Can I Level With You?
The Scugog Island United Church Bulletin for February 20th 2022
In Our Prayers
Jean Law, Elsie Nicholson, Terry Petroff, John and Diane Findlay, Todd Green, Nancy and Don Scarrow, Debbie McIntyre, Anne Chillingworth, John Black, Lynne and Ian McLeod, Nellie Van Dyke, Tim Pelyk, Bob Currie, Derrek Linton, Sharen Bobbie, Ed and Jane Williams, Bill Statton, Cheryl Helm, Tracy Harper, Linda Fretz, and Joanne.
Support the Life and the Work of the Church
If you would like to donate to Scugog Island United Church, cheques can be made payable to "Scugog Island United Church" and mailed to 19100 Island Road, Port Perry, L9L 1B6. Thank you for your generosity and continued support.
Keep Up To Date Online
You can visit our website at scugogislandunitedchurch.com And be sure to like and follow our Facebook page @ScugogIslandUC
Looking forward Guest Worship Leader Robert Bennett
We are very happy to welcome Robert Bennett back to lead worship on March 20th and 27th while Rev. Ned takes some study leave time.
World Day of Prayer
You are invited to pray with Christians around the world as part of World Day of Prayer on Friday, March 4, 2022. The service has been prepared by women in England, Wales & Northern Ireland. The worship video can be viewed on the website at scugogislandunitedchurch.com
If you haven't yet sent your annual report in to Elizabeth, please do so as soon as possible. Thank you.
Your love is amazing God. It extends beyond the farthest horizon, it breaks down divisions, and it can never be contained. We give thanks for your expansive love that inspires our worship. Your love is the light that shines in the darkness and cannot be overcome. We are witnesses to the light of Jesus Christ that shines in the world. May we reflect that light in all we do. Amen.
Prayer of Confession
Loving God, you know that it is easier for us to talk about the love Jesus preached and practiced, than it is to live it. It is easier to love those whose company we enjoy, those with shared values, and those who treat us well. But you call us to love our enemies and those who would return love with hate. This isn’t something we could do without your help. And we will need a lot of help as the world feels more divided than ever. We pray for your continued love and faithfulness which makes all things possible. Amen.
Words of Forgiveness
God loves us even when we struggle to love ourselves. Through God we are able to love others. In love we can forgive just as we are forgiven. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Scripture Reading: Luke 6: 17, 27-38
He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.[a] Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the 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, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
Reflection: Can I Level With You?
In his book, “Pastoral Song” author James Rebanks shared memories from his childhood of working on the family farm in England with his dad and grandad. One memory he shared was that he was out working in the fields with his dad when he noticed his dad was suddenly looking very alarmed. Something had his dad very concerned, but James couldn’t tell what it was. His dad was watching the neighbours plowing the field, but everyone seemed to be fine. Then his dad asked where were the birds? They should be following theplow and eating the worms as the soil got turned up. He realized that something they had put in the soil had killed all the worms. This was at a time after WWII where England, conscious of how vulnerable it was to rely on importing food, directed its farmers to produce more and more food and to make food cheaper. Fewer people living in the country meant more reliance on machinery, small farms began to be bought up by larger ones, different chemicals were being introduced into farming without the awareness we have now of the potential side effects. The memory of his father noticing with alarm that there were no worms in the neighbours field was one that caused James to question the idea of progress that was being promoted everywhere. Instead of progress everywhere he looked he saw farmers struggling. They were pouring more and more time and energy and money into trying to keep up with the rapid changes, but never managing to get ahead of the fast pace of change. And at the same time the quality of soil and the biodiversity of the environments were being depleted which made it even harder for them.
This image came to mind when I read the familiar and challenging words of Jesus “love your enemies.” I thought of how love directed toward enemies and those who would return love with hate was like trying to start a farm in the desert or someplace where the soil had been completely depleted. You can still plant seeds in an inhospitable environment, some of them may even grow, but certainly the effort that you put in will not be equal to the results of what you get back. I’ve heard too many stories of people who have poured themselves out for a cause or a person and received nothing back that they burned out. You’ve likely heard the saying, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” This is advice that was shared often in seminary as a reminder for ministers and people active in churches that in order to help others we also have to take care of ourselves.
Taking care of ourselves doesn’t leave much space for loving our enemies. Maybe in small manageable doses? Ethically I struggle with this as it almost sounds like we should tolerate abuse and suffering. I don’t think this is the way Jesus intended it though. He was speaking to people in a different context and culture. He lived in what I have heard referred to as a shame culture, where an individuals bad actions would result in a loss of pride for not just the individual but their family and community as well. The threat of being publicly shamed and ostracized by ones people was a powerful motivator shaping individuals actions. When Jesus tells his followers that if someone takes your coat, give them your shirt also, keep in mind that in those days people generally wore two articles of clothing: a cloak and a tunic. If someone takes the outer clothing and you give them the shirt off your back as well you would be left naked. In the culture of Jesus’ day it was a source of shame to view someone while they were naked. This would be a motivator for the person to return the clothes to avoid the shame of their community.
