Leaders, Heroes, and Love Under Fire

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US Army Capt. William Swenson (far right).
Photo: US Army.

Genesis 45:3-11
Luke 6:27-38

Sometimes in preaching, allowing yourself to jump headfirst down a proverbial rabbit hole is the best way to get into the text. 

This week, as I was doing research for our retreat, I watched one video recommended by a member of the bishop’s staff. I loved that video — the first one we watched yesterday about “finding your why” — then I saw that there were related videos, as there often are, listed below that. The title of this video, also by speaker Simon Sinek, was called “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe.” Intrigued, I clicked. He began with a story, which I’ll tell you now.

It’s about a man called Captain William Swenson, who was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on September 8, 2009. On that day, Captain Swenson was part of a column of American and Afghan troops making its way to protect a group of Afghan government officials who would be meeting with some local village elders. And on that day, these American and Afghan troops were ambushed, surrounded on three sides. 

Captain Swenson earned his medal of honor by running into live fire to rescue the wounded and pull out the dead. One of the people he rescued was a sergeant, and they made their way towards a medevac helicopter. By coincidence, one of the medics had a GoPro on his helmet that day, and he captured the whole scene on camera. Captain Swenson and his fellow soldier haul their badly injured comrade into the helicopter. And then the captain did a remarkable thing. He leaned over and kissed the sergeant on top of the head before turning back to go and rescue more. It was tender, almost parental, as if the captain was putting a child to bed.  

Sinek pauses and poses the question: “Where do people like that come from?”

He says, in the military, they give medals to people who are willing to sacrifice themselves so that others may gain. In most of the rest of the world: business, politics, and your everyday offices — we reward people who are willing to sacrifice others so that we may gain.

Sinek posits at first that maybe people who are attracted to professions like the military are just better people. But of course, that can’t be right. Certainly not everyone who has ever served in the military or any helping profession is like that, exactly, and people like that exist in the business and political world, too, if you know where to look. 

The conclusion? “You’ve got to get the environment right.” It’s not the person, really, it’s what the person has learned from the culture and the organization. We all have this capacity, and others do too, if the culture in a place is right. When such heroes are asked why they do these extraordinary things, they often respond with a similar phrase: “they would’ve done it for me.” (1)

That’s why good leaders make us feel safe; they have us believing that we should care what they think and follow and protect them because they will do the same for us. Think of the best boss or coach you’ve ever had. Why did you love them? I’m willing to bet it is, among other things, because you knew they’d stick their neck out for you, too.

Right, but, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same” (Luke 6:32-33). There’s Jesus, keepin’ it real. 

There’s also Joseph, in the Old Testament passage for today, and on the cover of your bulletin. His act of forgiveness certainly wasn’t because he expected that his brothers would do the same for him. Last he saw them, they were throwing him into an actual pit and selling him into slavery and telling their dad he died. Siblings, amIrite?

Well, as far as I can tell, you’ve got two choices for this. First, you can keep your enemy as your enemy and treat them well exclusively out of self-interest. You might’ve noticed a local church nearby whose sign says, “Love your enemy; it will drive him nuts!” 

In the same vein, former Emory professor John H. Hayes writes in his quintessentially Southern book, If You Don’t Like the Possum, Enjoy the Sweet Potatoes, “Feed your enemy: it’s always harder to fight with a full stomach.” Hayes quotes the Egyptian Instruction of Amenompe from more than a thousand years BCE, “which admonished a person in treating an enemy to ‘fill his belly with bread of yours, so that he will be satisfied and ashamed.’” Or as Hayes himself puts it, just as your mother told you to wait half an hour between eating and swimming, “The same perspective should be applied to relations with your enemies: keep them stuffed and they may avoid excessive exertion, like military activity.” (2)

There’s nothing wrong with self-interest, either; some of our greatest economic achievements and inventions have been borne out of self-interest. It’s not like Henry Ford or Thomas Edison were exactly philanthropists. Even the best political arguments, in addition to being humane, take into account the self-interest of the people — the left and the right strive to do this all the time. You could even argue that Joseph forgave his brothers partly out of self-interest; making peace with them enabled him to see his beloved father Jacob again. The Golden Rule, which appears in the Gospel text for today, you know — “Do unto others as you would have them do to you” — assumes that you want to be treated well. No one wants to follow around a masochist who abides by the golden rule.

