Becoming the Image
Three years ago Guylaine and I were in Spain, walking the Camino de Santiago. We made it to Santiago, and the next day we decided to continue on to the coast, to Finisterra, which means literally “the end of the world”. We had a late start that day, we slept in and had a leisurely breakfast. Eventually we set out on the path to Finisterra by mid-morning, and we stopped at a little corner store on the way to buy some food for a picnic lunch. The shop had lots of good stuff – fresh bread, chorizo sausage, tomatoes, fruit, cheese, chocolate. When we brought our basket of food to the cash, the young Galician woman behind the counter refused to accept payment. We tried to insist but there was no way she was going to let us pay. “Para los pelegrinos,” she said with a smile. For the pilgrims. “Buen camino.”
We walked out of that shop and looked at each other, a bit stunned. The hospitality, the generosity, was overwhelming. Surprising. Delightful. It didn’t really make any sense.
Have you ever experienced grace?
That moment for me was an experience of grace, it really didn’t make any sense, it was a moment of pure, unearned, undeserved gift, - but it was even more than that. That day I encountered God in the grace of that Spanish shopkeeper. And grace changes everything.
The gospel from Luke that we just heard picks up from where we left off last week. And so let me do the same. Do you remember the question I left you with last week?
“There are two ways to live: God’s way and the other way. Which one are you going to choose?”
When Jesus talks about God’s way, the phrase, the image that he uses is the Kingdom of God. Though to our ears that might sound like a place, that’s not what the kingdom of God is. The kingdom of God is rather a movement, a powerful, transformative movement of love, grace and mercy that is bringing healing, that is doing justice, that is liberating people, that is reversing the entrenched power structures and social and economic injustice of this world.
The kingdom of God is a movement that changes everything.
Now you get to choose. Are you part of this movement or not?
That’s where we left off last week. You’ve had a whole week to think about it. My hope is that you will choose to be part of this movement. And if you do, if you’re still listening, then you probably have a question.
How then shall I live?
If I am to be part of this movement called the kingdom of God, how then shall I live?
It’s a good question. In fact, it just might be the most important question you’ve ever asked yourself. And it is precisely the question that Jesus is responding to in today’s gospel reading.
How then shall I live?
“I say to you who listen, love your enemies. If you love those who love you, what grace is there in that? Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you.”
Is that what you were expecting?
Jesus’ response to the “How then shall I live question?” is breath-taking. In a world where enemies were easily identifiable, the Roman soldier who crucified your uncle, or the tax-collector who took the last scrap of food away from your children, loving your enemy is almost unthinkable. It is not just that this is a high standard, it is not just that it appears dangerously foolish. It’s that it is, quite frankly, open to question as an ethical practice and certainly at odds with the prevailing wisdom.
And yet this is Jesus’ invitation to those who want to be part of his kingdom of God movement. Why?
The reason he gives is not that we are to live this way in order to make the world a better place, or to make us better people, in fact he explicitly says that we are to expect nothing in return. Though clearly the imperative to love our enemies has ethical implications, it is not being urged upon us for ethical reasons.
No, the reason that we are to live this way, the reason we are to love our enemies and to live lives of love and grace and mercy is because that’s what God is like.
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
Our God is a God of love, grace and mercy. We have been created in the image of God to be the image of God in this world. We are to see as God sees, to love as God loves, to be gracious as God is gracious and to be merciful as God is merciful. We have been created in the image of God to be the image of God in this world. When we see our enemies, those that hate, curse and mistreat us, we are to see them the way God sees them, as God’s children, as people made in the image of God, loved by God, worthy of love, dignity and respect, and so we are to love them. And when we do, we become an image of God in the world, an image of God’s grace and mercy and the love that extends to all people and indeed all of creation.
How then shall I live? Live in the image of God. Be merciful just as your Father is merciful. Because in so doing you will become the image of God in this world, making God present and real in the lives of those around you. That’s what it means to be part of this movement.
And make no mistake, this movement will change everything. When we live this way, there will be no more war. When we live this way, there will be no more hunger. When we live this way, there will be no more poverty. That’s where we’re heading. This is a movement that will change everything, including ourselves.
But getting there won’t be pretty. Loving your enemy is hard. There is only one human I know of that embodied it fully, and that man was rejected, persecuted, tortured and put to death on a cross. We talked about this last Sunday. Woe to you who are rich. Those who are in positions of power and privilege will always be tempted to stop a movement whose very purpose is to change everything.
But there is no stopping it. The one who was put to death on a cross was raised by God from the dead.
Next Sunday we will be celebrating baptisms. That means that all of us will have the opportunity to renew our baptismal covenant. And as part of that renewal, I will ask you all the following questions:
Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
This is an invitation. We who have been made in the image of God are being invited to join in God’s movement by becoming the image of God in the world. How then shall I live?
Love your enemy. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. Expect nothing in return. Live lives of love, grace and mercy. Because when you do, you become the image of God in this world.
Homily. Yr C P7, Feb 24 2019, St. Albans
Readings: Gen 45.3-11, 15; Ps 37.1-12, 41-42; 1 Cor 15.35-38, 42-50; Luke 6.27-38
Image by Avinash Bhat, Creative Commons