Perfection and Suffering

I was reading an old-school devotional book the other day, “Streams In The Desert.” It is arranged by days of the year, includes a small text of scripture, and a devotional thought. For the 2nd of December, the text was a clause from Hebrews 2:10: “perfect through suffering.” The word, “perfect,” in Bible, doesn’t have the same force as the English use of the word. In Bible, the word merely means, “complete” or “aligned with the goal.”
But the text got me thinking about the nature of suffering as a passive spiritual discipline. Engaging in an active discipline of suffering CAN be appropriate: fasting, sacrificing, et al. The value of passive suffering is, of course, ignored in American Christianity. But Christendom has, for millennia, seen the usefulness of suffering to build character and form a healthy and thriving spiritual life. Why?
Suffering has several causes. 1) The natural consequences of our own foolish or sinful actions; 2) Attack of the demonic (e.g.: Job); 3) the corrupt and fallen nature of the world we live in.
In the first case, natural consequences, the world system is working just fine: we ought to feel pain and discomfort for wrong choices and actions. Suffering, like guilt, is a natural feedback mechanism of common grace that help to ‘perfect’ our character (1Peter 2:20).
In the second case, we are under attack and suffering unjustly (1 Peter 2:21-23). In this case, we are doing the right and good but we are still attacked and suffer from spiritual forces. Here, we can rejoice (James 1:2-4) because we should realize where the suffering is coming from and understand that it is actually a ‘reward’ – a back-handed compliment on our right choices and actions. As James says, this also works to ‘perfect’ us.
In the third case, we suffer unjustly or disproportionately due to the corrupt world. In the workplace; we do our job well. But unknown to us, someone is looking for a promotion. If we were made to look bad, it would improve their chances. We’re victimized and sinned against because of someone else’s greed or even the organizational culture. Rules that were intended to punish evil are twisted to punish good because the world system cannot discern good from evil and looks only at raw behavior. Again: you lose a promotion into a position where you would have performed very well to someone who sacrifices family on the altar of career. You are unwilling to do that, even though you would’ve done the job better. The other guy looks more “committed to the company,” but will eventually poison the organizational culture by destroying families and employees’ lives. I could draw out other examples from family, friendships, and community contexts.
All of this is not because you are ‘righteous’ or ‘persecuted;’ it is “just the way things work” in our world.
But in that last cause of suffering, we are being perfected; our character and spiritual life is being brought closer to an intended goal. This is because we realize that the suffering we experience (due to the world’s system) is largely a part of our poor affections. We see that we are tied to this world and hold on to it – after all, it’s what we know best. The world and what it says is still important to us, even when we know there’s another – better – way. We realize, when we suffer from ‘the way things are’ that we are too much “of” the world rather than merely being in the world.
As we see how messed up the world system really is, we should release our hold on it and become attracted to the alternative Jesus presented: the Kingdom of God. We start letting go of our old world-view and see a new world coming (1Corinthians 7:29-31). This is part of our perfection – giving up our affection for the world system (1John 2:15-17).
This is how suffering perfects us; it brings up the contrast and the decision point regarding our affections: either this world, or the Kingdom of God.


God's Love and Justice; Problem?

