Text: Matt 5:46-48 “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As my Mom’s mother, Granny Lou, got older, she began to tell more stories about her life. Part of me thinks that she sensed the end of her life was coming near, and maybe, subconsciously was fighting against the dementia that was setting. She had always been quick with a song and a story. But mostly just old folk songs and fairy tales, meant to entertain us kids and perhaps pass down some general wisdom, handed from elders to children through the ages. But I can remember a point at which I noticed that her stories had become more personal, and that there was set of stories that she told again, and again, and again. At the time, we laughed about it, a little embarrassed for her, because she didn’t remember that we’d heard that one already.
But now, looking back, I realize that, perhaps, she picked these stories, and told them over and over again, because these were her stories. This was the life that God had given her to live, and these were the lessons she had learned. This would be her original contribution to our understanding of how the world worked.
One story she liked to tell took place at the Hospital where she worked. There, the nurses were often called on to provide medical care for German POWs, captured Nazi soldiers. And Granny was always getting into trouble, always hearing snide remarks and getting sideways glances, because she actually talked to these men, cared for them the same as a nurse would care for any other patient. Once, she discovered, talking back and forth through a translator with one of the Germans in her care, that he was a tailor back home. And so, to help keep him occupied, she’d bring him sewing work that needed done, clothes that needed mended, and whatnot. As their conversations continued, she found out that he had a wife back home, and an infant daughter, who was born while he was away, a daughter he had never seen. So Granny went and bought some nice fabric and lace, a needle and thread, so that he could make a dress to send home to his little girl.
The head nurse saw her do this. She confronted her, and accused her of fraternizing with the enemy. Granny held her ground and told the other nurse, “I have a brother in a German camp. He’s over there, and we haven’t heard a word from him. I don’t know how they’re treating him, or how he’s doing. I pray that he’s doing well. But in the meantime, I came to take care of these boys just like I’d want them taking care of my brother.”
Dear friends in Christ, we live in a world in which we separate people into two categories. Those who are like us, who share the same values, the same thoughts, ideas, and views of the world. People we like, people we agree with. And people who we don’t agree with. People we don’t like, people who are not like us. People who see and experience the world in a completely different way than we do. People whose brains, we imagine, must not be fully functioning. And if you’re not a person like us, we don’t really want much to do with you, it’s like you’re not fully human.
Just listen to people on either side of an issue talk about each other. How Packer fans and Viking fans talk about each other, for instance. The words people on either side of the national health care debate use to describe each other. How different groups down in Madison have been characterizing each other this past week. The other side just can’t see straight. They must be idiots. They must be out to ruin things for everybody. If people get particularly riled up, we hear accusations that begin, “This is just like what the Nazis were doing.” If it has something to do with religious issues, then the wrong side of the debate are the enemies of God, and are probably going to get what’s coming to them in the end anyway.
And yet, for the children of God, those who would be perfect, as their Father in heaven is perfect, this is not the way that life should look. Christ calls us to love our enemies, those different from us, people we don’t expect to love us back. And reflecting on our lives we see in our thoughts, our words, and our actions, as we have seen throughout our meditations from the Sermon on the Mount, that on our own we fall short of the life to which Christ calls us.
But our Lord, Jesus Christ, came down into a world full of sinners, a world in which no one was righteous, not even one, and he did not resist the evil ones who assailed him. He was spit on and struck, he was stripped of all his clothing. He was forced to walk to Golgotha under the weight of the cross. He was hung on the tree in the midst of wicked men, and yet, he loved them, and he prayed for them. He called out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And all of this he did willingly, as the true Son of God, fulfilling the will of His father, for our sake. So that by His innocent suffering and death, we might be declared righteous and made perfect. While we were still enemies of God, St. Paul says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And since, therefore, we have been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his son, much more now that we are reconciled shall we be saved by his life.” (Rom. 5:8-11).
We have been given new life and hope through Christ’s death and resurrection. We are not God’s children because of anything we do ourselves, but for the sake of Christ alone. Our entrance into God’s family, the assurance that our sins are forgiven and forgotten, is given to us in Christ’s body and blood in this Sacrament that we partake of today. As God’s children, we remember who we once were, but realize who God has made us to be now. And we need to keep this in mind when we deal with people in the world who disagree with us, who hold different views than we do, even people who may be actively be working against everything we believe in, and remember that they are still God’s creatures. Still people that our heavenly Father cares about and provides for. They are people whom he has sent his Son to die for. And just as we were shown God’s love while we were still his enemies, we give them the God’s love to the enemies those that we might otherwise dismiss.
When we do this, if we are honest with ourselves, we admit that we do it imperfectly, and that even what we do is only what Christ does through us. As people called out of our old lives in our Baptisms, we are declared perfect for Christ’s sake. And yet, we know that because of the sinful nature that still clings to us, we fall short of that perfection. Because of our sinful natures, it often feels better at the time to speak an unkind word. It is simpler to turn away those who are not close to us. Our perfection that we have been given is on the one hand, completed now, and other, not yet. Therefore, we pray that the Holy Spirit would continue to work in us and shape us to be like Christ. To be his salt, and his light in the world, until the final day when our salvation will be made complete, and we will be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect. Amen.