JD and I moved to Kansas in 2002. We bought an old home, built in 1917, in the neighborhood of College Hill in Wichita, Kansas. The home was large and drafty and needed constant work, but it was full of personality and full of history. The Murdochs, who ran the local paper back in the 1920's, had a meeting with Charles Lindberg in our living room. Lindberg proposed the Spirit of Wichita, but the Murdocks turned him down so he went to St. Louis.
The legend of a botched buisness deal, beautiful wood floors, high ceilings and constant work. There was very little insulation in the house which we discovered in our first winter there. It would become incredibly drafty. The third floor was completely unfinished and the kitchen desperately needed to be rennovated. We had a long list of projects in mind. Kitchen first, insulation, third floor. The basement flooded when it rained. But, I loved that house. I really loved it.
And I came to realize that there was a certain culture in the College Hill neighborhood. People would talk of their homes, their latest projects and their dreams. We hosted the neighborhood Christmas party which was customary as the neighbors all expected to be allowed into our home. They all had advice and they all commiserated with our leaky basement.
Some days, I was all enthusiastic, almost buzzing about the next thing to be painted or the next project to focus on. Other times, I just felt overwhelmed, thinking I would never finish it all. And there was some truth to that. Most College Hill residents lived in unfinished houses. It seemed that nothing could be completed, truly completed.
Jesus gives us some really hard instructions this morning. He tells us that when someone punches us in the face we should turn and offer them the other side. When someone takes something from us, we should give them more. We should love our enemies, he says.
We define our lives by the relationships we have with the people we love. Our spouses, our parents, our children, our life-long best friends. But Jesus says God is not impressed nor does God define our lives by the people we love. No, God watches how we relate to our enemies. It is our troubled relationships that God wants us to focus on, the people we cant stand, the ones who seem angry at us for reasons we cant fathom and the ones who cant seem to stop trying to hurt us. Love them, he says. Now that is hard work.
But that is what distinguishes true believers from people who just talk the talk.
Do you give money away, generously? Do you give even when you feel that no one appreciates it or notices? And do you love the people who hate you? By love, Jesus did not mean having good feelings, thank God, because feelings are beyond our control. He meant do you honor them, treat them well, do them no harm, bless them and even pray for them?
How you act and what you do with the people that disgust you, that is what makes you a true believer.
Then Jesus says, "Be perfect, as my Father in heaven in perfect."
I looked up the greek word for perfect. Teleoi. It means finished, complete, fully matured.
God wants us to work on loving our enemies and giving generously until, one day, we are complete.
But sometimes, I feel like an old house. As soon as I mend one relationship and do the right thing, another broken one pops up. I wonder if I will ever be perfected, if I will ever get it right. I pray with a grumbling heart and speak the names of those who offend me but I silently would rather do something else. I am still so much a work in progress.
Saul hated David and wanted to kill him, but even when Saul was having rages and going insane, David would pray for him and even sing for him. Many of the Psalms of the Old Testament were written by David in an attempt to sing to his enemy, to love Saul even when Saul despised him. The best poetry of Scripture was written by a man trying to love his enemy.
Do you ever get up really early? I have lately been waking up to pray at about 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. There is this moment, when the sun has not yet risen and the darkness of night still surrounds everything, when the birds begin to sing. It is as if they can sense the coming of the sun, the coming of the light. First one chortles, then another, then they all begin to sing and quietly, slivers of light begin to mark the horizon.
God wants us to act as if the Kingdom has come and the world is put right. He wants us to sing like those birds even though the darkness is still all around us, even though crime is high and people are killed at Gate stations and the Ukraine and Venezuela are coming apart at the seams. He wants us to sing and love like the birds because, even though the world is dark and our houses are yet unfinished, yet the Son of God will come again and nothing will be able to prevent the dawn from on high breaking upon us.
Perhaps God loves us like I loved my old house in College Hill, never sure when all the projects would be over, if ever, but loving it just the same. A work in progress, a beautiful thing in need of repair. One day we will be finished, one day we will be complete. Until that time, we are to sing and love even in the midst of the darkness.