Sermon Ideas For Luke 6:27-38 Part 7
Looking out my office window, I noticed a skirmish going on in our cottonwood tree—a squirrel and a magpie darting about in the branches, the magpie lunging at the squirrel, and the squirrel dodging by twirling about his branch or leaping to another branch. When they weren’t engaged in this warfare, they were munching on the spring tassels covering the tree. The cottonwood benignly accepted these war-like munchers, giving generously to anyone who desired its fruits. Giving was a part of what it was made for, and its own renewing was to be left in the hands of the Creator God.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus challenges his kingdom people to learn to live generously and trust God for their own needs. He recommends to us the way of poverty, the way of continually giving ourselves and our possessions even to those who do us wrong. It is a descending way. Such a life style means giving what we have to anyone who asks, speaking well of those who criticize us and praying for blessing upon those who do us harm.
Our society’s obsession with consumerism, individualism and self-sufficiency keep us so busy it is easy to begin to doubt the importance of generosity or, at least, to neglect it. Marketing strategists teach us to give only to get. Lawyers urge us to demand our rights. Before we know it, we find ourselves nodding in agreement when the media exalts those who seek revenge instead of those who turn the other cheek.
The movie classic Ben Hur is the story of a Jewish prince who is treated unjustly by a Roman Tribune named Messala. Messala accuses the Hur family of loosing a stone from their roof in an attempt to assassinate a Roman governor. Messala decides to make an example of them in order to quell the disturbances in Judea, even though he knows they are innocent. He sentences Ben Hur’s mother, Miriam, and sister, Tirzah, to the dungeons and banishes Ben Hur to the galleys.
When Ben Hur escapes the galleys, he sets himself on a path of revenge. He demands that Messala discover what’s happened to his family on pain of death. The Tribune’s men find Miriam and Tirzah, but the women have contracted leprosy. Ben Hur is led to believe they are dead, but he still can’t let go. He determines to try to kill Messala in a professional chariot race.
As the race commences, we learn that the cruel Roman Tribune has grown even crueler. Messala uses the barbed hubs on his wheels to wreck chariot after chariot, and when Ben Hur comes alongside him, Messala cracks his whip across his back.
Ben Hur finally succeeds in causing Messala to overturn his chariot. Stampeding horses mutilate the Tribune’s body, but before he dies, he takes his own vengeance. He informs Ben Hur that Miriam and Tirzah are not dead, but alive in the valley of the lepers.
Beside himself with grief and rage, Ben Hur vows to devote the rest of his life to wiping out the scourge that is Rome. When his sweetheart, Esther, begs him to heed the new Teacher’s words about loving your enemies, he turns a deaf ear.
Not until Ben Hur sees Jesus face to face, follows him to the cross, and hears him pray, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” does he change. When he returns from Jesus’ crucifixion, he tells his sweetheart, “Jesus has taken the sword from my heart.” His face that has been angry for so long is now filled with joy and peace. He now has room in his heart for love, and he and Esther can look forward to a meaningful life together. The film ends with a blessed rain and then a shot upward, revealing Miriam and Tirzah standing on the stairs totally healed.
When Ben Hur took the natural way of vengeance instead of Jesus’ way of forgiveness, his heart grew harder, his enemy crueler and his intimate relationships more and more barren. His life remained a desert until he let go of his hate.
There are revolutions today in almost every country of the world. The old way is not working. Jesus has shown us a new way. It is the opposite of the upward mobility we hear so much about, a radical teaching, a descending way. It is being willing to learn to be like Christ, who laid aside his robe and washed his enemy’s feet as well as the feet of his friends.
One begins small: a friendly word to an unfriendly neighbor, a compliment for a critical fellow worker, a refusal to honk at the person who offends us in traffic, a willingness to loan our books even to friends who forget to return what they borrow.
Like the cottonwood tree, fulfilling its calling in trust, and experiencing resurrection in surprising places and ways, a commitment to a life of generosity will reveal a mystery.
Olive Dungan’s musical rendering of the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi’s illustrates it well. Eternal Life begins quietly, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love, where there is enmity, pardon….” As the song continues, it begins to ascend: “For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned….” Rising to the height of its intensity, the music finally ends in a note of triumph. “It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”