One of my online friends posted a blog about the "problem" of God's love. Now, my friend was - as a good blogger - attempting to make a point by making a seemingly controversial statement. His point was to revisit the seeming difficulty of reconciling God's love with God's wrath. That is, we read that God is loving and we look at Jesus, who is the exact picture of God (Heb. 1:3), and see love. Yet we also see cases in the Bible where God acts in wrath. "What's up with that?"
I've been doing some thinking and preaching on this matter lately so I responded to my friend's post. Here's an expanded version.
First, I think that "wrath" and "anger" are good words as they are used in the Bible of describing God's response to people's sin, transgression, and rebellion. But the real idea that must proceed God's "wrath" is the idea of God's justice. That is, God gets "angry" as a response to our sin. We sin, punishment is earned, and God is just and acts to appropriately punish. He is also "angry" in that we have (to our own hurt and/or the hurt of others) messed up his gracious intentions for his people. And - let's be Very Clear about this - when we say God is "angry," that is NOT like our human fathers when they went ballistic. He's not capricious or out of control. No; that's how the pagan gods act.
Anyway, I’m a little nervous when someone proposes that God’s love is a “problem.” I know my friend was jesting a bit; but – yikes!
The reality is that God is both loving and just. And this is where the wheels can come off the wagon. We must see God – as does inscripturated revelation – *first* as loving; and only then as just (in response to our sin).
This is the narrative of Genesis 2 and 3 and – very importantly – the message that God himself gives us about himself in Exodus 34:6-7.
So (in Gen 2) there’s Yahweh, loving and providing for us; then we (in Adam) mess it all up (Gen 3); then God starts “cursing” the parties involved. But Yahweh can’t even get through the first curse (!) before he holds out hope that humanity will get its revenge and tells us that Jesus is coming. Even as he curses Eve, he holds out hope for continuing existence of humanity through children. Even as he curses Adam, God says that Adam’s needs will be provided for through labor. EVEN IN GOD’S “CURSING,” God is persistent to bless his image-bearers.
Notice that in the Exodus passage (very important because it is the most quoted text of the Bible by the Bible), God ‘leads off’ with compassion, grace, patience, love, forgiveness, and ends with justice.
When we emphasize God’s justice before we establish his gracious provision, it seems to me that we are making an un-Biblical emphasis. God is love (1Jn 4:8b) first both in logical and narrative priority. Only then, as a response to our high-handed rebellion, he is just. In Biblical fact, God isn’t too ‘eager’ to express his wrath (Rm 8:22-23) – there seem to be other priorities that take precedence.
The remarkable thing is that, even though we were clearly enemies of God (Eph 2:3) and deserving of wrath; God chose to love his enemies (Eph 2:4) and, by grace (Eph 2:8-9), gave us every spiritual blessing (Eph 1:3-14). Loving your enemies – where have we heard that before? Oh – hold on – Jesus said that (Lk 6:27,35).
It seems to me that’s what Yahweh is like. We don’t need to pit one characteristic against another (as my friend rightly condemned). I’m suggesting that we do need to begin with what God says.


Water Facts and Politics

I have just come across a very interesting set of statistics while reading The Economist (“For Want Of A Drink,” May 22, 2010, at 52). I was sharing this with some folks this morning as we were talking about the BP oil blowout near the Gulf coast.

Water is remarkable. Without it, life as we know it ceases. It has the physical property of becoming *less* dense as it cools allowing its solid state to float on its liquid state. Someone could correct me, but I believe that water is the only significant compound that does that. Water is, literally, "vital" to human existence. And with more humans on the planet, we need to find more water.

Everyone in grade school learns that the surface of our planet is made up of mostly water. There’s a lot of it – a lot! Strictly, it is a practically non-renewable resource as water is not easily made or unmade. While water may exist in several forms (ice, liquid, gas), there is only so much of it on the planet. We may get some deposits in the form of meteors, but we also lose some water to space, as well.

So let’s break down our water. Of all the water on our planet, 97.5% of it is salty. Let that sink in a bit. That means of all the water on our planet, only 2.5% is ‘fresh’ water – only two and a half percent. Water can be “de-salted,” but that is not easy and takes a lot of energy.

Now of that 2.5%, 69.5% of fresh water is locked up in glaciers and permafrost. So, of the fresh water that we do have, nearly seven tenths of it is not moving. So, of the 2.5% of all the water on the planet, only a bit over 30% is not locked up solid. Of the remaining non-solid water, a bit over one percent is on the surface – the rest of it is underground. Let me restate that; of the non-solid water, one percent is above ground and the rest is underground.

So the underground water is somewhat accessible and we get to that by sticking a hole into the skin of the earth and sucking it up or waiting for it to bubble up. We call those wells. Drilling for oil is roughly the same idea. Here’s our problem – most of the ground water that we tap in these ‘aquifers’ is being used up faster than it is being replenished by trickling back in. At some point in the future, all things being equal (yes, that's quite an assumption), we will suck the ground dry.

Let’s return to the surface. Not all is as it seems there. For of the 2.5% of the water on the planet that is fresh, and of the one percent of it that is either not locked up solid or buried in the ground, you are left with what is called “Surface and Atmospheric” water. As it is titled, ten percent of the S&A water is floating in the air. The rest of S&A water is divided up this way: 70% in lakes and rivers, 20.7% in soil moisture and wetlands, and under one percent is locked up in plants.

