What does it mean to be a Christian? This is a very good question. What does it mean to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus? I believe that is what Jesus was trying to answer on his sermon on the mount. What does it mean to be a Christian?
Before I get into that, I want to talk about Monopoly...the board game. How many of you are familiar with this game, the original. Answer me this: “What happens when you land on Free Parking?” “It depends”, right? If you are playing by the written rules, nothing. But we played different. We used to put $500 in the middle of the board, the Free Parking Fund, and add to that all of the fines, taxes and fees that would usually go in the bank. Then if you landed on Free Parking, jackpot. How many other people played this way? A few? Many? Most of you? When I was growing up, this was so common that if I went to a friend’s house and we broke out Monopoly, it would always have to warrant a discussion about Free Parking. What were the house rules?
What does it mean to be a Christian? Maybe it is as simple as following the house rules. Jesus lays out a bunch of them, but today we are going to focus on two. The first is a two parter: turn the other cheek and love your enemies. Easy right? Sure. I don’t think that we will have any problem keeping that one. Right? Riiiiight.
Jesus starts this off by saying that “You have heard, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I tell you to turn the other cheek,” which if you think about it gives access to your other eye and more teeth. This is interesting because Jesus is reciting rules and making a change. Kinda changing the rules about Free Parking. Jesus wanted to make his own house rules. See, way way back in the time of Moses and the lawmakers, this rule (an eye for an eye) was intended as a deterrent for just doing whatever you wanted without consequence. It was intended to create order and justice. But by the time of Jesus, he saw it as justifying an endless cycle of animosity. You attacked me so I will attack you which makes you feel justified in attacking me again. On and on it goes. Jesus offers a way to break that cycle.
Breaking the cycle. Loving enemies. At first brush it may seem completely unnatural. After all they are enemies, right? It reminds me of a scene in Finding Nemo. Have any of you seen this movie? It is about a clown fish named Marlin who loses his son, Nemo, and traverses the ocean to find him. Along the way he encounters a group of sharks: mortal enemies in the truest sense of the term. Large terrifying enemies with sharp teeth. But these are not any old sharks. No, these sharks are in an abstinence group wherein they have agreed not to eat any other fish. “Fish are friends, not food,” they chant. We laugh because of the absurdity of the situation. It is so unnatural. It makes me wonder how many people laughed at Jesus when he told them that they were to love their enemies.
Who are the sharks in our lives? What would it mean to love our enemies, to see them differently? To see them as vegetarian sharks? What would it mean to look at the richest of the rich, not with scorn and disdain, but with love? What would it mean for the rich to look at the poor with care and sympathy.
What would love look like to love our domestic enemies, our criminal population? Instead of building more prisons and packing them to capacity, what would it look like to approach that cycle with care, and true compassion? What if we took our eye for an eye justice system and looked deeper? Looked for root causes. We may be able to create true justice with opportunities for education, equality and development.
What would it mean to turn the other cheek if we were attacked as a country? To not respond with retaliation and violence but with attempt at understanding. Perhaps even aid. Could we break the cycle of war? Even justified war. Next week we will hear from a whole group of peacemakers who are looking to break that cycle. Those who have the courage and willingness to turn the other cheek.
What does it mean to be a Christian? Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Maybe a crazy idea, but then Jesus then goes on to talk about some other crazy ideas. “If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.” What the what?!? Okay I can understand going the extra mile to help someone, but the cloak thing? That is like saying if someone sues you for the shirt off of your back, toss in your pants as well. Craziness! It is tempting here to talk about the legal system and Jesus’ issues with the establishment, but what I really think that he was talking about was attachment, particularly our attachment to stuff. The youth and I have been talking about stuff a lot lately. This week in particular we have been talking about why we are so covetous towards stuff, why we feel we need it for happiness.
It reminds me of Mr. Mom. How many of you remember the movie, Mr. Mom? It was an 80’s movie where a husband and wife that reverse roles. She goes to work. He manages the house. One of his kids, the 3 year old has a blanket that he loves, his wubbie. He carries it around everywhere. It is literally a security blanket. Maybe you had one of these when you were a kid, or had a kid with something like this. It is old, stained, has holes. You try to clean it, but it always just looks ratty. And yet the kid cannot give it up. After a heart to heart with the dad the kids realizes that his attachment to the blanket is holding him back. He is not going to be able to grow up as long as he is dragging his wubbie around. It takes great strength and courage, but he finally lets it go.
What are you holding onto? To be clear, I am not talking about stuff that we need. I am talking about attachment. Not so much as economics as MEconomics What are you holding onto that is keeping you from growing? Is some thing that you value getting in the way of connecting with another? Let it go. Many of you know Srini who comes used to visit us and now lives in LA. He had this detachment mentality. He said that when he goes shopping, he sees everything as just one more thing that you have to clean.
Jesus had a similar mentality. He said give it up. Don’t worry about it. Let attachment be someone else’s problem. What if we really followed this rule? I mean, wars are fought both in the home and beyond over stuff. I want it so you cannot have it. This is my stuff, not your stuff. Imagine how different our economic structure would be if we bought what we needed and gave to those in need. Abandoned houses for the homeless. Abundant food going to the hungry.
What does it mean to be a Christian? Follow the house rules. Love your enemies. Lose your attachment. There are plenty of others. A whole book in fact. But instead of talking about more of the rules, I want to spend a bit of time talking about the house. Paul, gives the Corinthians a great metaphor. He writes, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” Paul is writing to the early church at Corinth, a church that was in turmoil. It was full of bickering and one-upmanship. And Paul writes them to try and create some reconciliation. He is trying to tell them that they have a great opportunity here. They have a remarkable starting point, a foundation laid in Jesus. This same Jesus that said all of these revolutionary things, that came up with all of these remarkable rules. They had the opportunity to create something great. But it was up to them to build it. Using all of their talents and gifts, brick by brick they were building a temple. They were at the threshold of changing the world and creating something anew.
Paul’s words still resound with us today. Though 2000 years removed, we are, I believe at another threshold of change. We are still building that temple. Recently I know that we have felt some setbacks with the Ministry Center not being able to be built. There was disappointment. Perhaps hurt. We are still recovering from that. But let us not forget the words of Paul that we are God’s temple and God dwells in us. Each of us is a center of ministry with the bold charge to go into the world and build something.
And why do Jesus’ and Paul’s words still ring true? Because we still live in a world that is full of war and injustice, bickering and disjointedness. Full of the same cycles that they were trying to break all those years ago. You can almost hear them saying...
Break the cycle of answering violence with more violence. Build a cycle of peace. Break the cycle of buying stuff for happiness only to see that happiness dwindle. Build a cycle of detachment. Break the cycle of taking from one another. Build a cycle of giving to one another. Break the cycle of endlessly worrying about yourselves. Build a cycle of lifting each other up.
Like the church of Corinth before us, we are at a verge of change, a threshold of potential. But we do not enter this change empty handed. We have rules to live by. Guidance to a better world. You ask me what does it mean to be a Christian, what it means to be a temple of God? I ask you what are your house rules?