32 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.34If 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.35But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38give, 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.’
I grew up in a weird time in the church. That time? The 90’s.
The 1990’s was a fascinating and yet terrifying time for people in the church, because it was sort of the time when the church caught up with the 1980’s. See, I’ve found that the church has always had a hard time keeping up with the rest of the world (more on that in a later post), and in the 90’s it was no exception, because something was going on that had it’s roots in the 80’s, and that was people treating the church as a business.
While there is more than likely evidence that this has been going on for a long time, it was a HUGE deal in the 90’s. There was a huge push to go bigger, grander, sleeker, swifter, and more polished. People talked about the church in a different way, about bringing corporate world ideas into the ecclesiastical world, and today we have seen the results.
Some would say that this push was a massive success, simply because of the dominance of business-like megachurches in the theological landscape. Some would say, for the very same reasons, that it failed, because it wound up losing the soul of the church in return for worldly success. I don’t like to think in such materialistic or cynical ways though. I don’t think the megachurch has won anything, nor that the church universal has lost.
I think about this particular topic, not because I have any expertise on the matter (I don’t), but because of this scripture. I talked about the excesses of consumerism and greed yesterday; today, I think this scripture responds to that vein of thought.
The passage is from Jesus’s sermon on the plain in Luke, and says one of the more popular teachings of Jesus in the canon. It’s easy to love your loved ones, or the ones who love you. Instead, love your enemies. However, in this version of the teaching, it’s not followed by “pray for those who persecute you,” but “lend, expecting nothing in return.”
This is a foreign concept to I think just about everybody. But this little teaching, this turn of phrase, is what I think is exactly what we need to hear.A few years ago, I had a profound insight, something that I kept in the back of my mind, especially in church ministry.
The business of the church is forgiveness.
It’s a ridiculous business strategy, but it’s the church’s business nonetheless. We are called to be people of forgiveness, to give without receiving anything in return. We are called to be merciful, for our Father in heaven is merciful. It’s a profoundly radical way of thinking and acting in this world.
We are hardwired to be selfish. We are consumed by self-preservation. To give without expecting anything in return is one of the hardest things to do, but we are called to do it anyway. For the church to act any other way would just to be to act like a business, a vendor of religious goods in return for people in pews and money in offering plates.
The business of the church is forgiveness, of giving without expecting to receive anything. It is meant to be an entirely selfless organization, geared for the betterment of humanity rather than for itself. I think it could use reminding of that every once in a while. Yes, we need physical resources to do the work, but the work should always be for furthering the mission of making disciples, being merciful, and existing for the glory of God.
So we should, in turn, be a forgiving people, though it is not easy nor is it often rewarding. But in the Lord’s prayer, we all say “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Let’s try to forgive, so that we may make the world a bit more forgiving for others.