This Week at JMPC – Easter 2019

When I was a kid, I remember Easter week a bit differently that I do now. Good Friday meant no school. Easter Sunday was a big deal and was always a fun day. A basket of candy (spice jelly beans were my favorite) was hidden somewhere in the house and the church was packed. Great music and that same story every year. Jesus Christ is risen today. He is risen indeed.
Now I think of Easter week differently. And I like it more now. Like most churches, at John McMillan Presbyterian Church we experience Holy Week in many ways. I say “experience” because we try to put ourselves in the shoes of those who were there with Jesus as he traveled to the cross.
We start our Easter journey on Thursday evening at 7:30 with our Tenebrae Service. A service of “shadows”. The world gets dark as the disciples have their last Passover with Jesus. Someone betrays, others sleep, they all run away in the end. We listen to the story of Jesus last 24 hours with scripture readings and reverential music. It all ends in darkness and silence.
Next, we gather at noon on Good Friday for an hour-long vigil where we hear the story of the crucifixion and try to understand what it means.
Saturday is silent, as we, like the disciples, are … well … speechless.
Then! Then! It is Resurrection Day! We gather at 7am for a sunrise worship service and welcome the rising sun and the Rising Son! At 8:30 and 11 we have our traditional services with brass, bells, celebratory music and then … that same old story. The one that we never get tired of. Jesus Christ is risen today. He is risen indeed.
Come and join us here at John McMillan Presbyterian Church as we walk with Jesus from death to life. We will look forward to seeing you.

This Week at JMPC 4.14.19

In 2005, Frank Warren started a website called “PostSecret”. Thousands of people have sent Warren “secrets” about their lives that are often funny, but also poignant and powerful. Many are things they regret, some deeply. They are anonymous. And he posts a lot of them on his website! Why would anyone want a secret regret about their past posted on PostSecret? Maybe this. There are things about ourselves that we keep secret, but that we would like to admit them to someone else, even if it is done anonymously. Maybe because it is funny, and nobody knows the joke. Maybe because we are ashamed, but nobody knows the incident. Maybe because it is something we regret and can’t get out of our heads. We cannot forgive ourselves. Maybe we believe that if we put these regrets into words and send the words out into the world, it will somehow make a difference. Maybe it will help us forgive ourselves. Someone knows what I did, even though they don’t know it was me. Maybe these folks then feel cleansed. Or just relieved to have put it out there, in words. I wonder if Peter would have posted his denials on PostSecret? Well, maybe. We know he told someone. That is how we know it happened, right? And we also know that Peter was forgiven by Jesus for doing it, right? But I wonder if Peter ever forgave himself? What makes me think he might not have? Because forgiving ourselves is one of the hardest things to do. It might just be impossible. How do we forgive ourselves? Come and hear about it Sunday, April 14, 2019 at John McMillan Presbyterian Church. This is Palm Sunday and Pastor Jeff will preach “What If I Stumble?” based on Mark 14” 32-42; 66-72. We will look forward to seeing you.

This Week at JMPC 4.7.19

In the movie “Saving Private Ryan”, a platoon of soldiers during WWII is sent into France after the Normandy invasion to find the last living brother of four. The other three brothers have been killed in battle. The Army wants to save the last brother so that he can be sent home to his grieving mother. Spoiler alert! After a long, deadly and difficult search, the platoon finds Ryan. They tell him what happened and that he is to be sent home. To their surprise, Ryan refuses. He will not go. Which creates a bit of animosity between him and the platoon that came to save him. They risked their lives (some gave their lives) to save him and now he has refused to be saved. Their sacrifice will be in vain if Ryan dies. Well … more spoiler alert … Ryan does survive but is also given a mission by the platoon leader – do something with your life!
In this week’s text, Peter continues to misunderstand what Jesus wants from him. He promises to stand with Jesus to the end, but almost immediately runs off when the crowd comes to arrest Jesus. What does our text have to do with Private Ryan? Do Peter and private Ryan have something in common? They do. Both refuse to be saved. Both misunderstand the duty that has been assigned to them. Come and hear about that on Sunday, April 7 (the Fifth Sunday of Advent) at 8:30 and 11 when Pastor Jeff preaches, “Don’t Promise More Than You Can Deliver” based on Mark 14: 27-31; 43-50. There is a lot going on in this text that might surprise you. Come and see!

