Jesus’ Recipe for Peace With Others Cannot be Half-Baked

A sermon based on Luke 6:27-36
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on November 4, 2018
by Rev. Scott Elliott

Let me begin by saying “Happy Anniversary!” Welcome to the beginning of our sixth year together. November 1, 2013 was my first day as your pastor and here we are five years and three days still in ministry together. Nancy is working this morning but she sweetly had two cakes made and sent along to celebrate at fellowship hour. The November newsletter has a long, long list of many of the awesome things we have done together on this walk with God seeking justice and loving kindness. It has been humbling to be a part of the great power of love this church and the Holy Spirit have provided these past five years. Thank you for your part.

In addition to welcoming us all to this Anniversary Sunday, I’d especially like to also welcome us all to our second Peace Sunday. For the current academic year we are involved in a purposeful Peace Project holding Peace Sundays the first week of each month. Peace Sundays focus on one of the four areas we learn at our Peace Village for children. They are peace areas all of us can and should focus on: peace within, peace with others, peace with community and peace with the planet.
Today we are focusing on peace with others. The idea is to lift it up in this worship service, and then our wonderful Visiting Pastor of Peace and Spirituality, Rev. Woofenden, will lead an interfaith friendly Adult Forum, and then at noon in the social hall she will help guide us through a powerful spiritual practice.

The original ideas for Peace Village began evolving out of a local incident in an Oregon town that involved two boys brutally assaulting another boy. The founder of Peace Village, a UCC minister, Rev. Charles Busch, began exploring ways to teach children to solve conflicts non-violently and his efforts led to the formation of a children’s day camp on peace. The non-violent conflict resolution part was the cornerstone of Peace Village, but “peace within,” “peace with community” and “peace with the planet” are practices that complement “peace with others.” As the Peace Village website puts it

Using the tools from the [other] three classes empowers students as they engage in the concrete skill building of conflict resolution. We inspire the students by providing opportunities such as communication activities, role plays, empathy building, mediation skills and understanding compassionate action.

Simply put, “peace with others” is not just how to get along with others, but how to best get along with them, especially in conflict situations. It’s about taking all the tools of peace we can muster and aiming – as best we can– toward mutual well being . . . mutual well being. The goal is– to put it in the words from the Bible that shine each night from our church tower– “Peace on Earth.” It’s about peace on earth . . . good will to all.

Today’s lesson is my favorite set of Jesus sayings. It is my favorite because they come from Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain where he preaches the definitive “how to” for our topic today.

He sets out in plain and simple language his formula, God’s formula for peace with others. Since we have had the formula for 2,000 years we might ask “Why don’t we have peace with others yet?” The reason it has not yet worked is because we mostly make a half-baked effort at following the recipe. Ironically we’d really like it if others did to us what Jesus says to do, but as a rule we do not want to fully do what Jesus says to do for others. In other words, we tend to follow half the Golden Rule in the text– the “what we want done to us” part, but not the doing the same “to others” part. We come up with excuses, things like: It’s impossible. It’s liberal nonsense. It’s conservative hooey. It’s just too hard.

But it is not really any of things. Jesus provided what really is a possible set of things we can do and accomplish. The formula may require us to do what we may not want to do to others, but not one of the ingredients is anything but peace-full, and all of them are quite doable and frankly none of them require much explanation as to the how-to of it . . . they are simple to understand. Yes, they require work and contradict cultural teachings and the conventional wisdom to do harm to enemies, but not one of the teachings is NOT achievable or pie-in-the-sky or one side or the other’s political folderol. They are Jesus’ teachings meant for us to learn and to follow. It is, however, a recipe for peace that cannot be half baked, but must be fully done.

Jesus begins by saying the recipe is for those who listen, that is those who pay attention. So the first part of the prep for “peace with others” is to listen to Jesus. Listen. We can do that. Most of us come here each Sunday planning and hoping to do just that, to listen to Jesus! If we do that – listen– we learn that in Jesus’ recipe for peace with others the very first ingredients that we are to mix in are “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you . . .”

