Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro – February 24, 2019

Expect Nothing in Return – Except for a Better World
Mark Dov Shapiro, Rabbi in Residence
Sunday, February 24, 2019

Let me begin with an apology:  I’m sorry I missed Valentine’s Day with you.

Actually, I feel as if I need to catch up so…without further ado even though February 14 seems so long ago…let me share with you FIVE quotes about love from no less a great teacher than Charlie Brown.

Mr. Brown (of Peanuts fame) taught at one time or another…

Love is getting someone a glass of water in the middle of the night.
Love is making fudge together.
Love is not nagging.
Love is walking in the rain together.
AND Love is meeting someone by the pencil sharpener.

*****

I’m thinking about love this morning because today’s reading from the Gospel According to Luke begins with a direct reference to love.  We are in Luke Chapter Six where Jesus proclaims what is called the Sermon on the Plain.  After some introductory verses, Jesus teaches, “Love your enemies.  Do good to those who hate you…If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also…Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.”

These instructions from Jesus are difficult.

They come at love from the opposite direction of Charlie Brown.  Without being facetious, think about the difference.  You might say Charlie Brown states the obvious, but he also paints a very concrete image.  Love means fudging and walking together.  Love means being with someone you value.  This is over against what Jesus advises.  He wants us to love the person with whom we would almost certainly never share fudge, rain, or life.  Jesus wants us to love our enemy.

If you take the words seriously, you’ve got a huge task.
Loving your enemy is as difficult a commandment as I could imagine.
Especially this week I am wondering if I can even trust another person.

Jussie Smollett comes to mind.

You may remember that Smollett is the television personality who reported to Chicago police that he was assaulted and doused with bleach on January 29 at 2 a.m.  Smollett said the two men who attacked him near his Chicago home tied a noose around his neck, shouted racial and homophobic slurs, and insisted that Chicago had no room for a black man like Smollett.

News about the incident took the country by storm.  Democrats and Republicans all denounced the hatred.  The Chicago police worked tirelessly to locate the two assailants…

Until this past Thursday when the Chicago police superintendent announced that the episode with Smollett was a hoax.  Smollett hired the two so-called assailants.  Smollett made it all up!

So, who do you now trust?

I don’t know much about Jussie Smollett, but I do know that he lied and deceived us.

He’s not my enemy.  But I am wondering if I really do need to love him.

I am disappointed and angry.  I can understand if the police superintendent, who is also black, feels what I feel plus extra anger and embarrassment that one of his own duped the world.

I don’t think anybody feels much like loving Jessie after what he has done.

In fact, I don’t even want to love Jessie.  As Desi used to say to Lucy, “Lucy…Jessie…you’ve got some splaining to do.”

But here comes Luke Chapter 6 insisting that “splaining” isn’t the issue.  Love is.  Love your enemy!

What’s a preacher to do?  What’s a parishioner to do?
Here’s what I did.  Bearing in mind that the Academy Awards are being given tonight, I turned to the nominated movies to search for an answer.  And, sure enough, I found a response to Jesus’ message.  It’s in the movie called Green Book.

The story is set in 1962.  A New York City bouncer, Frank, is out of work when he learns that a jazz pianist needs a driver for an 8-week tour of the Mid-West and Deep South.  Frank gets the job only to discover that the musician, Don Shirley, is a wealthy, controlling, somewhat ascetic black man.

And off the two of them go for a tour that will take them as far south as Birmingham, Alabama.  Driver Frank and musician Don aren’t enemies, but they are astonishing opposites.

One is white; the other is black.

One is poor; the other is wealthy.

One is uneducated; the other overflows with words and knowledge.

Frank is racist or pretty close to it; Don can’t imagine such differences.

But they are stuck together through thick and thin for a solid 8 weeks.  And, as you might imagine, they are drawn together.  They begin to talk.  They share occasional meals.  They tell stories.  They laugh and even cry together.

But here’s the point:  Although they aren’t enemies, whatever brings them together is not love.  Frank would be aghast if someone suggested he loved the jazz pianist.  Don would find it unacceptable to consider loving low-class Frank.

Love your enemy?  I don’t think so.

Then again, Jesus actually has more to say in the Sermon on the Plain.  Consider the telling phrase in Luke Chapter 6, Verse 35.  It’s not at the beginning of the teaching, but several verses into the presentation where Jesus returns to the word LOVE and offers a broader understanding.

Instead of only saying, “Love your enemies,” Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” 

It’s that final phrase that captures me.  Jesus teaches that we should act in the world.  Do good.  But expect nothing in return.

In other words, do whatever you do solely because it is right.

You may be rewarded; you may not be rewarded.  In fact, expect nothing in return.  Expect that you won’t be praised, won’t be written up in the newspaper, or won’t be given an Academy Award.  You do what you do, however, because it’s what being a good Christian demands of you.  You do good because, to coin a phrase, that’s what Jesus did.

And what reward did Jesus receive after all his teaching and healing?  He was crucified.

Consider Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  What reward did he receive after all his marching and organizing?  He was assassinated.

Consider Moses.  Jewish tradition offers a wonderful back story about Moses.  The rabbis of the Talmud ask why Moses was chosen for leadership?  After all, when God speaks to him, Moses is no more than a simple shepherd in the deserts of Midian.  He is a nobody.

Or is he?
Not so, say the rabbis.

Moses was the kind of shepherd who cared for his sheep with incredible dedication.  He counted them morning and evening.  And if one of them (even the tiniest little lamb) was missing at any time of day, Moses wouldn’t move the flock until he had searched for and found the lost animal.

Moses got nothing in return for finding the little lamb.

Moses did it because it was right.  That is what distinguished him as the man who could lead the Jewish people to freedom.

Expect nothing in return.

For me, that is the teaching that lies at the center of Jesus’ sermon today.

I wish it was otherwise.  I like the sound of loving my enemy, but I can’t do that.  As I said earlier, I’m not even too interested in learning to do that.

Instead, I’m interested in taking the world as it is.  I’m willing to expect nothing in return.  I’m willing to do right, to honor you, to respect you, to fight for you and you because…it’s what Scripture demands over and over.

Justice, justice shall you pursue.

Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

 

I may not love everyone. 

But I would rather be someone you can count on.  You can trust.

 

Give me a world…give me a church filled with people like that and we’re on our way to Jerusalem.  We’re on our way to a much better world for all.

 

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