This Week at JMPC 3.24.19

There is a children’s song that goes like this:

If I had a little bitty box to put my savior in,

I take him out and kiss, kiss, kiss,

And share him with my friends.

If I had a little bitty box to put that Satan in, 

I’d take him out and bam, bam, bam. 
And put him right back in.
It is a cute song. But there is something about it that has always troubled me a bit. Why is the savior in someone’s “little bitty box”? There is a sense that the savior is the possession of the owner of that box. And when the savior is “shared”, it sounds like a child sharing a toy. Is that the way we think of Jesus? Like a beloved possession we need to share? And then take back when sharing time is over? I have another thought had about this little song (I know, you are thinking, “Jeff, it’s just a little kid’s song, why are you obsessing over it?”). It’s the thought that if we keep Jesus in our little bitty box, do we only share the things about Jesus we like, while keeping the things we don’t like in the box?
What brings all this to mind is the oft heard phrase when someone talks about Jesus. “My Jesus.” What does that mean? Ownership? Control? Possession? It particularly disturbs me when, in the middle of a discussion about a hard lesson from Jesus, someone says, “My Jesus would never say (do, require) that. My Jesus would say (do, require) something else.”
Do we think we own Jesus? Do we think we can control Jesus? Peter thought so. And because of that, Peter needed to be, shall we say, educated on the point of who was in charge of Jesus. It’s a lesson we all need to have from time to time, Come and hear about it this Sunday when Pastor Jeff preaches “My Jesus” based on Mark 9: 2-13. We are open for business at John McMillan Presbyterian Church at 8:30 and 11 for worship. We will look forward to seeing you.

