Sermon 7th after Epiphany, February 24 2019

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
February 24, 2019
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Genesis 45:3-11, 15; Psalm 37:1-12, 41-42; 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50; Luke 6:26-38

Just the other day there was an article in the Washington Post, I think it was, about a married couple who were grappling with Alzheimers – the husband had it, and the wife was his caregiver.  They look for the humor in the disease; they’ve given it a nickname – Ollie – and blame Ollie for the times when the man forgets something and his wife corrects him.  The Post article says this couple is part of “a growing camp of people determined to approach dementia care differently, coming at it with a sense of openness, playfulness and even wonder.”[1]

Of course, there is nothing funny about the disease – it destroys people from the inside out, from the current day backwards to their youth, it is painful and frightening.  But more and more treatment plans are incorporating ways to keep those who have the disease engaged in life, in the things they love to do … and … it makes a difference. 

One of the main things that these ideas encourage is a change in attitude, one of engagement rather than disengagement, of activity, rather than stillness, of laughter and music and art and dance, even as memory fades and strength lessens.

A change in attitude.

Last week, Jesus told the disciples that those who are hungry, those who are poor, those who mourn, and those who are persecuted, are blessed. 


And all the people who follow the way of the world, who seek riches, who fill their barns and cupboards to overflowing, who laugh at those in distress and praise those who flatter them … well, they already have their reward, and the future for them looks bleak.

To accept this teaching requires a complete change in attitude.

And that change in attitude helps make it possible to follow the teaching we hear today: to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, and pray for those who abuse us.

At least that’s the general idea.

The first task we face is to accept that the poverty, the hunger, the sorrow, and the oppression that may grind us down and abuse our spirits are the blessings that Jesus says they are.

If we do that, though, doesn’t that make it sound like we are denigrating and humiliating ourselves?  Is that even healthy? 

Doesn’t God love us and wish the best for us?  Isn’t that why Jesus came – to tell us we are loved beyond measure?  So why is he asking us to put ourselves through this?  How is this – how are these things – blessings?

Susan Hylan writes:

Luke portrays the disciples both as poor and as those who truly possess a superabundance, who have been given all the good things of God’s reign. They can expect to be treated unjustly by the world (v. 22), yet they are to respond as those who are already shaped by their new identity as children of God (vv. 35–36).[2]

Knowing they are promised, and in some sense, have already become a part of, the kingdom of Heaven, the disciples can rest easy about the ultimate outcome; they can take the steps Jesus suggest: to love their enemies, to do good to those who hate them, to bless those who curse them, and pray for those who abuse them.

Already sharing in the riches of the kingdom, they are able to share what the kingdom offers – an unlimited and unyielding love to all people, no matter who they are or what they’ve done.

Sharing the riches of the kingdom is a position of power – not earthly power, but power nonetheless.  In those days, patrons would give gifts to their friends, but even more importantly, to those who were of lower position – who were then obligated to provide services in return. 

Gift-giving was a means of creating a relationship in which both parties had a stake.  Reciprocation was expected. 

Or as Dr Hylan wrote: 

The social norms were such that the act of giving obligated the recipient to reciprocate, even if he or she could not do so in kind.  It was always possible that the recipient might not reciprocate the gift, in breach of social conventions. Yet initiating the benevolent action may awaken in the other a similar response.”

It’s rather like paying a retainer to a lawyer before you need her, or becoming a member of a health-care collective, where you pay so much per year, and the doctors are obligated to treat you when you are sick.

In the culture of those days, this was understood, and to claim the right to give to those who would never expect it was a way to put yourself on the same level – the same social and hierarchical level – as they were.[3] 

For Christians to accept their bad treatment was actually a way of saying, “You are no better than I.”  It was actually a way of saying, “God loves you, too.”

This seems rather counterintuitive, but it gets us to an important point – that God’s love extends to all people, not just some, as you have heard me say time and again.

If we truly believe that’s so, if we accept that God’s infinite love is for the whole world, and not just for ourselves, then we, like the peons of Roman times, are just as obligated to abide by God’s instruction as they were to the instructions of their earthly patrons.

Now, I admit, I have trouble doing this – loving my enemies is hard.  It seems those people I identify as enemies, who oppress the poor or laugh at those who mourn, and so on, and generally behave reprehensibly, don’t care if I love them or hate them.  To my eyes, they don’t seem capable of reciprocating at all, they seem to be focused on themselves and their interests to the exclusion of others.  It’s unjust.  Or it’s cruel.  Or it’s thoughtless, or it’s mean.

And then, I have to ask myself, what would I hope for from those who might see me as their enemy?  What might we hope for from those who see us as their enemy?  Who might see me – or us – as their enemy?  Is it who we might expect, or might it be someone we don’t even know about?

So it is wise to hear the rest of Jesus’ words from today’s reading:  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 in your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

Live in the promise, live in the blessing, live in the faith that what Jesus said, he meant.  The kingdom of heaven is the prize.  And it is near, very near indeed.



[2]  Susan Hylan, “Luke 6:27-38, Theological Perspective,”   David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 1 (Advent through Transfiguration) (Kindle Locations 13252-13254). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.


[3]  Ibid.

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