The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity


Ephesians 4: 1-6


Luke 14:1-11

…what thank have ye?
Fr. Peter Jardine's sermon

Jesus said to his disciples, As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.

My text today is Luke 6.31-38, which comes from what is known as “The Sermon on the Plain”. Much of the material corresponds to the great Sermon on the Mount in Mt. 5,6 and 7. Comparing and contrasting the two is interesting enough, but it is not what I want to do today, for what is really fascinating is the content of each. That content can be described by one word, revolutionary.

The English theologian and writer, John Stott, says of the Sermon on the Mount, “To my mind no two words sum up its intention better, or indicate more clearly its challenge to the modern world, than the expression ‘Christian counterculture’”. Indeed, that was what he called his wonderful book on the Sermon on the Mount. Sadly, the current issue of the book bears the much less dramatic title, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, which carries all over it the bland imprint of the politically correct brigades.

Dr. William Barclay says of both the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain, -they are a series of bombshells. They are quite unlike the laws which a philosopher or a wise man might lay down. Each one is a challenge.

Dr. Barclay continues, As Diessmann said, “They are spoken in an electric atmosphere. They are not quiet stars but flashes of lightning followed by a thunder of surprise and amazement”.

Jesus Christ gave us the most exhilarating, the most challenging, the most rewarding and, yes, the most revolutionary way of living ever to hit the human race. No wonder we need the Grace of God in order to embrace this Christian counterculture!

As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. The logic of that commandment is simple; the intent is clear. It is so easy to understand and so widely known that it has become almost a mantra even in societies which are only nominally Christian.

But that commandment is probably disobeyed more than most of our Lord’s commandments. Because, simple as it is, it is truly revolutionary, requiring of us something far removed from our natural inclinations. Likewise the rest of these verses.

For if ye love them that love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them. The King James Version translates the word thank from the Greek χαρις. Dr. Barclay gives the word a greater depth of meaning, translating it as special grace. If you love those who love you, his translation reads, what special grace is there in that?

In Barclay’s translation it is easier to see the involvement of God, the need for God. We may begin to suspect, rightly, that this word χαρις is very difficult to translate, for it is so full of nuance. Pastor Richard Wormbrand, in his book 100 Prison Meditations, asks the question thanks from whom? Evidently, he writes, from God. He thanks you if you can love those who do not love you. That most certainly is special grace.

Knowing full well that many will choke on the idea of God thanking humble men, Pastor Wormbrand points out that Jesus himself bowed in thanks to his apostles, who gave up everything for Him, and washed their feet.

However we translate and interpret χαρις and the words around it, the important thing is the commandment itself. Both Barclay and Wormbrand illuminate the difficulty in obeying our Lord’s injunctions in the Sermon on the Plain. To be truly revolutionary in this Christian sense, we need God’s Grace. We need to be filled with God’s Love and then to express it in the world around us.

It is not natural for us to love those who do not love us. It is not natural for us to do good to those who do bad things to us. It is not natural for us to lend with no expectation of receiving back what we lend and then some. Try that one on a bank!

And perhaps hardest of all, it is not natural for us to love our enemies.

But the Christian, of course, is called upon to step outside what is human and natural and to live by and within that great Christian counterculture. The Christian must live in and through God’s Love.

So Jesus, in Luke 6.31-35 teaches us about the essential goodness of love in the face of every evil. If we are to hunger after what is truly good, as we should, it is to be found only in that Love which flows from the inexhaustible fountain of all Love, the Holy Trinity. The greater the wickedness we face, the more the goodness of that love grows.

That is what Jesus means in the escalation shown between v32 and v35. For sinners also love those that love them, he says in v32. In v35 this becomes …love ye your enemies. Christian love does not back off in the face of greater evil. It gains power because it is Grace and ultimately it is united with God Himself, so that Love always opposes the devil’s work.

Blessed are ye that hunger now, for ye shall be filled, Jesus says in Luke 6.21. If we do not feel the presence of God’s Love, even though it is there, we are to hunger for it. If we cannot hunger for it, we must at least know that we should be hungering for it and pray for God, in his mercy, to kindle in us that hunger.

God will not deny us His Love and that Love will open our hearts to hunger after righteousness and to understand the message of Jesus.

Love ye your enemies and do good and lend, hoping for nothing in return.

God had to take me to Sudan to learn the meaning of those words. There in the hearts of the persecuted I found no trace of hatred for those who had made themselves their enemies. In those hearts I found only that hunger to know more about Jesus and to live as Jesus taught us to live.

They are far from perfect, these new Christians in Sudan and it would be wrong to romanticize their condition, but they certainly showed me the meaning of Luke 6.31-35.

We do not need to go to Sudan for such lessons. We can all think of someone who does not love us, and pray for the Grace which would allow us to love them. We can all think of someone who has cursed us, or committed some act of unkindness or downright evil toward us and we can pray for the grace of forgiveness. We can all think of someone to whom we can lend with no hope of return; someone who needs our time, our companionship, our caring, selflessly given.

Our ordinary daily lives present us with countless opportunities for living by the Gospel. It has to be that way because God knows that most of our lives will be just that – ordinary, and He has presented us with the way in which He wants us to make them extraordinary. Through the Grace of God we can live our lives in that Christian counterculture, living as Christian revolutionaries and soldiers of Christ. We can be God’s flashes of lightning, leaving the thunder of amazement behind us.

As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. Love ye your enemies.

St. Augustine said, Many have learned how to offer the other cheek, but do not know how to love him by whom they were struck. That is the special grace, the χαρις for which we Christians must hunger.

These words of St. Augustine and the teaching of Jesus in Luke 6 have had seasons of special relevance throughout recorded history. They do so again today in the modern onslaught against Christianity. Let me illustrate that and finish, with another quote from John Stott’s book, words written in 1880 by one A.F.C. Villmar,

This commandment, that we should love our enemies and forego revenge, will grow even more urgent in the holy struggle which lies before us…The Christians will be hounded from place to place, subjected to physical assault, maltreatment and death of every kind. We are approaching an age of wide-spread persecution…Soon the time will come when we shall pray…It will be a prayer of earnest love for these very sons of perdition who stand around and gaze at us with eyes aflame with hatred, and who have perhaps already raised their hands to kill us…Yes, the Church which is really waiting for its Lord, and which discerns the signs of the times of decision, must fling itself with its utmost power and with the panoply of its holy life, into this prayer of love.

For if ye love them that love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them. Love ye your enemies.

With every day that passes, our obedience to these commandments is being put more and more to the test. Let us pray for God’s grace that we be not found lacking.

And now to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion and power from this time forth for evermore.

Peter Jardine.
Seventeenth Sunday After Trinity, 2004