That being said, I’ve often found myself driving by church signs that say things like “love your enemy — it’ll drive him nuts!” yelling, THAT’S NOT THE POINT!

Because no matter how self-interest can work for us, love takes us beyond self-interest into something deeper. 

A lot of us have favorite Scriptures that help us make sense of other Scriptures. We all do it, from the most conservative evangelical to the most liberal Christian you can find. You may even have your own. For me, it’s Matthew 25, when Jesus talks about the sheep and the goats and says that everything turns on how we treated “the least of these.” It’s a famous, revolutionary kind of sentence: God incarnate says, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these, you did it to me.” Naturally, Jesus knows, his followers want to treat him like a VIP. Imagine a President or Prime Minister telling the people of her country, “Treat the poor and the homeless like you would treat me.” Put them in a limousine. Protect them with your life. Listen to what they have to say the way you would listen to me. 

That’s what Jesus is getting at. It’s a radical, almost impossible proposition, and it’s exactly what Jesus says: treat the most low the way you would treat me. 

I think this also applies to our enemies. 

What if we lived in the kind of world where when your enemy is injured, you risk your life to bring him to safety, and before you leave him in the ambulance and send him off to the hospital, you lean down and kiss him on the forehead? What if we treated everyone with this kind of tenderness?

Simon Simek is right. It really is about the environment. As we’re thinking as a church about what it is that we have to offer the world, I offer you this: what if we were the kind of environment that produces people like Captain Swenson? The kind where we do things for one another because we know that the other would do it for us? Where we steep in that kind of trustworthiness, so much that we are inclined to treat everyone with trust and respect, even our enemies? What if our mission, our big picture, was the same as Jesus’ in this passage: to make the world a more trustworthy place?

“Give,” Jesus says at the end of the Gospel passage, “and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” 

No matter how it sounds, it’s not a latte recipe. It’s solid life advice. By daring to show love and care to everyone — whether you’re “supposed” to love them, or whether they deserve it, or not — you make the world a more trustworthy place. 

Before Captain Swenson put that sergeant in the helicopter, I’m betting that he did not stop to inquire whether the sergeant was a good solider. Of course he is; he’s one of his people. That kind of trust only comes from love. In the same way, Jesus doesn’t stop to inquire whether we’re worthy before dragging our butts out of whatever it is we’ve found ourselves in. 

As we should do for one another, so Jesus does for us: we are rescued, we are loved, we are brought here, we are offered water and wine and bread and words of hope, and we are kissed, gently, on the forehead, because we belong to God. Thank goodness. Amen.

1. You can watch Simon Sinek’s whole “Why Good Leaders Make Us Feel Safe” TED Talk by clicking here.
2. John H. Hayes, If You Don’t Like the Possum, Enjoy the Sweet Potatoes, Cascade Publishing, 2009, p. 13.

Blessings and Woes: Teenagers, Tragedy, Trees, & Grace

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The trees outside Our Savior’s Lutheran Church. Blessed are these trees that are barren, for soon they will see spring. 

Jeremiah 7:5-10
Psalm 1
Luke 6:17-26

“I feel broken, I feel defeated. Right now in my mind, it’s not going to be fine.”

These are words spoken to a New York Times reporter, Jack Healy, by a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School three weeks after last year’s shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed seventeen people. Jack had gone down to Florida to interview a group of freshman girls who had been in the first classroom that the shooter had entered: classroom 1216. 

Clare Toeniskoetter, the producer of the New York Times’ podcast The Daily, came along and produced the episode that Jack did these interviews for. Since then, Clare says, she hasn’t stopped thinking about those freshman girls. “I thought about them every time there was another mass shooting, I thought about them on election night, and I’ve thought about them pretty much every time I’ve seen a group of teenagers.” 

