Persist, or How Are You, Pt. 4

How are you? I am blessed.
Who are you? I am blessed.

This is our last week in the Sermon on the Mount, for now at least. For four weeks now, we’ve heard Jesus lay out the basics of what it means to follow him, to be a disciple. It’s important that this sermon is right up front at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. The disciples that are there with him need to know where this is all going. And we, the readers of Matthew’s Gospel, need to know where this is all going. And where this is all going is the final scene of Matthew, Matthew 28, the Great Commission. This Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ first word to his disciples, points us toward the Great Commission, Jesus’ last word to his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” All nations. Not just Israelites. Not just your family, your tribe, your neighbors, your friends, people who look and sound and think like you. All nations. This is a tall order for a group of Israelites, a people who have come to believe that they are blessed by God for their own sake, that they are set apart and special, to please themselves.

So Jesus has to lay some groundwork now, so that when he gets to that Great Commission, there in chapter 28, that phrase, “all nations,” won’t be so hard to swallow. And he starts by reframing their understanding of how blessing works. They have forgotten that their blessing is for the sake of others, for all nations. Instead, they have used the law as a litmus test for blessing. Those who follow the law, they believe, will be blessed.

But Jesus started this whole sermon with blessings. Not just for the people at the top, not just for the usually blessed, not just for the obvious ones. No, Jesus was handing out blessing to everyone, like Oprah on a good day.giphy You get a blessing, and you get a blessing, and you get a blessing! Look under your chair! There’s a blessing there! In other words, Jesus says, whoever you are, you are blessed. Whether anyone else can tell it to look at you, you are blessed. Just as you are, in all your brokenness, hurt, need, pain, shame, guilt, whatever you are carrying around with you, whether you are grieving or poor or persecuted, you are blessed. That’s just who you are.

And not only are you blessed, but you are blessed for the sake of others. Your blessing comes with tools. It equips you to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, to live in the world as if God’s promises were true. As if it were true that God’s Kingdom is coming into the world. Your blessing means that you are equipped to live out the law, not as a test for who is in and who is out, not as a test for God’s love. But as a gift, for yourself and for your neighbor. Because, as we discussed last week, the law is a gift. It is God’s intention for right relationship between people and between people and God. It is not a path to God’s love, it is the result of God’s love, of God’s blessing. In today’s Leviticus passage, it is restated, reiterated over and over again. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” You are already my people, I am already your God, therefore, this is how God’s Kingdom is going to show up among you. Because I am the Lord, you’re not going to steal, or lie, or be unjust, or hate your neighbor. And because I am the Lord, you are going to take care of everyone, not just your neighbor, but also the poor and the alien. Also the deaf and the blind. Also the people you would rather ignore. In a word, everyone.

And this is what Jesus reminds us of in this Sermon on the Mount. We are equipped to participate in God’s in-breaking Kingdom. We are equipped to be a blessing to our neighbors, and not just to our neighbors, but to everyone. Not just the people who look and sound and think like us, but to everyone. Even our enemies. Which brings us to today’s section of the Sermon. Even our enemies. We are equipped, as God’s blessed people, as God’s beloved, named and claimed people, to be a blessing even to our enemies.

In first century Palestine, occupied by the Roman armies, enemies were everywhere. The people lived in fear, and they were constantly confronted with their occupied status. They were constantly reminded that they were in danger. Jesus knew what it meant to tell them to love their enemies. And yet, that’s what he told them to do. It was not a suggestion. It was not a metaphor. It was not a nice idea that he thought they might implement, if they felt safe enough to do it. It was a commandment, based in the commandments that came all the way from Mt. Sinai, that show us what it looks like when we live as if God truly is God, when we live as if God has truly blessed us, as if God’s Kingdom truly is breaking into this world. Because I am the Lord, therefore you will love your enemies.

But the wisdom of the world tells us that we can’t possibly behave that way. We can’t possibly trust God’s Kingdom to come. Instead we must obey fear. We must live as if fear and hatred and death had the last word. The wisdom of the world tells us that we must hate our enemies, oppress our enemies, imprison our enemies. 75 years ago today, our nation did exactly that. 75 years ago todayjapanese-internment-hero-ab, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which cleared the way for the military to round up and incarcerate over 100,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry, most of them natural-born citizens. They lost their homes, their land, their jobs, their pets. They were relocated hundreds, even thousands, of miles away, where they remained until the end of World War II. At which point they were only permitted to leave the camps once they proved they had housing and work. This is the wisdom of the world. Fear the other. Despise the other. Dehumanize the other. Oppress the other. Dispossess the other. And everyone is the other.

But the wisdom of the world is the foolishness of God. And God is a fool for love. God is such a fool for love that God would come into this world for love. God would live in this world for love. God would become one of us for love. God would die on the cross. For love. To bless us, with the certainty of God’s love. To bless us, with the in-breaking Kingdom, the Kingdom in which God’s love is the supreme law, the love that fulfills every law, and equips each one of us to move out of our comfort zones, to welcome the stranger, to love even those who do not love us back. To love even those who wish us harm. To love even our enemies.

This is who you are. You are blessed. To be a blessing. You are blessed. To be God’s Kingdom in this world. You are blessed. To be the Body of Christ, to be Jesus for each person you meet, no matter who they are. You are blessed. For the sake of the whole world. You are blessed. To love your neighbor. And everyone is your neighbor.

And this is the blessing that Sylvi Lee Hawkins comes to the waters of baptism to receive today. Her family have brought her here to claim that blessing, to witness as God names and claims Sylvi as God’s own beloved child. To claim God’s foolishness as their own. They have brought Sylvi to the waters so that they can promise to raise a fool. A fool for love.

It is a tall order, as I said at the beginning. Whether you are a first century Palestinian or a twenty-first century American, the idea of loving the enemy is difficult, if not impossible. It requires courage and strength and persistence and moving out of comfort zones. And there is no way we will get it right every time, because even if we’re trying to do it, we’re gong to do it wrong. We’re going to screw up and tick some people off and make new enemies in the effort. And so it seems that it is impossible to “be holy,” as Leviticus commands, much less “be perfect,” as the last line of our Matthew text says. How could we possibly hope to be perfect, given the enormity of the task that stands before us? I mean, Sylvi is already about as perfect as a person can get, right? After infancy, once we start walking and talking, things just get trickier.

But behind the word “perfect” in our text is the Greek text word telos. Which means completion. It is the word for when an acorn is “perfected” into a tree. It is the word for when an chicken’s egg hatches and the hatchling grows into a chicken, while an owl’s egg hatches and grows into an owl. It is a word about becoming what one is meant to be. In other words, it is a word about persisting. It might be better translated as “Persist, as your heavenly Father persists.” Because your heavenly Father does indeed persist. That foolishness of God means that God persists in love, persists in blessing, persists in transformation, persists in moving this world, and each one of us, and all of us together, toward God’s promised and preferred future. A future in which love is the law. In which enemies are neighbors. In which the Kingdom of Heaven has settled in to this world and in which we know ourselves as God knows us, as beloved and blessed and redeemed and transformed. In which we are as foolish as our heavenly Father is foolish. This is the future that we are being drawn into, that we claim today for Sylvi and for ourselves. A future in which we are blessed to be a blessing; in which we are fools for love; in which we are named and claimed for God’s foolish Kingdom.

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