So the big picture to take away from all of this is that while the Earth has lots of water, it turns out that only a very small amount of it is easy to get at. By the way, we don't like it when we drain out big collections of water. The Russians have done a rather compelling job of emptying the Aral Sea and nobody else is happy about that.

So what’s the other side? Of the fresh liquid water from rivers, lakes, and groundwater; 67% is used for food production, 20% is used for houses and industry, 10% is used for power generation, and three percent just evaporates from reservoirs.

One of the problems with water is that it is not super easy to recycle it. A lot of farm and industrial water is used and then tainted with some nasty chemicals – it takes energy and/or time to clean it up. So that fresh water is both “used” and “consumed.” That is, being “consumed” (tainted), it can’t be released back into the general supply. We tried doing that for a while and then found that rivers were catching on fire. So that didn’t work out for us very well. We do treat sewage water, but only to release it *mostly* cleaned up into the general supply and let other biological processes clean up the rest.

I was born and raised in Southern California. As I learned about the history of my state it turned out to be dominated by water politics. How to get water from wet parts of the state to dry parts and, if at all possible (and it was) to ‘steal’ it from other states. Water is a Big Deal in California. My father was employed by the Water Resources Control Board in their huge California Aqueduct project. In a very earlier similar project, California actually accidentally created a huge lake in the southern interior now called the Salton Sea because of a water transportation accident. Lots of people need lots of water and California - especially the southern part - is defined by imported water.

Water, on a world-wide scale, may become one of the dominant political footballs of the next century just as it was in the last century in California. It will be an interesting issue to monitor.


Luke 11 - Deleted Scenes

I just preached on Luke 11, the first bit where Jesus again teaches the disciples about how to pray. He gives nearly the same model prayer that he did in his prior public teaching (recorded by Matthew). As before, I’m including some “Deleted Scenes” that were prepared for the sermon, but didn’t make the Final Cut. Now when I do this, I’m not – at all – implying that the information in these Deleted Scenes would make it into the “Director’s Cut.” Some of this was cut for time, others because they didn’t relate directly to the main message, even if it was initially interesting to me.

Before we get into looking at this verse by verse, I want to acknowledge that I get lots of help when I prepare a sermon. I say this because not only do I want to teach and preach to you about what’s in the Bible and what it tells us to do. But also because I want you to see a bit into how I come to these conclusions. Now, I don’t always do this as well as I should. But I thought I’d just take a minute to acknowledge help that I do get. After I study a passage on my own, I’ll then go to reliable commentaries to check my work and see that I’m on track. One commentary that I’ve been using a lot of is this one by Darrell Bock, a professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary. This thick book covers only the last half of the single book of Luke. The full commentary on Luke is two books this size. I’ll also use other commentaries to give me some other input. Here’s a commentary (The Interpreter Bible) that we had in the church library – I think it was donated – and I found it’s not that helpful. You just learn these things. Commentaries can be helpful to keep you on track – after you do as much as you can on your own – as well as pointing out things that you might have missed: which is mostly what is valuable to me.

This sermon was uncharacteristic of me because I dove into the Greek a bit. I try NOT to do that (even though many preachers do) for a variety of reasons. But in this case it was helpful. As you’ll see, I was tempted to put in much more “Greeky” stuff than actually went into the final sermon…

The language can fail us so we’re going to get all Greek-y. The phrase is “One day;” actually, the language gives more the meaning, “It unfolded…” giving this as more of an episode that played out. And that is much of the ‘feeling’ of Luke’s gospel; we get the feeling that we’re walking along with Jesus, seeing events as they unfold.

More Greek: “Lord~” is a ‘vocative’ – a calling, address; take a noun and use that to call out to someone. It’s like: “Ushers, would you come down?” or “Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup!” or “Private, you come here!” or “Lord, please teach us…”

Now there is this odd Greek grammatical structure of a past-tense combined with a command, or technically known as the Aorist-Imperative. Doesn’t that just bless your socks off? This grammatical structure is actually used as request to superior in this word: “teach us.” Usually an imperative is a command, but telling God, or any superior, what to do is not wise! So it seems that the Greeks showed respect by putting the command in the past. So a command, “you taught us” was understood to be “Please teach us.”