Clare isn’t alone in being deeply impacted by the students at the Parkland high school. What happened in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day last year is, if a congregation can collectively have a worst nightmare, ours. So many in our congregation, as most of you know well, are educators themselves, parents or grandparents of teenagers, or both.

Ahead of the one year anniversary of the shooting, Clare went back to interview this group of girls, now sophomores. The anniversary of the shooting was Thursday, and on that day, The Daily centered on these girls and what they’ve been through and where they are now, one year later (1).

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:21). 

When I listened to The Daily, as I do every morning, I had been struggling all week to come up with some answer for today’s Gospel text. The text itself is known as the sermon on the plain, you know, as opposed to the more famous sermon on the mount. If Jesus Christ’s album has a B Side, this is it. 

We’re used to the “blesseds” from the Sermon on the Mount, but the Sermon on the Level Place gives us their shadow sides: the “woes.” I’ve talked before about our tendency to make everything Jesus says into a story about heaven and hell, when in reality, the New Testament is mostly concerned with how we live this side of eternity.

I think the same is true of this text. While debates have been raging on social media lately about whether it’s moral to be a billionaire when so many people are hungry, Jesus remarks, “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” So is the debate over? Is this a Jesus-given condemnation of the rich? 

You could certainly read it that way, if you want, but you’ll also notice that people who laugh are equally condemned right below that, so I only recommend subscribing to that interpretation if you have no sense of humor. It takes us right back to Puritanism: don’t laugh on Sunday; you’ll go to hell! 

No, I think the answer is much simpler: we all experience the fullness of life. There’s no escaping pain, or joy, or ridicule, or embarrassment or shame or love. You’re alive, so you’re going to get it all, in seasons. 

Let’s go back to the scene: Jesus is walking through the crowd. They’ve come from all over, Luke tells us: from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. In our own terms, it’s as if you’ve got a great crowd from all New England, from Boston, the coast of New Hampshire and Rhode Island, and west from the Berkshires. They gather from all over the region to hear him and be healed of their diseases, Luke says, and those who are being tortured by unclean spirits are healed. The crowd is clamoring to touch Jesus, because just touching God’s body is enough to heal you. And then Jesus Christ looks up and begins to speak.

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, exclude you, and say all kinds of stuff about you. That’s what their ancestors did to the prophets.

But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”
  (Luke 6:20-26, paraphrase)

No matter what you’ve heard from TV preachers, good fortune is not to be confused with God’s blessing. Your poverty and sadness and seeming failure are not because of your unbelief. And in the same way, your faith in God cannot save you from weeping; faith only means that you know that God is with you in your tears. 

When Clare Toeniskoetter, New York Times reporter, interviewed the Parkland students one year later, it was just as heartbreaking as the year before. That’s not because these students are any different than the fifteen year olds we know personally; it’s heartbreaking because they are, in many ways, the same. 

They are the same, yet they’re different, and not because of the political action of their peers. There is a wisdom about these girls, though they’re clearly still teenagers, figuring out how to do life, make relationships, endure heartbreak. They spoke of needing closure, of missing and still mourning their friends, of becoming impatient and often furious with the incoming freshmen who do not understand what it was like to be there on the day of the shooting. They describe their childhood as ending that day. Though they’re still fifteen and sixteen, they have an adult’s understanding of the fullness of life: violence, death, weeping, closure, laughter, new beginnings. The seasons of life.

The psalm and the Jeremiah lesson both speak of humanity as trees, and of faith as being planted by streams of water. Jeremiah says, “[This tree planted by the water] shall not fear when the heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:8). I grew up in a climate not unlike the one that Jeremiah existed in — one that’s usually quite warm, where trees never lose all their leaves, even in winter.

Here’s what living in New England has taught me: the tree planted by the water will not escape the fullness of the seasons. The trees outside this building have lost their leaves through no fault of their own, exposing bare branches that reach up towards the sky. These branches look like the veins of our lungs, connecting us earth creatures, as Genesis 2 calls us in Hebrew, to all the life around us. 

