This year, I entered new territory: I’m coaching my son’s eight and under basketball team at the Y. I’ve coached swimming (six year olds to high school students), soccer, and baseball before, but basketball has been… different. Some of its the pace of the game, the sometimes chaotic nature of kids playing a game with a bouncing ball! But the practice becomes paramount, when we can slow down what’s happening and do drills that reinforce ideas to prepare for game time scenarios.
Drills aren’t game experience but they are when we go over and dissect what the team should do during the game. It doesn’t always work right away; often it takes practice, repetition, and focus. But ultimately, we’re hoping to execute the drills when it comes to the game. Those are the principles we’re aiming for to execute the process.
In our Scripture today, Jesus lays out the principles of what the kingdom of God is all about. Luke encapsulates, in twenty-eight verses, a core of what Jesus teaches about throughout the gospels. In Matthew, this is called “the Sermon on the Mount.” Luke begins with the “blessings and woes,” often called the Beatitudes, and moves into some deeper understanding of how Jesus wants his followers to behave, and value.
Notice that Luke is quick to point out that a great number of people have come to hear him and be healed. These people want to touch Jesus because everyone who was around him was getting better. They knew he was something special so they wanted to experience him. Because they were so moved by what he had done they wanted to know how to be like him. Jesus’ actions proved that he was worthy of their attention, so they settled in to learn about his message. It’s like an old missions professor taught me, “first you care for what they know they need (being made well), and then you share your message (the gospel).” Or, to put it more colloquially, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
So, here’s Jesus, having healed many, surrounded by them now, these people clamoring for more of Jesus and what he has to say, and he says,
“Blessed are you poor people, because the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you hungry people because you will be full. Blessed are you who cry now in mourning, because you will laugh. Blessed are you when you’re criticized and beaten on because you follow me, because your reward is still coming.”
“Woe to the rich because you already got what you wanted. Woe to the full, because you’ll be hungry later. Woe to those who laugh because you will be sad and mourn. Woe to you if everyone speaks well of you because your praise is from people.”
Jesus provides comfort to those who are without – and challenges those who think they have it all to consider whether or not they’re focused on the right thing. For those who have been here this year, you know I preached a whole series on the Beatitudes this summer. Those are tricky sayings in that they ask us to explore our own hearts and situations: a poor person could have a corrupt heart, a rich person could have a giving heart. And vice versa.
But three things Jesus says in this sermon that follow are what I’ll focus on today. They’re valuable pieces of advice from Jesus – but they’re more than that. They’re like the pass, the shot, and the rebound. Or is it the preparation, the game, and the victory? They make for pretty good tshirts if we’d boil them down to slogans. They are the types of things where Jesus often says, “you have heard it said but I say…” Even ‘back in the day,’ these things would’ve been countercultural, against the norm.
The first: “But to you who are listening, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Turn the other cheek. If someone wants your coat, give them your shirt, too. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Just loving those who love you is not good enough – everyone can pull that off.”
Love my enemies. Who are my enemies? Are they people I know by name or are they groups or organizations, countries? In this day and age, it seems like they could be both. Some of them choose me- and some of them I have alienated by the way I acted, knowingly or unknowingly.
It’s our Godgiven right society says, to fight back, take revenge, have our precious two cents and a pound of flesh. And Jesus shows up and says, if they hit you on one side, let them hit you on the other.
It’s natural says science, that we avoid those who hurt us, that we lash out. And Jesus says we should pray for those who hurt us, that we should want the very best for them, that we should seek to serve those who hurt us. To be honest, this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever read that Jesus said. I don’t want go to that effort. But that’s what Jesus says we should do.
That is what Jesus says is best for us.
And he’s right. When I forgive others, I feel better. When I hold a grudge, I feel worse. When I act out vengeance, it creates a bigger problem; when I forgive… I start to see the way that God sees the world.
When I was working with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the group made up a Tshirt that had “love God, love others” on the front and “worry about the rest later” on the back. Jesus doesn’t want us to categorize and divide who’s an enemy and who’s a friend- he wants us to love them all
The second: “Don’t judge or condemn, but forgive. Why are you criticizing that person’s speck when you have a plank in your own way?”
Don’t judge. I make judgments on a regular basis. I judge that Coke is better than Pepsi, that Duke is better than North Carolina. But Jesus is talking about something deeper, something more subversive than that.
Jesus wants us to consider who we judge as being worth value or not. Jesus asks us how we determine the importance of a human life.
Jesus wants us to remember that we’ve sinned and fallen short of God’s glory- that we’re all sinners. Your sin, my son, everyone else’s sin- there’s no hierarchy. All sin separates us from the fullness of God’s love. So if we’re judging others, we’re playing God- a role we can’t play. A role we’re not meant to play. Jesus wants us to recognize our place as God’s loved, made-in-the-image heirs to the kingdom, NOT the judge, jury, and executioner of someone else’s missteps.
I have a shirt that about sums it all up: it says “love the sinner. Hate the sin.” But then all the words except for love are crossed out.
The third: “A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit. What’s in your heart shows up in the way you act- whether good or evil – and how you talk reflects your heart, too.”
My life and voice should reflect my beliefs. We stay a lot of good things on Sundays. “God bless you.” “I love you.” “Jesus loves you.” “I’ll be praying for you.” But does what we say on Sunday match what we do, how we act, vote, spend our money, etc. throughout the week? Does our “love everyone” extend seven days a week?Does our knowing we’re sinful yet forgiven extend to the way we embrace the forgotten, rejected, and untouchable?
Do we talk about and live out the things we say we believe? Cory Booker wrote, “Don’t speak to me about your religion; first show it to me in how you treat other people. Don’t tell me how much you love your God; show me in how much you love all His children. Don’t preach to me your passion for your faith; teach me through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell or preach or teach, as I am in how you choose to live and give.”
We all have an audience- our spouses, our children, our brothers and sisters, our parents, our neighbors, our coworkers, our friends, … And those we encounter in the street. Aren’t all of those folks our neighbors that we’re supposed to be loving? Aren’t they potentially our enemies we’re supposed to love too?
What would that Tshirt look like? “I’m playing for an audience of one but sometimes my song is tone deaf”? Or would “work in progress, child of God in training” sum it up?
Jesus knows we’re not perfect but scuffed up and maybe a bit cracked. And yet grace shows up and whispers, “there’s a better way: follow Jesus.”
The Jesus who wants you to love. To forgive. To serve. To live.
The Jesus who died on the cross for your sins.
The Jesus who rose from the dead to set us free.
So we run the drills. Practice the shots. Study the plays. Live the ‘game’ from the coach’s instructions.
Practice makes perfect? May God’s grace grow us ever closer!