Happy Birthday to Reservoir – Come and See

Birthday blessings…

John 1:35-51 (Common English Bible)

35 The next day John was standing again with two of his disciples.

36 When he saw Jesus walking along he said, “Look! The Lamb of God!”

37 The two disciples heard what he said, and they followed Jesus.

38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he asked, “What are you looking for?”

They said, “Rabbi (which is translated Teacher), where are you staying?”

39 He replied, “Come and see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.

40 One of the two disciples who heard what John said and followed Jesus was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter.

41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Christ).

42 He led him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

43 The next day Jesus wanted to go into Galilee, and he found Philip. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.”

44 Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter.

45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law and the Prophets: Jesus, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth.”

46 Nathanael responded, “Can anything from Nazareth be good?”

Philip said, “Come and see.”

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said about him, “Here is a genuine Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

48 Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?”

Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”

49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are God’s Son. You are the king of Israel.”

50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these!

51 I assure you that you will see heaven open and God’s angels going up to heaven and down to earth on the Human One.”

I’ve shared this story before, but it’s a good one, so I’m going to share it again. Almost nine years ago this church left our old evangelical church association and was renamed as Reservoir Church. To help with the whole branding and website process and all, we worked with a communications professional who knows and loves this community well. 

And at one point, she asked me:

if your church was a person from the Bible, who would it be?

And I thought? That’s a weird question. I have no idea. So I asked her:

who do you think we’d be?

And without hesitation, she said:

Oh, you’re Philip. 

Philip, one of the less known of Jesus’ inner group of students. 

Why? Well, because of this story. 

Phillip is a minor character even in this story. 

There’s Andrew – a very religious person. A student of a counter-cultural radical rabbi out in the countryside, and when that rabbi – John – more or less refers his students to Jesus, Andrew gets to know him. 

There’s Peter – Andrew’s brother. He was apparently not quite so religious, but there was something in his brother’s experience meeting Jesus that is compelling to him. And he begins to have a really important and complicated relationship with Jesus and with the whole movement that gathers around him. 

Later there’s Nathaniel, another complex character. He’s kind of judgy. But he has this transformative experience that the gospel here only hints at the depths of. But it results in a really profound hope that Jesus can show him the way to God, which Jesus encourages.

But in the middle of these three more dramatic encounters, there is Phillip

Phillip isn’t especially religious. Not everything about his encounter with Jesus is dramatic. He gets caught up in this way of Jesus not because he’s looking for it but because it finds him. 

He’s from the hometown of Andrew and Peter, and the text just says Jesus found him. 

So many of your stories with Jesus, and so many of your stories with this church are like this. 

You inherited the Christian faith of your family and something about Jesus in it grabbed you. 

Or you started rejecting the forms of Christianity you inherited but the way of Jesus was too important, too good to let go of. 

Or you came into connection with someone in this church who did you a kindness or stumbled across the building or the website and you decided to visit and it felt like home. 

Our stories are all different. Not just our stories of faith but our whole life stories. This is a really diverse community.

But what connects so many of us is that like these early disciples, we’re finding some of the important things we’re looking for in life in a community of faith connected to the good news about God and life and ourselves we find in the way of Jesus. 

We’re finding friendship, we’re finding ways to anchor our purpose, finding a way of loving God without a lot of the garbage we thought went with being religious, maybe even just learning to love ourselves more. 

This is what it means to be Phillip, to realize that something good is finding us in the way of Jesus. And to then turn around and say “Come and see” to someone else who’s looking too.

In this story, Phillip’s the first one that uses the words of Jesus – “come and see,” even to a skeptic. He doesn’t argue about religion or God or try to convince anyone of anything – that’s a waste of time. Nobody wants that. 

He just shares his story in an authentic relationship with his friend. 

And we are known for this as well. We’re known for a community that isn’t pushy or pressuring but is welcoming and authentic. Like Phillip, this too is who we are.

We’re releasing some stories on video from the 25 years of this church. There are five or six out so far, all from the early years. And today we’ll watch two of them. Keep an eye out on our social media and YouTube page as more keep coming. I think they’re really great. We hope you enjoy them and consider sharing any that you especially enjoy.

Here’s a story from 2000, from someone who’s still with us. It’s his version of how the way of Jesus found him and how this church invited him to come and see.


Thank you, Manny. I love you and I love everything about that story, how like me, you’ve found yourself sobbing in worship here, how you’ve experienced feeling different and relieved when you feel like a God of love is with you, how in your faith story, you’ve not only learned how to pray, but you’ve “learned about yourself, got to know yourself, and began to love yourself.” 

That’s really powerful. Friends this is your story too, your spiritual path as Manny calls it, to be found by a loving God who knows your name, who wants you to love yourself, and find peace. 

It’s in this community’s DNA for this to happen here for us and for us to say “come and see” when we find someone else looking. 

I want to play one more of our videos – this one a 2003 story. It’s got another “We Are Phillip” aspect to it. A different way we say “come and see” together. 

The movement that follows Jesus’ death and resurrection tried out a lot of names before they were called Christians.

Sometimes they were called “Followers of the Way.” I like that, that faith isn’t mostly about what you do or don’t believe, it’s about a way you follow. 

And sometimes they were called “the Body of Christ.” For some reason, I don’t like how that phrase sounds quite as much. It sounds super-religious to me, and a little uncomfortable, like overfamiliar to think of a faith community as all members of a body. 

But even though the vibe doesn’t grab me as much as “Followers of the Way,” I like the meaning of this metaphor too, the idea that to be in the way of Jesus is to be connected to a God that looks like Jesus, and it’s to be connected to one another too. And it’s to be the body of a loving God to the world, to be God’s hands and feet, as it’s said.

Friends, most of what makes me proud of this community is you – the ways you live this story day in and day out in the world. Most of what makes this church special is what happens outside the church. 

I find myself all the time telling my friends stories about the amazing people I meet here. The way you’re great friends to one another and help each other out, the cool stuff you’re doing to make your part of the world more decent and human and good as you coach youth soccer and do cool and creative and important things in your job, as you live with integrity and stand up in your communities for what’s good. 

Again, most of what makes this church special happens through you out in your communities. I hope what happens when we’re together gives you love and hope and support and ideas that inspires all that being the body of Christ.

But some of what is special here is also what we do together. The impact we have in our community for instance. We started a youth soccer program over a dozen years ago that’s still going strong. I hope many of you will volunteer with it next month. The link for that was in last week’s newsletter. But just three days ago, we together awarded four more scholarships to graduating high school seniors from the neighborhood who grew up participating in this Soccer Nights program and volunteering in it and are now the first members of their families to go to college in America.

It’s so great. I love how this church loves the city, loves the world, lives the story of the love of God for us all together. 

And so we’ll watch one more video about the joy of doing that, Adam and Ann’s story. I play this one for us because sometimes being the body of Christ together is really mundane. It can show up in making coffee and laying out cable for a sound system for worship. And it can show up in how we give to a church campaign to invest in our future, as we last did 20 years ago and are doing again now. 

In the end, the invitational way of Phillip, the way of Jesus and the Body of Christ is real simple sometimes.

To love well, you have to plant roots somewhere. You have to plant roots with people and a place. This story is about Adam and Ann planting roots in this church, and planting roots in this city where neither of them are from. I hope some of you will do the same over the next 25 years. 

And then it’s about loving who and what you find yourself connected to. Friends, our world needs a lot more of that generous love. And so I charge us to keep being a generous, abundantly loving community together. 

Here’s Ann and Adam’s story.


What Forgiveness Is and Isn’t

I experienced a trauma in my childhood that was significant enough that I couldn’t reckon with it until I left home. But at 18, I was old enough and had enough space that I could start.

One of the places I started talking about this was with people in the Christian student movement I was part of. They were to me what we call the body of Christ, the hands, the feet, the kind and accepting listening ears of God to me. I’m very grateful I landed in such supportive community. 

But in one case, I told a young staff member in this movement about the trauma I was trying to reckon with, and he made some not so great choices. 

He offered to pray with me, which I appreciated. I appreciate that impulse, that offer still. But looking back, I don’t appreciate what happened when we prayed. He tried to engage the trauma with me too much, in a way he really had no business doing. He was in his mid-20s, not much older than me and had no real training or experience in this. 

His intentions were good, but impact was not. 

There are so many other questions he didn’t ask me.

He didn’t ask me if I needed a therapist.