I spent some time talking about the New Testament use of the word “Abba” as ‘Father.’ I’ve discussed this before in this blog (http://ericmesselt.blogspot.com/search/label/father). In retrospect, it would have been helpful to clarify what I was trying to get across – something like this…

When we see that God tells us that he is our Father, does that mean that God is not our “daddy?” Certainly not! It is fully appropriate and supported in the Bible (think of some of the Psalms) to cuddle up in our heavenly Father’s lap, nestle into him, and have a good cry. This kind of casual or informal relationship with God is, it seems to me, clearly supported in scripture. But, again, what is NOT supported in scripture is this idea that God is our “buddy,” our “pal,” or our “mate.” There is much in the Bible that talks about what a proper and healthy Father-child relationship is like and none of implies that the Father and the child are peers. Any time we make God out to be that kind of he’s-just-like-me relationship, we’ve got it wrong.

At the same time, Jesus does say that he is our friend. But in any earthly friendship between two people, there seems to usually be a dominate person in the relationship. With our friendship with Jesus, he’s always the dominate person.

So, yes, a healthy relationship with God as our Father includes both intimacy and respect, affection and honor. God is our Father.

As to the point of our relationship with God as our Father…

I had a chat with my son, Theo, recently. One of the points I reminded him of was that I was extremely invested in his happy and successful future. That is, I cared a lot more for him than any – ANY – of his current friends at school or even here at the church. There is no one on the planet who loves Theo more than Barb and I. At the end, I hope it was clear to Theo that I had his long-term happiness and success in life in mind – and that is just not true of any of his friends in school or church. That’s a small part of the nature of God’s fatherhood of us: he is vitally interested in our lives and he knows what will make us truly happy in the long-term

I got to the section where Jesus says that if we ask, seek, or knock – we’ll get good things…

But what about this language? Is God a genie in a lamp and gives us whatever we ask? That seems very contrary to the flow of this story. That potential misunderstanding is corrected for us in Jas 4:2 – in our day, we must look at the whole Bible to formulate our theology. And, if we look carefully at the language, it is not saying that God will give you exactly what you asked for, but that God will graciously respond in terms of the request.


So that's my Deleted Scenes. Again, it's probably more helpful for you to listen to the sermon first (www.lbchapel.org/media.php?pageID=24) and then you'll understand the context of these 'scenes.'


Apostolic Suffering

I was reading through 2 Corinthians, chapter 6, this morning and was struck by the chapter and its application to my life – though I wasn’t expecting one.
The chapter begins with a call to salvation – which is a weird thing as Paul addresses the letter to the church; that is, believers in Jesus, the people of God, those who are saved. So, it turns out that the gospel may be applicable to Christians after all. Huh; go figure.

Then Paul moves quickly to a discussion of evangelism. Specifically, that he puts nothing in the way of anyone and engages in great sacrifice so that people might receive the grace of God. Of course, this is what the “seeker” movement has really been about for decades: making sure that the gospel of Jesus is accessible to all, without putting religious expectations (dress, old music, style of architecture, and even confusing words) in the way of those who God is bringing to himself. This is also very annoying to those who have been in the church for a Long Time and are comfortable with the way church was done in their youth, forgetting how radical some of those things were back in the day, and now unjustly critiquing young evangelicals today. I find that tragically ironic.

But here was the thing that arrested my attention. I’ve read verses four through ten frequently enough to dismiss this section of scripture. It just doesn’t relate to me. Even more: I most certainly DO NOT want it to relate to me! This is a section where Paul, in his on-going ‘discussion’ with the Corinthians about how much they disrespect him, speaks of his very hard life for the sake of preaching the gospel. He says – and we can believe him – that he’s (at times) been beaten up, thrown in jail, been in riots, worked very hard, lost a lot of sleep, and hasn’t had enough to eat.

Let me be blunt. I’m a rather “pain adverse” kinda guy. I don’t like pain and I avoid it. I don’t like adversity and my first reaction, should I encounter something that hurts, is to go away from it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll put up with pain, suffering, and hardship if I can see the ultimate benefit. For a minor example, I recently went to the dentist and (because I haven’t been for a few years) had a major cleaning done. The dental hygienist commented that she has to use anesthetic on most people going through these procedures but I seemed to be enduring the pain rather well. Folks, it wasn’t because it didn’t hurt. It was because my teeth needed to be cleaned and for the long-term viability of my dental health, I needed to endure this.