Taken literally that means we are to care and desire the well being of our enemies, and to act on that care and the desire by doing good to them. We have it in our head that is impossible or impractical to do. But we could do it and we should do it. It’s not impossible. Nor is it impractical since it leads to peace, the ultimate goal of God and Jesus and at the end of the day most all of our goal. If our enemies have well being, complete well being, then there is a good chance that they will necessarily want our well being too. But even, if our enemies do not want our well being or for us to care for their well being, we do not need their permission, or for that matter anyone else’s permission, nor do we need permission to do good things for them. We CAN do that! Jesus tells us to do that!

What’s the harm? That’s exactly the point, there is no harm only love and goodness. The truth of the matter is, we really can love our enemies and we really can do good to those who hate us. There is so much hope in that. It is good news. What stops us is we have our mind set on not doing it, because we do not like enemies and those who hate us, so we do not wish them well. But to paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr. Jesus does not say the peace ingredients require us to like our enemies or those who hate us. Liking them in some cases might be nearly impossible, but we can care and desire their well being and do good to them. We can! Even if we just start with prayer for their well being, we will be surprised at the peace that breaks in.

The next ingredients for peace with others in the lesson are doing exactly that. Jesus tell us to “bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” This means in essence to evoke divine care for those who evoke the opposite for us. It is praying in a positive way for those who try to bring about a curse or abuse upon us. Surely it is not impossible to bless those who curse us, and pray for those who abuse us. We may not want to do it . . . but we can. And when we do it leads to less violence, to peace breaking in. It will lead us to do as Jesus taught.

And Jesus makes it clear this effort at well being for others is not just for those who hate or curse us from afar. Jesus anticipates that we will argue that our enemies who do not want our well being will hurt us or our things. To emphasize that this peace with others teaching is not just an academic exercise for far away enemies, but applies to violence of our person and our property, Jesus states in no uncertain terms:

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.

As a general rule in life NOT doing something is usually easy-peasy . . .we just don’t do it. But this violence happening to us and to our stuff thing tends to make us want to lash out or hunt down or otherwise have revenge. That’s the conventional earthly way. Jesus’ Way is not conventional. He is all about radical love. If it was easy to not lash out, a lot more people would let things go. But it is instilled in us to NOT do that. That’s what makes Jesus’ love a radical departure. In our culture, almost instinctively, we feel a desire to respond to violence by others with violence to others. To radically love them, though – as Jesus peaches– is to desire their well being . . . not their injury.

That may make us want to roll our eyes when we hear it or brush it off as a pipe dream, and no doubt in Jesus’ day and for 2,000 years that has been a common response. But we are called to an uncommon response. To follow Jesus is to spread radical love about. Jesus wants everyone to desire everyone’s well being, not just ours, but every other person’s– so there is mutual well being. And Jesus follows up his don’t lash out teaching with a response that sums up both the point and the motivation: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

If we adhered to just that there’d be so much more peace with others. That is what we’d want . . . for us, right? There’s a motive to do it. Jesus further explains why:

“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. (Luk 6:27-36 NRS)

The instructions from Jesus in the Sermon on the Plain aim us toward peace. While we may have heard them on Sundays before, they are strangely not instructions churches and Christians as a rule discipline ourselves to achieve and make a primary directive and objective every day of the week. Instead we accept and give into the “tit for tat” formula of violence, the way of earthly powers and peoples. We tend to collectively shrug off or forget that Jesus’ Way is not the way of earthly powers or peoples. His Way is about mutual well being. His way is about God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven now.

On Jesus’ Way our primary aim needs to be working at peace with others, aiming toward Peace on Earth, good will to all. Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Plain gives us a plain-as-day recipe on how to do it. Love everyone. Do no violence to others, instead do to others what we’d want others to do to us. May we listen to Jesus and work on following his recipe for peace with others . . . until it is well done.