I had seen one but way too briefly and I really needed to go back. 

He didn’t ask me if I’d reported the crime done to me to the authorities. It had been years, but not too many and I think that might have really helped me at the time. It certainly may have helped some other people. 

There were actually a lot of things he didn’t ask me.

But he did ask me if I felt ready to forgive a perpetrator of the trauma in my life. He was wondering if I wanted to forgive my enemy. 

Again, I get it. Forgiveness – God’s forgiveness of us, and our forgiveness of others, is a big deal in the way of Jesus. 

But I want to ask:

Was this encouragement to forgive appropriate or not? 

And more broadly, when it comes to what we might expect when we’ve harmed others, and what Jesus wants for us when we’ve been harmed, what is the role of forgiveness? What is it or isn’t it?

Let’s read one of a number of teachings from Jesus that touches on this topic.

Matthew 18:21-35 (Common English Bible)

21 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?”

22 Jesus said, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times.

23 Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.

24 When he began to settle accounts, they brought to him a servant who owed him ten thousand bags of gold.

25 Because the servant didn’t have enough to pay it back, the master ordered that he should be sold, along with his wife and children and everything he had, and that the proceeds should be used as payment.

26 But the servant fell down, kneeled before him, and said, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’

27 The master had compassion on that servant, released him, and forgave the loan.

28 “When that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred coins. He grabbed him around the throat and said, ‘Pay me back what you owe me.’

29 “Then his fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’

30 But he refused. Instead, he threw him into prison until he paid back his debt.

31 “When his fellow servants saw what happened, they were deeply offended. They came and told their master all that happened.

32 His master called the first servant and said, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you appealed to me.

33 Shouldn’t you also have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’

34 His master was furious and handed him over to the guard responsible for punishing prisoners, until he had paid the whole debt.

35 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if you don’t forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

So Jesus is really into forgiveness. Can you see that? Seven times, seventy-seven times… that’s a lot of times to forgive your brother, your sister, your enemy, anyone really.

Jesus is serious about the way of forgiveness, so serious he tells this story that is so weird in at least three ways. 

I mean how does one come to owe 10,000 bags of gold? The term Matthew uses is meant to be obscenely large – it’s something like 160,000 years of wages. That’s even more than a mortgage in Boston these days. Yeah, a lot of money.

And who settles their debts by selling whole households into slavery? Well, it turns out a lot of people do that around the world. We used to do stuff like that in Massachusetts too. But it’s horribly cruel. 

So the first weird thing about this story is that the details are all way over the top.

The second weird thing in Jesus’ story is that the cruel, rich money-lender suddenly has a change of heart and wipes out the whole debt. Paid in full. Someone’s life, their whole household is in ruins, the kind of ruin that is going to curse the fates of multiple generations to come. And, was  canceled.

It’s weird that Jesus would make any kind of comparison between God and this crazy mafia boss figure. But I think the connection is about God’s intentions, to initiate this kind of extravagant transformation in the world, to so release people from ruin and shame and bondage that generations find freedom and blessing because of the power and impact of God’s love. 

That’s an awesome word, that God wants to do something so deep among us. 

But the story doesn’t end here. There’s a third weird part, which is that this first person who’s managed to rack up all that debt runs into an old gambling buddy who owes him maybe a few hundred, maybe a few thousand bucks, and he is after him. He’s like:

If you can’t pay me, you’re getting payback. 

Have you ever had a blessing enter into your life? Unexpected favor or kindness or happiness or good luck or whatever, but find yourself still nursing a grudge, still bitter, still easily provoked? 

Jesus is like:

This is worth interrogating. This is worth paying attention to. 

Then the story ends with a twist. That bitter, ungrateful fool gets arrested by the authorities after all, who go ahead with the original sell-this-man’s-family-into-slavery-for-generations plan, because if he’s gonna be like this, then he’s going pay every last cent of that multi-million dollar debt, no matter how long it takes, no many how many people have to suffer.

Thus sayeth the Lord. Amen. 

Friends, Jesus drew crowds. He was an entertaining and provocative story-teller. He knew how to get people’s attention.

But sometimes, the church has misconstrued Jesus and spun his teachings with a meanness and a rigidity that I don’t think he meant to convey.

So, you get a degraded interpretation of this teaching that goes like this:

Forgiveness is transactional. 

We are so thoroughly evil in God’s eyes, that God’s disappointment in us is like a billion dollar debt. One that merits us an eternity in hell. God, though, is willing to cancel that debt, rescue us from everlasting suffering, if we forgive other people the smaller harms they do us. Don’t go for payback, no revenge, be nice instead. And maybe God’ll be nice to you. 

Now, if the church had followed even that teaching for centuries, we might be better off. There would have been a lot less war, a lot fewer prisons.

But still, it’s a degraded teaching, to treat forgiveness like a transaction and say if you do or don’t do this, then God will or won’t do that. 

We can do better than this. 

I read this teaching more like Jesus is describing a whole economy of forgiveness. There is a way of Jesus. There is a way of Jesus that we can more or less live within, and the way of Jesus is about mercy. 

We get a negative example. The newly debt-relieved servant is like my working class European ancestors who (as soon as they found themselves accessing a little bit of security and standing in American society) joined the people above them in anti-Black, anti-immigrant, anti-indigenous attitudes and policies. 

And I think Jesus would say:

That’s not the way of grace. That’s not the way of mercy. 

Jesus is announcing an economy of universal spiritual liberation that he puts in terms of debt and status and all to emphasize that everything is spiritual, that the economy of God’s mercy should touch everyone and everything. The way of Jesus has no room for profiting off others’ misery. No room for harshness, bitterness, punching down. Jesus wants to be in the way of mercy, to be vessels of kindness and mercy. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. 

But Jesus also isn’t teaching isn’t some kind of spiritual obligation that will keep vulnerable people more vulnerable. 

As Lydia preached, forgiveness is not a summons to stay in relationship with someone who harms you.

As Keri preached last week, forgiveness is also not a license to leave injustice or bad behavior alone. 

Forgiveness is not necessarily a change in our feelings, so that we feel warmly and kindly to people and forces that harmed us. Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn’t. 

What is forgiveness? 

In our small, day to day annoyances with each other, forgiveness a lot of the time probably looks like a way of empathy, of understanding, of letting go. Most people don’t mean harm most of the time. Love covers a multitude of evils, the scriptures tell us, so day to day, a lot of forgiveness is probably just letting go.

But in this love our enemies series, we’re talking about the bigger stuff, the stuff we can’t, we should just ignore and let go. 

So what does forgiveness look like with our enemies, with the big debts, the big harms? 

It’s two nos, and one yes. 

No #1. Forgiveness is not seeking payback. It rejects the cheap resolution of retaliation or revenge.

No #2. Forgiveness is also not forgetting or minimizing the harm. In fact, forgiveness is how we deal with the very real hurts we still remember. 

And now the YES: in between retaliation and forgetting is a way of mercy, where we reckon with past hurts we can’t change, and where we hope for a new way forward that is redemptive for us, and maybe in time even for our perpetrator. 

But this reckoning doesn’t start with forgetting or niceness. It doesn’t start with good feelings or reconciliation. It starts with grief.

That campus minister who prayed with me, who wanted to know:

Have you forgiven your abuser? 

This is what he should have asked. He should have asked:

Have you grieved yet? This is such a big hurt. This is such a big hurt. Would you like to grieve some more together? 

One of the surprising aspects of the good news economy of forgiveness is that forgiveness starts with grief. 

My friend Matthew Ichihashi Potts, who’s the minister of Harvard’s chapel, has helped me see this better. He has a fascinating scholarly book about this called Forgiveness: an Alternative Account. 

Minimizing and retaliation are both ways to keep us from the pain of grieving. Minimizing and retaliation pretend on the one hand that it’s not that bad, and on the other hand, that we can make it better by payback.

But the truth is that we can never undo our past hurts. There’s no reverse gear in life. Never. 

We can’t make our childhood traumas, if we have them, not have happened. Impossible.

We can’t take back words said, trusts betrayed, failures to act – whether they were ours, or whether they happened to us. 

What we can do, though, is grieve. And as the scriptures say, we can grieve as people of hope, grieve as people who believe in resurrection.

We’ve been taught there are five stages of grief. A lot of folks in the field have expanded this list. It’s called the Kübler-Ross Change Curve and it talked about seven aspects of grief.

