My sermon this week was based on Matthew 5:38-48.
In today's Gospel passage we are told to be perfect. Oh, is that all?
Here's the thing about perfection: it is impossible to achieve, but if you set the bar low, you are going to come in low. Set the bar high, you might be pleasantly surprised by the results.
How many of us could actually do what Jesus asks us to do today, though? How many of us could, when struck, offer the other cheek as well? How many of us could, when sued for our coat, toss in our cloak as well?
Not me most days, I can tell you that. Our human impulse when struck is to strike back, whether this be literally or figuratively. At best, Jesus Christ is asking us to be good-natured doormats. At worst, he is asking us to be perfect, which is simply impossible.
And yet I think he is on to something. I think Jesus said these words knowing they were impossible, knowing that we knew they would be impossible, but Jesus was and is always trying to show us a new way, new territories of the human spirit, ways of acting that are contrary to our human impulses because sometimes our human impulses are simply not good for us.
Ever gotten into a fight? Someone hits you, you hit back. Has the other person ever said, "Well, that was fair, now we're even, fight over"? No. Generally, you hit back, they grab a pool cue, you grab a bottle, they grab a chair, you grab a table, they pull a knife, you pull a gun, and the whole thing escalates until someone really gets hurt.
That, I think I am fair in saying, is what our human nature tells us to do.
While we cannot take this Gospel passage 100% literally because it sets the bar so high that we would constantly be failing, it does make it clear that Jesus is trying to show us a different way, a way that could make things better and change the world.
This passage is actually part of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus speaks at great length about what the kingdom of God is actually like, who is actually blessed, and what it means to be a Godly person. To cut a long story short, it is, respectively, nothing like what we think it is like, not the people we think and not what we have been doing.
I preached on this passage on the same Sunday as our annual Vestry meeting, and it was particularly apropos: our church, like so many others in North America, is experiencing difficulty, mostly of a financial nature. The future is uncertain, and what we look like in a year from now will probably be very different that what we look like today. It will need to be in order to continue providing ministry in our area.
This is why I issued a challenge to our incoming council: if you want, need or expect church to go on being the same thing it is, please reconsider your seat at the table. If however you feel courageous enough to try new things, to listen hard to our communities and to the movement of the Spirit, then please pull up a chair.
Look, it would be scary as hell I think to turn the other cheek and risk the hammer falling a second time, but if the way you are is not working, well, it would be madness to keep doing that. That goes for people, families, workplaces, churches, etc.
Jesus was and is always trying to draw us forward to new things, and new things are always uncertain. But I have said it before and I will say it again, trying new things, taking risks, doing something different is how we find the life abundant that God wants us to live.
I hope and pray that we can all find that life this year.