The Teacher

Seventh Sunday of Epiphany — Deacon Rex Watt

Genesis 45:3-15 / 1 Cor 15:21-26, 30-42 / Luke 6:27-38


+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +  Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Dear Saints of Redeemer.  We have been travelling with Jesus over the past several weeks from the time that the wise men came to offer their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child, to his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist where we heard the voice of God declare, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  We watched him turn water into wine; walk out of a crowd trying to kill him; heal many who were inflicted with infirmities; cast out demons; and provide a miraculous catch of fish.  Each of these Sunday’s readings manifested the divinity of Jesus in a material or physical way.  Last Sunday, and today, we see Jesus manifested as “The Teacher.”  Notice that I said, “The Teacher.”  It is conventional wisdom to consider Jesus as “a” teacher, maybe even a “good teacher” but certainly not “The Teacher.”  We heard from Pastor Wildermuth last week that Jesus taught with “unconventional wisdom.”  In our Gospel lesson for this week, we hear some more of that unconventional wisdom.  If Jesus is “The Teacher” then his words must trump the teachings of all others.  If Jesus is “The Teacher” then his words lay claim on my life, and your life.  If Jesus is “The Teacher” then it’s no longer what I think, but what he says.

We all have had teachers in our lives.  Some good, some not so good.  Some remembered, some you may want to forget.  What made a teacher good and remembered by you, or not so good in your mind, probably wasn’t what they taught, but how they taught; who they were.  After all, math is math.  History is (or should be!) history.  If I ask you to recall who your favorite teacher was when you were in school, I suspect it would be a teacher who took a special interest in you or was able to make a boring or difficult subject “come to life” for you.  Someone has said, “The mediocre teacher tells; the good teacher explains; the superior teacher demonstrates; but the great teacher inspires.” (William Ward, Progress Magazine, December 23, 1992)  No matter who we remember as a great teacher, they pale in comparison to Jesus.  Jesus is the greatest teacher who has ever taught.  When he opened his mouth, people listened.  They were, as Matthew said, “…astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” (Mt 7:28-29)

In our text for today, Jesus takes the heart of his teaching to an unexpectedly deeper level by commanding that his disciples love their enemies.  There is a lot of what we call “Law” in these verses.  There are several imperatives, commands to obey.  Love your enemies is one of them.  Conventional wisdom is that you hate your enemies.  You have heard the saying, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?”  Jesus here is turning that on its head.  And he tells us what love for an enemy looks like.  It is doing good to them, blessing them, and praying for them.    Later in Luke’s Gospel we see Jesus demonstrating this very teaching.  He is on the Cross, between two criminals, being scoffed at and ridiculed by those standing by and having his clothing being auctioned off by the roll of the dice when he says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”(Lk 23:34)  We see this teaching in practice in the early Church when Stephen is being stoned for his testimony about Jesus when in Acts 7 we read, “And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’  And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’  And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” (7:59-60)

Jesus goes on to tell us more about how this love gets worked out in life.  He tells his disciples, and us, that if anyone strikes you on one cheek, offer the other also.  I’ve heard someone say, “If someone strikes me on one cheek, I’ll let him strike me on the other…but I’ve only got two cheeks you know.  Third time’s the charm!”  I think that attitude misses the point here.  A slap on the cheek is a physical insult.  Insults are not life threatening.  We need to keep in mind the context in which we find these verses.  The reading today is part of a larger reading that began last week and is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain.  He said in verse 22-23, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.”  If you are being hated, cursed at, abused or slapped because you bear the name of Christ, rejoice!  If those things are happening to you because you are being a jerk, face the music!

And it’s not just insults we are commanded to bear, but Jesus commands us to give.  When John the Baptist was asked by the crowds who came out to him to be baptized how they should then live, he told them “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none.”(Lk 3:11)  Notice Jesus takes it up a notch.  “…and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.”(vs 29)  The cloak was the outer garment, the tunic was the inner garment, closest to the skin: one’s undergarment!  Jesus wants us to give even if it means we give the clothes off our back.  All these commands demand something of us that we are not normally, or naturally, willing to do.

He goes on to give examples of what we are not supposed to do, which is exactly what we normally do.  We love those who love us.  We do good to those who do good to us.  We give, or lend, to those whom we know can give or give back with interest what we have given them.  Jesus says sinners (the unrighteous) do all that.  What benefit (and that word is actually “grace”) is that to you?  It’s not “grace” to do something because you know you are going to get the same, or more back!  Grace is an undeserved gift.  And that’s exactly what Jesus is telling us to do.  “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return…”(vs 35)  That’s grace. And that, dear Saints, is what God has done for you.

Your God, while you were yet enemies, sent his Son to die for you on the Cross of Calvary.  While you were yet enemies of God, desiring to follow the desires of your own heart, your Lord Jesus endured ridicule, insults, abuse, was hated by his own people, mocked, beaten (not just slapped), and stripped naked for you.  He endured the unimaginable pain of crucifixion for all your sins, my sins, and the sins of the whole world.  You know which sins those are.  I’m not going to stand here and point them out to you.  You can examine your own life according to the 10 Commandments, and if you are like me you fall on your knees and beg for God’s mercy.  And God is merciful.  His Son, Jesus not only died for your sins, but he was raised from the dead for your justification before God.  His resurrection proves that God has accepted his sacrifice for your sins.  Because Jesus lives, you also will live.  God has been merciful to you, and you, dear Saints, can be merciful just as your Father is merciful.

Jesus overthrows the conventional wisdom of human culture emphasizing the Father’s ways of love and mercy.  God is calling you today to practice self-sacrificing love.  Pray for guidance and patience as you put God’s ways into practice in your life.  The God of all mercy will hear your prayer.  He is ready to strengthen and forgive you.  As your teacher, Jesus does more than simply tell, he does more than just explain, he even goes further than demonstrating or even inspiring you…he does it for you.  You dear Saints can love, because he has loved you.  The Lord will lead you to love the ungrateful and the evil, just as he has loved and cared for you.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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