They’re not linear, step by step in a row. They’re not a path or a guide, they’re a reference to recognize what grief looks like.

The eight aspects are:

  • Shock
  • Denial
  • Anger and frustration
  • Depression
  • Experimentation with how we live in our new situation.
  • Decision to move forward in our new reality.
  • And Integration 

When it came to my childhood trauma, I had plenty of shock and denial as a child, as a teen. When I first faced what was happening, I had some depression too. 

But all this encouragement to forgive and move on for me actually kind of slowed down the grief, slowed down the healing, and so slowed the deeper work of mercy.

A number of years ago, I discovered that decades after that person encouraged me to forgive, there was still a buried well of anger and frustration in me. And a number of years ago, circumstances drew that out, and with the help of God and friends, I was ready to feel it and face it. 

I needed that anger and frustration over a lot of things I’d lost. I needed a lot of it. And friends, I needed some help for that to not eat me up, and I needed some help and some hope to integrate this anger and frustration into my life. 

Only after significantly completing this grief do I have freedom around this trauma. I can’t erase the past. There are still impacts on me. But I feel full and loved and whole, including in those parts of my past. And I don’t always want to be connected to the people involved, but I see their own hurt and weaknesses now, and not only do I wish them no harm, but I wish them wellness if they can find it. You might call that love. 

I would. Now I love the ones who harmed me. I’m not in relationship with them all, but I’m free from them. They don’t define me. And I wish them well. 

That’s what forgiveness looks like. 

Friends, knowing that forgiveness takes grief means I can do it a little faster now, faster than decades at least. Maybe you can too.

And this is the miracle I’ve experienced during this series.

When Ivy preached on making space in our second week, I thought of an old friend with sadness. I thought: too much space, too much space. And I prayed as I have many times:

God, I’d love for that friendship to get better.

But in the moment, as has been true in many other moments, I felt:

There’s nothing for me to do just now but hope and pray and wait.

This is a friend who in some big ways had let me down. I hadn’t been perfect myself by any means myself, but the hurts I experienced were enough to need to recalibrate my expectations of this relationship. 

I had noticed some things that had been true before, would probably always be true. And there wasn’t a way for me to undo that. Again, the way toward mercy, the path of forgiveness was in grief. So I spent some time with this space, where I could work through the the shock and denial, the anger, frustration, and sadness around this deteriorating friendship before deciding what to do next. 

And my decision was: I still wanted the friendship in some form. We all know that you don’t just replace people in your life. Some you need to let go, but some you fight to keep. And I thought, this is a keeper, even if the friendship can never go back to what it was. I want it in some form still. 

So I decided I’d accept friendship back in a different form, and I’d pray for and look for an opportunity. 

A few days after that sermon and that prayer, it came. The person reached out. They didn’t reach out about how they’d let me down. They reached out for other reasons, but we had a warmer, more honest conversation than we have in years.

There was even a window where it was appropriate for me to share one of the ways I’d been hurt. And I found myself able to do that in a way that was real, but also that wasn’t like unloading on my friend. I could share the truth in a way that was also constructive for my friend to hear. And they did. 

And as Jesus says, friends, the truth will set you free.

Something is resurrecting here. I won’t get the old friendship back. But I’ve got something, something that looks like it’ll be different but still pretty good.

And forgiveness, which looked a lot like grief, paved the way for that on my end. 

Friends, here’s the teaching.

Forgiveness for our enemies is a command of Jesus. It’s one part of his way of mercy for us all. No shaking it.

But forgiveness is not a lot of bad things. It’s not forgetting, it’s not minimizing, it’s not necessarily reconciliation, it’s not always good feelings, and it is not changing or undoing the past.

Forgiveness is actually the refusal to minimize and the refusal to retaliate.

Forgiveness is participating with God in God’s great arc of love and redemption and mercy.

It starts and sometimes it ends with grief. 

You can’t rush it.

But when you grieve honestly and well, you find the truth setting you free in all kinds of ways. And one way or another, you make room for resurrection.

A Conversation With Keri Ladouceur

This Sunday Steve talks with Keri Ladouceur -the executive director of a brand new church support network the Post Evangelical Collective.  The Post Evangelical Collective is a home for churches committed to the Way of Jesus, full inclusion, holistic justice, deep and wide formation, and a gracious posture.


On The Law of Retaliation

Matthew 5:38-42 

38 “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

39 But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you.  If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well.

40 When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too.

41 When they force you to go one mile, go with them two.

42 Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.

Good and Gracious God, you have woken us up, given us breath and life and called us here today. We thank you for this day. We thank you for the rain. We thank you that you are a God who loves us no matter what we might be going through in our lives. Help us now, no matter what morning or what kind of week we had this past week, whether it was full and joyful or just busy and distracted, bring us to this space now with reverence and centeredness, on what our body needs, what our spirit needs, and there we pray that you will meet us with overwhelming abundant love. Help us to believe that as we open our selves up to your word now, we pray in your precious and holy name, Amen. 

Hey, Love Your Enemies is the series we’re on these days here at Reservoir and to preach on this feels like, (shaking head no violently) “I don’t want to!!!!!” 

My unholy human ego reacted strongly to this preaching prompt with, what I would like to spend some time on today, an understandable resistance to this teaching. I want to spend some time on it because I don’t want to jump to the moral teaching conclusion. I mean, you know the ending already, so now go, love your neighbors. Love your enemies. Cause Jesus said so. So you better. 

Because for so long, I have seen and heard the beautiful teachings of Jesus wrapped in as a command, for us to obey. It’s a shorter and easier way to spread the teaching, when you begin with, God said so. But I refuse the misused tactics of shame and guilt to do this, one because I believe that God is not a tyrant. God is not just a rule enforcer. I want us to go slow, go easy, gently toward this message, because at least in Matthew, before Jesus gave us teachings, advice, wisdom, and guidelines, he first did the miracles of healing the sick. 

And so I believe that in order to love your enemies, first we need to do the miracles of healing. because without it, first of all you can’t do it. Loving your enemy while you’re still really hurting – it’s impossible. But if you have experienced the miracles of healing, well then we can start talking. 

And maybe I know that because I know that firsthand. When you have been hurt, when you’ve been truly wronged, when you actually really have an enemy that’s done you wrong, and you haven’t had the practice of healing and loving poured into you, you don’t have the faculties to forgive and love yourself, definitely not others. And so I want to make space for that. Because to preach to a hurting person with the command to “love your enemy” is not only ineffective, I believe is abusive. 

You know how you teach someone to love their enemy? You love on them. And to love someone is to make space for their pain and not try to erase it by telling you,

just love your enemy because that’s what God wants you to do. 

So I want to unpack first of all, the ways in which we have misused and misunderstood the teaching “love your enemies”, especially in and through church and Christian traditions that have been unhelpful and even harmful. 

The reality is that people, people from places of power and through the power of the church have used teachings like “love your enemies” to further shame and oppress and keep people in their place. And that’s a real pain point, a triggering point for some of us.

Sometimes I hate taking a few texts out of the Bible and shining on the screen because it takes it out of context. If we actually take out the whole book, the text in its context, today’s is in Matthew 5 verse 38, but you look up just a few verse, earlier in the chapter, verse 23 says this, for example:

23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you,

24 leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift.”

Now I clearly see the good wisdom and intention of these verses. 

But in my years of growing up in church, I’ve seen it used to shame and prevent people from coming to the altar, serving in church, from coming closer to God. I mean, it was taken literally and applied blanketly.

Again, I can understand why one would like to make this good practice into a law. But, We picked and chose which “sins” were allowed or not allowed, like greed and hoarding weren’t checked with your small group leader but if you drank, if you went to a party or listened to secular music, then you felt like you couldn’t come to church at all.

Like we forgot that we’re ALL sinners, but some sin prevented you from taking communion, like premarital sex, while other sin, like owning a company that underpaid and abused workers were totally fine. We turned the wisdom into a convenient social rule that we wanted to enforce. I keep saying we because Christians are bound to one another and what churches have done in the name of Christ, we have to be at least aware if not account for that in our faith journey talks. 

Here’s another one, a few verses down in verse 31:

On the Law of divorce

31 “It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a divorce certificate.’

32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife except for sexual unfaithfulness forces her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Okay, first of all, this teaching is directed at men only. The “Whoever” is not really “whoever” but it’s “men.” 