Likewise when Jesus says if someone strikes you turn the other cheek, this is not as passive as it might seem. The scholar Walter Wink argued that this was a way to demand equality. In those days a back handed slap with the right was a way someone of a higher status could assert their authority and dominance. In that culture the left hand would not be used to strike someone because it was used for unclean purposes. So by turning the other check, the person of higher status could not slap with the back of their hand. They would need to punch or open hand slap. But this would be seen as a challenge and recognition of equality. Rather than being a way of passively accepting abuse, turning the other cheek forces the person to recognize the other as an equal. In a nonviolent way Jesus was directly challenging and subverting the power structure of his day.
The command to love our enemies goes against common sense. It seems like this is the perfect way to be taken advantage of. Jesus said “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” But so often we treat others the way they treat us. Jesus’ instruction to love our enemies is an easy commandment to pay lip service to, but it is not so easy to live out. In fact it is nearly impossible. We are naturally inclined to avoid our enemies and those who would return our love with hate. It is much easier to love those who are part of our group: people who share our values, people who have pleasant personalities, people who are kind to us and reciprocate our love.
Lately we’ve seen a lot of division. Whether it is the protestors in Ottawa and at various border crossings, or the counter protestors in Ottawa and other cities. From what I’ve heard, the atmosphere among the protestors toward each other and supporters is one of love, optimism, and mutual support. From what I’ve read similar attitudes of mutual love, optimism and support toward one another existed among members of the counter protest when they gathered. But as Jesus message points out, the challenge isn’t to love those who love you, or to do good to those who do good to you. The challenge is to extend the love that would normally be reserved only for one’s family, community, and allies and to then extend it to those beyond. Protests aren’t really a great forum for showing nuance and having dialogue. People have made up their minds, chosen their position and are there not to listen, but to loudly argue for their side. It is a bit like conversations online, where behind the barrier of a screen, people are more aggressive than they would be in person. This isn’t the right soil to have a fruitful dialogue. My hope and prayer is that in the coming days and weeks, as people talk with friends and family about their views there will be respectful dialogue, a lot of patience, and forgiveness that restores relationships.
The scripture passage today continues from last week. Jesus had taught and healed the crowds, then turned to his followers with this challenging message. An interesting detail from the gospel passage is that it says, “He came down with them and stood on a level place.” It might have been easier for people to see and hear him if he had been elevated, but he chose to deliver the teachings from a level place. He could have stood apart from them and delivered the message with authority from above. It feels more intimate that Jesus chose to stand level with them. I wonder if Jesus chose to speak from a level place because it would make the difficult message easier to handle. If he stood above them his message may have felt too heavy for them. It might have felt like an impossible weight to live up to. By standing level with them, he could look them in the eyes, reassure them and comfort them while also challenging them. And this is a challenging passage. Without God’s help loving the unlovable would be impossible for us. Maybe that is why Jesus stood at the level place so that the people knew that they weren’t in this alone? Even when we fail to love our enemies we can rely on the love of God to accomplish more than we could ever have thought possible.
In the hill country of Northern Texas David Bamberger bought 5500 acres of overgrazed land that no one wanted. It no longer produced anything. He believed that it was possible to restore the land. He dug wells, they came up empty. One well digger told him there was a natural cistern beneath the surface on one of the hills but it was empty. The soil was poor quality and beneath the surface were rocks with holes. What Bamberger discovered was that the rain water wasn’t getting to the cistern. It just washed away. When he reintroduced native grasses though, their deep roots would fill the holes of the rocks and trap the water beneath the surface and refill the cistern. As the cistern filled to capacity the water would come out in a spring. Within a few years there were 11 natural springs on his land. Diverse plants native to the area could grow there once again. Different species of birds and animals returned as well. The land that was once depleted thrived once again. Bamberger pointed out that it wasn’t an expensive fix, all it really took was planting grass which anyone could do. He made a point that working with nature rather than against it was the key.
On our own we can’t pour love into people and situations in a way that will change them. We cannot love our enemies the way God loves all people. But by loving and praying for others as Jesus taught we become partners with God in the healing of the world. It might feel like we can’t make much of a difference, or that we can’t do enough, but even something as small as planting grass seeds can transform a landscape. When we do the good that we can and trust God with the rest transformation is possible. With God the measure we give will be the measure we get back and then some. The love we pour out in Jesus’ name comes back to us till our cups overflow. Thanks be to God. Amen.