So I, in times past have read this (and other sections like it) and prayed, “Thank you, God, that I have not had to suffer like Paul did.” And as of this moment, that is still the case – no body’s beat me up, thrown me in jail, etc.

However, I will say that I have lost some sleep over pastoral concerns - as Paul relates. In addition, as the chapter continues, Paul says some other things have happened. He turns to what we would (and should) think of as positive things and yet Paul says he has to “endure” them: purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, real love, telling the truth, and the power of God. Maybe I’m not getting this, but what I hear is that Paul is saying that not only must he endure the hard things, but he must endure the “good” things. What does that mean?

I wonder if what Paul is suggesting is that ministry is a disciplined activity. And that he must exercise discipline to be pure (for the sake of preaching the gospel), that he must exercise discipline to make sure his mind is clear and truly understands the gospel and scripture (for the sake of preaching the gospel); that he must be patient with difficult people and situations, be kind when he feels like being mean, yield to the Spirit when he’d rather act in the ‘natural’ man, exercise tough love when he’d rather just be ‘nice,’ and just be a “normal guy” but God keeps insisting that Paul must act in God’s power – all for the sake of preaching the gospel.

Then, and here’s where it got personal: Paul next goes through this list of human-related sufferings: that he is dishonored, slandered, treated as an obscure, dead, cursed, unhappy, and poor impostor. Yep, there were those who were coming close to calling Paul a heretic. 
Ouch – talk about criticizing the pastor!

Finally, Paul concludes his thought with a very interesting warning. He says that his heart was open to the Corinthians; he spoke freely with them and encouraged them to be free with their affections. But they would not. They were emotionally constipated and immature. Note that, specifically in the context of their emotional response of affection, he tells them to remove the restriction because they are behaving like children. The warning is that the Corinthians were in a case of arrested development. And, for a church, that is a Very Bad Thing.


Resisting Temptation

Back in the 4th grade, we temporarily moved to one of the, er, interesting parts of California: Bakersfield. I started at a new school and had some very typical problems fitting in: I was from out of town, the Big City, everybody else seemed to know each other already, it was a very different kind of place than I’d come from, and then there was the problem of The Bully.

But I digress. I became friends with another boy whose name was Teddy. Teddy and I discovered we had similar interests and outlooks on life. His family was from the Philippines and I remember being amazed at their hospitality, generosity, and friendliness. To this day, I have a particular affection for Filipinos. So Teddy and I became thick as thieves, as they say, and we would look out for each other. Teddy knew who was who and what was what at the school. I was a tall kid so probably provided some cover for Teddy. Anyway, Teddy and I, with a few others, ran in a small pack: call it a mutual defense association.

At this point in my life, I can’t remember the boy’s name. But he was a sixth grader and apparently had as his Personal Calling Statement the purpose, value, and vision to make sure that all the students in our school were intimidated by him. When he saw me – remember, I was tall for my age – I popped up on his radar as an unidentified “bogie.” And his mission was to seek and destroy.

So one day, he confronted me during the recess period and uttered those words that an extremely insecure boy does not want to hear: “After school, I’m goin’ to beat you up!” Again, he wasn’t noted for his subtlety.

So for the rest of the day, Teddy and I planned our strategy to deal with this threat. It went something like this: “Wadda we gonna do?! Wadda we gonna do?! Wadda we gonna do?!” Now, and don’t miss this, there was never any this from Teddy: “Dude, that’s bad. Sure isn’t good to be you now. See ya later!” Teddy was my friend. My problem was his problem. Right there we could stop and this will be a great illustration.

But it was better than that. We realized that there were two exits to the school. One was the front and the other was the, er – yes – the back. So we made this plan. Once school got out, I’d hide – I’m not too proud to admit this – in the boy’s room. Teddy committed to going out and scoping the exits. If BullyBoy was in the front, we’d skedaddle out the back; and if he was in the back, we’d make our escape out the front. Notice, “OUR escape;” My problem was his problem.