Jesus is not talking to me in this text. I am not even in the room. I cannot simply and literally apply everything he said to me and us all, because he would not do that, no relationship is like that. Audience matters. So who was Jesus talking to at this moment? At the top of the chapter it tells you, chapter 5:1

“Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down, His disciples came to him and he began to teach them saying,”

He was talking to his disciples. 

We have used this to those who are divorced to shame them. You see some churches are still wrestling with LGBTQIA affirmation (whether they can marry or not) or women’s ordination (whether they can preach or not) and not long ago churches wrestled with divorce (whether they can do that or not and still be a member of a church). 

Can we just admit that we have misused, and continue to misuse so much of the Bible? It’s been weaponized against people where the divorced are outcasted from the community. No wonder people are leaving the church. We’re kicking them out with shame! 

The thing is today’s text has been used by colonizers and murderers, upon victims who are converted through force and then taught to love their enemies after they’ve pummeled through their land and their communities. Love your enemies they said, as they pressed their heels to their heads. THAT IS NOT THE TEACHING OF JESUS here. 

Let’s not shove “Love your Enemies” down the throat of those who are victimized and oppressed from a place of privilege and power to those who are suffering.

Okay, so there’s been bad and toxic interpretations of the text. Then what is the good interpretation here? We gotta dig. 

Cause I mean, when you just read texts like this at first glance:

But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you.  Or another translation says. [Do not resist one who is evil] 

WHAT!? Um, is Jesus being complacent with evil or co-conspiring with evil?!

The natural response is, what? You just want me to hurt again? You want me to go another mile at this rate? 

And now, welcome to the part of the sermon when we’re preaching from the Bible: Consider the cultural location and historical context of the text. 

Why did Matthew write this? 

This is why we have the four gospels because from Matthew we get an angle. And we can get a better sense of Matthew’s angle and purpose for his writing by comparing it to others. In order for us to better understand Matthew’s text we have to try to understand Matthew’s overarching message that it’s trying to convey, because every text is wrapped in that motif. 

The book of Matthew is uniquely Jewish Christian, meaning it is particularly interested in laying out the stories of Jesus in close relationship and in connection or in comparison to the Jewish laws. Our today’s text is specifically in regard to the Law of Retaliation, found in Exodus 21, Leviticus 24, and Deuteronomy 19. It was directly trying to address these specific questions at hand. 

In Matthew 5:17 Jesus says,

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

This is a central motif and the driving force of the booking of Matthew. To distinguish, juxtapose, and specifically compare Jesus in close relationship to the Jewish Laws was the purpose of Matthew’s writing.

That’s important because the awareness of the specificity of the audience humbles us in our understanding and application. It is not to say, oh it doesn’t apply to us, but the point is, we have to take into account that it in fact was not written for us, 21st century American, women for example. The takeaway for us in realizing this is, Matthew shows us the pastoral, contextual, and cultural interpretation and application of Jesus’ teaching to his people and his traditions, inspired by the holy spirit, to the best of his ability. 

We must do the same. And it must be lived and alive, a conversation and not a heavy handed law but a live rendering of what is convicted in our hearts to the actions of our day. That’s exactly what the writer of Matthew was trying to do, to not simply accept the Jewish Laws, but reinterpret it to fit their time and their social location, their hunger, their need. 

Similarly, Jesus,

“interprets the law within its proper horizon and according to its proper use, a task that at times involves criticism even, especially of particular features and interpretation of the sacred text itself” (p. 383)

by saying,

“you have heard it said, but I say….”

he is critiquing their holy scriptures, and contextualizing it, a model for us to do the same. 

In this way, it shows us that we must rely on one another, one another’s voice and story and another’s social location, to testify what the spirit, what Jesus has convicted them of, and we take it all at face value and with a grain of salt. That is what it means to live the faith, which is to do it in community. That’s why we have Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And Mark and John don’t have the sermon on the mount really. Whatttt! Yeah. 

And even with Jesus, you can have a conversation with Jesus from your cultural context and location (take the story of woman at the table)

Matthew 15: 21-28

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.

22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

This story tells us that yes, even Jesus had a certain perspective, or to put it more provocatively, an agenda, which was only for the lost sheep of Israel. So, could it be that his message was only for the sheep of Israel? Maybe?! But again, taking Matthew’s motif into account, his whole message of the Gospel of Matthew is a thrust of pushing on the outer edges of affirmation of the Jewish Laws and then above and beyond the Jewish laws to go to the end of the earth, as it concludes in Matthews chapter 28. And so this story begs the question for me, then what would the crumbs of the “loving your enemies” be? 

Because our text today makes a few assumptions. It assumes that when they take you to court for your shirt, that you have a coat even to give to them. It assumes that you even have enough things for someone to even want to borrow from you. From the pedagogy of the poor, the biblical criticism of this text from the perspective of the oppressed is that the call to follow the law of retaliation might have been spoken to a certain audience that had some power and privilege. And maybe just maybe, I wonder what kind of example Jesus would’ve given to those who are marginalized and oppressed and broken, as a model of loving your enemy. 

Maybe it looks like being slapped across your face but not letting the abuser take your hope away. Because I in my pastoral context could not tell a domestic violence victim to simply turn her cheek to her perpetrator. And if I thought the gospel was telling me to do that, I would not be here. I do not believe so. My faith, just like this woman at the table, demands of the Lord to throw us the crumbs of this provocative wisdom, to ask God, then SHOW me this world you speak of where enemies are loved! 

What do the crumbs of your picture of “loving your enemy” look like? From the place of an outsider? If the message of “love your enemies” was only for the lost sheep of Israel, and this woman fought for even a crumb of that wisdom in her social location, as a dog as Jesus calls her, what would that be? And her faith was that that would be enough. I think so, I think what you can muster up, what you deem as the wisdom of loving your enemies may look like in your specific case, that would be enough. We’re not meant to follow the rules literally but receive the whole kingdom of Heaven, as Matthew calls it, as a whole ethos, and move in the spirit of love here and now. 

I remember in 2015 *uh trigger warning I’m going to talk about gun violence*. Please feel free to step out if this is not for you. I remember seeing the clip of the white shooter brought into court to face the survivors of the nine dead at the black Emanuel AME church in Charleston. And the family member saying to him,

“I forgive you”

It made me so angry, to see such foolish mercy, like throwing pearls to the swine, and of course and yet, touched, distraught by the shooting and that pain being disrupted by love. The confusion of such radical forgiveness. Why would anyone do that? How could anyone do that? To forgive someone who has shot your mother dead? 

You know who? One who has Received this kind of love from God first. One who knows deeply the love and grace and mercy of God no matter what befalls them. I’ve heard it said, an eye for an eye and everyone will go blind. To love your enemy is to usher in a total new way, to break out of the system, a new way forward. A liberation from the same old cycles and systems of hurt, retaliation, and more hurt. One of grace and mercy that snatches us out of that loop. By loving your enemies, you show them a new game, you usher in a whole new rules of engagement (although they might still respond with old ways of engagement).

A biblical commentary said this,

“Upon closer inspection this stance is actually rooted in a profound resistance, an unexpected refusal to play the opponent’s adversarial game. By voluntarily going a second mile, for example the first mile is likewise refigured from something “forced” into something chosen; so what might superficially seem to be docility is actually at a deeper level a form of non adversarial defiance.” (p.383)

They called it moral jiu jitsu, which I learned is a form of martial arts that’s not of violence but redirecting violence. The word literal translation meaning, gentle art. 

Matthew’s big point was trying to marry Jesus’ way to the known laws of the day. He was trying to show the Jesus’ way in and through and above and beyond the laws that were so important and dear and highly respected. But in doing so, I believe that it can be misunderstood that here’s a new law to follow, and that is what its intent was, but that new law is not a rule but a person. Loving your enemies is not just a new law to follow but realize that this is the kind of world that Jesus invites you to.

Jesus loves your enemies. Jesus loves his enemies. Jesus loves you in this way, even when we were God’s enemy. While we were still sinners. Even when you feel like you’re the furthest from God, by way of distraction of work and life, by way of deep dark void-like depression, by way of apathy or indifference, even there God does not oppose you but moves toward you. God turns the other cheek for you. God would give you God’s shirt and their coat to you. God goes the extra mile for you. God doesn’t refuse you but greets you with open arms with radical love and grace and endless mercy. 

May the crumbs of God’s love towards even enemies fall on us and heal us. That we may receive it, may it cover us and embrace us. That it might shape not what we do but who we are, no longer enemies but God’s beloveds. May we drive that deep into our hearts today. 

