Kathleen Ryan, ARCWP, and Dave Debonis led the Upper Room liturgy with the following theme: Bring some one that is difficult in your life to mind, he or she may be a politician, a friend, a family member, a neighbor…maybe there are two or three people. Perhaps they bring suffering to you or you to them. Let us hold them during this liturgy and carry them all week and perhaps through lent.
Opening Peace Prayer Song: Berakah the Blessing by Jan Novotka
First Reading: A Reading from Matthew 5:39-48
I tell you, ‘offer no resistance when you’re confronted with violence. When someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer the other. Should any one press you into service for one mile, go two miles.”
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your God, for God makes the sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what merit is there in that?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet only your sisters and brothers,
what is unusual about that?” You are to be lavish and unsparing in your generosity, in the way the Holy One’s generosity is lavish and unsparing.”
These are the inspired words of Matthew a disciple of Jesus and the community affirms them: AMEN
Second Reading: An Adapted Reading from Jennifer Sanders: Dangerous Words.
I consider Matthew 5:43-48 one of the most dangerous passages in the Bible. Why? Let me make something really clear. Jesus is not telling you to make yourself into a doormat for the powerful people of this world. You are not being asked to accommodate your abuser. Jesus does not want you to let people walk all over you.
So, what does this reading mean?
This isn’t really so much about the enemy or the persecutors. It’s about us. Jesus is speaking to us about what we do. If we are trying to follow Jesus, we do not have to let others hurt us but we are called to let God work through us so that we see the full humanity of others, even when they do not see it in us. We do not let hateful people make us hateful. We do not let poisonous people turn us toxic.
This is not easy. The temptation to give in to the world’s cynicism, brutality, and hard-heartedness is strong. But if you want to follow Jesus you must cultivate the heart of God in your own heart. To love after the example of Jesus is active, tenacious, daily love. Sometimes it means loving people even when you don’t like them.
And sometimes – let’s be real – there are people who have hurt you so badly that you may not be able to love them. There is value, however, in continually nurturing in your heart a Spirit of love, compassion and forgiveness. There is healing in that practice. Even if someone has hurt you so badly that you genuinely cannot love them, continue to opt for love over hate, for forgiveness and compassion and realize that people who cause harm in this world have themselves been deeply damaged. They are so damaged that those damages overflow and spill on to others.
By orienting ourselves consistently to justice and love, for ourselves and for others, we can heal ourselves – so that we cause less damage in this world.
And when we get knocked off that path -as will happen – we pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and we keep going. Or maybe someone else reaches down and gives us a hand up and we keep going together. That’s the meaning of community and relationship.
We do not give in to enmity. We do not give in to hatred and hard-heartedness. Not as individuals and not as a community. In community we practice love and compassion and justice and are strengthened for these tasks for our own individual journeys.
These are the inspired words of Jennifer Sanders a disciple of Jesus. The community affirms these words with: AMEN
Last week at our liturgy, Deb Trees reminded us that Jesus challenges us to move beyond rule-following and toward a full embracing of the spirit of the laws and accepting of our status as children of the Divine. Today, the reading from Matthew reinforces this theme as Jesus instructs his followers to turn the other cheek and offer no resistance against violence. Jesus adds that loving those who love us is truly not enough; we must love and be lavishly generous even with those who persecute us.
We have often said here in the upper room that the gospels are meant to challenge us, make us think. and even disturb us. But as Jennifer Sanders, author of the second reading, notes this reading could be dangerous, if misunderstood.
In what Kathie and I think is a very important analysis, Sanders helps us to find a balance between self-love and love of others. She notes that it is inevitable that at some time in our lives we will encounter people who hurt us deeply and, despite our best efforts, we find ourselves not only unable to like them but perhaps also unable to love them. How many of us have experienced this and did not know how to deal with the resulting mix of emotions we felt?
Sanders reminds us that at these times we do not have to move toward shame and failure. Instead, we can continue to love and protect ourselves, while at the same time nurturing in our hearts the healing Spirit of love, compassion and forgiveness. We can always opt for love over hate and we can offer our prayer that the wounds of our offender be healed.
We are also reminded that we are not doing this alone. Our interdependence is a gift. As a community we can together love those who are difficult to love. We can lessen the burden on each other and collectively choose love.
Finally, consider the poor and the marginalized hearing this Gospel. Imagine what they could be thinking as they consider having to love those who consistently disrespect and disregard them. Imagine the confusion and fear this reading could cause to those who already feel that they have no power. Let us always stand with them and empower them through our good works and in our hearts.
Emerson Powers writes that Jesus’ call that love be the antidote to evil inspired others, including Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Let us be so inspired.
The insights and sharing in our community are always amazing. Thank you so much. We are on the cusp of lent. Every year we talk about what we will do differently. The Ash Wednesday ritual reminds us that we are dust and we will return to dust—but our community, our theology of blessing reminds us that we stardust. Stardust is light and power. (and is beautiful.) The readings and our shared homily challenge us to remember our light, and our power in all our relationships.
Communion mediation: The Prayer of St Francis sung by Susan Boyle
Closing song Go Light Your World by Chris Rice