Blessed is the bare tree, for soon it will sprout new life. 

But woe to the tree beautiful with autumn color, for winter will strip it bare.

What Jesus is getting at, I think, is this: if you are rich, if you are popular, if you have plenty to eat, if you’re full of joy, don’t confuse that for God’s presence. For the day is surely coming when you may have to sweat paying your bills, when you are hungry, when you will weep, when people will hate you. None of these things means that God has abandoned you.

And Jesus is also saying that, as it has been said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Blessed are you if your life is hard, for God is with you, and a season of joy will come again — either in future years or in eternity.

God is still in the midst of hurting people who still dare to clamor near to hear healing words. God is still in the midst of us at the table, offering his body for healing.

We who gather here are like trees planted near to the water of God’s words of life. None of us will escape the winter; it will come. But the water of new life keeps flowing. God is still in the midst of the people, healing our wounds, driving away the unclean spirits, these days and maybe always mostly voices in our heads that say that we will always be bare and left wanting, that we’ll only be worthy of love if we try hard enough.

I long for a world without suffering, and I’m betting you do too. If you came here to hear answers about why suffering exists, the adult ed Genesis students already know that I have none, nor does any theologian. I do not know why a very different tree exists in the Garden of Eden story, tempting humankind to destruction. None of us really knows, and those who pretend to know are faking it. God alone understands this riddle.

The reality beyond guessing is that winter comes for all of us. At some point, we are all stripped bare of leaves, exposed to the cold, not knowing why. 

But the water keeps flowing. God remains. 

So whatever season you find yourself in this morning, draw near. God’s body is here for you in bread and wine. Water and nourishment are here in words of life.

When that group of now sophomore girls from Parkland gathered to talk to the New York Times reporter one year later, one of them remarked, as they audibly munched on snacks, “I feel like this is like when you see a movie, and they’re like ‘ten years later,’ and [the characters] have cut their hair and stuff — this feels like that.” 

The other girls giggled. One said, “I have changed my hair.” 

They talked about the shooting, yes. But they are sixteen. They have so much life ahead of them, and that much is evident. They lamented that their friends should be there, too, but they aren’t. The girls also talked about college, and life after, and what it’ll be like to be [gasp!] twenty, looking back.

There will be many more seasons for all of them. 

These kids are certainly not the only ones hurting in America, not the only shooting victims, and many more in much poorer communities see gun violence every single day. The Parkland kids are not the only ones who have seen pain. 

What they do, though, along with many others, is remind us of the strength of the human spirit. What they do is to remind us of the importance of having someone around you who understands what you’ve been through. What they do is remind us to stay connected to the waters of new life. Hope, as they say, still springs eternal. 

“I feel broken, I feel defeated. Right now in my mind, it’s not going to be fine.”

At some point we have all uttered something similar. And if we haven’t, we will. The good news is that, whether we laugh or cry, Christ is in the midst of us, loving, healing, and bidding us to do the same: to walk with each other, to love, to heal. So let your branches grow strong. Whatever season you find yourself in, drink deeply of the good news of grace and love. Lean on each other when you need strength, for Christ’s body and healing presence are, were, and will be always, here, in the midst of the people. 

Thanks be to God. Amen.

1. You can listen to the entire episode of The Daily by clicking here.

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter: The Sermon

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Yeah. You know the stuff.

Isaiah 6:1-8
Luke 5:1-11

When you’ve got to drive a long way, how do you keep yourself awake and engaged?

I never thought I would know more than one person who stays awake on road trips by listening to and yelling back at hellfire and brimstone radio preachers. One of those people is me. The many others are everyone from seminary friends to people from my home church.

