The sermon for week February 19, 2017
Retaliation, Repentance, and RestorationMatthew 5:38-48
Calvin breaks his dad’s binoculars. Calvin, as in the comic strip boy with the tiger of “Calvin and Hobbes” fame, not the reformed theologian John Calvin, to be clear. He breaks his dad's binoculars and is sweating about it.
He asks his tiger Hobbes, who is the voice of reason in the comic, what he should do. Maybe he can raid his piggy bank and buy a new pair without his dad noticing. He has about $6 and calls the store to see how much the binoculars cost. $600! Oh man! Calvin’s dad is going to kill him! Maybe we can put them back together, Hobbes offers. Calvin gets the box and pours out the binoculars that have been reduced to dust, instructing Hobbes not to sneeze. That’s not an option either.
Calvin doesn’t know what to do. He’s at the family dinner table and he’s sweating it out. Calvin thinks, “Look at dad, calming eating his dinner as if nothing was wrong. I know him. His ‘dad radar’ is beeping like crazy. He knows I broke something, he just doesn’t know WHAT. He can’t nail me until he knows for sure. He’ll just wait. I know him. He’s going to just sit there eating and let me stew in my own guilt. He figures sooner or later I’ll crack.”
His dad asks, “Calvin, can you pass the…”
“AAUGH! I did it! I did it! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to!!” and Calvin confesses. Dad rants, “You BROKE the binoculars! Didn’t I tell you to be extra, extra careful with them?? Isn’t that exactly what I said?! WELL?! Those binoculars were brand new! Have you no respect for other people’s property??”
Calvin replies with a tear, “I have an idea dad, let’s pretend I already feel terrible about it, and that you don’t need to rub it in anymore. I didn’t mean to break your binoculars, it was an accident. I’m really sorry and felt like I was going to barf all afternoon.”
“I’m sorry I yelled at you like I did, I shouldn’t have been so angry,” The dad says. “After all in the big scheme of things, that’s really not so bad.”
“Sure! In another ten years you’ll probably be wrecking my car.”
Calvin was so worried about the retaliation of his dad. He knew his father, he knew he’d go ballistic and he did everything he could do to avoid it. Yet the dad responded, after the initial flare of anger, with surprising grace. The dad responds in a way that isn’t punitive, but restorative. Later, he buys Calvin his own pair of binoculars and the two are reconciled and the relationship healed.
That is how God is. We spend so much time sweating things out. We resist confessing because we’ve been told that God is a wrathful and vengeful judge, but that’s not the God we find in Jesus Christ. You’ve heard all that, but I say unto you that God is life-giving and will restore you… so you must do the same. Live just like God. Have the virtues God has.
You have heard it said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say unto you, turn the other cheek. If they want your coat, give your cloak. If one of the soldiers of the Roman occupying army forces you to carry their things for a mile, go an extra mile. Restore the relationship. Humanize yourself to them. Risk being vulnerable to them.
Jesus knows we have enemies, or if not outright enemies then conflict in our relationships. Even the good ones. Jesus also knows that we’d sooner accept a God we are fed to than a God we are fed by. I’m going to say that again. Jesus knows, as theologian Robert Capon stated, we’d sooner accept a God we are fed to… that we have to sacrifice animals to and grovel and prostrate ourselves before… than a God we are fed by… who restores us, wants us to mend the relationship between God, the ground and source of our existence; our neighbors, the partners of our existence; and our environment, the context of our existence. Reminds me of a pity saying in some church circles, “God loves you just as you are, and too much to leave you as you are.” Love is transformative, changing, and restorative.
Many people talk of God as a judge, and God is. Yet not the type of judge we’re used to, not a punitive judge but a restorative judge. Maybe we don’t understand how confession helps restore us to God. Maybe there are relationships that are just too broken to get what Jesus is talking about… I understand those because I have those in my life too. If reconciliation is a spiritual practice, then I need more practice. That could be my bumper sticker. It then leads me to my question of “How do I live this out?”
We don’t talk much of sin here, but current events have me thinking that we should start talking more and more about sin. It will be hard. Sin is hard to talk about as it’s been misused. The conservative Christians use it to make us feel guilty about every little moral misstep. Do you pick your nose? Then you’re going to hell! I don’t think so. Yet we here in the liberal tradition talk so much about grace, we leave others wondering why it’s needed in the first place. Sin is simply separation. Separation from us and God, us and ourselves, us and our neighbor, and us and creation. I’m learning how to reconcile and to think differently after I realize I’ve been separated from these areas. I’m learning how to turn the other cheek, to offer more than is required of me, to be vulnerable and let my humanity shine through. To go the extra mile in service of an oppressor. But maybe, maybe our entry to this is the environmental piece in this.
My favorite comedian Louis C.K. ponders this. He wonders why some Christians don’t take care of the environment and protect it. He says, “if you believe that God gave you the Earth and God created the Earth for you, why would you not have to look after it? When God came back God would go
‘What did you do? I gave this to you! Are you crazy? The polar bears are brown! What did you – what did you do to the polar bears??? What did you – Who did this? Who spilled this? Who spilled this? Come over here – did you spill this? What is that?’
It’s oil…it’s just some oil…I didn’t mean to spill it…’
‘Well why did you take it out of the ground???’
‘Cuz I wanted to go faster…I’m not fast enough…and I was cold…’
‘What do you mean cold? I gave you everything you needed!’
‘Well cuz jobs and nmmmm..I wanted’
‘What is a job?? What is – Explain to me, what is a job?’
‘Well you go like uh and you work at a place where people call when their game doesn’t work and you help them figure it out.’
‘What do you do that for?’
“For uh money’
‘WHAT DO YOU NEED MONEY FOR???’
‘Just eat the stuff on the floor! I left food all over the floor! Corn and wheat and stuff, just grab it up and make some bread, what are you doing???’
‘Yeah but it doesn’t have like bacon around it…and like…I like when it has like…bacon on it and bread’”
I love that bit. We have to face our own selves and name our own values and reasons. God does this so we see ourselves more clearly, see our neighbor more clearly, and see God more clearly. A God who wants us to be fully human and fully alive. To thrive! To be restored to God, each other, and ourselves. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? God offers the gift of rain to everyone. Expand your heart. Praying for your enemies is not the same as blessing their use of power. Jesus forgave his executors. Risk vulnerability and not retaliation.
Who knows? Maybe there’s a new pair of binoculars in it for you. Or… if you read to the end of the story… a new heaven and a new earth. What a gift we would have if only we have the courage to risk being changed by God’s love.
The changing and transforming love best understood by the reformer Martin Luther when he wrote, “Christian living does not mean to be good but to become good; not to be well, but to get well; not being but becoming; not rest but training. We are not yet but we shall be.” By the grace of God. Amen.
Capon, Robert. Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace.
C.K, Louis. “If God Came Back” found on youtube here: https://youtu.be/WrahQpIWD08 (warning! Adult language!)
Hall, John Douglas, The cross in our context, Jesus and the Suffering World. Page 109.