One thing we know in South Louisiana is that it’s getting pretty close to crawfish season. It’s really already started, but some prefer to wait a bit and let those little mud bugs get to their peak deliciousness before consuming them.
I tell you this not by word of advice or celebration of God’s providence, but to say that we have something to learn from our little crustacean friends. First and foremost, they provide a convenient opportunity for a little humor. Given that a recent study shows that one of the common traits of worship in growing and healthy congregations is that they laugh together, I do want to share a little crawfish humor with you.
But, don’t worry, I’ve been advised that crawfish jokes can never be considered “lame” because crawfish have ten legs.
• What do crawfish and compound sentences have in common? They have at least two clauses.
• A guy walks into a restaurant, sits down to order, and askes the waiter if he serves crawfish. The waiter says yes. The guy says 'I'll have a pizza'. He points to a chair and says, 'and a plate of chips for my crawfish friend here.’
OK, maybe those are lame. Anyway the point about crawfish, and really all crustaceans, is that discomfort helps them grow. Having an exoskeleton means that they can only grow just so much before there is no more space. So, of course they find a safe place and cast off their shell in order to grow a new one. While they’re in this state of transition they are soft and vulnerable – even to other crawfish.
And so it is with you and me as we come to worship. As we seek to let go of our defenses and come before God we can become very vulnerable, even to one another – even to God. God calls us together, not to boil us and consume us but to give us hope in our discomfort.
That’s what is behind these troubling words that we have received today. I say “troubling” because these passages demand a lot of us. While we may be able to look at the reading from Leviticus like a check list of things we have not done, we must also take seriously the possibility that we have fulfilled the letter but not the spirit. For at the heart of these rules is the reality that God is God and we are called to be holy with God.
Is there suffering and injustice in our community? Do all receive a living wage for their work? Are there broken relationships? I would say then that we have some work to do. Obviously we cannot fix it all, but if we are indifferent to others then we may have missed the point of God’s invitation to us.
In this invitation we are told to give our coats, to go a second mile when forced to go one, and to turn the other cheek to someone who harms us. Not only that but we are to refuse anyone who asks for assistance. I want to be clear here that Jesus was speaking to a people of a different economy than ours. In his economy, goods were traded and sold, as were people. Power defined social expectations as much or more than relationships or initiative.
Some of that still goes on, but the important thing to Jesus was the way we relate to one another. And to drive that home even further he says, “Love your enemy.”
This was no small thing. The enemy was a foreign power that threatened their entire belief system. The enemy, when Matthew’s gospel was written, had destroyed the temple in Jerusalem – had destroyed lives in numerous ways. But, there it is. Love your enemy. Pray for them. Bless them. That’s how they’ll know you are children of God. Then he drops the mic with, “Be perfect, as your father is in heaven.”
Now, I have to say, this is about my favorite translation problem in the NRSV. That’s because a more literal translation would read, “Be perfected, as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” OK. Now we’re going somewhere, and we are all being perfected…by loving our enemies.
I have to say, never in my life have I seen so many claims of enemies. We seem to have so many that it is unclear who the real enemy is. Is it an immigrant who has lost home and nation, an agenda driven conglomerate of reporters, business people, or politicians? Or is it actual enemy combatants? This got me thinking and wondering – who is the enemy God is calling me to love? In order to answer this I’m going to shift gears a little, because the answer came to me in a sort of rag tag version of poetic verse that I’ll call “Who Is My Enemy.”
For 222 of our 239 years,
we have been a nation at war.
Wars have formed and forged and tempered us-
Tempered such that we forget
who we have fought and why.
And even while we fight and die,
our sons and daughter they die,
their sons and daughter they die,
and we the proud, we the brave tax payer, we the free…
We live in this confused comfort.
Because we do not know how to answer force
without applying greater force.
And we think that greater force is found in power,
power which we amass
power which we sell
power by which we think we can compel
our enemies to stay down.
And as we close the circle tighter
to make our burden lighter
to strengthen our defense
to make it all make sense
we hear Paul rise above it all.
The chatter, the chatter, the chatter…
He clears his throat to say,
“Ah, technically speaking,
it’s not supposed to make sense.
Reason and rhyme are not the point
because if you could work it out
you would be God.
But you’re not.
You are a vessel.
You are a building.
You are a Holy Space,
because every molecule that makes you comes from God.
Everything you are,
everything you’ll be,
everything you want,
everything you need
comes from God, and returns just the same.”
Like waves from the sea,
you were meant to be
a message of love and grace and forgiveness.
And how can you be that if you are selecting someone else as an enemy?
Better still, how can that message be without an enemy to forgive?
You see, God has given us this sacred trust
that we might not target our enemies
except in order to forgive.
Evil must be restrained,
but the bullet only repays, it only replays, it only transfers the offense.
It is instead by the bread that wars may cease.
Did you know that?
Did you know that in the language of God’s first chosen people
the word for “bread and the word for war”
differ only by one little stroke,
by one little punctuation mark?
Bread and war and love and truth…
What are we causing to rain down?
In my space,
what do we release into the ether?
Here in this place we are told to speak love.
We are told to speak it through common practice.
Reap the field in a circle and leave the corners to glean as Boaz did for Ruth so long ago.
Because God is God and we are not.
Let us not use faith to justify our positions;
rather let us be justified by a faith that is strong enough to be OK with vulnerability.
Whether it is the cheek or the coat or the mile,
We smile for love of enemy and friend.
For love is an opportunity.
Enemies demonstrate opportunities.
Will we respond in love every time?
Will we respond in love at all?
If we do, then love’s crucible will surely burn us.
It will refine us.
It will perfect us.
For when the enemy is unable to love us back
we are still held by the love of God.
God is still God.
And when the enemy becomes beloved,
we will find that we are, too.
But who is my enemy? I still want to know.
Surely not you.
My enemy is not the one who is different from me.
My enemy is the fact that we are indifferent
at times to the enemy of God.
And who is God’s enemy?
God’s enemy is everyone and no one.
God’s enemy is the space between us where there is injustice, suffering, and indifference.
Sometimes I can act as the enemy,
sometimes you can.
Always we can
rise above and beyond as children of the Living God!
And the key – Jesus tells us – is with the enemy.
First we must love the one in the mirror.
Then we must love the one we have named as enemy.
And then we must love the one that has named us as enemy.
If we can do this – no, when we do this,
even though we are at risk
we are held by the promise of life!
Life without restraint,
because life itself is holding us!
For you and I and all of our enemies are beloved by God.
Glory be to God that we can love in spite of fear!
Glory be to God that our ordinary lives can be made holy through love!
Glory be to God that God is God, and we are not!
Amen. Amen. Amen.