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Luke 6:27-38

Jesus stands with victims of abuse

            As a preface to the sermon, we need to make it clear that Jesus stands with victims of abuse. Too often this gospel text about loving enemies and forgiveness has been used especially against women, girls, queer folks, racialized people, and all victims of abuse. Loving our enemies doesn’t mean condoning violence and sexual abuse. We absolutely need to stand with victims and help them find the justice they seek.

            We’re in Black History Month and often these kinds of gospel passages are levied against Black Lives Matter organizers saying Jesus wants them to calm down and quiet down. Whenever we think whether a particular interpretation is gospel-centred we need to think about who benefits. Do people on the margins with the least power benefit or do those with established power benefit?

            It’s similar to churches who champion verses in the epistles about women not speaking in public. It’s funny how it tends to be men in positions of leadership who put forward these interpretations because they personally benefit when the status quo is upheld.

            Sometimes remarks like these are labelled as PC or politically correct. However PC is often just a smokescreen for saying as a society we don’t want things to change. We don’t want people to experience liberation or equality. So if you hear that accusation that something is being labelled PC, ask who is benefiting. Who is trying to to maintain power at the expense of someone with less privilege?  

Everyday Resurrection

            Some of us taking a course about resurrection in the gospels have been talking about a phrase “everyday resurrection.” What does it look like for us to think about the resurrection not just as a one time historical event but as something we celebrate every day? Martin Luther talked about waking up every morning saying the phrase, “I am a baptized Christian,” which is another of saying “each day I celebrate the resurrection.”

            Resurrection evokes a lot of personal things for each of us. We think about the faithful departed who have gone before us. People we miss. We think about the ways they live on through us and the legacies they have left to creation and the world. We also think about the things that bring us joy each day, whether it is a sunrise, a sunset, creating art, doing a Wordle puzzle, taking a walk, wearing clothes that make us feel beautiful, enjoying a morning coffee or tea, talking with loved ones, going for a bike ride, playing tennis, whatever it is.

            In our gospel reading Jesus gives us a glimpse of an expansive sense of everyday resurrection. It is so expansive and startling two things tend to happen. Either we are startled by how daunting following Jesus into everyday resurrection is. Or we have heard the reading so frequently that we just gloss over it like so much “Jesus talk” and go about our everyday lives as though nothing significant was said. Let’s look a little closer to get a sense of how startling Jesus’ words are.  

Sermon on the Plain

            Our gospel comes from a passage often referred to as the Sermon on the Plain, which is in the Gospel of Luke. We often hear about the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew, the Blessed are you’s. Here in the Sermon on the Plain we hear about all the ways a disciple of Jesus is radically oriented towards the other. The turn towards the neighbour, towards the other person is primary. It comes before other duties. However as we discussed in the preface, this ethical imperative of loving one’s neighbour, turning the other cheek, can never be used to manipulate. It cannot be used by the powerful to leverage power over the powerless.

Example: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

             Sometimes it helps for us to think about a pastor and theologian who has tried to put in practice the radical turn to the other Jesus expresses in passages like this. Here is a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s letter to Mahatma Gandhi on October 17, 1934. Bonhoeffer who was then 28 years old, was a German Lutheran theologian part of the resistance against the Third Reich. Mahatma Gandhi was a renowned pacifist in India. Bonhoeffer writes:

            "It is no use to foretell the future which is in God’s hands, but if not all signs deceive us, everything seems to work for war in the near future, and the next war will certainly bring the spiritual death of Europe. What we need therefore in our countries is a truly spiritual living Christian peace movement. Western Christianity must be reborn on the Sermon on the Mount and here is the crucial point why I am writing to you. From all I know about you and your work after having studied your books and your movement for a few years, I feel we western Christians should try to learn from you, what realization of faith means, what a life devoted to political and racial peace can attain. If there is anywhere a visible outline towards such attainments, than I see it in your movement. I know, of course, you are not a baptized Christian, but the people whose faith Jesus praised mostly did not belong to the official Church at that time either. We are having great theologians in Germany – the greatest of them being to my opinion Karl Barth, whose disciple and friend I am happy to be – they are teaching us the great theological thoughts of the Reformation anew, but there is no one to show us the way towards a new christian life in uncompromising accordance with the Sermon on the Mount. It is in this respect that I am looking up to you for help."  

