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Growing up in Love

“Growing Up In Love”

February 12, 2023 - Cobleskill United Methodist Church, Pastor Anna Blinn Cole

Matthew 5:38-48

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany (Using Seventh Sunday scriptures)

Scouting and Camping Sunday

Matthew 5:38-48 (from The Message)

Love Your Enemies

38-42 “Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the supple moves of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” ______________

We’re going to start this message time today a little differently. We’re going to start with a game of Simon Says. Except when I tell you to do something, you have to do the opposite of what I tell you.

Simon says, raise your right arm.

Simon says, stomp your left foot.

Simon says, shake your head side to side.

Simon says, stand up.

Simon says, sit down.

Was that hard. Why? You had to twist your mind around doing the opposite of the command you were hearing. It did not come naturally.

What also I found interesting is that there was a lot of interpretation on what the “opposite” action would be.

Well, as it turns out doing the opposite thing, however it is we interpret that, is kind of what our message today is all about.

For the last few weeks, we’ve been reading excerpts from Jesus’ most famous sermon, something called “The Sermon on the Mount.” In the section we heard today from our Girl Scout readers, Jesus covers one of the hardest topics of all. He’s talking about how in life sometimes other people treat us badly.

Jesus gives us a few examples of ways people can be mean. Sometimes they hit us. Sometimes they try to take something from us when it’s not fair. And sometimes they try to make us do something that’s hard that we don’t want to do. These are just the things Jesus mentions, but I bet you could add to the list of things people try to do to you that are mean-spirited. Sometimes we call these people bullies. They seem to enjoy making our life harder. They’ll even laugh at our mistakes, or call us mean names, or make fun of us because of the things we like or things about ourselves we just can’t help. We have bullies in school. We have bullies at work. We have bullies in politics. We have bullies in international affairs. Bullies are everywhere. Jesus had bullies, too. And Jesus saw that a lot of his friends and followers were being bullied, too.

So if I had to guess, I would bet Jesus spent a lot of time thinking about why bullies are bullies. Why do people do mean things to other people? And how can we make this stop? In his day a lot of folks relied on an old saying that went like this to resolve mean behavior: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” meaning if someone does something mean to you, you have the right to do something mean back. The law of retaliation. If they hurt you in your eye, you can hurt them in their eye. This old saying explains a lot of what still happens in our world. When we see someone being mean, we want them to get a taste of their own “medicine.” It’s only fair, we think. People who are mean deserve meanness in return.

The only thing is, where does it stop? Someone’s mean to me. So I’m mean back. And then they’re mean back and I’m mean back and suddenly we’re caught up in this never-ending cycle of bad endings. This didn’t seem like the answer to Jesus.

That’s why Jesus decided to flip the script. Jesus decided the best way to stand up to bullying was to do the opposite of what the bully expected in the first place. When someone does something mean, they might expect you to be mean in return. But instead, do the opposite of what they expect. Surprise them with behavior that doesn’t continue what they started. Let them know you are better than an “eye for an eye.” And while Jesus give us several examples of what opposite behavior to bullying can look like, what I love from our Simon Says game was that there are lots of ways to be opposite.

If someone’s being mean, one very good response is to walk away and get help. That’s one kind of opposite. If someone’s being mean, another very good opposite is to be honest and tell them how it makes you feel. If someone’s being mean, another very good opposite behavior is to actually be kind back to them. This will be very confusing and it will feel unnatural, like raising your right hand when you’re being told to raise your left. But I think Jesus was on to something here. An eye for an eye, and the whole world goes blind. If we want the world to be a better place, we have to stand up to the bullying with its opposite. Love.

Love gets a lot of attention this time of year. We associate it with the colors of red and pink, chocolates and flowers. But the kind of love Jesus is talking about is much different than romance. When Jesus says love your enemies, he’s is talking about a kind of love that undermines their bullying. A kind of love that flips the script. A kind of love that changes a bad situation into something better. This kind of love looks like standing up for yourself and those around you by refusing to play the “game” of meanness. This kind of love looks like being brave enough to do something kind for someone who only knows how to be mean.

Even the smallest actions can start to flip the script. I recently heard about a Girl Scout in Tennessee that noticed bullying was a huge problem in her school. She wanted to do something to help so, as part of a Girl Scout project, she started a putting post-it notes around the school with compliments on them. “You’re doing great!” one said. “You can do it!” “You make this world an amazing place” “You are loved” “I appreciate you.” She put these post-it notes all over her school. Messages the were opposite from the bullying behavior the school was so used to. Soon it took off. And people were moving the post-it notes around and giving them to each other. One girl was able to make a difference in her school by flipping the script.

I wish I could say that life would be completely free of hard things. But I can’t do that. Part of growing up means facing unpleasant situations. The question is not when we’ll be in tough situations, the question is how we’ll respond. When they go low, can you go high? Jesus is rooting for you to rise above and be the better person. This is how we grow up in our love and it’s something we’ll be practicing our whole lives.

Let us pray.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Anna

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