Who Do You Say Jesus Is? 3.17.19

Mark 8: 27-38 27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’28And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ 29He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’
I am a big science fiction fan.
Books, movies, and television, you name it.
Science fiction television has always been a popular genre beginning with shows like The Outer Limits and Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, not to mention all the Star Trek variations.
But there was one show that, in my view, was the best of all.
It was a show about a group of people who flew through space in a cargo ship called the “Serenity”.
The show was a mix of space adventure and old time western.
It was hugely popular with a loyal fan base but was cancelled at the end of the first season.
Because the writer, Joss Whedon, was unwilling to change the show so that it would make the TV execs happy.
The TV execs wanted a space comedy/drama while Whedon wanted a gritty story about a, ragged and flawed group of people who were just trying to survive in a hostile setting. Whedon did not give in and the show was cancelled. A whole lot of people are still pretty irritated.
What does this have to do with today’s text? Both are about the question of who gets to control a narrative and why. For Whedon, the execs wanted to control the Firefly story and when he did not cooperate, Firefly was gone. In today’s text, there is a battle about who is going to control Jesus’ narrative. It’s a battle between Jesus and one of his closest friends, Peter. And the conflict stems from Peter’s misunderstanding of who Jesus was.
Let’s start with some background. Jesus has developed quite a fan base. He has twelve close confidants, but also many other followers. We aren’t told how many, but we are told that wherever Jesus went, he was surrounded by folks to such an extent that he tried to hide from time to time. These folks were from all over because Jesus was pretty famous. Now Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem. We all know what happens there, but the disciples don’t really understand it yet. As they walk along, Jesus asks an interesting question. “Who do folks say I am?” Kind of like, “What do polls say?” The disciples, who have been out among the people tell Jesus what they have heard. Some say John the Baptist. Some say Elijah. Some say a new prophet. It’s easy to understand why people thought Jesus was a prophet. Prophets were sent to prepare people for some next thing that was coming. That is what it sounded like Jesus was doing. Jesus was preparing the people for the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God was the “next thing”. I have this image of Jesus sort of pursing his lips and nodding.
Then, Jesus asks his disciples the same question. “Well, what do you say?” Peter, of course, has the answer. I have an image of Peter raising his hand and repeating, “I know, I know, I know.” “You are no mere prophet telling people about the ‘next thing’. You are the Messiah! You are the ‘next thing’!” At this point, we expect Jesus would to say something like, “Good answer, Peter. Now you and the rest go and tell everyone!” But that is not what Jesus does. He “sternly ordered” the disciples not to tell anyone that he is the Messiah.
Why? Jesus knows something. He is not the kind of Messiah people want. There were different vies on what the Messiah would be like. Most thought Messiah would be a sort of conquering hero. Throw out the Romans and bring back the Davidic rule. But that is not who Jesus is. Jesus knows what awaits him in Jerusalem. Rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. This is the way Jesus will become the Messiah. The savior. Jesus is all in, but that does not mean he is looking forward to it. But he needs to stay committed to the task. Then Jesus tells the disciples what the task is. I can see the disciples listing with their mouths open in horror. This is not the way this story is supposed to go. This is not the kind of thing that will generate good ratings. People want a different message and outcome.
So, what does our hero Peter do? He pulls Jesus aside, scolds him and says, “No way!!” “I don’t like that story!” Like the execs who pulled Whedon aside and told him he needed to change his show to theirs, Peter tries to get Jesus to change the plan. This is exactly why Jesus does not want the disciples telling anyone that Jesus was the Messiah. Every messianic faction would spin Jesus to be what they wanted the Messiah to be. They would try to claim Jesus as their own with hope of good ratings and popularity. That’s what Peter was doing. Jesus will have none of it. He rebukes Peter. Jesus turns to his disciples and so turns his back on Peter. Jesus calls Peter Satan and sends him away with a sweep of his hand.
Why does Jesus call Peter Satan? Remember the wilderness? Jesus was tempted by Satan to give up his mission. Peter was doing the same. Jesus says Peter’s mind was on human things, not divine things. Peter wanted good ratings and popularity. Jesus wanted to save the world. Jesus was not Peter’s kind of Messiah. And so, Peter could not be a follower of Jesus. Then Jesus turns to the crowd of other followers and tells them what they need to do to be his followers.
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 
If Jesus is the Messiah, our Messiah, we need to understand what that means, right? A bit more nackground. While Mark is describing an event in Jesus life, his audience is the Christian community in Rome. Nero is emperor. He blamed the Christians for burning Rome and is now persecuting them as punishment. Followers of Jesus are being crucified, burned alive, and thrown to the wild animals daily to satisfy the desire of the Romans for vengeance. To be follower of Jesus in Rome, then, meant that you might actually have to pick up a cross and die. But that was not the goal. Jesus is not saying that we are to seek martyrdom or persecution. He is just saying we need to be prepared for it. And while there are Christians in the world who risk their lives to go to church, that is not what it is like in the US. So, how do we read this text? This way, I think. We must take our minds off of human things and put God first. We must follow Jesus, not our human aspirations. But that can be risky. It can result in some personal difficulty and unpopularity. And Jesus says, that is the cost of following him as Messiah.
Dr. William Placher, professor at Wabash College until his death in 2008, puts what Jesus requires this way: Seeking to be persecuted is a form of pathology, not a way of following Jesus. One simply does what is right, helps those who need help, stands up for truth even when it is unpopular. Occasionally such witness simply succeeds. Sometimes success only comes after a rock through a window, an arrest, or a cross burned on the Lawn. Quite ordinary American pastors and lay people have experienced such things in uncounted numbers over the years, in conflicts over civil rights, immigrants, or a host of other issues. One might lose a job. One might get killed. It is not possible to know in advance where standing up for the right thing will lead.
That is what Jesus is saying in our text. “Stand up for me!” Stand up for what is right. Pick up a cross and then pray you don’t get nailed to it. When we hear that, though we are tempted to respond like Peter. That is not what we want to hear. We want a different story. One where there is no push back from others. One that requires little from us. That would be a misunderstanding of who Jesus is. If Jesus is our Messiah, and we want to follow him, Jesus wants us to do what he did. Put God first. And then prove it. By taking seriously what it means to follow Jesus.
It means this: Love God and love neighbor. Loving neighbor is loving God. If we take this seriously, we need to stand against those who dehumanize people who do not look like, act like or worship like them.
Last Friday, a man described as “a globe-trotting … Australian and avowed racist who immersed himself in an Internet subculture of extreme anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, white supremacist ideology” walked into a mosque in Christ Church in New Zealand and shot almost 100 people, including children, while they were praying. Why did he do this? Because they were Muslim. Because they were immigrants. Because they were not white. This is no different from the October 29 shooting at Tree of Life when 11 Jews were gunned down while they prayed. We cannot be followers of Jesus and let these events, and the narrative that encourages them to go unchallenged. We need to stand up to the dehumanizing of all God’s image bearers.
Where do we start? Today we baptized Cade McGuire. Maybe we start with him, and all the babies and people we baptize here. Let’s teach them what it means to follow Jesus. To love God and love neighbor. That would be a small but important way for us.
There are other ways. I reached out to the Muslim community and offering our condolences and support. We all should. That is what following Jesus is. Standing against hate. Standing up for Jesus. Professor Thomas B. Slater puts it nicely: True Discipleship is defined not by what one might receive, but by what one is willing to give. … [T]rue discipleship requires faithfully following Jesus in this world, regardless of the outcome. That is what Peter misunderstood.
It is what many of us misunderstand about Jesus. If Jesus is our Messiah, Jesus must be our example. And example of how we can give our lives meaning and purpose. Following Jesus. Loving God. Loving neighbor. Living the Jesus way.