It turned out that this plan worked very well. Teddy did an effective reconnoiter and located our threat force near the front exit of the school. We then executed a tactical exit strategy egressing from the rear of the school, suitably camouflaged by buildings, vegetation, and other terrain features. The extraction maneuver was successful and based upon our well-executed plan, we were able to successfully leverage our success when it came time to engage in diplomatic negotiations.

Here’s the point: Teddy helped me escape. He took my problem on as his own. He helped me find a way out in a very practical way.

So I think of God in that way. Temptation is my problem – God didn’t cause my temptation. “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). Yet my temptation is a problem that God takes up as his own. God, even more so that Teddy, is my friend and wants to help me in very practical ways. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1Corinthians 10:13). God, not only looks out for another escape route like Teddy did for me, but this verse says that God will “make” or “do” a way of escape. I take that to mean that if way is not already there, “providentially,” then God will just create a way miraculously.

Of course, most of us don’t have the faith to look for that way when we are tempted. That assumes that we are actually looking for a way out of temptation. But that’s another conversation.


Lawyer's Parable - Deleted Scenes

Wow - it's been quite a long time since I've entered a blog here. Normally I could've counted on a couple of "deleted scenes" entries but I just haven't preached that much these last couple of months. The couple of sermons I have done haven't had unused material. But this last sermon had plenty! This last sermon was on the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Usually, when I post a blog on a past sermon, it is to include ideas that didn't make it into the 'final cut.' And while that's also the case here, this "Deleted Scenes" blog post will include some self-evaluation of the sermon itself.

I'm currently finishing up a course in preaching (the fancy word is "homiletics;" say it to yourself - it's a fun word to say: "haw-mil-et-iks") that I'm doing remotely through my school, Western Seminary. So, yes, I've done over a full year of vocational ministry and preaching without formal training. Now that I'm finishing up the course, I'm sensitive to several areas regarding my own preaching. So some of these comments reflect that.

As I get into trying to present the parable of the Good Samaritan, I'm confronted with the "problem" that the parable is so well known and beloved that it's really tough to say anything interesting about it that has not already been said. But, I then realize, there are plenty of people, even here at Lakeside Bible Chapel, that haven't had the opportunity to hear a sermon on this parable, and many others who - as do we all - continue to benefit by being challenged by that which we know so well. It is said that teaching is "telling them something they don't know" while preaching is "telling them to live out what they already know." In that spirit, I take up this parable.
During the sermon preparation, I was constantly confronted with these questions: "What is it that we need to know?" and "What do we need to do?" I, with help from Darrell Bock, realized that the thing to know was that God demands that our love for neighbor have no limitations. But the nagging thing was Jesus' use of the Samaritan as his hero. What was Jesus trying to communicate there? Well, as has often been pointed out by commentators and preachers, there was extreme emnity between Jews and Samaritans. This is not only what your favorite preachers have told you, but is demonstrated in scripture. We see the beginnings of Samaria in 1Kings 12 when the Kingdom was divided, north and south, between "Isarel" and "Judea." Israel created an official and competing religious system. Then, after a long time and several warnings by God, they were punished and judged. When we think of the "Ten Lost Tribes of Israel," that's the group that we're refering to. The "lost" word doesn't refer to the thought that they went wandering around looking for a new homeland - which is what the Mormons believe without a shred of reliable evidence - but that they were "lost" to posterity: that they ceased to exist as a people. That, friends, is a horrible judgment! And that is the price they paid for their unrepentant idolatry. The lesson, if I may be so bold, from those lost people is that if you continue to resist God's calls to repentance, you will die. The New Testament parallels that thought when Paul reminds the church in the city of Rome that, 'what you earn by sin is death' (Romans 6:23).
This is a critique of my message that is good to insert here: I have not yet learned to recognize when I might say something and it will be distracting to the audience. For example, it was pointed out to me that I used the word "hate" a lot during the message. "Hate" is a very powerful word. Now my intention was for people to be grabbed by the emotional force of Jesus' story - which I belive is very much there. However, I forgot that the rest of the people in the room have not had the 'luxury' that I've had of thinking about this parable for two months and working through all the emotional reactions to it as I have. Therefore, I came off using the "hate" word in a seemingly cavaier way. I continue to grow in this area.
[Regarding the question of 'what do we need to do:'] If love is not limited by any excuse, then this parable seems to tell us something much more difficult. We must allow active love to cross over our barriers of prejudice, bigotry, resentment, and even rights of vengeance  As to vengeance  I've said elsewhere that the Bible is pretty clear that vengeance is none of our business. "'Vengeance is mine, I will repay.' says the Lord" (quoted in Romans 12:19 and Hebrews 10:30). We have no rights to vengeance! Strike that - actually, we do. The only act of vengeance that God allows us is this one tool: kindness. "If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you." (Proverbs 25:21-22). And that is *exactly*, seems to me, what Jesus is suggesting in this parable. We need to be kind to our enemies. We need to perform acts of love to those we hate.
There are all sorts of people we hate. Some of those feelings we have are so strong that we don't consciously recognize them at all. We repress our feelings because we know that those feelings are wrong, sinful, and destructive. I'll tell you about a hatred I have that I recognized a few years back. I hate men that beat up their wives. I have a visceral, irrational, extremely negative emotional reaction when I hear about that. I don't even know where it comes from. There is no abuse in my family, there was none of that between my or Barb's parents. But I will tell you this, if a guy comes in for pastoral counseling and tells me he's beating on his wife, at this point in my life, I have to politely refer him to somebody else. My 'hatred' is just too strong.

