Hi everyone, my name is Jon. I have the privilege of being one of the pastors here at Whitewater.
I also have the privilege of speaking on the last Sunday prior to our lives being overrun by cicadas. Scientists believe this coming week will be the week that Billions (billions with a B), billions of cicadas are predicted to emerge throughout Cincinnati and the tri-state area.
It has been nice knowing all of you. I will be underground for the next 6-8 weeks until the plague has finished.
We will emerge stronger because of this trial…
I’m joking of course. These cicadas are not harmful to us. We don’t have anything to fear. They’re just going to be an annoyance.
But, just for a second, can we lament together? The last 12 months…
COVID - RIOTS - ELECTION DRAMA - and now… CICADAS
I get it. We are not living in third-world poverty. I have a roof over my head, clothes on my back, clean running water, and food in my fridge, and because of that I’m doing better than 75% of the world’s population. (REAL TALK) But just for one second… can I just vent… about cicadas… REALLY?!?!
Ok… I got it out.
For the last five weeks, we’ve been continuing in our journey through a section of the Bible known as The Sermon on the Mount.
In this series, NEVER ENOUGH, we’ve been looking at a section of the book of Matthew, where Jesus is teaching his followers about the expectations of living our lives in a way that will reflect a new way of living… a Kingdom of God way of living.
And what we’ve been wrestling with is the pursuit and fulfillment of these "Never Enough" statements as they relate to:
Dealing with Anger
Adultery and Lust
We talked about how this can’t be achieved in our own power… on our own. They can only be obtained through God’s help, God’s people, and God’s power. He does this by giving us a new heart and renewed mind.
Romans 12:2 "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."
Ezekiel 36:26 "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh."
I may not ever be able to live up to the perfection of these ideals, but with a new heart and a renewed mind, I will aspire to these ideals daily. And, at times even attain them. When I do, I won’t achieve perfection, but I will experience peace and oneness with the Father.
Today, I’m wrapping up our "Never Enough" series, and I want to start off by asking the question:
Who is At Your Table?
We’re having a big boy conversation today.
We all spend lots of time gathered around tables… kitchen tables, breakfast tables, restaurant tables, coffee tables. Relationships are built at the table. Awesome conversations happen at the table. Breakthroughs happen at the table. Engagements happen at the table. Decisions are made at the table. The tables where we sit are really important places. They become tables of healing. Tables of grace. Tables of forgiveness.
So here’s the deal… who we invite to our table reflects how serious we take Jesus’ commands.
Before we can stand for the King, we must sit at the table of the condemned.
Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.
If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Strong words from Jesus. Love your enemies. Not just your neighbor.
If we want to love our enemies, we’ve got to be willing to invite them to our table. And if that wasn’t hard enough, he says “you are to be perfect."
I want to hit the obvious right away, so I don’t lose you.
Jesus is not exchanging one set of rules to live by with another expectation of being perfect. We have to note that in verse 48, Jesus’ words “you are to be perfect…” is a future-tense imperative. As disciples, we are to pursue the Father’s perfection in how He loves as the goal of our lives. As Christ is the author and perfecter of our faith, Jesus is calling us to love perfectly as the Father perfectly loved us.
It all comes down to love, not law. The Pharisees, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day couldn’t get this. And if we’re honest, sometimes we wrestle with this, too.
Sometimes it’s easier to follow a set of rules than it is to love people... especially with those people who are different and difficult.
Jesus is saying the standard I’m calling you to can’t be fulfilled like the Pharisees… saying all the right things, knowing all the right answers, making yourself look pious and super religious in public. Because that’s what the Pharisees would do. They would hide their true self behind ‘the law’… they held themselves to this legalistic religion. And Jesus despised it.
Listen to Jesus’ words to the Pharisees in Matthew 23…
Matthew 23:5 "Everything they do is for show."
Matthew 23:23-25 "Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides!"
Matthew 23:33 "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?"
This is big boy, grown folk Jesus. This isn’t cutie pie, gentle shepherd Jesus. This is one of the few times we see Jesus go off in the scriptures.