This Week at JMPC 3.17.19

We live in a world where most everything is governed by opinion polls and surveys. If you want to know how many polls there are from a political standpoint, check out the website Real Clear Politics. It lists many polls and reports the results of these polls on a daily basis. What do polls do? They ask the opinions of people on many things. What do people think about this? What do people think about that? What do people think about this person? What do people think about that person? Dozens of polls. Dozens of questions. Why? Because we want to know what people think, right? Polls allow us to adjust our public personas to increase our approval ratings! They allow us to “spin” our message just the right way. They allow us to change our presentations to get people to pay attention to us. Polls allow us to say what people want to hear, rather than what we really think because if we tell people what we really think, we might not get those good poll numbers.
In this week’s “Misunderstanding Jesus” message we explore just such a moment in Jesus life. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. As he walks along, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Its kind of like a poll of the people Jesus’ disciples have come across. The poll is inconclusive. But then Jesus askes the disciples who they think he is. Let’s take a poll here (for us disciples) – Who do we say Jesus is and why? Peter says that Jesus is the Messiah. Is that what we think? What does that mean? In a surprise move, Jesus says that Peter is right, but tells the disciples not to tell anyone! Why? The answer might surprise you. It is all about misunderstanding Jesus.
Come and hear about it on Sunday, March 17 at 8:30 and 11:00 when Pastor Jeff preaches “Who do you say Jesus is?” based on Mark 8:27-38. It’s the second Sunday in Lent! Come to church! We will look forward to seeing you.

This Week at JMPC 3.10.19

Every so often, a fad, will sweep a community. A fad is defined as “an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something [or someone], especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the object’s [or person’s] qualities; a craze”. (Merriam-Webster) Following a person might be a fad. If you get caught up in such a fad, it might be said that you have jumped on that person’s bandwagon. What does it mean to “jump on a bandwagon”? A bandwagon carried the musicians at the head of a parade or at a political rally, beckoning others to follow. When used to refer to politics, jumping on the bandwagon suggests following the crowd for the excitement of the event rather than any firm conviction in its direction or truthfulness. (Wiktionary) Can any of us think of a time when we might have been accused of “jumping on a bandwagon”? One of the problems of jumping on a bandwagon is that you might do it impulsively before you have a good understanding of what the bandwagon is promoting. Then, when you try to explain why you are on the bandwagon, you keep messing it up. You mess it up, because you have trouble making sense of it. You are in good company. We have all been there and done that. We see it in the Bible as well. Peter the Apostle. He jumped on the Jesus bandwagon, then spent the next three years trying to understand what it all meant. Come hear about it on Sunday, March 10 at 8:30 and 11 when Pastor Jeff Preaches “What are You Looking For?” based on Mark 1: 16-20. It’s the first Sunday of Lent! Come and join us!

This Week – Ash Wednesday 3.6.19

Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. The beginning of Lent. Lent is 40+ days of disciplined preparation for the celebration of Easter. It concludes with Holy Week. Palm Sunday where we observe the height of Jesus’ ministry and the recognition that he was some kind of king. Maundy Thursday where we try to participate in Jesus last hours. Good Friday where we will join in a vigil as we contemplate the cross. Easter. Resurrection Day. And it’s astounding good news. Death is dead. Lent is preparation for all that. Preparation in the form of self-examination. A 40-day acknowledgement of our need for a savior. It all begins with a dab of ashes on the forehead.
Why ashes? Placing ashes on one’s head was the custom in Israel to demonstrate regret and grief. It was a symbolic confession. A sign of penitence. These are particularly appropriate during Lent. We regret our broken relationship with our creator. The one who took us from the dust of the earth and breathed life into us. The one we are unable, or unwilling, to respect and love. This is what we call “sin”. Sin separates us from God. It sucks the life out of us. And so, we die and return to dust. This is what we hear when the ashes are applied. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These words are our death sentence. And so, we might think that the grief the ashes symbolize is about our own death.
But that would be wrong. We grieve for Jesus. The one who died in our place. The one who removes the sentence of death. The one who gives us back our life. So that we don’t return to dust. And so, we repent in ashes and dust symbolically confessing our sinfulness and sorrow.
That is what Ash Wednesday is all about. But at John McMillan Presbyterian Church we not only apply ashes, but then immediately offer communion. Why? Because communion is a sign that we are forgiven and the sin that is signified by the ashes is forgiven because of Jesus’ great sacrifice.
Come and join us on Ash Wednesday for dinner at 6:15 and worship at 7:30 with ashes and communion.

