“Peace be with you” Luke 24:36b today I had everything ready to preach as I normally do out of the lectionary. As a matter of fact, “Peace be with you” is the opening line from today’s gospel reading, I had Luke all ready to go when I realized that the lectionary does not relate to the world. The lectionary is a tool, a good one, it lets us touch on all the themes and topics throughout the bible in a methodical way and being a Methodist I find it comforting because it ensures that the whole picture is revealed, it makes pastors look at topics that we may not be comfortable with and that helps us and you grow as Christians. Still it’s a tool and cannot replace the Holy Spirit, neither can it foresee the evil in humanity nor when it will spring forth to cause pain and suffering. I don’t think there’s anyone here that has not heard about the gas attack in Syria and our government’s response. When I look at the pictures of the dead and dying children my first response is the same as anyone’s I suppose, any person with a shred of humanity, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, no matter; the first thing I feel is horror and compassion, then anger and I want someone to pay for this and I want it to be painful and degrading and immediate, I want revenge, now, not later and I don’t want to wait and see or talk about it I want action. But I have to stop and I have to remember that someone has paid for this already, Jesus paid for this when He was hung on a cross, Jesus paid for it even before then for ”he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed”. [Isaiah 53:5] I cannot speak for the evil that is in people’s hearts, I cannot understand or rather I know all too well the excuses that people make and the drive behind the desire for power, power over everything. It’s the same thing that drives Satan and his followers, it’s the same thing that drives political rivalry and religious intolerance. It’s what drove us out of the Garden, it cost us our relationship with God, that desire to be God. It perpetuates itself in hatred, in intolerance, in destruction, in the desire to control what people think and feel. There is only one thing that has before and can continue to overcome this and that is love and compassion for all, even our enemies.
To paraphrase Philippians 2:5 we must have the same mind in us that is in Christ Jesus. He tells us this in Luke speaking to His disciples He said “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. [Luke 6:27-36] Luke comes in handy after all, but the path that Jesus commands is hard to do especially when dead kids are involved, I have such compassion for those people and their suffering, I too want retribution swift and terrible, but we must be careful that we also do not harden our hearts to those that cause such thing. That we do not seek retribution in anger or in the name of justice for those slain. Paul makes it clear in Romans 12:19 when he says “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Vengeance is the Lord’s not the governments, not mine, not yours, but God’s. I know we feel obligated to protect those that are helpless and those that are oppressed, we wouldn’t be human … much less Christians if we didn’t feel that way. However, war has consequences, sin has consequences, not listening to God has consequences. Those consequences are usually death and destruction, God gave to the prophet Jeremiah this warning “But if any nation will not listen, then I will uproot that nation, uproot and destroy it,” declares the LORD. [Jeremiah 12:17] We have an obligation to our neighbors to help them and to protect them as we are able, but we have a far greater obligation to follow the commandments that God has set forth; that He sent His Son to bleed for us and to die for us to redeem us is the greater obligation. Jesus commands us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, and most specially to pray for those who abuse us.
These aren’t just pretty words or platitudes to tell people, so they’ll be impressed, we need to live this like there is no tomorrow, because without love and compassion, there will be no tomorrow. Jesus showed this in His ministry, everywhere He went He showed compassion, listen, “When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things”. [Mark 6:34] There’s no getting around it, showing compassion and forgiveness to child murderers is not something that I ever thought that God would ask of me. It just doesn’t seem right somehow to forgive them for killing children. Sometimes being Gods children is hard, yet we have to remember that he chose us he chose you, and “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others”. [Colossians 3:12-13] Do not worry about the Lord’s vengeance because God will have His vengeance according to His will, not ours. I’ve said it before, God does not delight in destruction. It’s the other guy who delights in mass murder, hatred, confusion, depravity, and injustice. God is a God of love, mercy, and compassion, but also being outside of time it may seem like things aren’t progressing and I say be thankful that He is slow to anger and slow to pass judgement. If God held a grudge or acted immediately, none of us would be here right now. Thank God that He gives us what we need and not what we deserve. That’s not to say that He is not timely in His promises. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance”. [2 Peter 3:9] The evil in the world demands an immediate response from us because that is in our nature. We want immediate gratification. We have come to need that instant fix, we have become a fast food society and we automatically try to put God in the same box. Yeah, how’s that working out for us. Yeah, not so good eh! God will do things in His time, we are simply commanded to love Him with all our heart, with all our might, and with all our soul and to love our neighbors as ourselves, even the ones we don’t like. It is not for us to know the mind of God or to dictate when He will act. He sent His son to us to sustain us in these times, listen, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world”. [John 16:33]
Remember that Jesus is always within us as the Holy Spirit, as the comforter, the counselor, the healer, the defender, as these horrible things happen in the world it is important to step back and recall the power of God and the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, that as children of God the Holy Spirit resides within each of us. Remember that no matter what befalls us in this world we have the Kingdom of God to look forward to. “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning”. [Lamentations 3:22-23] As such we are eternally renewed, eternally forgiven and we can do no less as His children, as brothers and sisters in Christ it is our obligation to extend that forgiveness to all. None are undeserving of our love, our compassion, our brokenness does not disqualify us from this neither does it prevent us from doing what the Lord has commanded us to do. It empowers us and makes us more formidable than the enemy because He has never contemplated defeat in his pride and arrogance, while we have only known success except through our own failure and having put our trust and faith in God we now know that we cannot fail for if God is with us who can stand against us? Amen.