Now my hatred is irrational: my belief in the regeneration that is available through Jesus Christ tells me that what this man needs is Jesus. Yet, right now, I am so repulsed that I cannot - yet - bring myself to minister to that man's needs. Though, I will say that God continues to work in my heart over this matter. I remind myself that God has forgiven me much and I must entrust that man's life to Jesus for redemption.
The hatred that the Jews and Samaritans had for each other was, yes, at some level 'justifiable.' Sure, the Samaritans were indeed heretics and acted like Esau to deny their birthright. Additionally, the Jews were pretty smug about their supposedly iron-clad relationship with Yahweh. They each had 'reasonable' gripes towards each other. It is said that the long-standing historical feud between the Hatfields and McCoys had some basis - but the basis was about who owned a pig. Most hatred is irrational! The interesting thing that Jesus does here is he * acknowledges* the actual hatred that exists. Yes, Jews hate Samaritans. That's a fact. It is not right, but it does exist. So he uses the Jews' existing bigotry to make the point even more firmly. Jesus does occasionally use startling and unexpected things to make his points.

When we think about our own "Samaritans," I'm not suggesting that our hatreds are objectively justified or justifiable. But they do exist. They subjectively seem like completely appropriate attitudes to have. That why we sometimes need to dig around to find them.

[Here I could've named some of our prejudices: politics, religion, causes. Instead I tried to capture that with the retelling of the parable. The idea was to try and get traction with people's unacknowledged 'hatreds.' One feedback that I received was that when I told that parable, it could've been very uncomfortable for a visiting Muslim, homosexual, or cult member to realize that the room was full of people who hated them! That was a very legitimate critique. I probably should've said more about how such hatreds are not right.]
[I really goofed up the sermon in this way. I should've put this next section in. As it stands below, it could've been developed better, but you can see where I was going with it. I probably could've cut out the Lawyer part and put this in. {Smack} is the sound my my hand hitting my forehead.]
Love like this - doing kindnesses to our enemies and those that we despise - is Very Hard. Let's not kid ourselves. It is impossible for people to do that well in the long term.
That's the point. God has enemies. Everyone in this room was or even still may be an enemy of God. I've been thinking a lot in the last year about this idea in Romans 5 that we were enemies of God. Ephesians 2 says that we were children of God's wrath. Yet the very next verse says that because of God's rich mercy he loved us. God loves his enemies! And God actively acted to bless his enemies. Jesus, in his love for us, endured torture and death that we might receive every spiritual blessing. God acted in love towards his enemies. Jesus acted in love towards his enemies. God's standard of holiness is himself. He expects us to love our enemies.
I can't. I just can't do that!
Except for this: Jesus changed me. I'm not the same guy as I was before. It is now possible for me to love my enemies. I don't do it often or very well. But as I follow Jesus more closely, I find that I can love my enemies. And that would be impossible if it were not for the re-creating work that Jesus did in my life when I became a Christian.