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Rooted Growing Branching

Feb 19, 2017

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FOR HE MAKES HIS SUN RISE ON THE EVIL AND THE GOOD

Jodie Hatlem, preaching

In our opening hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” we sang about a God who is“perfect.” Perfect in power. Perfect in love. Perfect in purity.   A God who is. Who has always been. And who shall be forever more be. Mighty and Merciful. Surrounded by prostrate angels.
A God terrifyingly Holy.
We also sang and will sing songs about the intimacy of Jesus. Who hides us in the cleft of the rock (to in fact protect us from the overwhelming intensity of Divine holiness) and does not hide his face from our sin. A friend of sinners who embraces us, seeking us out even when we declare ourselves to be God’s enemies.
It is hard to reconcile these two pictures of God.
And 2,000 years of theological struggle hasn’t ever really muted the paradox. God at once transcendent and holy, unknowable, and unobtainable. And God intimate and knowable, and passionately in love with us.
We tend to associate the God who is knowable and intimate with Jesus. And it is Jesus we seek to imitate. Yet, in our text today Jesus does not command his disciples to imitate him. Instead, Christ directs his followers to imitate the Father in Heaven.
And what are we suppose to imitate about God? God’s perfection and holiness. “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” Today, I want to talk about what I think this means and why I think it is both astonishingly difficult and also astonishingly comforting.What sets God apart as holy, other, and perfect is precisely the fact that he is not taking score. Anyone can love those that love them. Anyone can give gifts to those who give gifts to them. As Jesus says in the Matthew text: “Even the pagans can do that.”
The Father in the parable of the prodigal son is not afraid for love to make him a fool and it is precisely the vulnerability of this fatherly love that makes it divine. God’s command to love our enemies is both unrelenting in the perfection it demands of us and dangerous in its laxness.   To live this way in this world is to the court the same fate as Dirk Willems, the 16th century Anabaptist martyr whom Doug described in the children’s story circle as rescuing his jailer-pursuer from falling through the ice.
And, indeed, this has been, very often, the fate of divine love in this world: suffering and death, even death on a cross. Yet, in attempting to live out this difficult command to love, even our enemies, there is also profound comfort. It is the long, hard way to freedom and release. For, I believe, as we seek again and again to live out this difficult command of Jesus to love our enemies we are also gifted with a deeper and more profound knowledge of God’s own parental love.
And this is very good news.
Because, if God so commands us to love our enemies because they are God’s own dearly beloved wayward children, how much more fully, truly and deeply will God love those who seem lost, wayward to us? How much more deeply will God love God’s own enemies, even we who are sometimes God’s enemies too.

 

Psalm 119:33-40
Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain. Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways. Confirm to your servant your promise, which is for those who fear you. Turn away the disgrace that I dread, for your ordinances are good. See, I have longed for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life.


Matthew 5:38-48
‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

(NRSV)