Parts of this gospel text from Matthew get quoted all the time. Everyone has heard “Turn the other cheek,” “Love your enemies.” One problem with really well known biblical phrases is that they get used so much they can lose their meaning. Which means that culturally, we now associate these phrases with weakness, avoiding conflict, being a doormat to those who don’t take these passages seriously. We’ve turned “turn the other cheek” into an attitude of pious wimpiness. “Love your enemies” has come to mean that if you love Jesus, you’ll let anyone do anything to you without complaining.
We’re so familiar with this gospel that we’ve really lost the sass of it. These sayings of Jesus’ have nothing to do with becoming a smiling victim. Rather, they have everything to do with standing up to those who are oppressive, who are powerful, who are bullies, who would take advantage of us, who are abusers. Not halfway, quitting when it gets uncomfortable, but all in. And doing it again. And again. Until God’s vision is realized. Be perfect, Jesus says at the end of this text . Which isn’t a moral kind of perfect. It simply means do it all the way, to completion. Until it’s done.
It’s about being all in. If we get hit, and then walk away because we got hurt, we’re only half in. Jesus says we turn the other cheek because we are all in, until it stops. Being hit in the face won’t prevent us from showing God’s compassion.
It’s probably no surprise that when someone has power over us, they may at times abuse that power for their own benefit. When they do, it’s almost always at the expense of someone else. Usually, it’s those who have been ignored, pushed to the sides, or have no voice. And when that happens, Jesus is telling us it’s pointless to try and gain power over them by striking back. No, he says that this is the time when we boldly show them what God’s love looks like. We show them what the grace of our God looks like. What the peace of our God looks like. What the mercy of our God looks like. And we do it again. And again. Not halfway — walking away when it hurts — but all in, until it stops.
There may be consequences. Sometimes when we confront those who abuse power, they may strike us on the cheek in an attempt to intimidate or try show their power over us. They want to keep their advantage. And so we turn the other cheek – we continue to show God’s love and mercy, with the understanding that they may try to stop us again. And so we keep doing it. All in, until it stops.
This isn’t a text about rolling over, but of confronting. When the boss discriminates against women, gays, lesbians, or ethnic minorities in the workplace, Jesus is telling us that we are the voice of God at our workplaces. And we stand up for any who are pushed aside. There may be consequences, but we’re all in.
This isn’t a text about being a victim, but of standing up. When there is a kid at school who’s being bullied, Jesus is telling us we are the voice of God in our school. And we stand up for those who are bullied. There may be consequences, but we’re all in.
This isn’t a text about weakness, but of justice. When our government attempts to deny basic human rights to anyone, Jesus is telling us that we are voice of God to our elected leaders. And we stand up for those who are pushed down. There may be consequences, but we’re all in.
This is a text about being all in. About being committed to showing God’s love no matter what.
I was having a conversation with someone this week, who remarked that our building doesn’t look much like a church building. I laughed, saying we hear that a lot. And it’s a long story, but it was considered an advantage at the time because if the church didn’t make it, it could be sold for any number of uses.
She responded in a way I had not heard anyone say before, “So, is your building going to stay a church?”
That’s my question now. I don’t mean keeping the doors open, that’s not an issue for us. What I mean is, “For our neighbors, are we all in?” Are we going to even more boldly, more publicly, show God’s love to those around us, even if it costs us? Will we, if rejected, abused, bullied, unfriended on facebook, continue to turn the other cheek and keep showing compassion? Are we all in for them?
Just as importantly, will our neighborhood know that we are all in for them?
Karl announced a ministry celebration coming up in a couple of months. It occurs to me that this is our chance to introduce ourselves not just to one another, but to our neighborhood. We have amazing, wonderful, creative, caring ministries in this place! We really do reveal God’s love and grace here. But through this ministry celebration, we have a perfect opportunity to let the neighborhood around us know that we are here for them. That we will continue to show God’s love to them. That we aren’t going anywhere. That we are all in for them.
That’s what Jesus is talking about. Being all in. We keep at it. No matter what. We turn the other cheek. We don’t coerce or use force or argue with them. We will love all of them with God’s love. We will even love our enemies. Lutheran Church of the Master is all in.