“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 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. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 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. 35 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. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
On New Member Sunday, here’s the perfect question to ask: With centuries of bad press and some really awful abuse across so many parts of the Christian church, why would anyone still choose to join one? I mean, really! History proves it: we’re just a bunch of humans who get it wrong half the time. There is nothing magical about religion. What is it, then, that continues to compel us to choose church, even all these years later? Even when the name of Christ has been used to hurt others?
You surely have your own answers. Here’s mine: because even when Christ’s name has been used to hurt others- it’s been humans inflicting the pain and judgment, not Jesus. How do we know? Because of his exact teaching we hear today. Jesus is SO clear, even when it’s hard for us to hear & do: Love your enemies. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Be merciful. Do not judge; Do not condemn. Always forgive.
Another reason I choose church? Because it’s a community of people who challenge me to be the best version of myself. Do you sense this too? Like Sunday mornings can be a reset of priorities? Like a short conversation with a beloved church friend can help you see your problem from a fresh perspective? Like opening your heart in worship somehow cleanses your expectations on another person’s behavior? Like it’s a chance to start over again?
All of that can only happen when we have real relationships. And at its best, church is a place for those kinds of friendship to form.
Religion professor Sarah Henrich says of Jesus’ Luke 6 teaching- it’s all about creating healthy relationships. She says, “This longing for relationship is not something unique to the ancient world. Longing for a faithful relationship, where promises are kept, and roots can go deep, a relationship that can be healing and produce joy is not something of the past. Jesus’ words to those who continue to listen today, who “give heed” in that old-fashioned phrase, promise that we have a part in that relationship with Christ and the church too. We are called to live in God’s realm, in accord with God’s character; the power is there for us to do it, to be caught up, to be healed, to lose the hostile spirits that hold us captive, to receive and live mercy.”
What then, does mercy mean? Jesus is teaching these concepts of faithful living to counter the abuse going on in human circles. Turning the other cheek does NOT mean be a pushover or allow abuse to occur. It means we lay the groundwork, one person at a time, for a community in which accountability and grace co-exist. With Christ leading the way, we practice being people that affirm everyone’s value. Sometimes that looks like naming behaviors that hurt others. Other times it means listening to the stories of pain that precipitated someone’s abusive behavior. When done in an honest relationship, that is all mercy. And it’s the remedy to our vindictive impulses as humans. Instead of judging others as evil because of what they’ve done, we see them as God sees them: people who bear the image of the divine- fault lines and all.
How is this effective? Well if you’ve ever reached the point of forgiving someone who really hurt you, you don’t need any convincing. You KNOW the power of mercy and forgiveness. You KNOW the power of choosing love. When (and only when) we finally grasp our own belovedness- we begin to see that which is worthy of love in another.
That’s why I choose church, because you all ground me in this truth. Fred Rogers says, “It’s not the honors and the prizes and the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish our souls. It’s the knowing that we can be trusted, that we never have to fear the truth, that the bedrock of our very being is good stuff.”
How do we counter abuse without condemning others? We form a community in which mutual support and discernment alleviates abusive behaviors in the first place, by holding people accountable & by extending grace in the name of Christ. Why? Because people only change when held accountable in a supportive, not vindictive way. Redemption is possible when we trust that Christ can use us to transform abuse into healing.
The truth is, sometimes our spirits are so repressed that we won’t come to our redemption story this side of eternity. Even so, the very best place I’ve seen us try is in a church community. Families can be wonderful and supportive, but they’re often a fairly closed system-with power dynamics that make true accountability difficult. That’s what makes a church family unique: we are not a closed system. We are a dynamic community that is constantly changing and adapting, inviting new people to Christ’s table, and growing. This is why joining a church CONTINUES to be compelling, and why we absolutely celebrate the addition of new members. It’s our shared purpose to live beyond ourselves and even beyond our own families that makes the body of Christ really cool: we get to be a living expression of God’s word.
Welcome to the fold, friends. It’s here that we are free to become the best versions of ourselves. And we’re doing it today and everyday: laying the groundwork for a community in which accountability and grace co-exist. It’s here where “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.