The religious leaders were a horrible example to follow. All religion. No relationship. All law… no love. They said all the right things and looked the part when they were in public. But on the inside, they were filthy. And each of us, if we’re honest and willing to take a hard look in the mirror… we may struggle with this. Focusing more on the outside than what’s on the inside.
We all have friends and family that are like this as well. They hide how they’re really doing, who they really are. They do this by checking off a mental checklist and if they check all the boxes, then on the outside they look great… even godly.
Give money to the church
Show up and smile on Sunday
Serve in a ministry
You could go your whole life doing these three things… good things, but never actually have a renewed mind or a transformed heart.
We can spend countless years-worth of energy making everything on the outside look shiny and happy… good and godly… but inside we’re filthy. Miserable. Filled with bitterness and hate. Filled with darkness. Or worse yet… living a life of just checking off all the boxes to look good too often leads to just checking out. Becoming numb.
Which leaves you feeling alone. Trapped. Desperate for hope.
No amount of religion and checking off the boxes will ever lead to a life filled with joy and peace.
You’ve got to get to the point that you’re willing to let others see and love the real you, so YOU can begin to love the real YOU. It’s hard to love your enemies if you don’t even love yourself.
The first person you need to invite to the table of grace is you. The real you. Sometimes, we are our greatest enemy. And if you can relate, welcome to the table of forgiveness.
When we hear Jesus’ words "love your enemies"… I don’t know about you, but I’m being really honest, it’s almost off-putting.
What do you mean you want me to love my enemies, Jesus?! How could you ask me to do something like that? You know how these people annoy me. You know how these people offend me. Clearly, that wouldn’t be me living my best life.
Obviously, this must be for the superhero Christians who have it all together.
Besides, it feels good to not like our enemies. It feels right. Didn’t one of your favorites, King David, a man after your own heart say, "O God, if only you would destroy the wicked! Get out of my life, you murderers! They blaspheme you; your enemies misuse your name. O Lord, shouldn’t I hate those who hate you? Shouldn’t I despise those who oppose you? Yes, I hate them with total hatred, for your enemies are my enemies." Psalm 139:19-22
Yes, I hate them. It feels good to go to the dark side. YES!! Let your hate consume you…
We may not like to admit it or even be willing to admit it, but there is a darkness in each of us that makes it easier to hate than to love. This gets compounded depending on what type of environments we are raised in.
Some of us were raised to look at other people and people groups with disgust and disdain… even hate. We may not use the word "hate." We may just say there are people we just don’t like or "can’t stand." It’s people, at the end of the day, we stand in opposition with.
By definition, that’s what an enemy is… someone you are opposed to.
To love my enemies means first, I have to admit I have enemies. To look outside of our chosen people group. Our community. Our chosen tribe. And to look at how friendly, how accepting, how inviting am I to those not in my tribe or community.
We’ve all got enemies. Some are easier to call out than others. Right?!
Hitler - Osama Bin Laden - Steeler Fans. We’re not inviting any of them to sit at our tables.
What about the enemies that we aren’t so quick to call out or admit to? Maybe the enemies we were taught to hate.
We weren’t born to hate. But as each of us grew up, each of us was taught to place a certain like or dislike on different people groups. And depending on what part of the world you grew up in…or what part of our country you were raised in…or how much of the world you’ve been exposed to…or what type of experiences you had while growing up…each of us learned to draw lines in the relational sandbox.
And as children, we decided who we would and who we wouldn’t play with on the playground... who we would or wouldn’t include and invite. And the longer these lines were drawn, the deeper the divide.
And what started as a beautiful picture of what heaven would be… became a world full of hate and division, a world full of enemies.
We were born to love. Taught to hate. And Jesus is trying to get us to re-learn how to love again.
Don’t say it out loud, but who is your ‘enemy’ person or people group that you are in opposition with… who would it be? Can you name them?
