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The Double Victory, Feb. 19, 2017 at Bethlehem, West 12th Street, Okland

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7th Sunday of Epiphany Bethlehem Lutheran Church February 19th 2017

Lev 19:1-2,9-18 Psalm 119: 33-40 I Cor 3:10-11, 16-23 Matt 5:38-48

The Double Victory

Paulo Freire wrote a book called Pedagogy of the Oppressed[1] and in it he explained that those who revolt against their oppressors usually just bring about a reversal: they get into power only to become the new oppressors. He asks the question: how can oppression in itself be overcome in a society? Freire asked a question that is in the spirit of Jesus and that is why we had to read the book way back in the seminary. The idea is that the oppressed had to realize that their struggle was not only for themselves, but also for their oppressors. That requires Jesus’ love of our enemies and praying for those who persecute and abuse us.

     While studying out in my driveway a woman walking her dog stopped and talked with me. She had just come out of jail and she had held a deep grudge and could not forgive someone who had hurt her. In jail, she came to the end of her own strategies and strength and got down on her knees in her prison cell and surrendered herself to God. She compared her newly won forgiveness with changing a baby’s diapers. But we soil ourselves also as grownups sometimes: “You might be comfortable in your own soiled pants for a while,” she said, “but then you are going to stink. With forgiveness, you change and get into a clean and fresh pair of pants. That’s what forgiveness does for you.” She used much more colorful language, of course.

     In the German of 1939 a fellow worker turned in a Jew to the Nazis and all through his years in the concentration camp he plotted and nursed the revenge he was going to take. When the war ended and he was released, he was walking down a street in Austria and he saw his fellow worker walking toward him. Murderous feelings welled up in him, but suddenly he said to himself, “This has to stop somewhere!” and he just passed him and walked on by.

     Martin Luther King, Jr. said that we are going to match your ability to inflict suffering with our ability to endure it. “One day we will win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.”[2]

     The Gospel of Jesus Christ makes us more than victorious. The victory is not only ours but also for the enemy.[3]

     Jesus refers to the law of Moses, the Law of Equity, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Moses was putting the limit on blood feud and the law of revenge. The law of revenge is also called the law of retaliation (lex taliones). It can be found in Genesis: And Lamech said, “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain is avenged seven-fold, truly Lamech will be avenged seventy times seven-fold.”[4]

     Moses reformed this law of revenge: if a person knocks out your tooth, only a tooth is allowed in return. So, the punishment has to be equal and proportionate to the harm suffered.

     But our Savior Jesus proclaims the law of love. “It has been said of old, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, but I say unto you, do not resist the evil-doer.” Love your enemies. If someone asks you for forgiveness, seven times is not the limit, but seventy times seven times. On the other side of the law of equity he replaces the law of revenge with the law of love.

     Now individually enduring a great deal of suffering we can live out the Gospel like that. It makes us authentic, genuine, mature, holy, set apart for the perfection given us from on high. With plenteous redemption and abundant grace, we grow into the full stature of Christ. But there is a book by Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society,[5] our countries still operate under the law of revenge and often it is not even proportional to the harm that we have received. We had about 3,000 casualties in 9/11 and how many Iraqis and Afghans have died? How many more casualties did we sustain exacting our revenge?

     Jesus is giving us a strategy to overcome evil with good. Continuing an eye for an eye, most of us end up blind; a tooth for a tooth, we’d all end up with partials. Evil has to be overcome by good. Only light can overcome darkness. But on the other hand, we are not allowed to keep on taking abuse from a husband or wife or a bully or boss. We can take on the abject cowardice of a victim and in that way, and with that we become an accomplice to the crime being committed against us.

     Jesus is full of courage and is speaking about becoming more than victorious and gaining the double victory that Martin Luther King refers to.

     The Old Testament lesson is full of good ways to be merciful and law-abiding. Psalm one says, “Blessed is the one who mediates on God’s law, day and night” and then Psalm 119 is all about the law and a psalmist taking day and night meditating upon it. It is the longest psalm and it takes you day and night to read it. It has 176 verses. In verse 105 it says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” And then St. Paul says, don’t you know that you are God’s temple and God’s spirit dwells within you?

     We are usually kind and loving to each other during the church service. Beggars used to sit right outside the church doors when people were coming out of worship to get a hand-out before the good and warm feelings of the people wore off. But Saint Paul reminds us that we are the church, a sanctuary, a temple. When we are the church then the real presence of Christ is within us. The Holy Spirit is within us. When the Samaritan woman asked Jesus if the temple in Jerusalem or in Bethel was the one, in which to worship, he said that we ourselves were the church; the spirit was in us even outside this beautiful sanctuary, this church. Thus, we worship God in spirit and truth. And God’s Spirit remains in us when we are the church living our everyday lives. Our bodies are a sanctuary, a church. Everywhere we go we are still church and a sanctuary for those in need. And the purpose of the preaching is not emotionality but morality, according to Martin Luther King.

     But remember the Gospel. When our lives are shattered and we ask God, “Where are all your promises, where are all the promises you made to me?” We cannot achieve the promised good and moral life by our own strength and effort. When we surrender to God, the way that woman did in her jail cell and say, “O God I’ve come to the end of my strength. I can’t go on. Now let me live out of your strength. Here I am. My life is yours. Live my life.” At this point you and I no longer live, but Christ lives in us. And then you will see a train of miracles, just like those Christ worked here on earth. You will open the eyes of the blind, cause the deaf to hear and cry like Jesus: “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.”

     Our prayer for the day said,

Holy God of compassion, you invite us into your way of forgiveness and peace. Lead us to love our enemies and transform our words and deeds to be like his, through whom we pray, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord.

This prayer mentions our words and deeds, but we ourselves need to be transformed. Martin Luther King again, “Only through inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving way.”[6] So we ourselves have to become transformed and grow and mature into the full stature of Christ and then our words will be the words that Christ speaks and our deeds will be his miracles, because even now we do the impossible and those miracles that are around the corner just take a little longer. Indeed, all things are possible to those who believe. Amen.

______________________

[1] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, (Herder and Herder, 1970). I attended Hamma School of Theology in Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio 1967-1971.

[2] Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, (New York: Harper & Rowe, Publishers, 1963), p. 40. In the Philadelphia: 1981 Fortress Press edition, pp. 54-55.

[3] Ibid., 1963 edition, page 39: when Abraham Lincoln was asked by a shocked woman how he could say kind words about the South when times were the most bitter, he answered, “Madam, do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

[4] Genesis 4:23-24.

[5] Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1932).

[6] Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength To Love, (1963), p. 13.

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Written by peterkrey

February 20, 2017 at 6:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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