This Week at JMPC 3.3.19

When I was growing up, I spent a good deal of time in the summer water skiing on Edinboro Lake. In the spring the underwater weeds grew thick around the bank of the lake. We skied in those weeds because it was calm. But when we fell, the weeds were awful. It felt like they were wrapping themselves abound you and pulling you under. If you were near the bank, you might be tempted to stand up, but the bottom was just deep, gooey cold muck. It was all you could do not to scream and panic while waiting for the boat to come back and get you. And all our lives are just like that sometimes! We fall into and get tangled among the weeds. When we try to get out, we have no footing. The more we struggle the worse it gets. It’s awful! Its – “the pits”! The miry bog. Who here cannot stand up and tell of a time in your life when you felt like that? Maybe some of us are there right now. If not now, we all will be there sooner or later. That is where the Psalmist was when he wrote Psalm 40. What does the Psalmist recommend? Praise God! Why? Because God will pull us out. Then what? Well, come and hear about it this week when Pastor Jeff preaches “Waiting on the Lord …” based on Psalm 40. We will look forward to seeing you.

Loving without Liking 2.24.19

Luke 6: 27-38
27 ‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If 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. 35But 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. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38give, 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.’
Back in the 1970s, one of the greatest baseball teams of all time was the Cincinnati Reds. The Big Red Machine. They had a lineup that included Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Jose Concepcion, George Foster, Ken Griffey, and Cesar Gerónimo. Many of them now in the Hall of Fame. They won six National League Western Division titles, four National League Pennants and two World Series. They were the Pirates nemesis during that decade, beating them in the NL Championship Series three times. The Reds’ manager was Sparky Anderson. And believe it or not, he had a dress code for the Reds. When acting on team business off the field, team members were required to wear slacks, dress shirts and blazers. On the field, their hair could not go over the top of their ears, side burns had to stop at the earlobe, and they were not permitted to have any facial hair. The players were not particularly fond of these rules, particularly because the 70s were an era of … well … hair. And lots of it. But the Reds followed the rules. Because it they didn’t, they didn’t get in the game. You want to be a Red? This is how you act. There is a team in Pittsburgh right now that might think about using that kind of discipline.
This all came to mind when I read this week’s text. Let me set the stage. You might recall that last week Jesus was preaching to his disciples and followers. The “blessed” folks were there with him and so were close to Jesus and the Kingdom. The “woeful” were not. This week Jesus is still preaching. Who is he preaching to? Those who are listening to him. Us. We are still there listening. We want to be disciples of Jesus. To be on the Jesus Team. Then Jesus tells us the team rules. If you want to live in the Kingdom, here is what you need to do. Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for those who abuse you. If someone tries to humiliate you, walk away. If someone sues you and takes your property, let them have it. Give to anyone who asks and expect nothing in return. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Don’t judge. Don’t condemn. Forgive. Wow! These are some hard rules. Really hard. As my mother might have said: “It would be easier for a watermelon to get through a keyhole, than for someone to follow these rules.” Can any of us play for that team? Do any of us want to play for that team? These rules go against human nature. We live in a world where retaliation and condemnation have become almost an art form. Just look at social media. It seems to be a game of who can come up with the snarkiest retort to someone else’s snarky comment. We equate “I hate your opinion” with “I hate you”!
Jesus turns all this on its head. I can imagine Jesus’ audience. Us. Like my Mom, we are troubled. “What?” “If we follow your rules, Jesus, won’t we become meek doormats who allow others to abuse us at will?” That would be a misreading of this text. How do we read it? Jesus really has only one rule. Love your enemies. So now we have to break that down a bit. The Greek word for love here is agape. Agape is what you do, not how you feel. Love that is pure verb. But even if we are called to love our enemies, we are not called to like them. Liking someone is a way of feeling about them. Agape is doing good, despite a complete lack of good feeling. How do we love these folks? Jesus says, “treat others the way you want them to treat you.” Not the way they treat you. We call this the “Golden Rule”. Next, we need to know who our enemies are. The Greek work for enemy is echthrus. It means basically hostile opposition. Your enemies are not those who simply disagree with you, they are the ones who try to hurt you. It’s easy to treat the folks who simply disagree with you