Those loud, angry radio preachers seem much more common in the South, but as you know, they’re naturally everywhere, including here, usually on the AM stations or the lower end of the FM dial. They draw their inspiration from passages like the Isaiah passage — “here am I; send me!” They volunteer to go preach the Gospel. To become, as stated in the Gospel passage for today, “fishers of men,” as the King James put it; the Gospel is the bait, the line is the radio waves, and the listeners are the fish. 

In those cases, I’ve always been one angry fish, doing nothing but shouting at the “bait.” 

Because by and large, it isn’t very good bait. It’s supposed to be Good News (the literal meaning of the word “Gospel”), but all I ever remember hearing is about what God would do to people who don’t follow the very narrow plan that God wants. It always seems less like Good News and more like bad news. It was as if someone told you that you were in grave danger and then said “wait, I have good news!” then gave you a ten thousand bullet point checklist for survival and told you that you had ten minutes to complete it. Well, they would say when you protest that this checklist is impossible: as the Good Book states, “narrow is the way, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14). 

Narrow is the way indeed, but I daresay not in the way that these preachers think. This sort of thinking — that we must be good in order for God to love us — is, in its final theological product, missing something pretty key that changes everything. Namely, God’s love. Namely, that this sort of thinking makes the Gospel into a story about how good Christians are for our herculean efforts to be “good” instead of a story about how good God is. That is a poor substitution indeed.

Let me continue to explain by way of cookies. 

My best friend from my hometown, Samuel, and I have been friends for years and years. One day, when Samuel was but a tender sophomore in high school, he set out to make homemade cookies.

The recipe he found, as most chocolate chip cookie recipes do, called for butter. Young Samuel opened his parents’ fridge and found none; his parents were on a diet, or something. Pushing aside some other condiments, however, Samuel found the hope of his young baker’s career: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. 

And so my dear Samuel used I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter in the cookie recipe. Everything seemed fairly normal, as it were, until the cookies were pulled out of the oven. 

What Samuel pulled out of the oven was, as the experienced bakers in the room already know, not cookies. The substance was charred and still liquid, which would lead to them running sideways down the pan when it was turned. If you ever need to know what happens when you use I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter in a chocolate chip cookie recipe, Samuel can tell you the answer: you get I Can’t Believe They’re Not Cookies.

I want to argue something very simple here: that when you preach the Gospel — which literally means “good news” — and substitute stuff we do for what God does, you’re going to end up with I Can’t Believe It’s Not Good News. Charred, burned, running down the pan. Not the Gospel.

Now, of course, there’s nothing wrong with doing good things. We’re called to love our neighbors and help them out, to be generally good humans in the world, to be kind and trustworthy and loving people. But that’s not why God loves us. “Good humans” is who we tend to become when we know we’re loved. People who know that they are loved are more themselves, more secure, more honest, more trustworthy.

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Good News gets that all backwards. 

God is exclusive in I Can’t Believe It’s Not Good News theology. Nothing about it seems very good, which seems strange for a God who, as we read in our Genesis study this morning, created everything and then danced over it exclaiming, “Very good! Very good!” 

I know, I know. Adam and Eve sinned and it messed it all up. (That’s next week’s study.) But over and over in the Bible, we’re reminded that God still loves us and calls us good and says what we are formed out of the dust in God’s own image. God still delights in us, so much that God became one of us and walked along the seashore calling not the best and brightest, but some ordinary fishermen. 

Yes, we are some messed up people. We, too, are pretty ordinary at best. What’s more, the world is sinful, but not in the way you might’ve heard on the radio. 

I can’t blame the radio preachers, really. The Isaiah passage ends with some pretty bad news, too. A frustrated God tells Isaiah that the people have been so unwilling to hear God’s voice of love that now they’re unable to hear it, and they’ve plunged into self-made destruction. That sounds familiar. The Bible calls us to “repent” — literally, turn around — for a reason.

But you see, I don’t think the world is sinful because there are gay guys and cusswords on TV sometimes. Besides not subscribing to that kind of spiritual violence, I don’t think God is so petty as to watch every moment of our lives for any sign of offense so that God can keep score and get God’s due later. No.

