Spiritual Muscle Memory

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Epiphany 7C/February 24, 2019
Gospel: Luke 6:27-38

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, February 24, 2019

Over the last few weeks we have been journeying with Jesus as he transformed ordinary fishermen, whose job was to catch and kill, into fishers of men who would train with him to develop the new skillset of catch and release. Jesus’ disciples would be trained to catch people in God’s divine net; enliven them with the life-giving gospel message; and release them to once again fill the net so that others might also live.

Last week, Jesus was surrounded by his 12 disciples and crowds of people who had come to hear his teaching and to be healed by him. They heard the inherent message of the reversal of fortune in the Beatitudes, that “things as they are will not always be; hold on and wait for the Lord.”
Jesus’ continuation of his sermon on the plain today gives some challenging instructions about how one must actively participate in bringing about God’s reversal of fortune that would bless the oppressed and bring woes upon the oppressors.

“…Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you,” Jesus said (vv. 27-28). “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also,” (v. 29) if someone steals from you, let them have the stolen property; those who beg from you are not to depart from you empty-handed. And, if your goods are taken away from you, don’t ask that they be returned (v.30).

This is a challenging passage for this preacher. I can only imagine how foreign these instructions must have been to hear for the listening crowd then, as I suspect that they are just as hard to swallow for 21st Century Christians today.

We live in a country where physical, emotional and spiritual violence from one human being to another is often intentional as much as it is unwitting. Cauldrons of hate visibly erupt in the streets leaving the carnage of the innocents behind, while more cauldrons of hate simmer in human hearts. We live in a country where human beings have been held in bondage, caged by Jim Crow laws, and continue to be trafficked and oppressed to create unfair socio-economic advantages for some.

A place where people who differ in race, gender, language, religion and sexual orientation are systemically ignored and dismissed.

“If anyone strikes you on the cheek,” Jesus said, “offer the other also” (v. 29). This is indeed a challenging passage on which to preach because I don’t believe that I am alone in thinking, “Okay, Jesus, how many innocent “cheeks” must be sacrificed to change the hearts of those who are deaf to your words?”

Perhaps it’s not about changing the hearts of the perpetrators, and more about showing up for them to witness the mercy of God up close and personal. And, perhaps it is about us trusting that even in the midst of unconscionable evil, God is in the midst using the evil intentions of man to bless those who set their hearts on Him and the building up of His kingdom here and now.

The story of Joseph in our Old Testament lesson today powerfully illustrates this. After being sold into Egyptian slavery as a boy by brothers motivated by jealousy and greed, the adult Joseph confronts the brothers who erased his existence from his family. This story is heartbreaking, and one might expect that Joseph, after so many years, would have anger and hold a grudge against his brothers. I mean, it would seem “only natural.”

But, Joseph confronts his brothers with words of forgiveness, intended to diffuse their distress at the revelation of the truth of their appalling actions towards him. The final sentence unlocks our gospel passage further, “And, [Joseph] kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him” (Gen 45:15). Broken relationship was restored through forgiveness and mercy. Joseph did to his brothers as he would have had them do to him.

Jesus’ preaching in our gospel passage is about the preservation and restoration of relationships. We, like, Joseph must be committed to being merciful as our God the Father is merciful. We must train now for kingdom-living so that we are ready when Jesus returns.

I’m reminded of the muscle memory that develops when following a physical training regimen. At first, the actions may feel unnatural, but the discipline of repetitive practice results in responses to physical challenges with little thought to how the challenges will be met. So it is with our life-long training in the nurturing of ourselves and others to the full stature of Christ.

Through the discipline of reading Scripture; and the breaking of bread in worship; and practicing radical love as expressed by Jesus’ teaching within the faith community, and modeling it for those outside of the faith community, our spiritual muscle memory is strengthened, and kicks in to reject the all-too natural, sinful responses to this world’s brokenness. Jesus calls his faithful to be trained in godliness, embodying the highest values of God, and reclaiming our true nature as children of God.

Jesus came to teach us that the thoughts and ways of humankind are not the ways of God. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

Let us remember that sin is distorted relationship with God and with God’s people through the seeking of one’s own will (BCP, p. 848).

Might we have the courage to restore human relationships even when the knee-jerk reaction might be to destroy, retaliate or withhold charity?

Might we train our spiritual muscle memory to reject that which seems “only natural,” to have the knee-jerk reaction of lifting our enemies up in divine love and not tearing them down?

As we approach the holy season of Lent, let us examine, with intention and with Jesus as our steadfast companion, the ways in which the sin of broken relationship may be courageously confronted, restored and nurtured to wholeness through a deepened relationship with the One who created us all and whose property is always to have mercy.

Amen.

Luke 6:27-38 (NRSV)

Jesus said, “I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 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. Do to others as you would have them do to you. “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. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 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.”