Let me pray for us. 


Call Out Cancel Culture

*Thanks to conversation partners Howard Kim & Trecia Reavis and scholarship by Cate Anthony, www.ecfvp.org/vestry-papers/article/1034/call-out-cultures-shadow-side, Reverend Laura Everett, www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2023/04/21/beyond-boston-strong-equity-laura-everett, and Www.enfleshed.com

I was at a local spot this week writing/rewriting/sitting with this topic of “Loving Our Enemies,” the current sermon series we are in. And I was trying to call forth some wisdom, “good news” that might offer us all some hope in territory that feels hard and often times absolutely impossible. 

And as I was sitting there this young waiter came over, maybe 20 years old, and he asked me, “oh, are you just here working?” I mean maybe he was questioning what I was actually doing (because I had been there for five hours at that point) and I said

oh yeah, I’m trying to write something about ‘loving your enemies

And immediately he said,

oh I have an enemy

and he pointed at this person across the room.

And I was like,

“oh wow – look at that!?”

And he jumped in,

“yah, you know I dated the head barista here for a while…”

And I thought – do I put on my pastoral hat here  – or just stay in customer mode…?

Turns out they are the same thing… because I said…

“Ooooh, tell me more…..”

He said,

“you know – I don’t know – I don’t know I dated this girl – she left for London over a year ago – and we kind of ended things… and I don’t know if this girl got jealous about our relationship? But it’s been a long time  – and she is still making me an enemy –  she’s just really mean, says harmful things about me… but I’ve got to make money to go back to college….. So I just give her space..”


“Space, huh?” 

So I’m going to talk about the importance of space today in “loving our enemies.”  

The necessity of space –  for us to feel, for God to move, the potential in space – for our enemies to change/grow/repent – space for love to be possible.

We have so much capacity as humans. This wild, wild capacity to love so fiercely and so deeply and also this wild, wild capacity to so fiercely hate and destroy.  

We love, we hate. God calls us to love our enemies, and we love to hate our enemies.  And yet there is a lot of space between those two ends of the spectrum – where a lot of complexity resides, complexity that we often snuff and cancel out.

And I went back to my past self at that cafe, I re-read past sermons I’ve written on this topic of “loving our enemies.” And I was like *dang* those were good sermons… and the stories, the wisdom, the practical invitations still are true….  

Part of me was hoping those past sermons would hit just the same today.  – that I could reprise one for today. But the tenor feels different than even a few years ago – the tenor and state of our nation, the tenor and state of my heart.  The impatience, the eagerness, the rage, the waning energy to keep calling out the evils/the enemies in our day to change our world, to make it better…. All the fundamental components seem to be the same… but it feels different, *amped.*

That was part of the not-so-great feeling of reading my past sermons.  I shared stories that were from years before…

  • 1) where we had major friction with our neighbors – and realizing today it’s the same if not worse.  
  • 2) I shared a story about my brother refusing to marry Scott and I saying “God wouldn’t bless our marriage.” The sting is still there… and the impulse to throw it in his face and say, “Hey! Look at us now – 22 years!! I guess somebody BLESSED us!” that impulse is soooo strong and live it makes my heart pound even now.

And all those old sermons started with the intro,  “and today we are more fractured than ever…  more divided than ever…more polarized…”

And I wonder, “are we getting better?”  Maybe – I should say, “am I getting any better at loving my enemies?”


Well you are in for a meandering sermon my friends, because I’m still actively living my way into those questions!  But today we’ll take a stab at how to love our enemies…with the help of the prophet Jonah, some consideration of this term “cancel culture,” and the space we all need for, and to love.


Jesus thank you that you are unhinged, reckless, risky in showering us in your love – in finding the soft spot of our hearts… and flooding it with grace and mercy and beauty… when we don’t want to find it… when we can’t feel it. .. .

Cancel Culture/Call Out Culture

Part of the beauty of these days is that we can call out our enemies – their destructive behaviors and words all at our fingertips… from our couch, our cars, our desk – wherever we access social media. 

*and I’m not about to go on a diatribe about how bad social media is – there are pros and cons – both of which I participate in. 

And really we’ve been able to publicly “call out” injustices forever but today the ease by which we can practice this is more accessible, more immediate, and potentially more permanent…. and destructive.

In favorable ways the platforms of social media have allowed more marginalized members of society the ability to ‘call out’ – to seek accountability and change – particularly from people who hold a disproportionate amount of power, wealth, and privilege.  Celebrities, politicians, public figures, etc..

I’ve been helped so much by my wise niece, Cate who is an Episcopal priest and has written publishable thoughts on calling out & cancel culture. She says,

“calling out” has the potential to reclaim and redistribute power in systems previously unbalanced.

In this way, call-out culture is a kind of “cultural boycott” which refuses to amplify enemy-voices of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ableism and more. This practice is central to the growth/creation of a more just, safe, equitable world – and it hangs on the belief, the hope, the prayer (perhaps) of the redeemability of what was previously not o.k.

And yet, in all of its potential – we find that social media also risks a kind of dehumanization of those with whom we interact on such platforms. Rather than calling out in order to improve relationships and society, call-out culture transforms into cancel culture. Intention transforms, too: rather than boycott voices of oppression, cancel culture seeks to cut out real people whose opinions, ideologies or identities are not in line with our own. We turn in some ways – in the opposite direction of the thing we really want – and cancel human beings. Cast them out – as irredeemable. Unchangeable. 

This has a kind of allure and in many cases has become an acceptable/default way that we regard and relate to one another in our actual lives.  And this is where I want to really focus today. “Our initial desire to redeem what is broken –  twists into excising what we deem as broken (flawed, different, wrong, bad) – from relationship and community.” –

Cate Anthony Out of sight, out of my mind, out of my heart.

The functionality of cancel culture uses shame, isolation, zero space as tools. And they are pretty effective punishments. But I’m not sure they bring about the accountability, change, repentance, the redemption we really are seeking.

 I want to invite us to look at the story of Jonah – I hope  a) it can help us feel ok about being human and b) it can help us feel thankful that God is God. And maybe help us navigate where we are at with our own enemies…and how to value space to run, or to sit –  physically, emotionally, spiritually  – might be more effective than canceling our enemies. 


We are going to pick up the story here where Jonah is finally going to Nineveh as God had told him to do but it comes after this wild little journey Jonah takes. Where he is pretty clear from the get-go – that he does. Not. want. To. go.  and God is pretty clear about well

‘you do have to go’

and there’s tossing of the seas, and a few nights in the belly of a fish – and then finally Jonah walking about this big city of Nineveh to call them out for their wickedness and deliver a message of God’s impending judgment.  

And wicked the Ninevites were!  Now Jonah and his people were part of ancient Israel and the city of Nineveh was known at the time as the “bloody city,” the capital of Israel’s greatest enemy, Assyria. Assyria was the imperial force of the day, and the Assyrians were horrible, brutal, and they kept their empire together by way of extreme terror, barbaric cruelty.

You would think that maybe Jonah would be up for delivering this message of God’s – declaring judgment and destruction –  to his enemies… but Jonah is like, 

“no – nope, there’s no way I’m doing that!”

I don’t know about you – but if I was directed by God, with God’s backing to go to my enemies and say, “Guess what? The time has come you wicked, bad, horrible people you are all going to pay!”  I don’t know – I would be ALL OVER THAT! It’s kind of what my day-dreams are made of!

But Jonah initially runs in exactly the opposite direction away from Nineveh.

And only semi-reluctantly finally delivers this rousing eight-word message to Nineveh,

“forty days from now Nineveh you’ll be destroyed!”  

And here’s how the rest unfolds:


Jonah 3:10 – 4:11

When God saw that they, (the people of Nineveh) had put a stop to their evil ways, God had mercy on them and didn’t carry out the destruction he had threatened.

This change of plans upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. I knew how easily you could cancel your plans for destroying these people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive because nothing I predicted is going to happen.”

The Lord replied, “is it right for you to be angry about this?

Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see if anything would happen to the city. And the Lord God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun. This eased some of his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant.

But God also prepared a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant, so that it soon died and withered away. And as the sun grew hot, God sent a scorching east wind  to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. “Death is certainly better than this!” he exclaimed.

Then God said to Jonah, “is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”
“Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!

Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. And a plant is only, at best, short lived. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

  • And that is the end of the book of Jonah!

