February 20, 2022, Living Unafraid: Challenging The Powers, by Pastor David

Luke 6 27-38 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and 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 and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Meditation -We take a moment now to quiet our breathing and our spirit, to prepare ourselves to receive whatever we need to hear from the Spirit. Breathe deeply three times.

February 20, 2022.        Living Unafraid: Challenging the Powers

At annual conference every year there is a memorial service for pastors and leaders who have died during the previous year and there is also a retirement service. I used to wonder during that service, what it would be like when it came my turn to retire. And for years I imagined that the thing I would most be remembered for was the time I did a strip tease in front of Bishop Susan Morrison and 80+ pastors. 

Obviously, I’m no Chippendale, but one year my professor, Walter Wink, came to do a presentation on our assigned passage for today. He took me aside before the Bible study and I immediately knew what he was going to ask me to do. I didn’t feel like I had much of a choice, so I girded my loins - so to speak (he handed me some men’s swim trunks) and I prepared for the Bible study by putting them on underneath my clothes. 

During the Bible study he explained that he wanted to act out the passage to show what Jesus was talking about when he said, “If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other, and if someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt.” I raised me hand when he asked for volunteers, and he brought me up along with Rev. Dorothy Field, a diminutive older woman who used to serve Swarthmore UMC. I knew what was going to happen. She did not. 

Dr. Wink explained that Jesus was trying to give the people of his time a way to challenge the power of the Roman empire with non-violent action. When a Roman slapped you on the right cheek, Jesus said, turn the other cheek. Folks these days like to follow, “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” as though that’s what Jesus taught, partly because we totally misunderstand what it is to turn the other cheek. We think it’s wimpy, which it’s not.

Walter had Rev. Field slap me on the cheek. She used her right hand and slapped me on the left cheek. He said, “no, the passage says the right cheek.” She tried using her left hand. He said, “no, nobody used their left hand, try again.” 

Finally she got it right, by using a back hand slap with her right hand on my right cheek. Walter helped us understand that this kind of slap was an action by a master to a slave, a soldier to a subservient person. He said Jesus was teaching people in an oppressive society where they couldn’t fight back openly, a way of passive resistance. If they hit back they could be killed, so Jesus taught people to ‘turn the other cheek’ and demand to be treated as an equal. Slap me like a human being. Treat me with some dignity at least. 

Walter then had us act out the next story, telling Dorothy to demand my coat, which she did. I took off my sports jacket and gave it to her, and then, glaring at her, started to unbutton my shirt. The passage says, “if someone demands your coat, give them your cloak as well.” Walter explains that for the poor people of the time, all they wore was an outer garment and an undergarment. 

I gave her my shirt and my shoes and my socks, tossing them at her feet. Then I put my hand on my belt. By this time, all the pastors in the room were hooting and hollering. “Take it off! All the way, Tatgenhorst!” I undid the belt while Dorothy hid her eyes and begged me to stop. And I handed her my pants, while the whole room cackled. 

Wink again chimed in, “This is similar to what would have happened in the first century. Soldiers and entitled people were demanding to take the coat of people who were in debt. Jesus gave people a way to fight back, showing how to embarrass the oppressor into asking the people to keep their clothes on.” Gandhi looked at this passage and claimed that Jesus was one of the first people to understand non-violent direct action.

We live in a society bathed in fear. Fear threatens to rule our lives. Because we are scared, we try to control where we live - keeping people out who don’t look like us. We are scared of terrorists, so we take action to protect ourselves and keep other people from gaining ground - which creates more terrorism. People in our culture make a lot of money by exploiting our fears - our fear of looking bad, our fear of not being strong enough or smart enough, or young enough. 

Anyone who does not play on other people’s alienation is brave. Anyone who loves their enemy is courageous. Anyone who commits themselves to non-violent action in the face of a violent culture is following the third way of Jesus, the way of peace, the way of the cross. 

What if instead of sending weapons to Ukraine, we helped them in methods of non-violent resistance to Russia, so that no matter what happens, they are prepared to resist invasion and takeover of their country? 

What if, instead of a Defense Department that is really a War Department, our country had a Peace Department in which we promote restorative justice, alternative ways to contend with disagreements both locally and internationally? 

What if, instead of protecting ourselves from anything that scares us, we challenged ourselves to face out fears, to love our neighbors and our enemies, and lived out our faith? 

We as a church commit ourselves to challenging the forces in our society that promote gun violence. We commit ourselves to connecting with other religious groups and create alliances so that we cannot be divided or pitted against each other. We commit ourselves to live into hope instead of into fear.
Living unafraid is a way of honoring the source of all life we call God, who loves all people, who loves all of God’s creation. And knowing we worship that kind of God, we know that God loves us too, even all the places in us that live out fear whether consciously or unconsciously. 

I guess if I was as fearless as my teacher Walter Wink, I would have handed someone some bathing shorts and had them do a striptease in the sanctuary today. That would have been memorable. I think I’ve had dreams where I find myself preaching in just my shorts, but we’re dreaming bigger than that today. We are dreaming of a world where people live out our faith and do the brave work of love, living out the love that has been given to us. 

Responsive hymn I Dream of a Church