ucc logo
Plymouth United Church of Christ
Making a more loving world
Picture of Building
Open and Affirming
2010 Moholt Dr. (Directions)
Eau Claire, WI 54703
Worship at 10:30 am Sunday
handicapped symbolFully accessible
facebook Twitter Podcast

Right click to download to your computer.

Subscribe to Plymouth's podcast and receive sermons and other special events automatically (this link for iTunes only. If you don't have iTunes, this link might work for you).

(You may also listen to the entire worship service)

“Turn Your Cheek, Change Your Perspective”
Sermon, Year A, Epiphany 7, February 23, 2014
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: Matthew 5:38-48 with a bit of Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18

These are some difficult words that Jesus offers here. And so I want to say at the outset two things. The first is that I think our enemies, what we consider our enemies (however you might conceive of the term, as this is rather a strong word for our personal enemies versus our national enemies) are constructs of our minds. The relationship exists more in our mind than in reality, and exist because we failed to take a faith step to try to reconcile that relationship. To try to make that relationship something other than a me-enemy relationship. Or, at least, to try to change it, even if you discover that it simply cannot. But our vocation as Christians is to say to a world that likes to divide, that likes to have enemies and friends, that likes to have us vs. them, “We are not so easily satisfied with making such easy distinctions. We will go the extra mile to try to fix those relationships.”

But, that said, the second thing I want to say before I go on is that there are real enemies. Enemies who don’t deserve our other cheek, our cloak, or an extra mile. They DO deserve our care, compassion, our love, even our attempt to understand or help. But necessarily that we have to be in relationship with them. I’m thinking especially of those who abuse others. Whether it be a husband or wife, a parent abusing a child, a child abusing a parent, a babysitter, teacher, bullies at school or at work, bullies in the church, a boss, even a pastor.

No one deserves to be abused.

No on deserves to be abused, and no one ought to be forced to suffer continued abuse. That’s a kind of enemy that Jesus is talking about when he says that you have to turn the other cheek. There are, unfortunately, those out there whose stories I’ve read and heard, that some literalists and fundamentalists who will counsel people who are being abused – especially wives – that they have to stay in their situation. That they just need to keep enduring the abuse and eventually through their suffering they will change the heart of the man who is abusing them. I think that’s ludicrous. I don’t think that is what Jesus means here at all. Some of those counselors will quote this scripture, or what Jesus said in last week’s reading about divorce, or other parts of scripture to say to an abused person that it is their duty to stay in an abusive situation and not care of their own needs. I think that’s ridiculous. It is an abuse of scripture, and a further abuse of the person being counseled who is already being abused by someone else. That is one of the dangers of Jesus’ words here. Especially if one is in a position of power and uses these words against someone who less power, or is in a situation in which they have the lesser amount of power.

The literalists, the fundamentalists, are – I don’t want to demean or pigeonhole them – but it seems they are often coming at scripture more from an ideology of trying to support power than trying to find what God is saying to us. It is easy to abuse scripture like this.

I think Jesus is offering in these words a very different kind of picture. Not one that says you have to be a doormat or just continue to suffer abuse, or that power is good. Jesus offers an alternative worldview that there is power is weakness. That real power, Godly power, Christian power, is in weakness. That’s the power of the cross. God becoming weak to die on the cross. To go to the cross, and while on that journey to offer nothing but forgiveness to those around him. God becoming weak to show us, as I said in last Sunday’s sermon, the power of choosing the way of life over the power of choosing the ways of death: violence, power, vengeance.

The power of weakness, the power of love. The power that says that I am not going to use evil’s tools, even to fight evil. I will use the tools of love.

So there are enemies that can be won over. There are enemies that could be won over. There are enemies to be defeated through non-violence, through love. Gandhi took on the British Empire through non-violence and helped liberate India. Martin Luther King, Jr. used non-violence. Those are big and dramatic examples. We are not Gandhis or MLKs. But there is something to be learned there of the power of using love and not using the tools of evil. The power of recognizing God’s image in the people we’re up against.

What if we heard the cries of our enemies and listened as though they, too, are people on whom God sends the sun and the rain and whom God also loves? What is we saw them as people who also love their families, who greet their sisters and brothers. Jesus’ way respects the God-image of the people around us. It respects the God-image of the enemy and suggests that maybe we’re not 100% pure and they’re not 100% evil or wrong, just because we oppose one another at some level. What if our enemies have a legitimate complaint against us? Maybe there is something in that relationship that can be redeemed. What if, as the great Pogo once said, Walt Kelly’s Pogo, who said, “We have seen the enemy, and he is us”? What if?

It’s not always black and white as to who is the enemy and who is the hero in any pair or in any conflict. That’s one of the beauties of diplomacy, trying to find a way to come together. So there is danger in this passage and these words that Jesus said if we take them too literally. The danger of using them as a weapon. Using them as a weapon against other people. Telling the abused person they have to stay in the abusive relationship. That they have no path out except to pray their way out. And it can be used to abuse in other ways. In some sense, and I would hope no one would do this, why not go up to someone and take their coat and say, “Hey, Jesus said you have to give me your cloak, too. That’s what Jesus said. That’s the rule.” Or walk up to someone and punch them and say, “Hey, Jesus said I get to hit you again. You have to let me. And while you’re at it why don’t you give your iPad and your wallet and write a report for me, and if I don’t get a promotion because of it I’ll be back.”