And we see here Jonah run and Jonah sit and I want to talk about those two things – because Jonah is angry.

OOOoooo Jonah is angry! Angry! Angry!

His primary anger is not at the actions of the Assyrians or Ninevites – his enemies – but it is at God.  

And his primary reason for running  – is not to avoid God – but try to make sense of a God who is merciful, gracious and loving to his enemies.

He says,

“I knew it! I knew you would be kind.” AAAAGGGHhh!  I knew that you were a compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.  But why, why, why show that to my enemies?

“GOD – we want “our” people to live – to be safe. NOT THESE PEOPLE –  who have done so much harm, destruction. Come on DESTROY, PUNISH, CANCEL them – before they destroy anything else!”

I mean – “right on, Jonah!” He is in full on anger mode-

“I hate this. I hate you, God. I hate these people.  You should have mercy on me – by killing them. All of them. And everything… except this plant. I like this plant.”

And God leans in, and is like,

“Cool. Cool. Cool, Jonah.  You want to tell me more?…. Do you think it’s right that you’re angry about this?”

It’s an interesting question – kind of an infuriating question to me… 

I remember when I was telling my therapist about “the absolute rage I had about this really hard season with my neighbors… and she said,

“you know Ivy, anger is a secondary emotion..”

And I replied with such shocking maturity,

you know Ivy.. me ehe ah eheh. You know what’s under this anger – more anger, another layer of anger, and anger and anger… I would run to the opposite end of the earth to convince you of how much anger I have….”

– and of course she was lovely and let me run all over the place and all over myself… and the space to do that opened up all these questions I had

  • “What does this mean about me – can I love?”
  • “Did I listen?
  • Should I try again?
  • Should I apologize?
  • And if so, for what?
  • Will they apologize?
  • Will they mean it if they do – will it change anything? 

I think Jonah allows us to see that “running” might just be the way to make some space to sift through yes – emotions – but also the spiritual, ethical and human questions loving our enemies likely brings up for us.  And to see that jumping to quick destruction – or even to jump to quick ‘forgiveness/love/mercy” – might cancel the space we need.. And what we most need to hear within ourselves. 

Jonah needs the space to think about all this a kind God, people who destroy… He has to work through what that means. And when we do that it is like walking into a storm – and it is likely we will  be tossed around by the reckless waves of God’s love. Because Jonah’s realizing the complexity of what it is for God’s love to truly be for everyone – enemies and all.  And that reality – if we are honest – is enough to make us sick to our stomach sometimes. 

Sometimes it’s ok to run.

Sometimes it’s ok to not rush towards forgiveness.

Sometimes it’s ok to make space. 

Sometimes we need the space of the belly of the whale – as sticky and messy and dark as it can be – to find out that it’s normal to have no empathy for those who destroy our communities, our people, our safety… To even wish them harm. And to wrestle with that reality in ourselves. 

To realize that doesn’t mean we are hate-filled people – but we are heart-ful people. 

This heart-space is not to be condemned but should be listened to.  

It’s not to be covered up – it’s to be exposed.

It’s why I love God asking not once but twice – this very therapy question,

“tell me about your anger…” 

Anger and pain need space,  an ear, and a “route to re-connecting with  life in the midst.” (enfleshed.com)

It’s where we can wrestle with all that it means about God and us and our enemies – if we love them. God destroying or loving Nineveh raises a lot of questions for Jonah…

“If God destroys Nineveh – then would it mean Israel would be safe forever more?

If the repentance of Nineveh is real – is it enough to turn the whole of Assyria around?

Are the lives of those repenting in Nineveh worth more to God than those who would suffer and be killed under the Assyrian empire?

Is their repentance real – will it last? Will change stick?”  (Www.enfleshed.com).

These are the questions that can surface – and it’s important that we try to wrestle with them.

Here’s the thing about cancel culture… it allows zero space.   There’s no room to run in opposite directions, there’s no shade, no shelter, no grace = there’s no checkpoint of someone asking, “Hmmm .. I wonder why you are angry about that?”  No space for you to wrestle and question  – and no space for the offending person  to figure out if they are capable of more than the sum of their offense…. No room for growth/change, mercy, or forgiveness.

*Now for some of you – it’s not healthy or safe to make that space … and boundaries are essential… or if you are a marginalized person it likely is not your responsibility to make that space…*

.. but somehow, someone has to make that space… 

In part social media removes space because it is an effective vessel for instantaneous – reactionary – the-stakes-are- all-or-nothing-scenarios. And very large, complicated social issues get condensed into truncated sentences, short TikTok videos or a photo  – and reduces the complexity of human nature into quick categories – ones that fall as swiftly as the punishment – ‘you are all good’ – or ‘you are all bad.’  You are to be praised, you are canceled. You are on my team. You are my enemy. The stakes are high – and the space is minimal.

The waiter I had at the cafe the other day – said

“I make space for her.”

And what he meant was physical space –  they actually have different routes that they follow in the restaurant – enough space to – acknowledge that each other has real fundamental needs to work and that to blow up the restaurant might not work in their favor –  a subtle recognition that somehow they are connected – that their life is tied to one another and they both need the space.

Jonah wanted his enemies to stay his enemies. 

I think I deeply believe that it is important to love your enemies. I think I deeply believe that it matters to live and work in such a way that humility and graciousness allow us to see the image of God in the other person. I think I believe that it matters to have face-to-face conversations even if they are hard.. I think I believe that “listening” to one another can transform.. I think I believe that to love your neighbor – even if they are your enemy should matter.

  • But after living next to our neighbors for 17 years now. I’ve come into a season where all indicators point to,

“Nope. nope. That doesn’t seem to be how it’s playing out here.” 

And let me tell you – this sounds dramatic – (maybe like Jonah) – but it feels like part of me is dying as I wrestle with what it is to no longer want to engage, and feel like it’s impossible to love my neighbor.

I just want to keep them my enemies. 

I just want to cancel them.

And so I have done my share of running and sitting – what does this mean? That this core belief – of my faith – but also just as a human being does not seem to work? 

Where since October I’m literally going in the opposite direction coming and going through my side door because to risk facing people that I feel have been mean to  me and my family over a long stretch of time – makes me feel sick. 

And to face the fact that I know God loves them   – and their kids, and their grandchildren, and their pets – which of course objectively is good – but lived out, sucks the actual life right out of me. 

Jonah goes to the east side of the city and sits. In part I think he waits to see if God would just send a sideways lightning bolt to the city just for him….come on, God!

And we see him sit with the reality that God is gracious. 

We see him sit with the reality that Nineveh is a brutal enemy.

We see him sit because he’s tired…life drained right out of him.

It is so risky and so tiring to extend possibility, nurture, care, to our enemies. Ones that have inflicted harm and oppression and suffering  for a moment , for years, decades, all of history.  What, if anything, is left of our beating hearts is meant to keep us alive – and honestly canceling other things that come against that precious heart-space is very compelling.

Jonah is tired. So weary of violence coming at him and his people every day.
We are tired of  the evil that prowls – tired of the fear of it – the fear of ringing the wrong doorbell – or pulling into the wrong driveway and getting shot.

Tired of hearing as my friend Reverend Laura Everett said,

that we’ve gone through a “racial reckoning” and a “Me Too” movement – when there’s still so much to be resolved.. Tired of being through COVID, nationwide protests over systemic police brutality, collective psychosocial trauma of thousands dead, and an armed assault to overthrow our democracy.”

Our empathy can feel worn out.

Tzvi Abusch (Brandeis professor and scholar of ancient Near Eastern texts) says that,

“Jonah is just no longer in a state where he can empathize with humanity.”

And I think God knows this and embraces his time of sitting. Sends him a plant. A plant that is then killed by a worm. Life and destruction.  And somehow Jonah can see it, and feel it through this plant – more than he can for the people of Nineveh.

Which allows God to teach this object lesson – that

“destruction can not be the only tool for change – because it will  affect us all.” 

This plant is destroyed – and you are so angry about it you want to die – it affects you – there is interconnection everywhere.

God says,

see – Jonah –  “yes” there are 120,000 people that are in spiritual darkness – but there are living animals in this city, there are babies and toddlers walking the streets, there are people who disagree with the oppressive powers, there are people who are resisting building the empire… there are trails of connection everywhere.

