A Letter to Jesus Concerning the Lectionary (Matthew 5:38-48)

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Dear Jesus, God, or the Holy Spirit:

YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!  Have you seen the lectionary passages for this week?  I know you’ve SEEN them because it’s in the Bible and you’ve read the Bible.  Did you know these passages were the passages for this week, the third week of February 2017, in the United States of America?

What were you thinking?  Do you know what will happen if I preach this on Sunday morning?  I’ll be out of a job and my kids will have to change schools midyear.  Leviticus 19 is radioactive right now.  There is no way I can stand up in the pulpit and preach these words from Leviticus 19:10, “Also do not pick you vineyard clean or gather up all the grapes that have fallen there.  Leave these items for the poor and immigrant; I am the Lord your God.”  Some people will hear this as a critique of capitalism, as me telling them God wants them not to make all the money they can make.  Intentionally leave profit behind, in your vineyard, whatever your vineyard may be.  I’m not telling them anything.  I’m reading your words straight off the page.  Of course, there are sections of Leviticus dealing with stoning gay people some people wouldn’t argue with at all.

Apparently God didn’t stutter when it came to stoning gays but when it came to saving so poor and immigrants, their cell phone reception went out entirely.  After the past three weeks, that crazy press conference, ICE raids, I’m now supposed to read from the lectionary that one of God’s priorities is caring for the poor and immigrants.  People will not like this God.  They will accuse him of meddling in politics, not giving our new leader a chance, and even being a so called God weak on security.  I know you’re not weak on security.  I saw what you did to the Egyptian army at the Red Sea.  I am fully briefed on your security capabilities.  It seems, Lord, those facts no longer matter.

Leviticus 19:15 says, “You must not act unjustly in a legal case.”  Honestly?  Have you seen anything coming out of the Senate, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, or the White House lately?  If I say this, both sides will hear what they want to hear.  Like both warring parties in the Civil War, injustice is a hallucination in which God appears to be your best friend.  The verse goes on to say, “you must judge your fellow Israelites fairly” and “you must not hate your fellow Israelite in your heart”.  Yes Lord, we need to talk about fairness and the hate in our hearts.  But let me say this, it’s going to make many people uncomfortable, especially if we do it right and use the Bible as a guide.  Many people will become uncomfortable.  Some might even leave the church.  When the Bible talks about fairness, walking away from hate, it looks nothing like what Leviticus 19:18 says, “You must not take revenge nor hold a grudge against any of your people; instead you must love your neighbor as yourself.”

I know I’ve got to say this on Sunday morning.  I don’t have a choice.  No one else is going to say it (not here anyway).  They don’t say it on the news, from the White House, on television programs, or even from the religious establishment.  It needs to be done.  But to be honest I’m scared.  I’m afraid.  I know your words never go down easy to people who are caught up in fear and trembling of their man made Gods.

Jesus, what am I going to do with your words?  Matthew tells me, “You have heard that it was said, ‘you must love you neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love you enemies and pray for those who harass you.”  Did you ever have occasion to read the travel ban Jesus?  We’re at war Jesus.  With people who hate us, our way of life, and our freedoms.  You want us to pray for these radical Islamists who are trying to buy plane tickets to this country, at this very moment?  I believe that’s what you’re saying.  I honestly do.  I think you want us to pray for the people who are our real enemies, not only the people we fell out with at a drunken New Year’s Eve party 2 years ago or over a Facebook spat over passenger trams on our island.

Jesus wants us to love our enemies.  But somehow Jesus, I’m afraid people will treat the command to love one’s enemies as fake news.  Like loving your neighbor, it will be viewed as a touchy feely idea, made up by liberal churches designed subvert the fabric of American democracy.

But you don’t stop at our enemies.  Jesus, you go well past enemies.  At the end of Matthew 5, I’m supposed to preach on this impossibility: “Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.”  Hey, all you flawed human beings with problems too numerous to count!  Yes, I’m talking to you!  You need to love everybody.

Most of us are incapable of loving ourselves.  Everybody means everybody.  Yes, that means the guy who cuts you off in traffic.  Big deal, like that’s so hard.  It also means the guy at grocery store who never remembers your name.  That’s one huge emotional leap.  Jesus, are you telling me to love everyone who, if I really try to love, it will cost me something?  It’s nothing, emotionally or physically speaking, to get over road rage or someone forgetting my name.  To love someone, particularly somebody who you’ve deemed an enemy (or who regards you as an enemy) takes a piece of your soul.  Jesus, I would think you know a great deal about the latter.

I am reluctant and a little afraid to preach the words given to me this week.  It freaks me out. I know when people hear neighbor, immigrant, and enemy they’re going to think I’m talking about one thing when really I’m talking about you guys.  I could cop out and do a sermon series or talk about the last TED talk I saw.  I could tell a funny story about borrowing my neighbor’s lawnmower and going to a block party.  That’s not real.  I’d call that a fake sermon.  It wouldn’t be right.  I wouldn’t be doing my job.

Yours truly,

Richard

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