that each organization will get out their message to the new Freshman and gain their attention during the all important first week of school.
Summit was present as we are every year, in the religious organization section along with about 75 other churches or ministries.
And I felt as I always feel when I’m at the involvement fair. Overwhelmed.
There were so many people. And so many organizations.
People were giving things away, they were handing out flyers, they were promising fun and exciting times, and they were swearing that if the students stopped by and got their free stuff – they wouldn’t regret it.
And I watched the students as they walked down the aisles and as people would stick a flyer or a cookie or a magnet in their hand.
They had a sort of fearful, overwhelmed, and glazed over expression.
As if they were walking through a meat market – being gawked at and stared at, being lured in with promises and gadgets and stuff…
Lots of information changed hands that day.
But I’m not sure on either end, how well we were actually able to SEE one another.
Sometimes its really hard to see each other.
This Wednesday marks the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, the historic day when over 250,000 men, women, and children stood at the foot of our nation’s capital, demanding that the future of our country be different. On that important day in history, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his most famous speech, with the memorable words – “I have a dream.”
He painted the picture of a country where people of different races would be able to not only get along with one another – but to be able to walk hand in hand. He painted the picture of a country where we judged one another for the content of their character, and not the color of our skin.
Dr. King knew that while the vision was powerful – the everyday struggle was great - in the midst of this great struggle, in the face of obstacles and hateful actions – it would be hard to keep this vision in front of them – to imagine that they could or even wanted to walk hand in hand with ALL people.
Sometimes it’s really hard to SEE one another.
To remember to SEE each other as blessed, as Children of God.
And so, In the middle of the speech, Dr. King spoke these words -
“In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”
For the dream to become real, for us to walk hand in hand -
We had to work hard to SEE each other as blessed, as children of God.
The Gospel of Matthew was written during one of the most tumultuous times in Jewish history. After the crushing destruction of their Temple, by the Romans, the Jewish community found itself at a loss of identity and a place of persecution by authority.
The community of Christians to which Matthew wrote still identified with their Jewish roots and would have been suffering under the oppressive regime.
At this time, groups within the Jewish community were vying for power –
Empty promises would have been the order of the day.
Jesus says in the first part of our passage for today –
You have heard it said…
But I say to you –
People at the time, just as in our skit today, had the tendency to promise things, and then if there were questions about it – to swear on something – heaven, earth, their own heads… whatever it took – to GET what it is that they wanted.
See, these “oaths” weren’t about honoring God – they were about manipulating people. The person was just the object allowing them to GET what they wanted.
The oaths were getting in the way of people’s ability to really look one another in the eye and speak the truth.
The list of personal injuries in the next section would have been things that the hearers had encountered before –
It was lawful for a Roman soldier to force a citizen to carry their pack for a mile.
Living during this time of chaos and challenge.
It would have been easy to start thinking about retaliation. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
It would have been easy to be angry and bitter. It would have been easy to hate their enemies.
It would have been hard in the midst of this to SEE each other as people.
But Matthew knew that the way of Jesus was about something else.
The Sermon on the Mount began with a bold pronouncement –
You are blessed. Everyone is blessed. EVERYONE, including your enemies. Has access to the kingdom of God. To a world where we live as God made us to live.
Your call is to be the light of the world. To reveal that world to those you meet.
Jesus isn’t telling the people they need to legalistically in every situation – never take an oath, or in every situation that someone steals from you – give them the shirt off your back.
And he certainly isn’t saying that if you’re being abused and hit on the left cheek that you ought to sit there and continue being struck on the right.
If we slip into there, we are missing the point.
But he is interested in our hearts of love – the ones who are now free of anger and lust - being able to see each other.
So that you will become A people who do not manipulate people with their words but instead SPEAK the truth.
A people – who EVEN when you are inconvenienced or even personally attacked – remember to SEE the person before you as a blessed child of God. And remember to respond not in retaliation and violence – but with love.