We can’t just broad strokes wipe out and give up on humanity  – –cancel culture shames the person into realizing their individual beliefs aren’t always acceptable, but it fails to make the space where the person can learn (if they choose), why those beliefs are problematic and hurtful. Which ultimately allows the hateful ideology behind cancellable offenses to exist unchecked -and amplifies an environment where contempt, disgust and the very ‘wickedness’ we are trying to call out – instead grows wickedly out -of-control. And maybe that affects all of us.

It’s why I think God withholds judgment at the slightest sign of repentance – God creates space.
*God’s call to Jonah and to us is to not destroy too quickly.  

It’s why the only thing that God cancels … is God’s own plans to destroy. 

God cancels plans for destruction. God doesn’t make a habit of canceling people.  It’s a risky, risky move of God’s to give Nineveh this space because the story of Israel and Nineveh is not happily -ever-after. Their repentance was temporary – their wickedness grew. Israel would be destroyed.   

If we step in to do the judging/canceling  what we risk is succeeding at canceling the presence of not only “our enemy” but we cancel the presence of the divine the one that we too, very much rely on to survive.    

God is interested in helping Jonah’s heart remain supple – one that doesn’t abandon the living God.  God is as interested in that as he is interested in offering life to a whole city. God knows that ensuring that Jonah finds his own way back to a life worth living …

is inevitably a life that values other life.” (enfleshed.com) 

So God runs with Jonah, and offers grace in a whale –  and God sits with Jonah, and offers grace in a plant.  And the grace of God meets Jonah in those spaces…. So that we can extend space with grace to our enemies too. 

The book of Jonah ends with God’s mercy. And Jonah’s silence. 

Jonah’s silence to me isn’t a sign of defeat or frustration – or a hardened heart…. it is just more space.

  • And it’s God’s invitation to us today –  what space do you need – to love your enemies?
    Do you need to run? Do you need to sit? Do you need to jump on a plane for a hot second?
    It’s not an unproductive space – it’s where God greets us with grace and love, revives where we are weary – and asks us, “Tell me about your anger?” 
  • It’s where God  asks us, “What will we do?”
  • “How do we aid in preventing empires from unchecked destruction?”
  • “How will we love our enemies?”
  • “How do we keep making space to be nimble in heart – to continue to be bold and free – in a culture that keeps suggesting that our enemies should stay our enemies?” 

 If I could give each of you a plant today, I would my friends.  (one without a worm). 

Instead I’ll say,

“grace to you,” my friends… “grace to you..”


How To Have An Enemy (And What To Do Next!)

Born in the 70s, part of the soundtrack to my childhood was the album Free to Be You and Me. 

It taught us boys and girls can grow up to be anything they want, have any jobs they want. It told us boys can love dolls and everyone can use a good cry now and then. 

It was mostly awesome!

But one of its songs captures a way I wasn’t as prepared for the real world as I might have been. It was the tune “Sisters and Brothers.”

Sisters and brothers, brothers and sisters

Ain’t we, everyone

Brothers and sisters, sisters and brothers, 

Every father’s daughter, every mother’s son.

Yeah, groovy tune. 

It was the early 70’s, it didn’t have today’s more fluid gender identity language or anything but the message was, we’re all in this together. One big human family. Let’s all love each other. Let’s all get along.

Great message, great song.

But how I heard it as a kid was:

if we can all share, if we can all be nice to each other, we will all get along, all the time. 

I picked this up in a lot of other places, it wasn’t just the song. But all this didn’t prepare me for a world where a lot of the time, nobody’s very nice. 

And what do we do when they aren’t? 

In my early childhood, a guy who worked at one of my parent’s part time jobs lived in our basement for a while, and he had an aggressive dog that attacked me. Being nice to that dog, being nice to its owner didn’t help me feel safe.

A little later, I remember when a neighborhood bully, a mean and tough older kid took one of my brother’s jackets from him and pushed him down a hill. My family’s response to that didn’t seem adequate to me and it left my brother vulnerable. I didn’t think being nice was working there.

Later, in my teenage years, I got opened to just how dangerous the bigger world was. Learning about my grandparent’s war – World War II – was devastating. I vividly remember the first time I heard a survivor of the Holocaust speak. Sacred, important memory. Still true. This afternoon, I’ll represent our church and our faith as an ally at Boston’s annual remembrance of the Shoah, the destruction, which is what Jews mostly call the Nazi attempt to exterminate their people. I remember learning about the terrifying violence our species is capable of.

And then I remember learning about the US firebombing and atom bombing of Japan. It was taught to me like it was a necessary evil, but when I first heard a Japanese survivor speak, that logic didn’t sit right with me. I remember thinking:

my country is also capable of the most terrifying violence.

I remember learning that I lived in a town, a small outer suburb of Boston, that had zoning laws that were intentionally designed to keep poor people out of the community, and really also to keep it white. And this is totally legal. Still is. It’s something our GBIO Housing justice campaign is trying to address in 2023. My own town was the enemy of goodness this way. Evil so close to home.

And then, as an older teen, I had relationships and experiences where I realized I was capable of evil too. There are many enemies in the world, some far, some quite near, and some even within me and my capacity to hurt others. 

“Sister and brother”, “we are the world” aspirations hadn’t prepared me for a world of evil. And niceness and sharing didn’t seem equipped to handle a world of enemies. 

Sometimes niceness made it worse, for everyone – the person who got hurt, and even for the enemy too.

In a world of conflict, in a world of evil, in a world full of enemies – without and within – the good news of Jesus is unique and clear and absolutely difficult. 

The call is to love our enemies. Hard to understand, harder to do, but absolutely central to our hope of salvation. 

Our pastors decided it was time to go here together. We won’t say everything there is to say, but we’re teeing up five weeks of loving our enemies. 

Here’s the teaching of Jesus that is most famous on this. 

Matthew 5:43-48 (Common English Bible)

43 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.

44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you

45 so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous.

46 If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same?

47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same?

48 Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.

Once Jesus said that all the scriptures could be summed up like this.

Love God with all your being. And love your neighbor as yourself.

A lawyer, who didn’t like the simplicity of all that, asked:

But Jesus, who is my neighbor?

Lawyers. Geesh. 

And Jesus told him a story that made it clear. Your neighbor is everyone. Your neighbor is even your enemy.

And now Jesus says:

love your enemies and pray for those who harass you.

And so we, or at least the lawyers among us, might ask:

But Jesus, who is my enemy?

So this is today’s sermon.

  • Who are not our enemies?
  • Who are our enemies?
  • And what is one way that love looks like? Not the only way, not the last way, but maybe the first way.

So who are not our enemies?

This is the briefest part. The people who hold us accountable when we need to grow or change are not our enemies. 

Let me tell you an embarrassing story I’ve never shared with you before. 

I got a college education at a school that was majority Jewish. They were interesting, mostly positive years of my life. I met my future spouse Grace there, that has worked out astoundingly well, for me at least. (Mixed bag for her.) Really sexy meet-up story, we were assigned to lead a Bible study together in our tiny little Christian student group. 

The sparks didn’t fly at first, but the friendship did, and sparks followed eventually. 

Anyway, though, in that tiny little Christian student group on a majority Jewish campus, founded in 1948, just after the attempted extermination of the Jewish people at the hands of baptized Christians. In this context, one year our leadership team wanted to put pamphlets for our Christian student group in every single student’s mailbox, to flier the whole school. And we, or at least I, was so offended when the administration did not grant us that permission. Like how dare they crack down on us like this? 

I thought that the school leadership was discriminating against us, the Christian minority, and that made them the enemy.

I thought it was my first experience of persecution for my faith. When actually it was my first experience of a persecution complex. 

Yeah, inventing enemies when they weren’t there. This can happen with religious people unfortunately. When other people don’t go along with our bad behavior, we can think they’re our enemies when really they’re just being reasonable. Or maybe they are providing a boundary for our bad behavior or accountability or consequence for our need to grow. 

So this is not what it means to have an enemy. This is the world inviting us to change. 

But who are our enemies?

I want to acknowledge that the naivete I grew up with around enemies is not everyone’s story. Some of you know exactly who your enemies are. 

I live with a woman of color as my partner. 

She knows in her body (in a way I don’t) what it’s like for people to stand against her, to seek to diminish her and do her harm. Some of us have had lived experience where our enemies have made themselves quite clear. 

It’s easy to wonder if you have enemies when your social location is privileged or protected, where you don’t experience people out to do you harm very often. 

