Swing Away!



Luke 6.27-38
27 “But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well. If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt either. 30 Give to everyone who asks and don’t demand your things back from those who take them. 31 Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you. 

32 “If you love those who love you, why should you be commended? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended? Even sinners do that. 34 If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, why should you be commended? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to be paid back in full. 35 Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward. You will be acting the way children of the Most High act, for he is kind to ungrateful and wicked people. 36 Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate. 

37 “Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good portion—packed down, firmly shaken, and overflowing—will fall into your lap. The portion you give will determine the portion you receive in return.”

Luke 6.46-49
46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

I played Little League baseball when I was a kid. Back then, it was an opportunity to learn the game infield and out. Over the few years I played baseball in my little Midwest cornfield town of DeKalb, Illinois, I experienced every position on the field. Except pitching. They put me on the mound once. I threw the ball, it went way outside, and that was the end of that.

Even that short experience taught me something. While each position is unique, one rule holds true for them all: go for it. Jump for the fly ball. Put your body in front of the guy trying to steal a base. Swing at everything that could possibly be a strike. Throw a lousy pitch. Go for it.

If you miss, you miss. But at least you tried. And why try? Because, catching that fly ball, blocking that runner, landing the bat squarely on the ball and hearing that satisfying “thwack” as wood and leather react to a well-placed and powerful swing… that doesn’t happen unless we’re willing to swing and miss.

I know it’s a tired analogy. But it’s so true, especially concerning what Jesus outlines as right living in the passages from Luke. Jesus sets an ideal standard that seems impossible to achieve. And perhaps it is, but that’s not Jesus’ ultimate reason for teaching these principles.

Jesus himself is exemplary, the perfection of the ideal. As humans, we might only rarely achieve the same perfection, if ever. But that’s not Jesus’ point. Becoming the ideal, while a noble purpose, isn’t as important as striving to become the ideal. Unlike in baseball, where you’re out after three strikes, striving for a higher standard of spiritual living is more nuanced. If we strive to think and act like Jesus, I think we’re going to be more loving, accepting, caring, compassionate, sacrificing people.

The entrepreneur Jay Samit once said that “There is a huge difference between failing and failure. Failing is trying something that you learn doesn't work. Failure is throwing in the towel and giving up. True success comes from failing repeatedly and as quickly as possible, before your cash or your willpower runs out.”

Think about something you love to do—perhaps playing the piano, a sport, creating art—any activity that brings you pleasure. Now, remember when you first started to learn that activity? You were terrible at it. None of us are pros at anything the first time we try it.

I remember playing piano scales for hours and constantly messing up. But practicing the scales over and over allowed me to play them more proficiently. I learned the correct way to move my hand, which fingers had to hit which notes in which order to fly up and down the keys smoothly, and that took years. Even after all that practice, I still make mistakes when I play. We all do because nobody’s perfect.

I don’t think God wants perfect. God is already perfect. If we are physical manifestations of and cosmic explorers for God, then why does God need any more perfect?  God wants experimentation. God wants explorers. Lovers. Dreamers. People who make mistakes. People who don’t give up.

Jesus tells us God loves us just the way we are: broken, imperfect bits and all.

If we are serious about pursuing the ideals Jesus sets out for us, we should be prepared to fail many times over, because Jesus tasks his followers—us—with a very difficult and demanding way of being human. We should expect to learn from those failures because the lesson learned from every failure is a success. Look closely again at what Jesus says:

27 “But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well. If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt either. 30 Give to everyone who asks and don’t demand your things back from those who take them. 31 Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you. 

The list is ludicrous and meant to be so because it shocks us into the reality that our “normal” human conduct is 180 degrees out of sync with Jesus’ vision of a peace- and love-filled world. The fact we hear a statement such as “love your enemies” and immediately respond, “that’s impossible, they’re my enemies,” reveals just how profoundly we ignore Christ’s directives and God’s universal flow of Love.

Love your enemy, do good to those who hate you, don’t take arms against interlopers, give people in need everything you have. The list seems insurmountable, yet, why would Jesus give us this list if he didn’t think it was at least approachable, if not ultimately attainable? It’s all difficult to believe, and exceptionally challenging to practice, which is why Jesus admonishes those who ignore him:

32 “If you love those who love you, why should you be commended? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended? Even sinners do that. 34 If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, why should you be commended? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to be paid back in full. 35 Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. 

I think it’s funny that later in Luke Jesus says, 46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”  I’ll tell you why Jesus. I’ll tell you why we don’t do what you say: because it is contrary to everything human evolution has programmed us to believe about ourselves and each other. We don’t do what you say because we’re afraid. Afraid to fail.

Turn the other cheek? Ha! If I do that and fail, I’ll be killed, my food will be stolen. and invaders will pillage my land. Love my enemy! Ha! If I do that, my enemy will kill me and pillage my land.
Give away my coat AND my shirt? Ha! If I do that, then my enemy will kill me and take my pants, steal my food, and pillage my land.

Our instinct is to survive at all costs. But Jesus teaches us how to do more than merely survive, he shows us how to live more fully as interconnected God-beings.

Trying to live like Jesus: healing the sick, redistributing wealth for the poor; trying to think and act like him in order to give everything over to God, stopping to consider the big picture idea of the kin-dom of Heaven, reaching out to God for inspiration all the time—these are the actions of students, disciples, followers, believers.

Putting Jesus’ teachings into action is like playing the scales when learning a musical instrument, or swinging away at a baseball. It’s hard. We mess up a lot. We whiff it now and then. But the more we practice, the more facile we become until finally, we’re playing an entirely new tune and connecting more often than not.

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