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All Saints’ Sunday C – November 6, 2022

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Bellingham

All Saints’ Sunday C – November 6, 2022

Luke 6:20-31

The Rev. Rachel Endicott

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

I was employed as a full-time priest when my kids were little, so they – along with many of their peers – want to day care during working hours. They ate, slept, learned to play, learned social skills, and did or learned many other things with their classmates. When my daughter was about two, she moved into a new room, changing the kids with whom she interacted. Not long after that, Megan came home with a clearly defined set of red, angry teeth marks on her arm and a note saying that she had been bitten by another child, the policy at the daycare being that the biter was not named. But I was pretty sure I knew who it was as there was a particular boy who had a reputation as a “biter”. Yet, she didn’t seem to be too disturbed about the bite and we continued on about our business as usual.

However, just a few days later, as I was walking down the hallway to her day care room to pick her up at the end of the day, I was handed a note. I assumed it was another note saying she’d be bitten again so I continued on. Yet as I was scooping her up from her class, I noticed that the reputed biter has a bite mark on his cheek. And, when I got home, I read the note – and guess what, Megan had indeed not been bitten, but had bitten someone! Although they didn’t say who it was, my mind flashed back to the bite mark on the boy’s cheek. I’m pretty sure that Megan – as a two-year-old – did not understand Jesus’ admonition to “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Instead, she was living under the premise that the best way to behave was to “Do to others as they have done to you.”

…as they have done to you. I’m wondering if our sense of frontier “justice” is just that? I wonder if our sense of “saving face” is just that? I wonder if our “natural” instinct to return anger and wrong to others is just that?

But, Jesus calls us to do something else. We are told “Do to others as you would have them do to you” – whether or not others are kind, gentle, giving, compassionate and more, perhaps especially so if they are not those things. And Jesus acknowledges that it is not easy. The examples that he gives to people, presumed to be the victims, as opposed to the victimizers, are hard. We are to allow people to lash out to us a second time. We are to offer more to those who take from us. We are to give our money and gifts to those who ask.

For the hearers and readers of the Gospel of Luke, the whole Gospel is predicated on the premise that God ‘s word actually favors the poor, hungry, weeping and despised. Remember how – early in Luke, we find the Magnificat in which Mary points out that the way of God is NOT the way of the world. In God’s realm, which is to be made manifest through Jesus’ birth, she notes that the powerful will be brought down and the hungry will be filled with good things. So there is hope here even in as much as the world sometimes seems to be a hard place.

Later on in the Gospel, we find today’s reading. Luke recounts the sermon on the level place (versus in Matthew it is on the mountain). Luke’s version has four blessings and four woes, rather than nine blessings. He contrasts poor with rich, hungry with full, weeping with laughing, and rejected with accepted. For those who spend lots of time in the Old Testament, you might find yourselves hearing a slight echo of the use of blessings and curses from Deuteronomy (11:26-28a). There, God puts before God’s people the following, “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn from the way that I am commanding you today…” So we find a similarity in blessings and curses, but there is also a significant difference. In Deuteronomy, the blessings and curses are contingent on the behavior of the people of God. This is not true in Luke.

And, indeed, back to Luke. After the blessings and woes are stated, we come to the section about loving our enemies. Our enemies. Couldn’t we just be commanded to love the people that love us? Couldn’t we just love our family members that love us (‘cause of course some family members don’t love us or perhaps aren’t so loveable)? Couldn’t we just love those who share our same political views, stances, and goals? Couldn’t we just love those who are themselves loving by nature?

But Jesus says to love our enemies. Jesus says to do good to those who hate us. Jesus says to bless those who curse you. Jesus even has the audacity to say that we should pray for those who abuse us. And I need to digress here for a moment…if you are being abused, you should leave the abuser – you can pray from afar, not from within the reach of the abuser.

Now some years ago, I would have read this portion of Luke’s Gospel entirely from my own white, European orientation. But now I have some other perspectives to add, particularly from Black clergy and people of color as they – those who have been victimized time after time – wrestle with these words.

Howard Thurman, in his book Jesus and the Disinherited has a whole chapter about reacting to being continuously placed up against the wall, being disinherited within our society. He does not argue for fighting one’s way out. Rather, his final chapter is about love. In it he asserts that “The religion of Jesus makes the love-ethic central.”1 He goes on to talk about how making the love-ethic central was – and is – difficult. Jesus knew the words of the Shema which pair loving God with loving “thy neighbor as thyself”. But it isn’t just the neighbor who Jesus calls others to love…Thurman notes it is the tax collector (as we heard last week), the Samaritan, and even the most despised enemy, the Roman. Remember the centurion who pleads with Jesus for help with his ill daughter? I wonder how easy it would have been for Jesus to say no because you are my enemy, you have oppressed my people, and you are not wanted here. But he says yes, because yes is the word of loving response.

And for those of us who aren’t the victims, we wrestle with the question of whether we’ve been the victimizer, either intentionally or unintentionally. And – if we acknowledge that we are, we must do the hard work of asking forgiveness, having empathy and being in solidarity with those whom we have victimized, and lastly about always, always following Jesus as we “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

But that isn’t easy. Sometimes even just asking for forgiveness is hard. Debby Irving, author of Waking Up White, tells a story of what might seem like a simple slight, but it is more because it reflects the unequal playing field on which we “play”. People of color not only learn their own cultural milieu, but also learn to recognize and live in the predominant white culture. They learn how to discern faces that look like them as well as the nuances of white faces. They learn parallel sets of vocabularies. They learn the media and art of the dominant culture. And they learn much, much more.

Irving writes, “One Friday afternoon…I’d been enjoying a new friendship with Rebecca, a black woman whose daughter played field hockey with my daughter. We gravitated toward one another on the side-lines at games…After the last game of the season, as we were standing in the field house, I asked Rebecca if her daughter was planning to do a winter sport. Instead of using her daughter’s name, however, I used the name of the other black girl on the team...In the moment before [Rebecca] gently corrected me, a look flashed across Rebecca’s face that let me know I’d mixed up the names.”2

After this conversation, Irving drives home, feeling horrified and sick, knowing how much mistaken identity means to black people. And it is only after much wrestling and conversation with her husband, with her husband saying that it’s no big deal as he mixes up his daughter’s friends names all the time, that she finally can no longer tolerate the discomfort and calls Rebecca and apologizes, apologizes not only for the slight, but for the much deeper implications behind the slight.

And perhaps it is good when discomfort drives us to do the right thing, to “do to others as you would have them do to you.” What loving things are you called to do? Which enemies are you called to love? For what do you need to ask for forgiveness? With whom do you need to be in solidarity?

And never forget, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”


1 Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2022 edition, p. 79ff (Kindle Edition).

2 Debby Irving, Waking up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, Cambridge, MA: Elephant Room Press, 2014, p. 224-226.

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