Vengeance is not Mine

A recent issue of Leadership magazine features a cartoon in which the pastor of a church is standing at the back shaking hands with people following services.  The man who is currently shaking hands with him is saying, "Powerful sermons, Pastor. Thoughtful, well researched. I can always see myself in them and I want you to knock it off."

I can’t help but wonder if a number of you have felt that way about my recent lessons.  I do know that some of you have felt challenged by them.  But instead of telling me to “knock it off,” you have told me that you appreciate the challenge.

Personally, I go back and forth.  Some days I love preaching through the Sermon on the Mount.  It is the heart of Jesus’ teaching.  It is exciting and uncompromising.  Jesus is unrelenting in his call to us to live like citizens of God’s Kingdom.  But sometimes I feel like every sermon is another exercise in exploratory surgery—revealing but painful.

Today’s is no exception.  Once again Jesus calls on his followers to run counter to human nature.  He asks us to act counter to that basic human desire—the desire for revenge against our enemies.

Our desire for revenge goes all the way to our core.  It is a deeply imbedded aspect of the human psyche.  Just think about how many movies there are with revenge as the theme.  Just think about how angry people get if a movie ends without the bad guy getting his or her comeuppance.  Let’s face it.  It’s simply unnatural to do what Jesus is asking us to do this morning.  It is not natural to turn the other cheek or to pray for your enemies.

And yet that is what Jesus tells us to do.  Not only that, though.  It’s also what he did.  This morning, we’ll see once again that, while he was calling us to a way of life, he himself was already living it.  Any success we have in loving our enemies will merely be a reflection of the Savior who loved his enemies enough to pray for them, even while they executed him.

Exploratory surgery is not just painful.  It also brings about healing.  Maybe this morning you’ve been carrying something around.  Maybe you’re still nursing a wound (a very real, legitimate wound) that someone has inflicted on you.  Maybe this morning will be the day that you can begin turning it over to God.  Because a life that is “Built on the Rock” is no longer controlled by the things that people do to us.  It is a life that is free to move on in God’s grace.  In the words of Jesus, may we learn to forgive as we are forgiven.

Robert Lee