This past Tuesday afternoon, in an Atlanta Elementary School, the appropriately named Antoinette Tuff, just sat down at the front desk to sit in for her colleague. Moments later, 20 year old, Michael Brandon Hill, slipped in behind a parent to the school with a loaded gun. He approached the office with the gun aimed high, communicating clearly that he was ready to die, and he planned on taking a whole lot of people with him.
Antoinette was the first line of defense, and she had just moments to decide what to do. As the young man began to walk down the hall toward the classrooms, she started calling him back. She started speaking to him.
“You don’t have to die today.”
He stopped and allowed her to speak. He was agitated and still waving the gun, but he stopped and he was listening. She told him about her own life. She talked about her struggle to raise a child with multiple disabilities. She talked about her battles with depression and the ways that she sometimes felt that she wanted to give up, and she also told him that things had turned around. And they could turn around for him too.
Over the course of the next hour, Antoinette talked to this young man. Even as warning shots were fired, she continued to engage him, she allowed him to talk about his own pain, his battle with mental illness,
When he said that he had no one who loved him, she responded, “I love you.”
and eventually she helped him to set down the gun, lay down on the floor and allow the police to take him into custody.
People have regaled her as a hero and she’s been interviewed by news channel after news channel. What prepared you to have these words?
Antoinette’s answers were the same each time.
She talked about her faith – she talked about the teachings at church that they had been having – about being anchored. About their identity being rooted in God – and about the blessedness of all people. That we are to treat people out of a place of God’s love. To honor them and to see them.
“When I saw this young man,” she said, “I saw my own sons.” And I couldn’t let him go down this path –
If we are to be a people, who are the light of the world… then we are to be a
People who are grounded and rooted in God’s love.
So that when we see each other – when we speak to each other – that we never lose sight of the blessedness of the one that we speak to.
And while some people say –
Yeah, Yeah – but in the real world…
But I wonder – just how different the real world could actually be – if we were brave enough to live into these words –
Because the truth is – and we know it to be so.
When we are brave enough to face
Lies and manipulation, violence and coercion –
They begin to lose their power.
There is a cost.
But they begin to lose their power.
No one knows that better than the hundreds of people whose lives were not at risk – because someone was willing to respond in love.
Learning to be the kind of person of the quality and character of Antoinette Tuff – doesn’t happen overnight.
The ability to be able to SEE past the gun and to the person – wasn’t something she picked up after a quick trip to Sunday school.
It took practice.
So Jesus’ last comments in our Scripture today make a lot of sense.
Give to everyone who asks of you – do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
Well that’s crazy Jesus. I can’t just give money to every beggar on the street. I can’t just give the shirt off my back.
Remember, Jesus isn’t interested in legalism – but the creation of a generous and loving heart.
When someone asks of us – our time and our money or our resources…
We will… each time have to assess the situation both with the person before us and with our own capabilities.
But we can always… SEE them as a person.
We can always engage them as a BLESSED child of God… as someone who, just like us – has the Kingdom of God available to them.
And to remember that our call is to be the light of the world.
And perhaps – this is an opportunity for us to practice – SEEING people.
So – on this table – there are stacks of kits -
They are filled with juice boxes and raisins and granola bars.
I want to invite you to take one.
To place it in your backpack, or your purse, or your car, or your briefcase.
So that the next time, someone sees you and asks you – for money or food – you can pause… you can ask their name. You can say – “We put these packs together at my church this week – as a way to remind people that they are loved and they are blessed.”
And if that doesn’t really challenge you much – because you’ve don’t that before.
I invite you to take 2 packs.
And when you meet that person –
I invite you to sit down and share a meal with them.
If we want to be a people who really SEE each other.
If we want to be those people who are shining the light of Jesus Christ into the world.
Who EVEN when someone is waving a gun in our face, we can say I Love you.
It will take some practice.
So let’s get to it.