Sermon and Worship Service Archive

Fight, Flight or Flip the Script

The Rev. Kit Lonergan
February 20, 2022

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May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together always be acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.  


A story aired a few years ago on NPR’s show Invisibilia, a program which examines the internal forces on human interaction and experience, about a family celebration in Washington, DC [i]. Eight family and friends gathered around a picnic table in their backyard on a warm summer night. There were toasts and food and wine, it was a magical night, one of the guests recounted. Then around 10pm, a man in sweats came into their backyard with a gun. The man held it to the heads of two of the members of the party and demanded their money.  


The problem was, they didn’t have any. The man kept repeating, give me your money. The group seeing that this was probably going to end badly, tried to dissuade the man. They tried guilt first, asking ‘What would your mother think of you doing this?’ He replied, ‘I don’t have a mother.’  


One of the women tried another approach. ‘You know, she said, we are here celebrating. Why don’t you have a glass of wine?’  


Something changed in the man’s face. He took a glass from the table and took a sip. ‘That’s really good wine’, he said. They had cheese on the table as well. He took a few pieces of cheese and ate them.  


Then he put his gun in his pocket. “I think I’ve come to the wrong place”, he said. “We understand,” said the group.  


It got quiet and awkward for a few minutes. Then the man said, “Can I get a hug?” Each one offered a hug to the man who had just threatened and tried to rob them. Then they formed a group hug, circling around him. And he said he was sorry. And he left, holding a glass of wine in his hand. The next day, the owners found the empty glass, carefully placed by the alley next to their house—not thrown, or broken, or discarded, but returned. 


The program went on to examine the notion of responses in humans. A complementary response was a response which mirrored the instigating action. Someone tails you on the highway, so you move aside and tail them right back. Someone is cold to you in a conversation, you find yourself being cold back to them. People naturally imitate one another. Hostility begets hostility and warmth usually begets warmth. Breaking that pattern signals non-complementary behavior—by not responding according to the pattern- by not imitating, one can flip the script. 


Today’s readings are not only about flipping the script, but about Jesus flipping the world and our worldview upside down.  


Our gospel today continues with Luke’s sermon on the plain—last week it was a strange combination of blessings and woes—those who were rich, successful, admired, would be cast down in the kingdom to come, and those who suffered, held nothing, and found themselves left out and behind, would find themselves blessed. Jesus doesn’t take a breath before moving into the gospel this week which covers everything from loving enemies, to refraining from judgment, to turning the other cheek.  


I want to offer a word of historical caution here: this passage has been used as a scriptural proof text for abuse, oppression and enslavement for much of our history, and still is in some contexts. To tell people in positions of vulnerability and injury to love their abusers is not the message of Jesus here, and was never intended to be. The dignity of humanity is essential to Jesus’ message of love, and should never be considered a suitable sacrifice for peace.  


No, Jesus’ words this week can either seem like impossible commandments, or a utopian fantasy of a hippie dreamer, both of which allow us to disregard them without engagement. What Jesus is offering to us is something different than we come to on our own in our broken humanity—he does not tell us to return violence with violence, and he does not tell us that we are to be submissive. He offers us, he *promises* us, that the kingdom of God is closer to the narrative when the script is flipped and we try another way.  


It is in our primal makeup to practice fight, or flight or freeze. But Jesus asks of us to not be complementary in our response—to not hit back; and not to render ourselves submissive, accepting the denial of our dignity in Christ; but rather to stand forth and affirm Christ’s truth in love. Love doesn’t mean that all is forgiven, or that we are okay with wrongs committed. Love instead asks of us to name the sin out loud; to allow light into the darkness; and to see what happens when we can hold forgiveness and repentance together. Love is not whitewashing nor forgetting; love is seeking repair for ills done; repair not in revenge or retaliation, but that we may go forth together in new life. Love seeks life, in the end. New life, different life, but life.  


That family in Washington DC was able to tell their story only because they also had the chance to run into the house after the man left, to cry and be frightened and call the authorities. The command to love in such a way is the way of Christ, and we spend our lives learning and yearning for the liberation that that kind of love will yield to us, but we are not there yet. Jesus in this sermon on the plain, points us to the kingdom we are meant to be creating. One which isn’t satisfied with revenge—just think of the last time you barbed someone in a conversation who barbed you, just for the satisfaction of imagining that it allowed you to ‘win’; nor allowing for a false sense of peace, sweeping everything under the rug in the hopes that no one will find it or remember.  


Jesus isn’t interested in living life as we know it. In the gospel of Luke, we are given a glimpse into the coming Kingdom of God, and asked to live in a way which heralds more than this cause and effect world which limits us to the false duality of fight or flight. Just as if you are on a playground with a crowd of children, you learn that there are more characters, more options than either being the fighter or the wimp. Neither of those honor the dignity given to us and one another in baptism. And if we are followers of Christ, then we don’t have to limit ourselves in our response.  


In our collect this morning, we prayed together, “O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue”. This is not the vague, smushy kind of love we tend to imagine, but love which requires the core strength of knowing who and whose we are, and the courage to see others through the eyes of God as well. Love is neither self-satisfied, nor fulfilled by the lex talionis, the law of an eye for an eye. Love, the way we know it in God among us, Emmanuel, Jesus, is one which can also hold accountability. God does not find love and judgment mutually exclusive, but rather, God’s way gathers them together to restore humanity, restore the kingdom, restore relationship.  


It is infinitely more addicting and dopamine-fueling to continue with the primal response of hitting back—just ask any toddler on the street, or consider any argument on social media. And Jesus isn’t calling us to be imitators of humanity, but to live into the promise and creation of the kingdom of God, to use our God-given creativity to break the mold of pyrrhic victories which leave all parties depleted and isolated and empty.  


When we have love demonstrated to us, it disarms us. It shifts our stories. It uses not guilt to escape, but invitation. It invites us, as hurt and broken as we are, to be part of a celebration, to try a glass of wine. To eat a few cubes of cheese. It allows us space to ask for love when our primal instinct is to operate under fear. And it surrounds us if we let it, so that the story can change. So that we can change into the people we were created to be.