He burst into my office and said he was at wits’ end with his teenage son.
Parents, please suspend your disbelief, this is a true story.
After about 15 minutes of breathless verbal dumping, I stopped him, stood up and said,
“Come with me.”
I led him into a mens room and pointed him to the mirror.
He looked at me and smiled.
“That’s the problem, isn’t it: he’s just like me.”
“That’s also the solution.
How did you survive fifteen and get to where you are now?
He’s turning into you, and that’s ultimately good news.”
The mirror in God’s house is the baptismal font.
The promise and the project before us is growing up to become more and more
like our father in heaven.
When Nasim is baptized today, we will encourage her with Jesus’ words:
Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and
glorify your Father in heaven.
Live in such a way that people see the resemblance and say, “She is a daughter of God.”
And what does that look like?
Jesus draws a breathtaking profile.
Love your enemies.
Do good to those who hate you.
Bless those who curse you.
Give to anyone who begs from you.
Lend, expecting nothing in return.
Do not judge, do not condemn, forgive, give.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
This sounds beautiful ... and impossible.
Taking this idealism seriously is terribly hard work.
It is why Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders insisted on rigorous training
in non-violence; when those who hate you come after you and your family with
dogs and hoses and insults and other weapons, will you be ready to do good to
It is much more natural and socially acceptable to respond with quid pro quo, strings
attached, an eye for an eye, giving people what they deserve.
But what credit is that to you?, Jesus asks.
Even sinners do that. That makes you no better than your enemies.
They can’t win if you don’t play their game.
Don’t let them determine the terms.
You can’t control other people’s behavior, but you can control your response.
You can be different.
You can disarm aggression with creative resistance; if they steal your coat, give
them your shirt too.
If they slap you once, smile and turn and invite them to try again.
If they abuse you, pray for them.
You can be like God.
You can be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
And of course he proved it at the cross.
That’s the symbol we trace on Nasim’s forehead today, the sad symbol of the predictably
violent, get-what-you-deserve world transformed into the beacon of hope that
God operates differently.
Our word for that is grace.
Did you hear Jesus say it?
Probably not, because in today’s reading, it was translated credit.
It’s a mistake we make a lot in our world, confusing grace with credit.
Visa expects something in return.
It may not be monetary, but most of us do too, most of the time, without even
realizing it, even if all we ask is appreciation or a simple thank you.
What grace is that to you?, Jesus asks.
How is that being like your Father, who is merciful to everyone, no strings
attached, whether they deserve it or not?
Jesus invites us to drop our standards for other people and to raise them for ourselves.
And God is willing to honor our choice.
The measure you give will be the measure you get back, he promises, or warns.
God will respect us enough to treat us the way we decide to treat others.
So be generous and forgiving instead of judging and condemning.
Be merciful and relentlessly kind.
Do unto others as God has done unto you.
Sometimes its impossible for us; that’s the problem.
Nothing is impossible for God.
So Jesus went to the cross, had his clothes stolen, was slapped and beaten and abused,
and prayed, Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.
That’s the solution.
That, children of God, is who we are growing up and turning into.