This excerpt is compliments from John Thataminil, a theology professor at Union Theological Seminary, and Anglican deacon here in Victoria. As it happens Bonhoeffer briefly studied at Union some years after he wrote this letter. It is no accident they hired John Thataminil who is a specialist in nonviolent movements and theology. It would be great to have him speak with us sometime.

            We hear echoes in a text from 1934 in our current situation. Not that the two are the same because they are not, but we learn from theologies of the past. Bonhoeffer realized that German Christians needed to learn from people outside their tradition. They needed more than the intellectual understanding of a theology of the cross. Knowing that Jesus is the one who lays down his life for others. Knowing that Jesus calls us to join him in turning the world upside down through this radical ethic of love of neighbour. Bonhoeffer knew they need a contemporary example of how to live that out in the world. He found an example in Gandhi who was helping oppose the British colonial structures in India through nonviolent resistance. They quite literally turned the other cheek and took a beating from British officers. They actively chose suffering in very public ways in a way that produced collective power. Renouncing violence and refusing to comply with an abusive regime, Gandhi helped India win independence and led to the British eventually leaving.

            Some have argued that Britain still owes India reparations and became a poorer country as the result of colonization. At least one economist attached a dollar figure to over a trillion dollars the UK owes India in reparations, but I’m not sure the likelihood of that happening.

            While Bonhoeffer references the Sermon on the Mount in the letter, there are striking parallels with the Sermon on the Plain, today’s gospel reading. We can imagine the ways Bonhoeffer imagined Jesus’ call to action playing out. Some people have pointed to Denmark’s response to the WWII as an example. When the Third Reich demanded Jews wear the Star of David, the king of Denmark famously said all residents of Denmark would wear the Star of David, which neutralized the scapegoating. In fact the Nazis mostly left Denmark alone compared to some countries because of these small but significant ways in which the people pushed back.  

            These are stories for us to consider today. Ways in which some of our ancestors dreamed about resistance even though most people went with the flow with disastrous consequences for millions of people, especially Jews, disabled people, gypsies, and queer folks.  

Dream Big Dreams For Collective Liberation

            Presently the church sign reads, “Dream big dreams for collective liberation.” In part this was inspiration from what is unfolding today in Canada. We’ve seen thousands of Canadians across the country join convoys making demands ranging from ending vaccine mandates to demanding the Governor General replace a democratically elected government with convoy protesters themselves. Demands for freedoms that have too often felt like they benefit a few rather than the many. Demands that put ego ahead of other. I realize that’s not how many folks in the convoy see it. I know not just because of what I’ve read in the news, but because I went down to the legislature yesterday, my second Saturday down there. This time I brought a microphone to tape some interviews of what people think about what is going on. I don’t know if the tape is any good given how loud the noise was, but my hope is to use it in a podcast episode. I listened to some of the stories of what brought convoy supporters to the legislature. Some of them were rambling, some were sad, some seemed to have angry stories but didn’t want to talk. I disagree with many of the approaches to freedom, but I continue praying for all our neighbour’s liberation.

            It made me think if a bunch of people angry with the government can drive to Ottawa, park their rigs in residential streets, harass neighbours for weeks, and only after a long, long time face repercussions, then maybe we need start dreaming bigger. Not that we want to emulate these strategies or messages, but rather to do more sharing about a theology of liberation. Sharing that Jesus is turning the world towards love and mutual flourishing.

            Dream big dreams for collective liberation. It’s more an open question than an answer or solution. I don’t have the answers in the same way none of us can predict the future. But we do have guide posts in the gospel to point us in the right direction.

            What are our big dreams for collective liberation? Maybe it’s just breathing and living another day. Maybe it’s seeing your grandkids or visiting a cousin. Maybe it’s finally getting to have a coffee after church again or gathering for a meal. Maybe it’s inviting neighbours to talk or celebrate that’s its spring. Hang onto and value your dream. And let’s keep dreaming together.

            Know that Jesus is dreaming with us, the Holy Spirit giving life to our collective dreams on behalf of neighbours. Amen.