The world is sinful because people starve and have nothing — even clean water — because of the greed of others, and countless others die because of needless violence, both here in the US and abroad.

The world is sinful because we live in a culture that constantly tells us that we’re not created good, but that we need to earn our goodness by working hard enough and being good enough and being beautiful and thin and young forever. 

Never forget that in Hebrew, Satan, ha-satan, means “the accuser.” The voice that tells you that you are and always will be messed up and can’t ever earn God’s love — so you  either keep trying until you break and become angry and bitter, or you just give up on God and yourself.

Satan. The accuser.

I think I’ve heard Satan on the radio. And in my own head. I wager you have too. You’ve probably heard Satan in church at some point, too, telling you that you need to earn your way to God.

Listen to me and see what’s right here in front of us, as clear as the image of God imprinted in each of our hands and faces and feet and breath: the Gospel is good news, but not because of what you do. The Gospel is a story about God. The God who brought you into this world and gave you your first breath and the God who will see you safely into eternity still calls you good. 

God still calls you to see what’s right there: that you are beloved and you are called, not because you earned it, but because you were created from the dust and given God’s breath of life. You are beloved and you are called because you breathe. The real Good News is right there, as close as your next breath. 

As close as Jesus was to Peter when he tells him to cast those nets down one more time. Peter scoffs. That doesn’t make sense. He protests: we’ve been working so HARD! 

Just listen to Jesus, will you? And they cast that net on the other side and they got so many fish it was comical as they and the folks in the other boat struggled to get it all to shore. 

And that’s how it all began, this church thing.

I know, it sounds lazy or too good to be true, or something. Surely we have to do something. It’s not easy to believe — narrow is the way, because most people want to earn it. They logically think we have to do something to earn it. That’s how the world works, after all.  

But the road that says “work harder” is broad and leads to destruction and self-loathing. It’s why both Peter and Isaiah tried to scare God away by telling God how sinful they are. Every prophet in the Bible tries to scare God away somehow.

But God don’t scare easy. 

So here’s the bottom line: the next time you run out of butter, just step out to the store and get more butter. And the next time you’re on a road trip, or any other time you doubt God’s love and your own goodness, find something that helps you feel more you, more created by God, more beloved. You can believe this is good news, because it is.

Accept no substitutions.


Love Your Haters

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1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Luke 4:21-30

If you’re not a New England Patriots fan, I’m a little sorry. There is good news in this for you, too, but this sermon right here is what you might call Patriots-heavy. 

Because beloved, we have reached this, a holy day.
Today is Super Bowl Sunday. I came here to preach the Gospel, take the Eucharist, and pray for the church, the world, and Tom Brady’s arm. Anybody with me?

If you’ve been watching any of the Super Bowl coverage this week, you’ve probably seen that there have been several really fun, really good stories about the Patriots. There was the girl quarterback from New Hampshire who wears #11 in honor of receiver Julian Edelman. She’d been bullied in school for playing pee wee football, and when Julian got wind of it, he wanted to meet her. He got her tickets to the Super Bowl, too. 

Another one is this — during a press conference this week, they let kids ask questions, and one young Pats fan had a question for Tom Brady. The little boy asked the GOAT: “How do you concentrate when people say mean stuff about you?”

Brady smiled at the boy. “You mean the haters?” He said, laughing as the Pats-friendly crowd jeered the haters. “What do we do about the haters?” The quarterback paused and took in the crowd’s reaction, then he turned back to the young fan. 

“We love ‘em. We love the haters, okay — ‘cause we don’t hate back. That’s not who we are.” 

I was recounting this story to a friend this week, who despite all his good traits, is an Eagles fan, and he said, “I mean, I know sometimes Patriots fans mix up the two, but you know Jesus said that first, right?” 

Yeah, yeah, I know. The original GOAT, as we will call Jesus on this holy day, had his own set of haters, and you’ll find some of them in the Gospel text this week. I know that it’s easy to let your mind drift off during the Gospel reading — I know, because I used to do that before I had to read it myself — but did you miss Jesus almost getting thrown off a cliff by his haters?

