Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

January 14, 2009 Loving Enemies and Giving to the Needy

READ: Matthew 5:43-6:4
43 “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

This is a totally loaded saying. It is like a howitzer all charged up and ready to fire. First, in both paragraphs Jesus starts by blasting those who think they are religious. In the first instance he nails people who think they have a safe system all figured out.

Leviticus 19:18 says, "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD."

There is something that happens to people who make a statement like this a rule for their lives and refuse to consider the converse might be true or fail to go beyond the strict confines of their "law": they become hardened and inflexible. Their world becomes small and confined. What they imagined as a place of safety becomes a prison, and they are unable to truly be in relationship to anyone because their law has become so mechanical and automatic that there is no give and take. There is only the law. That's why Jesus ties loving enemies to being sons of our Father. If all we are is automatons -- little robots who obey the law of God -- we may do all the right things, according to the law, but we cannot love. Robots can't love. They can only obey. But if we have to wrestle out what love really means, especially when the very people we're trying to love have hurt us and are opposed to us, then we begin to really see them and not just boil them down to what they've been or done.

In Victor Hugo's epic Les Miserables, chief inspector Javert pursues Jean Valjean through a lifetime, because his whole world is founded in the belief that people are either good or bad and that a convict can never be anything more than a convict. Even when Valjean rises repeatedly to positions of respect in his community, Javert cannot see beyond his youthful indiscretion of having stolen a loaf of bread because he was hungry. When the pursuit finally ends, Javert kills himself rather than live in a world where Valjean might possibly be found to be good.

The same can be said of Shaw's Higgins, as quoted by Eliza Doolittle in Lerner and Lowe's 1959 musical, "My Fair Lady". Her summation of her teacher is this: "I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins because he always treats me as a flower girl and always will. But I know I shall always be a lady to Colonel Pickering because he always treats me as a lady and always will."

We are not saying here that sin is not sin or suggesting that we simply overlook the wrongs people have done to us. But anyone who has been a son or a daughter knows that in order to really live in a family there is a lot of "stuff" that happens that you have to work through. And sins need to be dealt with and forgiven, hurts need to be brought into the open and healed.

Jon

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