But even for those of us who have clarity about who in the world is not our for our good, we too may have been raised with the obligation to be nice to everyone, not to name someone as an enemy, which seems aggressive maybe. Or we may know who are enemies are but have no idea what to do about them.

In preparation for this series, I thought about some of my evolution over the past 35 years that I’ve been following Jesus. And I’ve also read the marvelous book by Melissa Floreer-Bixler, How to Have an Enemy.

Here are just a few things I learned about who our enemies are and why it’s helpful to name them as such.

Our enemies are the people and the systems who harm us. 

I am a victim, a survivor, of childhood sexual abuse. I did a lot of work on this in my late teens, my 20’s, my 30’s, but it took until the #metoo movement (which to be clear, was not at all about me), but it took until that movement, which started in my 40’s, for me to really find or let out the anger in me to the one who did me harm. 

An abuser is your enemy, worthy of your protective, righteous anger. And naming them as your enemy doesn’t shut down healing, it allows for the kind of clarity of what’s going on that can be part of enabling healing.

Let me go somewhere else with this that is for most of us very different and also kind of awkward but I think important. 

Those of us who are parents, we mostly do the best we can. But we know if we’re honest that we have all kinds of limits.

Same with our parents. Our folks mostly did the best they could. But we can only pass on what we have. We can only give what we’ve been given. And so at one point in adulthood, I came to realize that sometimes my parents have been my enemy. Not willfully, intentionally, but in the places they have been a source of harm, there is at least an enemy dynamic in that relationship. 

Now it’s awkward to call your parents your enemy. And maybe for most of us, that’s not a thing we ever need to say to our parents. Maybe that’s not what love looks like. But again, naming this enemy dynamic when we find it, even in our most intimate relationships, can be clarifying. It can just be truthful, and the truth Jesus says, will set us free. 

Enemies aren’t just personal, though, and they aren’t just about us. 

Our enemies are the people and the systems who harm who and what we love. 

Cancel my favorite TV show or my favorite candy bar and watch out, you’re my enemy. I kid, but seriously, experiencing the enemy nature harming who and what we love is a growth in love and solidarity.

There’s been no war on straight white Christian men in my life, where I live. Maybe some people have alleged that, but I don’t see any harm where I live to the bodies or the rights of my social identities. 

But I have over my adult life come to start to experience as enemies the people and the system who harm women, who harm people of color, who harm queer people. And it’s not because I suddenly got more altruistic or protective. It’s because of my love for the people in my life, in my inner circles, with these social identities that have often been under attack. It’s a growth in love and maturity to experience other people’s enemies as mine. 

And this is not about demonizing or dehumanizing these people and systems, it’s again just about the clarity and freedom of telling the truth. Do harm to who and what I love, and you are my enemy. 

Sometimes, we can even embrace Jesus’ call to love God enough that we can experience the people and systems who harm what God loves as our enemy.

The system Jesus most called an enemy was this force he called Mammon – the existential, spiritual impact of money, of wealth. Jesus was colonized, oppressed, crucified by the Roman empire. He knew what it meant to have enemies. But he spoke his harshest words really for the dehumanizing power of wealth, what he personified as Mammon. He says you can only have one god, you can only love one god. And then he says, so you can’t love God and wealth, or mammon.

Saying two things at once. Money, wealth, is a god. We fear it, we long for it, we think it protects us and makes us secure. It has a lot of power in the world. It’s a god. But it’s also an enemy. Chasing it, longing for it, hoarding it does harm to our souls and tends to make us neglect or do harm to others. So wealth is an enemy. 

Even parts of ourselves harm what God loves. We have parts of ourselves that are resentful, even hateful, that diminish our loves for others and so harm what God loves. We have parts of ourselves that crave convenience and are hasty and don’t do what our indigenous siblings exhort us to do, which is think of everything with the impact on seven generations to come, so we harm the earth and we harm our descendants, making us the enemy of what God loves.

We have parts of ourselves that are compulsive, that draw us toward addiction, that resist our own belovedness and belonging, and so we lessen our own joy and freedom, harming ourselves, whom God loves so much. So we are our own enemies too. 

I think this clarity about the enemies that abound is important. And it’s important because it invites us to wonder: how do we engage? What do we do with all these enemies? What does love look like? (And what does it not look like?)

Well, we’ve got four more weeks, so let’s just start. Not the final word on how we love our enemies, but maybe the first word, a place to start. 

Jesus says love your enemies and pray for those who harass you. Pray for them. And when we pray for our enemies, there are two ways we can pray. We can curse them, and we can bless them. I actually strongly recommend we do both. Yeah, really, cursing and blessing prayers.

The Bible’s prayer book, called the psalms, actually mostly curses our enemies. 

Here’s a sample:

Psalm 104: 33-35 (Common English Bible)

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;

    I will sing praises to my God while I’m still alive.

34 Let my praise be pleasing to him;

    I’m rejoicing in the Lord!

35 Let sinners be wiped clean from the earth;

    let the wicked be no more.

But let my whole being bless the Lord!

    Praise the Lord!

Not subtle. Wipe them out, God. That their bodies and even the memory of them be no more. 

There’s plenty more where this comes from. In the psalms of lament, here are some of the things we get to pray for our enemies:

for a rain of sulfur upon them (old school, Psalm 11),

for blindness and genital pain (vivid, Psalm 69),

for the amputation of their tongues and lips (super specific, Psalm 12),

even that

their clothing be replaced by “shame and dishonor”,

whatever that fashion line looks like (Psalm 109). 

So have it, friends. Ask God to do all kinds of nasty stuff to your enemies. I’m serious.

Why? Well, I can think of at least three good reasons.

  1. This gives us a moral clarity about the evil in the people and systems we experience doing harm. We tell the truth to ourselves and to God that this is not OK, that this has got to change.
  2. It’s empowering to us. We will often never get power over our enemies in this life. And even if we do, Jesus wants us to use that for their good, not their harm. We’ll get back to this. So to pray this way helps us express the terror, the danger, and the trauma our enemies evoke. It helps us not shove this down but give it voice. Sometimes, anger is better than sadness, because it goes somewhere other than staying inside and festering.
  3. We’re giving this voice to God. We’re not cursing our enemies to their face. We’re not enacting vengeance. We are placing our real and understandable desire for vengeance in God’s hands, not ours. And by doing this, we are getting it out of ourselves and we are practicing faith in a holy and just God to handle things better than we could. 

So the cursing prayers have a purpose. 

But hopefully, they’re not where we step. Because Jesus also wants us to dare to pray prayers of blessing as well. 

He’s like:

send good your enemies’ way.

It’s easy to love those who love us. It is holy, it is complete, it is God-like to love those who do not love us. And we can do this in our prayers. 

We can say,

Loving God, please do good to my enemy. Help them be satisfied with you God, and what you have given them, that they may be healed. 

So whether I’m praying for an enemy out there in the world – a person or a system doing harm do people I love, or whether I’m praying for an enemy close at hand (like a person in my life who claims to love me but has a side of them that does me harm) or whether I’m even praying for a part of myself that keeps doing me or someone else harm, I can pray curses. 

I can say,

God, destroy this person or this part of this person. Let death-dealing weather or genital pain or dishonorable fashion mess up their game for a while. 

And then I can also pray blessing. Like,

loving God, help this person know you as a kind and generous parent. Help them find satisfaction and healing in you. May they be grounded, secure, beloved, healed enough to stop doing harm any more. 

And this is actually where our cursing and our blessing can become united in love. 

The book I mentioned, How to Have an Enemy, retells a story from the talmud where a second century rabbi was facing criminals in his community’s neighborhood, wreaking all kinds of havoc. This famous rabbi was drawn to the cursing psalm we read today. 

But instead of praying that “the wicked be no more”, he prayed that these criminals should repent, and there will be no more wicked people in the neighborhood.

He prayed for them and they repented. They stopped the thieving and violence, and so indeed wickedness was no more.

Jesus’ call to love our enemies is not a call to be nice. It is not a call to fantasy, to pretend that the world as it is lives in harmony, sisters and brothers, brothers and sisters. 

Jesus’ call to love our enemies is a call first to notice them. They are real among us and within us. And it is a call to long for, to pray for, and to participate in making a world where our enemies are no more, where all people and all systems acknowledge and respect the beloved belonging of all humans and all creation.

Nothing less than this is the will of God for us all in Christ.

More next week. For now, let’s pray.