What did Jesus say to make them so mad? Well, in a nutshell, he says that he doesn’t have to prove to them that he is who he says he is, and that God is ever active in the lives not of the powerful, or even those you would expect, but that God is most interested in the lives of outsiders — this one particular starving widow, and a Syrian — and a Gentile — named Namaan. You know, the usual good Gospel stuff that earns Jesus more haters.

Then Luke tells us that they were “filled with rage” and drove him right out of their synagogue, right out of their town, right to the brow of the hill that their town was built on, then they tried to throw him off. This is like if someone said from this pulpit that they were rooting for the Rams in the Super Bowl and it wasn’t enough to throw that person out of the building, but y’all ran them all the way to the bridge to Holyoke and tried to throw them off. 

Again, for the record: go Pats. 

So they try to throw the Son of God off a cliff. That’s generally a bad idea, I think. A Son of God, I imagine, has got to have some wicked cool superhero judo tricks up his sleeve. 

But what does Jesus do to his haters? He walks away. Jesus chooses love instead of hating back.

Luke just says he “passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” Two thousand years before New England’s GOAT would express the same sentiment to a kid at a press conference, the original GOAT, Jesus, will go on to preach, two chapters after this story in Luke and tell everyone what to do about the haters: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). Instead of choosing to hate back, Jesus says to choose love. 

I have to say what everyone here already knows: that is not easy.

The theme for today, kids, is love. The Gospel in a word is love. And it’s easy to love here, at Our Savior’s, surrounded by people who love you too. It’s easy to love your family when they give you what you want and generally treat you nicely. It’s easy to love strangers when they are kind to us. It’s easy to love your children and/or your significant other when they always pick up their socks and behave well. It’s easy to love the fans of other NFL teams when they don’t talk trash about your team. But New England fans know that that’s not always the case. 

Paul wrote some of the most famous words in Christianity, and we read them today. Most people, even if they haven’t been to church in years or ever, can recite them: “Love is patient; love is kind.” And if everyone in the whole world could be patient and kind, love would always be easy. 

But the truth is that everyone isn’t patient or kind. I’m not always patient or kind, and neither are you. I know that not because I think you’re bad people, but because I know you’re human just like me. And when I’m not being patient or kind, what I really need down in my soul is for somebody to love me in that moment — to see through the bitterness and anger and see the hurting person underneath, even when I make it nearly impossible. I heard a story on the radio recently about a woman who had had the worst day imaginable: everything in her world was falling apart. Then she went to the pharmacy to pick up her prescriptions and the employee was needlessly rude to her. Then another customer was rude to her. And something in this woman snapped. She flew into a blind rage, even pepper-spraying a fellow customer. 

She wasn’t a bad person. It’s just that everything boiled over all at once, and she couldn’t handle it anymore. What finally stopped her rage, she said, was a kind man who came towards her when everyone else had backed away. 

“What did he say?” The interviewer asked. 

The woman replied simply, “He just asked me what was bothering me.” 

That, my friends, is love. Fearless love. The kind that silences rage. 

Love is a choice. It’s a choice to see angry people as just people, and to choose to treat them better than they treat you. 

(A brief aside: this doesn’t mean that you have to be quiet about abuse. You’re not required to be quiet about someone who constantly acts destructively towards you. Sometimes the loving thing to do is to speak up against abuse.) 

But for the everyday haters, we can choose love. We can choose love because we’re all human. We’re all haters sometimes. And we deal with angry people all the time. But the haters are people, just like us. And people need love.

So before you get on social media tonight after we win the Super Bowl and start to fight with that random Patriots hater, and before Monday when you’re in traffic and someone cuts you off and then flips you off, and before Tuesday when a family member or friend or significant other pushes your buttons just right — before anyone else acts like a hater to you, just remember what Tom Brady and Jesus Christ told you. 

What do we do about the haters? “We love ‘em.” Because even haters are humans, and humans need love. And so do we. So choose love.

And go Patriots. Amen.