On a Radical Vision for Humankind: Part II
February 20, 2022
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“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. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most
High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, 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.”
Today’s sermon is titled On a Radical Vision for Humankind: Part II.
I have been captivated by the Winter Olympics, completely swept up in the elation and in the devastating disappointments of so many athletes. When they cry, I cry, and in those moments I feel as if I tap into something much greater, much deeper, than myself. I am carried away in some of the strongest emotional tides in our human experience…nervous anticipation, fierce determination, triumph, loss and defeat.
One of the most dramatic stories I’ve heard from this year’s games centers around Mateus Sochowicz, a competitor in the luge. He is from Poland. “Three months ago, in November 2021, Mateusz Sochowicz had barely launched himself from the start handles for a test run at the Olympic venue when he spied a terrifying sight up ahead: a metal barrier that should’ve been open but was instead closed. Thinking quickly and tapping into his childhood background as a downhill skier, the 25-year-old let go of his sled, stood into a crouch position as he was
careening down the track and attempted to springboard over the gate. Instead he struck it, fracturing his left kneecap and suffering such deep cuts on his right leg that an 8-inch section of bone was exposed.”
“At first, Sochowicz was predictably furious. He ripped course management for its ‘great incompetence,’ not only for forgetting to open the barrier but also the medical attention that he received. Later, he recounted lashing out at one of the first responders…” and admitted making very offensive racist comments that I will not repeat here. After surgery in Bejing, Sochowicz returned to Poland to start his rehabilitation for body, mind and spirit. He was bitterly resentful. An investigation was launched into the error that could have cost him his life, had he hit the metal gate while still on his sled.
Sochowicz “started working with a Polish team psychologist, who helped him realize that what had happened was an accident and led him to release the blame he was holding for those whose errors caused it. ‘This experience lifted me above stereotypes and taught me exactly not to judge people by the cover.’” His goal was to return to the Olympics and compete, knowing full well that he would have to once again face the people he had so deeply offended; he would have to stand at that starting gate and face his fears. Sochowicz made it back there. He says, “I wanted to come back to show that nothing is impossible.”
After the trauma of surgery or injury, experts work with us to learn exercises and therapies to repair and heal and restore. What our teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, offers today is a very similar list of exercises and therapies to repair and heal and restore our spirit and soul. We are offered the second part of what we studied last week, Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain, from the sixth chapter of Luke. You may be familiar with the (more famous) Sermon on the Mount found in the Gospel of
Matthew; these are the same teachings. The author of Matthew has Jesus preaching from the Mount of Olives and Luke says Jesus “came down to a level place” so this set of teachings has become known as the Sermon on the Plain.
There are at least half-a-dozen sermons that one could craft around this set of teachings. Just for fun this week I went through the teachings and wrote down all the verbs that Jesus used and it came out very much like a list of the Ten Commandments, except instead of “Thou shalt not…” the teachings come to us mostly in the affirmative, “Thou shalt…” There are eleven, in order here, as follows: Love Do Good Bless Pray Offer Give Do to others as you would have them do to you Expect nothing Be Merciful Judge not Forgive.
I have been reading this list over and over again all week long. What I am beginning to understand, what I am beginning to sense in it, is Jesus’s aim to liberate us, to free us from the confines of hate, resentment, worry, withholding, grievance, expectation, judgment and guilt. Prisons have no bars that hold us like those can. Even one imprisoned can be free in mind and spirit and know true peace but the same does not hold true for those trapped in a prison of their own making, trapped in their own fear, hatred, and guilt.
Jesus came with a message of liberation for all of humankind. Jesus came with a radical vision for what could be. He called it the reign of God, translated for us (unfortunately) as the kingdom of God. In his life as a nomadic preacher and teacher and healer he would eventually be moved to minister to all people, across every divide, those whom others deemed worthy and unworthy, chosen and unchosen, clean and unclean, righteous and unrighteous, Jew and Gentile, man and woman alike.
At the core of his message is forgiveness. If there is one act that affords us the most complete sense of liberation it is forgiveness, forgiveness offered and forgiveness received. One of the most important phrases in biblical literature, in my opinion, are the words from the cross, “Forgive them…they know not what they do.” This is radical forgiveness, Friends. The
capacity to forgive takes Olympic-level training. I wish I could ask Mateusz Socowicz what was
most difficult, learning to walk again or returning to the place where he came so close to death and the place where he spoke such hurtful, racist insults and accusations.
“Turn the other cheek” is a phrase all too familiar to us and before I close, I want to take a minute to offer you what might be another interpretation. I am sure you can imagine that, as a Minister, the work of forgiveness is central in so many situations that people seek help with. The advice to “Turn the other cheek” has been used, and misused in my opinion, in detrimental ways as if to offer oneself up for more injury is somehow a pious and selfless act. This is a grave misinterpretation, in my opinion, that does nothing to clear the way for forgiveness, healing or restorative justice. Along the same lines is the advice, “Forgive and forget,” which is not found
in the Bible, by the way.
To me, Friends, “turn the other cheek” is a reminder that when I have been hurt or wronged, I will not expose that wounded part of myself again to the same injury. I will turn the other cheek and I will take up the difficult work of forgiveness, but I will not forget, nor will I advise others to forget. When Mateusz Socowicz stepped up to the starting line for his Olympic luge run last week, I am certain he looked down the track to make sure the metal barrier was open. And I imagine that he made an extra effort to be amiable to the citizens of China.
In closing, I lift up the work of forgiveness. May we be courageous in our asking for forgiveness and gracious in our offering. Jesus of Nazareth has shown us, in his life and in his death, how forgiveness can liberate us from our greatest fears and our deepest regrets. So be it. Amen.
“It is the inspiration of the Olympic Games that drives people not only to compete but to improve, and to bring lasting spiritual and moral benefits to the athlete and inspiration to those lucky enough to witness the athletic dedication.”
– Herb Elliott (Australian middle-distance Runner)
God of sunlight and snow, we are here together with all our complexities…our mix of hope and fear, trust and worry, health and illness, acceptance and resistance. Help us, Lord, to bring the disparities of our emotions ever closer together, so that we may move through the joys and challenges of our lives with equanimity, balance, and serenity. We pray your healing presence be with us and with all those in need. May we be ever attune to the ways we can serve, with sensitivity and effectiveness and in the spirit of Christ, the giver of this prayer… Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
I leave you with these words from second Corinthians, chapter 9:
“God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”