Let's be real for a moment about what it means to be a Christian.
A Christian is someone who follows Jesus. Jesus is our Teacher, our Master, and we even claim him as Lord of our lives. On a grand scale we might say he's Lord over the Universe and All Creation. But let's just stop for a second and bring that down to a small scale. Let's bring it down to the scale of the individual, of you and me. What does it mean for Jesus to be our Teacher, Master, and Lord?
Put simply, it means we obey and follow. Jesus gives us commands on how to follow him, how to live his Way. If we are truly Christians, than we ought to obey his teachings.
This Sunday, we have a collection of Jesus' teachings that we are called to follow. Let's take a look:
"I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If 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. But 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. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
"Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, 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."
One might sum this up in the words of the Beatles: "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." Having said that, the danger is boiling this down to platitudes. These are very real teachings for how Jesus expects us to live in our daily lives.
This is what it means to follow him. Love those who hate you, and pray for them. Turn the other cheek. Give, and not because you expect something in return. Do not judge, and do not condemn.
We're all guilty of this - hearing Jesus' teaching on Sunday and then resenting someone or speaking ill of someone on Monday. Think of the last time you had a negative thought about someone at work, or you passed by someone asking for money on the street, or acted out against someone who hurt you. As a priest I sometimes get frustrated because we teach Jesus' way of love on Sundays and then our parishes can be so full of judging, gossiping, making comments about others, nosiness, busy-bodiness, and all kinds of other behavior. These kinds of behaviors aren't just ignoring Jesus' teaching, they go directly against them.
So where does that leave us? The first step on the Way of Love as articulated by the Episcopal Church is Turn. Turn is the act of turning from our own way and following the way of Jesus. From our What's Next page on our website:
No matter where you have been in your life's journey, you are invited to pause, listen, and choose to follow Jesus. As our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, says, how can you turn each day like a flower in the direction of the sun, toward the light and love of Jesus?
Each of us resists the Way of Love and follows our own Way. We are bent not toward the Son, but away, toward ourselves, our own self-centered tendencies. We are bent toward our own way and not the Way of Jesus. Each of us needs to Turn each day and commit once again to obeying and following him. Each day we can ask ourselves the great question begged by the 19th century theologian George MacDonald: have I done one thing today because Jesus commanded it? Even one thing?
Each of us needs to throw ourselves on the throne of grace, asking God for the strength and ability to follow his Way of Love. That is what it means to Turn. For some, this is the beginning of a journey. It is the act of committing to following him for the first time, of being baptized, or renewing your baptism. For others it is a daily practice of following Jesus. Each of us may make the collect for last Sunday our prayer:
O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.