There is nothing Godly in giving up dignity, or demanding that someone else give up their dignity. That’s a danger in this passage.

But there is another danger in these words of Jesus. A wonderful, incredible and good kind of danger in Jesus’ words because they have the capacity to change the world. They have the capacity to fight evil. To change the world into the way that God imagines it. That can put us on the path to defeat evil by not buying into evil’s agenda, but by stepping around it by using a different method. By saying, “You don’t have power over me. I am not going to let you have power over me. I will meet you with love. I will meet you with grace.” And that has always been the danger of Christianity. The danger of the Gospel to change the world and to liberate people. This is one of the reasons that Christianity is often made in oppressive countries and dictatorships, because the message of liberation is so strong. It is one of the things that slaveholders feared here in the U.S. That if the salves heard too much of the story of liberation they might get ideas and want to be a free people. There is danger in Jesus’ words: the danger to liberate. To change the world.

“You have heard it said, ‘Stand your ground’, but I say to you, ‘Change the systems that lead to situations in which you need to stand your ground.’”

Or, “You have heard it said, ‘Lock your car doors when you drive through that area’, but I say, ‘Go be with the people and make it not ‘that area’ but ‘our area’, and work on those relationships.”

Or, “You have heard it said, ‘Illegal immigrants’ but I say to you that a person cannot be illegal. They are all mine. I made them, and they are in my image. I entrust them, in fact, to your care. Don’t harvest all of your crops, but leave some for them to have so that they don’t go hungry.”

There is power in allowing our faces to be slapped. The power of resistance that may shame someone who is trying to hurt us. A way of saying that you don’t have that power over us. Though again, don’t take that too literally – I don’t want you to stand there and be abused. The power of turning the other cheek to not let others control you. There is something, as we turn the other cheek from right to left, or left to right, but as we turn the cheek maybe one thing Jesus is saying to us as we turn the cheek is that by turning it we get a different perspective. We see the world from a different angle. Jesus saying, “Maybe sometimes you need to change your perspective as well.”

And I think that the Church, and religion in general, for the past few decades we have been getting slapped in a sense by the outside culture. Getting critiqued. And we’ve not been real good at turning the cheek. Not always been good at turning the cheek to the slaps we have received but have continued with business as usual, shuttering ourselves in and standing our ground and not listening like we should have to the people on the outside that do critique us. That do want us to live more fully into the words that we say, and the words of Jesus, the person that we say we follow. We have often brought old answers that aren’t as relevant any more to a world that has changed and is different. It is an exciting time for the church, though a very difficult time. Change is most often difficult. But perhaps time to turn the other cheek and seek more human affirming and life-giving ways, being active and present, speaking to the real anxieties of today’s world. I think the UCC has been good at that, and we here at Plymouth have been good at going out into the community and doing things, serving the people we live with. But there is much more that could be done.

The words that Jesus uses here are a lot of action words. LOVE your neighbor. PRAY for your enemies. GIVE your cloak. TURN the other cheek. GO the second mile. He’s talking about a ministry of presence. A ministry that is lived in the world. Not holed up at home or kept within the walls of the church. A faith lived. A ministry of doing. A ministry of being present in the world. A move away from violence or apathy and into peace. Loving action. Compassionate action. Jesus’ relentless unwillingness to let evil win. Gandhi has a quote I put on the altar: “An eye for an eye makes the world blind.” How can your neighbor see Christ’s light if you take his eye, or how can your neighbor feed on the bread of Christ if you take her tooth?

Loving action. Love your enemy. And one might say, “Then if I love my enemy, what is the difference between an enemy and a friend, Jesus?” Ohhhhhhh. I see what you did there, clever Jesus.

Love your enemies. Love your friends. And Jesus ends by saying “Be perfect.”

Be perfect as your God is perfect. Which I don’t think means don’t ever do anything wrong. I don’t think Jesus is telling us that we need to be something that we cannot be. I don’t know any human being that can be perfect. I think Jesus knows that. He is not giving us an impossible task that we can never live up to. Maybe “be perfect” as a state of being. Be faithful. Perfection as a way of being. We’re made in God’s image, and if God is perfect, then there is something indwelling in us of God’s perfectness as well. So this call to be perfect, not a command – “Be perfect or else!” – but an invitation from Jesus to live into it, to be who we are. Be like your Father in heaven. Be like me. Be perfect like God is perfect. An invitation to be who we are in God’s image. To be the people who love our enemies. To be the people who pray for them. To be the people who meet evil with unconditional love. And to be the people who live these dangerous words that can change the world.

Let us be those people. Let us live like that.


Share |
Follow @revdavidhuber Follow @plymouthec Tweet

Rev. David Huber's Facebook profile

Return to previous page.
Plymouth United Church of Christ
2010 Moholt Drive
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

Webpastor: Pastor David