Let us pray: Dear and holy God, we pray to you this morning. We pray that you would fill this place with your presence, that we might hear your voice whispering through your word. We pray that through your holy word you would heal our hurts and strengthen us to be your people as we leave this place. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
It has not been a good week for me. I read five books, which I only do when I’m on vacation, which I wasn’t, or when something is stressing me out and I don’t want to deal with it.
There were many things I didn’t want to face this week, but this sermon and this passage from Luke were very high on the list.
This is difficult stuff. Love your enemies? Pray for those who abuse you? Give to everyone who asks for something? Jesus is basically demanding perfection here.
To be fair, He’s pretty clear about it: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Be just as good and loving and generous as God, in other words.
This is the kind of overwhelming, impossible task that sends people in one of two directions: avoiding it every which way, like I did this week, or diving right in and trying to be absolutely perfect until exhaustion levels you.
And what then? God’s command is still unfulfilled, then, as we bury ourselves in books or cleaning or whatever our avoidance of choice is. God’s command is still unfulfilled, as we throw ourselves into every project and need we come across.
God’s command is still unfulfilled.
And yet of course it is impossible. I am not God. You are not God. None of us can face the needs of the world, its deep hurts and suffering, and salve them ourselves. None of us can solve every problem. None of us can ever love with the same strength and fierceness as God. None of us can live up to God’s command.
I am extremely confident that God knows this. The Bible is one long story of God reminding the people of that fact, actually, reminding them that they are not God and that God is. They do not know all things. They cannot trust in their own strength, but in God’s. They cannot see God’s plan. They are not perfect and should stop pretending that they are. And the same is true of us. We are not God. We do not know all things. We cannot see God’s plan; we cannot rely on our own strength.
And so what are we to do with this passage in Luke, the one that demands from us more than we can ever give?
We can remember that we do not follow this command alone. We follow where God has gone first, loving those whom God has already loved. We do not love with our own love alone, but also with God’s love. Sometimes it is only God’s love that we show, when we are tired or grumpy or just have no love of our own to give.
God is with us.
And it is God’s love that we spread. God’s love does not run out, does not fizzle with impatience or tiredness. When we are tired, God’s love stays steady. God’s love is spread through all of God’s church, through those who would swear that they don’t know God at all. We are not the only people who can love in God’s name. There are others. The workers may be few–there may always be more to do–but we are not alone.
And we remember that we are a part of this work that God is doing. God has invited us to take part–and that really does mean take part. Saying that God is with us, that God’s love is with us and spread through us, does not mean that we are carried along and have to do nothing. Loving people is work. Spreading God’s word and doing the work God has given us is work. It is difficult work. It is not something that just happens.
Grace is a funny thing. It is steady and fickle both–where is it when I can’t face writing my sermon and read the fourth book of the week in one sitting? And yet somehow I sat down later to work on this sermon, and felt brave enough to face it. But still I had to draw myself back to the work, time and time again; I had to read the passage, and write notes, and sit and type (and then take a break before sitting and typing some more, because this sermon was fighting me). I still had to work. The grace was in being able to do the work, not in the work being done when I sat down to write.
And so let us go, confident in God’s love for us and for others. Let us go, trusting in God to go before us and show us the way. Let us go, and let us love.