I hope I can be like Lisa Starr.
Lisa was a friend of mine in high school and I thought she was really cute. But that’s not why I want to be like her. Sure I’d like for people to think I’m cute, but who doesn’t? Just kidding. I want to be like Lisa because she was the lone voice who stood up for me when no one else did. When I was in high school, I had a crush on this girl named Tammy Fisher. Tammy was cute too and we met at a speech and debate club competition between our schools. She went to nearby Valley Christian High and I was going to Cerritos. We ended up spending nearly the whole day together and I fell for her instantly. But I had no way of contacting her. I never asked for her phone number that entire day. On Monday, I had a plan. One of the guys in my class lived on the same street as her and so I asked if he wouldn’t mind giving her a note and he said he would. So I wrote a note to Tammy expressing my feelings and gave it to him. A couple days later he comes back with a note for me where she expressed the same feelings back! I was in heaven! I wrote to her about every couple of days and every couple of days she’d write back and I was just so happy. Never once did I wonder why she didn’t give me her phone number or try to contact me in some other way. I guess it was my naïveté. One morning before English class, I’m handing a note to the guy to give to Tammy and Lisa belts out of nowhere, “Craig, don’t you see what’s happening?” Lisa’s friend standing next to her nudged her and said, “What are you doing?” But she shrugged it off and went on. “Those notes weren’t from Tammy. She never got one of them. People have been passing around your notes in class and reading them.” I was floored. I looked around and it was obvious that nearly everyone in class including my friends had read the notes and not one of them said anything. And it wasn’t like it happened just one time either. And none of them had the guts to stand up for me. But Lisa did. We weren’t best friends or even that close really, but she found it within herself to stand up for me. I vowed from that day forward that if there was ever a time Lisa needed me, I would be there.
Who are you in the darkness?
When things around you are going bad or when something is happening that’s wrong and you know it, who are you? That day taught me a lot. I learned instantly not to be so naïve, but wish that wasn’t a lesson I ever had to learn. More importantly I learned how vital it is to remain true to our beliefs even when it’s tough. Lisa set that example for me. One of her best friends was actually writing those notes pretending to be Tammy, so Lisa was risking a lot by standing up for me, especially in the social incubator of high school. She risked losing her friend and her standing with the group, but she did it anyway. Would you have had the guts to do that? Would you stand up for someone when nobody else would? It’s easy for us to do the right thing when there isn’t any pressure or when we don’t risk any personal loss, but when the going get tough is when the true measure of who we are comes forth. Jesus challenged his disciples on this very idea. He told them to truly embrace his message of love they needed to do more than love their friends and family. They needed to love even those who hated them.
27 “But to you who are listening I say: 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 one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
There’s no doubt about it – Jesus was a progressive radical.
He was throwing out rules and twisting them into pretzel shapes all the time. It’s probably what got the church leaders and elders so mad at him. He would take a perfectly good rule (at least to them) and suddenly turn it on its ear. The Pharisees and church leaders believed in the concept of an eye for an eye, but then Jesus comes along and tells them, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Here’s something interesting. We often interpret the “eye for an eye” passage as meaning it’s what we are owed, a base level for our retribution. But as it was pointed out to me in an article I was reading online, it was the ceiling not the base. It was meant as a restriction on retaliation so that people wouldn’t keep escalating a conflict. The idea of a “just response.” Then Jesus takes that and goes even FURTHER! He tells us to BLESS those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone steals your coat, give them your shirt as well. And I love how he frames it, “If you love those who love you…if you do good to those who are good to you…if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you?” Even sinners do that. Now I do feel compelled to add a little side note here. It wasn’t unusual for Jesus to speak in hyperbole to make a point. He wasn’t actually saying we should allow people to abuse us. That’s just not okay on any level. He was saying that we shouldn’t seek to retaliate against those who do us wrong, that we need to get rid of that sense of retribution and instead do what is right.
It is too easy to get caught up in the moment.
To completely lose control in the midst of something emotional. We can quickly get whipped up into a frenzy and people who would normally behave calmly and rationally suddenly devolve into rampaging, violent, unrecognizable beings. Sometimes it happens in an instant and sometimes it takes place over a period of time. Sometimes we succumb to mob mentality where we lose ourselves and just do whatever everyone else is doing. But whatever the circumstance we have to be aware of the vulnerability we all have toward taking part in it. Look at Pontius Pilate and the crowd. Pilate knew that Christ was innocent. He could find no fault in him. So he tried to find a way to set him free. He came up with this idea to offer the crowd a chance to spare one of the criminals under arrest. And I think he figured it was a shoe-in. He offered them Barabbas who was a known insurrectionist and murderer – and the crowd chose Barabbas. They were whipped up into such a frenzy of hate that they would rather see a murderer and known criminal released than a completely innocent man. That’s the danger of we face when we forget who we are.
In our anger, hatred, and fear we dehumanize the other.
Shawn Wood wrote a book called Wasabi Gospel and the title of his first chapter is “God, I’ll Take the Mercy, but Give the Idiot Who Cut Me Off in Traffic Justice” and for me that kind of wraps up for us exactly what’s wrong. We are bent on getting justice for ourselves (or at least call it that), but pray for mercy when we do something wrong. And we forget that the target of our “justice” involves people who need our mercy. We forget the target of our “justice” involves people who need our mercy. Sometimes, the violence and anger that erupts has nothing to do with either one. Like the man who was stabbed to death after a Giants-Dodgers game up in San Francisco back in 2013. I get being passionate about your team, but are we that idiotic we would sink to taking someone’s life? I wish this was an isolated incidence, but a man was beaten to the point of needing to go to the hospital at Dodgers Stadium after another Dodgers-Giants game. Sometimes it has nothing to do with who you’re playing. Maybe it’s the high altitude, but after the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl in 1998 they rioted in the streets. After they won. It nearly happened again the next year and in 2001 when the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in hockey. We like to chalk up these incidents to people simply losing control, but maybe this is who we really are. Maybe the nice guy on the outside isn’t so nice after all.
But I don’t believe that.
I believe people are created good. But we have this streak within us that can tip us the other way. Call it a bent toward sin or giving in to temptation, but the solution is the same. We must find a way to stay close to God. We must find a way to stay close to God. Otherwise we forget who we were created to be, and we can devolve into these creatures of violence and bad character. So I want to encourage you to pray. I want to encourage you to read your Bibles. To do good deeds. To be kind. The key to staying close to God is to be like Christ as often and as much as possible. The key is to be like Christ as often and as much as possible. That is the best way I know how to prevent us from becoming the type of people who could laugh at a young high school boy behind his back and stay silent while he is being mocked. It’s the best way I know how to stand up and do the right thing in the face of an onslaught of people choosing otherwise. It’s the best way I know how to hold onto that which makes us the people of God. It is not who we are in the light that matters. It’s who we are in the darkness. Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others. In dangerous valleys and hazardous pathways, he will lift some bruised and beaten brother to a higher and more noble life.” May we all choose that higher path. It might be more lonely. It might be harder to walk. But the higher path is the one closer to God. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.