When Jesus first shared this message of loving your enemies, he was speaking to a people who had learned to despise anyone who didn’t live and believe like them. For the nation of Israel (those who chose to believe in Yahweh, the one true God), anyone who wasn’t a pure member of their faith community was an enemy. A Gentile. A pagan. Another race. A mixed race. All of them… enemies. The nation of Israel was raised to hate ‘them.'
We all have ‘them.' A ‘them’ that lives differently, looks differently, spends differently, loves differently, prays differently.
What if instead of seeing ‘THEM’ as my enemy, I could learn to see ‘them’ as: my other. Because underneath the thing that makes us different is the thing that makes us one. We’re both created in the Imago Dei = Image of God. Each of us, regardless of our differences, is made in God’s image.
AND regardless of who ‘my other’ is… regardless of how different they may be from me, with wildly different beliefs and opinions… Jesus went to the cross for me AND for them.
That person I despise… that I’ve chosen to stiff-arm and stereotype… and label… Jesus died for them.
The blood that fell from the cross covers every single one of us regardless of skin tone, religion, wealth, orientation, political interest, and socio-economic background. Jesus hung on the cross for the just and the unjust. Enemy and friend.
Romans 5:10 tells us that, "While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son." While we were still His enemies, Jesus died for us.
Even though I was still an enemy of the Father, He died for me. He didn’t give up on me. He showed me mercy. He extended me grace. He offered me salvation. He redeemed my life.
With all that, how can I not try to love my other… my enemy… my other brother… my other sister.
See, God doesn’t see the same dividing lines and people groups that we’ve created. He transcends human boundary markers and loves all people, even those who reject him. The love that took Jesus to the cross is the same love we are called to share with our friends and our enemies.
When we do this, Jesus says in Verse 45, "We will be acting as true children of our Father in heaven."
He’s saying when you love as the father loves, now you bear the family resemblance. We start to look like His family when the people we call to the table look like the different types of people that Jesus died for.
So, who’s at your table?
If we’re called to love our enemies, to show compassion, to sacrifice and serve our enemies the way the Father did those things for us… who needs to be at YOUR table?
Very specifically… who is your enemy? You know who you’re opposed to. You don’t need me to show an image of them. Who is Jesus asking you to invite to the table?
How many of you are familiar with Psalm 23? “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters. He stores my soul…” It’s used a lot in Christian circles, in sermons, in prayers, in locker rooms before a big game… (that setting was always curious)…
But verse 5 says this: "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over."
For the longest time, I looked at this verse like “God is gonna protect me and He’s gonna get my enemies! He’s gonna put a feast in front of me and my enemies are gonna have to watch me with jealousy and envy. God’s gonna anoint my head and overwhelm me with abundance and there isn’t anything my enemies can do about it. They just have to sit there and watch.”
I’ve preached that. I’ve clung to the promises of verse 5.
But what happens when we combine this Old Testament promise with a New Testament command from Jesus?
What if under a New Testament relationship with Jesus, this psalm takes on a whole new life of its own?
What if God prepares a table for me in the presence of my enemies, not so I can boast or for them to be envious, but He’s prepared a table of abundance for me so I can share that abundance with those at the table… even if they’re my enemies?
What if my job is to serve those at the table prepared for me? To love those at the table… even if they’re my enemies?
I love how Eugene Peterson’s The Message shares Romans 12:20: If you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.
Where there is an enemy, there is conflict and hostility.
Where there is an enemy, there is division and separation.
If our ACTUAL enemy, the evil one, can get us to be at war with ourselves and with others, then we will be rendered insignificant in our impact for the cause of Christ.
But where there is an enemy, there is also an opportunity to love… to unite, to set aside our differences and allow Christ to help us see each other as ONE.
At the table… in the presence of my enemies… God will serve justice if there’s justice to be served. BUT WE… we are called to serve LOVE.
Because if we’re able to do that… that’s the type of thing that makes us different. That’s the type of thing that would turn heads. That’s the type of thing that can change lives. That’s the type of LOVE that can change the world.