well. But how do you treat those who seek to harm you well? Jesus provides a brief list. These are cultural illustrations of what loving enemies might look like to his listeners. And he adds an important one. Don’t judge or condemn them. Forgive them. The implication and reality is that if you judge, you get judged back. If you condemn, you get condemned back. If you refuse to forgive, your get no forgiveness. This is not about God. This is the retaliation we see every day in the world. The Greek word for judge is krino. The meaning in this context is punishment or vengeance. It includes condemnation. The Greek word for forgiven is apolyo. It means to “let it go”. So, when we put all these things together, we Jesus tells us this: If you want to be a disciple of Jesus, you must treat those who with hostility oppose you, not with retaliation, but as you want them to treat you, letting go of your bad feelings for them. This has little to do with conceding, but it certainly does have something to do with justice. It’s called peacemaking. What peacemaking looks like changes with each and every situation. Turning the other cheek and then praying and doing good for someone who physically or verbally attack you does not mean that you must allow them to continue. Complying with those who make unwanted demands does not mean you don’t seek justice. The metric is how would you want to be treated? Treat these enemies with respect and justice, which might mean you have to cooperated or separate. And here is the hard part. Jesus puts the onus on us, his disciples.
We are required to do these things, even when we are not treated the same way. How do we do that? Here is one way. Boundaries is a series of books written by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. The primary point I got from these books is this: No one can control what other people will do or think. The only person I can control is me. So, when someone is acting in a way that harms me in some way, I must decide what I will do to avoid the harm. I need to set boundaries. Boundaries are rules for the relationship. Boundaries are lines I draw. No one is allowed inside my boundaries. If someone crosses the line, I will do act in a way that causes that person to be outside the boundary. My action will not be retaliation, nor will it be judgmental. It will simply remove a threat from inside my boundary. The act might be leaving that person’s presence, asking a person to leave your presence, ending a conversation, changing a subject, or any other action that stops the harm, even up defending yourself or to calling the police. These actions allow you to maintain the boundary of safety you have set for yourself. From there, you can treat the person the way you want to be treated without judgment and, from a safe distance, forgive.
This reminds me of the third real Star Wars movie, Return of the Jedi. Luke’s nemesis and most evil enemy is Darth Vader. Vader spends a good deal of energy beating up on Luke and trying to get him to join Vader on the dark side. Funny thing, though. Vader is Luke’s father. Talk about an abusive relationship. How does Luke deal with this? He keeps saying (over and over and over) that there is good in Vader. Vader just needs to give in to the good. But until then, Luke spends time fighting, running from, or confronting Vader. Always keeping a distance, refusing to let Vader harm him (though Luke does lose his hand). Luke does not retaliate. Luke does not judge. Luke forgives. But throughout, Luke stands up for justice and for his family and friends. I think that is the way Jesus wants his disciples to act. It certainly is the way Jesus lived. We don’t have to learn how to build and fight with light sabers. But we do need to look for the good in others. And we need to do them good. But if that is not quite the effect you want,
Paul offers this, in Romans 12: 18-21 citing Proverbs 25: 21-22: 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’20No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
So, there is that. Regardless of Paul’s alternative point of view, treating someone the way you want to be treated is the kind of love that makes peace. This is living the Jesus way. So, from that standpoint, what Jesus requires of his team seeks peace in the world and so preserves the world. Because if we follow the eye for eye and tooth for tooth method of relating to each other, the reciprocal loss of body parts will end up with no bodies, and nobody. But there is more than that. We are called to treat each other the way God treats us.
Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
And when we do, we become children of God. Kingdom dwellers. Disciples of Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, this is hard stuff. The Reds just had to shave and buy some nice clothes. Luke … well … was fiction, and he had the force with him. We live in a world full of conflict and violence. A world where retaliation is not only condoned but expected. Where peacemaking is considered a weakness. And yet somehow, we are to love our enemies. How do we even start? Jesus gives us a way. Pray for them. Pray for the people you count as your enemies. And pray that you can treat them the way you want to be treated. If we do that, maybe, just maybe, we can live the Jesus way.