Epiphany 7C’22
20 February 2022
Luke 6.27-38
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone <+>

For human beings this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The edict of Milan was made by the Roman emperor Constantine in the year 313 and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. What once were a group of zealots meeting secretly in homes, hiding in catacombs and being caught and fed to the lions in the coliseum became socially acceptable, and Christianity was made to be the religion of the state – the perfect marriage between Church and State.

Suddenly a group of citizens that had been despised and considered illegal, became accepted. Political power combined with religion sent shockwaves that changed the entire culture of the west into a Christian culture, and would eventually become known as Christendom. Throughout Europe and its colonies developed the phenomenon of “State Churches” In Germanic and Scandinavian countries the official church was the Lutheran Church, the latinized countries such as Spain, Italy, and France were Roman Catholic, with churches in the east being some form of Orthodox Church. In short what developed were two churches one married to the state while within it was the mystical body of Christ comprised of true believers and followers of Christ.

This dualism was seen quite clearly in Nazi Germany during WWII. There was the state church that was an arm of Hitler’s Nazi party, that committed horrible atrocities and emblazoned the symbol of the cross on tanks, trucks, and aircraft. At the same time, a group of Christians in Germany distanced themselves from the state church and referred to themselves as “the confessing Church.” They rejected the state church’s compliance with Hitler and upheld the principles of the Gospel of Christ.

Today’s Gospel is known as Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain.” Rather than a state-serving hierarchical message given from a mountaintop, it is one given from a patch of level ground, a place of humility where everyone, including Jesus, stands on the same level, and where the great divide is revealed between cultural religion and the true religion of Christ followers who make up the body of Christ.  

Let’s listen again to part of Jesus’ sermon: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also. If someone takes away your coat give them your shirt also…If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” His words call us to the true path of a true faith, one that will cost us something. Instantly we realize that we all fall short of Christ’s sermon, in fact if we are honest with ourselves, we find it an impossible task! This begs the question then, ‘Why would Jesus give us an impossible task?’

In the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous we learn about a way of life that is based upon the gospel that’s a good way for any person to live. The first very first step states: “We admitted we were powerless over Alcohol (or fill in the blank with what your struggle is) and that our lives had become unmanageable.” We humans trying to live with only our own wits and our own resources are powerless to live the life that Jesus describes and desires for us. None of us can muster unconditional love on our own.

Step 2 says: “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” When you look at our world today insanity is not too strong of a word to describe it. For a great description for insanity let’s turn Jesus’ sermon around backwards: ‘Hate your enemies, seek revenge on those who hate you, curse back those who curse you, cast a spell over those who abuse you. If somebody hits you, hit them back even harder, if somebody takes your coat then steal something from them to even up the score. When you give make sure and give it to somebody who can give something back to you. Make sure to Love, appreciate, and hang out only with those who love you back.’ Well, you get the picture. This is how the majority of people live and it’s insane.

Step 3 of the 12 steps says: “Made a decision to turn our will and our life over to the care of God as we understood God.” Only when we give up, and say “you know what, I can’t do this Jesus, at least not on my own,” is this new way of life possible. Now we have access to the abundant love and abundant life of God. Now there is no longer scarcity but there will be enough no matter how dire our circumstances may seem. When wrong is done to us, we get out of the way and let the God who says “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” deal with them. As the Church in the world, we are called to live life differently, to let our lights shine brightly. The world quickly loses interest in us when we live the way of insanity. As someone once told me, “I have enough stress in my life already why come to church where there’s more.” It doesn’t have to be that way; we don’t have to live that way.

There is a powerful story about how to live out Jesus’ sermon, it’s called Les Misérables or (Le Miz) as it is sometimes referred to and it’s a novel written by Victor Hugo. There are a couple of musical versions and a movie based on the novel. It’s set during the time of the French revolution when the country is in great turmoil and the main character is a poor man by the name of Jean Valjean. With poverty and unemployment at an all-time high and Valjean struggling to feed his starving family he breaks into a bakery and steals a loaf of bread. He is caught, tried, and convicted and is sentenced to 19 years hard labor in a French prison.

Upon his release he attempts to find lodgings but because he is a convict no one will give him a place to stay. Finally, he knocks on the door of the church and a bishop comes to the door. He gives him a meal and a bed for the night. In the wee hours of the morning Valjean creeps into the dining room and starts bagging all the silver. The bishop hears the noise gets up and catches him red handed and Valjean knocks him to the ground and runs.

Later in the day the authorities captured Valjean and they brought him to the church and they show the bishop the silver utensils. They indicated that Valjean had told them the bishop had given the silver to him. The bishop doesn’t hesitate and says, “Yes I did,” and then added that he was angry with Valjean and asks him why he didn’t also take the two silver candelabras because they would have brought an even higher price on the street. The authorities release Valjean and leave. The bishop puts his hands on Valjean’s shoulders looks him in the eye and says, “Don’t ever forget you have promised to become a new man. Jean Valjean my brother, you no longer belong to evil. With this silver I have bought your soul, I’ve ransomed you from fear, and hatred, and now I give you back to God.”[1] Such mercy, such grace, such compassion, like he had never known before. Jean Valjean was transformed that day by God because a bishop was willing to live the gospel that truly is good news, not a graceless list of impossible rules but a living, relationship of love. When we turn our wills and our lives over to the care of God, we enter a Kingdom where the impossible becomes possible, where there will be more than enough, an abundant life where God does for us, what we cannot do for ourselves. Amen!  


[1] https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=2ahUKEwiRz4Xs_tLgAhUERKwKHbF1CJUQtwIwAXoECAsQAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DwF3FX43F-7Y&usg=AOvVaw3ZURLSgfDa3u8aw2RoSXb3

(cut and paste the above into your search window and hit enter, it should take you to the movie scene on YouTube)