Sermon Ideas For Luke 6:27-38 Part 6
The lectionary readings for this Sunday offer a pastoral opportunity to emphasize the difference between our biological and spiritual natures. Across the board, every lesson invites us to do what is patently unnatural. Psalm 37 tells us not to fret about the wicked, refrain from anger, and let go of wrath and revenge. In Genesis we see Joseph going through immense emotional turmoil, ordering everyone away from him, and then weeping uncontrollably as he seeks to forgive and to reveal his identity to his brothers who sold him into slavery. Likewise, his brothers were so overcome with fear at Joseph’s revelation that they couldn’t stand to be in his presence and couldn’t say a word back to him. That is a remarkably realistic scene for illustrating how arduous and literally gut-wrenching forgiveness can be, both to give and to receive. I Corinthians 15 blithely encourages us not to worry about physical survival issues such as dying, but to trust in the counterintuitive resurrection of the dead. The Gospel of Luke tops it all off by pounding home an incredible litany of abnormal actions: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who abuse you. In the biological world of automatic fight or flight reactions, and habitual power plays to establish barnyard pecking orders, these scriptures are absolute idealistic nonsense.
Although it is true that we cannot and should not leave our biologically-based instinctual nature behind through denigrating the body or repressing natural life impulses—as has too often been done in the history of the church—all the scriptural writers point toward the wisdom of embracing a higher, spiritual nature. “Trust in the Lord” (Ps 37:3). Realize with Joseph that God even works through despicable human events for the good, to preserve life. Know with Paul that “if there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15: 44). Have confidence with the Jesus of Luke that if we embrace our enemies, we can be children of God the Most High who “is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish” (Lk 6:35).
Although embracing the spiritual is not enjoined as a utilitarian calculation, the writers also convey an assurance that the spiritual way is the most rewarding way. Jesus, for instance, assures us that loving, forgiving, and giving will be placed back in our lap “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over” (Lk 6:38).
To return to the dilemma, however, who is it that can love, forgive, and give? It is not our animal, fear-based selves. As human animals, we can reciprocally love those who love us, but we cannot love our enemies. To do that we need a spiritual self that can both encompass and transcend our physiology. The good news is that the Bible says that we are indeed gifted with such a self. We are made in the image of God, which is love. We have an inmost self, Paul says in Romans 7, that loves God and the neighbor in a way that goes beyond the war going on among our internal members or parts that keeps us from doing what we want.
The question becomes how can we access and act out of this spiritual self? The Psalmist suggests: “be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him” (Ps 37:7). Paul suggests essential qualities such as love, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control are not willed, but gifts of the Holy Spirit. When we do live in loving ways, it is not us, but Christ’s Spirit within us that arises spontaneously when we surrender, and quit trusting our ego-centered powers.
The suggestion of an inmost self with essential caring qualities reflects one of the latest developments in psychology. Earlier psychologies in the West, influenced by behaviorism and object-relations theory, contended that for the most part we took in, or introjected, our central selves from outside influences, mainly the relationships we encountered as we grew. The bad news here is that if we did not have good relationships growing up, we did not grow a good self. Further, to get a good self would mean perhaps decades of intense therapy with someone who could offer us the kind of relationship we needed. Now however, a number of clinicians are discovering that what the Judeo-Christian heritage would call the soul, heart, or that aspect of ourselves made in the image of God is indeed present in everyone by virtue of birth.
In his book Internal Family Systems, for instance, Dr. Richard Schwartz outlines a theory of personality comprised of a core self and a multiplicity of parts. The plethora of parts or internal family members are indeed influenced by external, relational events. They can act in wounded, vulnerable, self-protective, or belligerent ways. They can take over consciousness and make love of enemies and forgiveness impossible. However, Schwartz demonstrates with difficult clinical populations such as those with eating disorders, those who sexually abuse others, or who carry post-traumatic stress, that there is also always a wise, compassionate self at the center of consciousness that can heal the agitated parts. When troubled parts are ministered to gracefully through the essential qualities available to this spiritual center, the parts begin to trust the soul to lead and speak for them. This then becomes the spiritual self that can speak the truth in love. It can provide a voice for our biologically based hopes, fears and concerns and as a channel for the Spirit of Christ which can indeed love enemies and break through the endless cycles of retribution and revenge which have plagued humankind. However, we in the church need to get much more intentional and skilled in the kinds of counsel, meditation and prayer that can allow in the perfect love which casts out all fear, and help us develop to a spiritual level of compassion fully grounded in our physical, biological, and rational substrates.