Monday, February 20, 2017

Loving Our Enemies

Matthew 5:38-48
2-19-17
Rev. June Wilkins

This is the last installment of the sermon on the mount for us.
There’s two more chapters beyond this
which we’ll see at other times.

Last week we heard that God has hopes for our relationships
with our friends and relatives and wants us to work on problems
Beatitudes
Joseph Matar
in those relationships.

But this week, 
Jesus says what must have seemed
like the most radical thing ever.
Jesus says, “love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.”

Reconciling with a friend 
or relative is one thing,
but this is a whole new level.
“Love your enemies, 
pray for those who persecute you”
I think we would find it pretty shocking
if we hadn’t heard it a million times already.
And if we actually did it, 
it would truly set Christians
apart from the rest of the world.
But sadly, Christians have not taken this scripture
literally, although this one, I don’t think is hyperbole.
I think Jesus really meant this as written.

Now, I think we can agree to this in theory,
but when we start thinking about real situations we struggle.
So if someone does something bad to me, I don’t fight back?
If someone yells at me, or hits me, or hurts my family,
I’m not supposed to yell or hit back?
  
If someone hurts me or my people
Don’t I need to respond in kind?
Isn’t that the noble thing to do?
If someone bombs our country, we have every right
even a responsibility to bomb them too don’t we?

This is the force that has driven the world since
the beginning of time.
It’s the cycle of violence that has left humanity
in a constant state of war and hate.
But Jesus says there is another way.

Jesus starts off by saying:
You have heard it said, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
This was actually from the old Testament
The original Exodus law (21:24-25) reads
"eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand,
foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."  

Now the original purpose of this law was to not to say
that you had to take revenge if someone did something to you
but it was to curb excessive retaliation.
If someone in your family loses an eye,
that does not mean you can cut off the head of the perpetrator.
It’s about using justified violence, violence that fits the offense.

The next part that Jesus says is translated
“do not resist an evil-doer” or “do not resist evil”.
But Jesus resisted evil all the time, so what does he mean?
The word translated as resist in Greek was usually used
to refer to armed fighting.
So a better translation would be : “Do not violently resist evil."
Do not violently resist violence.
Do not use justified violence at all.

Jesus isn’t changing the law here,
Jesus is taking it up a notch.
Jesus takes this rule that was meant to stop escalation
of violence and pushes it further.
Jesus is saying that blessed people
don’t even use justified violence.

The usual response to this is that if we
Don’t return violence for violence
everyone would just take advantage of us,
steam-roller over us, that we will be door-mats.

We like to think that there’s only two ways to respond
to evil or violence or wrong-doing  --
Retaliate or ignore it.
But Jesus outlines a third:
Resisting without violence.

Jesus outlines it here:
“If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other one also.
And if someone steals your coat, then give them your shirt too.”
These are not actions of passiveness,
These are acts of defiance.

Turning the other cheek is a bold act, not a weak one.
Jesus didn’t say cower and hide until they hit you again.
Jesus said turn the other cheek, offer it to them.
It is showing the other person that you
have not been reduced by their actions.
And if they wanted to humiliate you by taking your coat
then you show them that the
coat didn’t matter and give the shirt too.
Let them see you walking around in your underwear.

Jesus advocates standing up and showing
the enemy their wrongdoing by offering more.
Jesus advocates not reacting in fear,
but acting with the confidence and power of God.
Jesus advocates not getting
caught up in this endless cycle of escalating violence,
but exposing it for the activity that it is.

Martin Luther King Jr. took the power of this
seriously, they were the guiding principle of the civil
rights movement he led, he did it himself, he lived it, and it worked.
And he learned it from Gandhi who, although he was a Hindu,
took Jesus words probably more seriously than Christians did.

And when people saw protestors on TV voluntarily getting hit with
the spray of hoses and attacked by police dogs,
and not retaliating, it didn’t show the
weakness of the protestors, it showed the
weakness and the injustice of the law enforcement
who were committing the violence in the name of the law.
It was powerful, more powerful than if someone fought back
and more powerful than just giving up.

This teaching is already hard,
but Jesus goes even one step further for us.
He doesn’t stop at telling us not to do violence
to someone who is out to hurt us.
He starts with
“You have heard it say that you should love your neighbor”
which is found in Leviticus (19:17-18), which commands
that you should love your kin, your neighbor, your people.

But Jesus says to love our enemies.
Not just don’t retaliate against them, but love them.
Pray for people who do bad things to you,
wish the best for them. Love your enemies.

These are amazing teachings,
If Christians actually followed it throughout history,
it would be a nothing short of a  revolution.
it would literally change the world.
But we have haven’t.

Because these teachings are hard. Very hard.
It doesn’t happen naturally.
It actually goes against most of the things we’ve been
taught and goes against our instinct and our feelings.
Just try it, driving in traffic, at a grocery store,
Think about that person who has hurt you,
is your first instinct to love? To forget the grudge?
To pray for them? Mine isn’t.

But we are living in difficult times in this country.
We have a president who seems to enumerate
his enemies on a daily basis - not for the purpose of reconciliation,
but for a rallying his side against another side.
We have Americans who have joined that call,
against journalists, against immigrants, against refugees.
We have people on all sides who use their words
as weapons to demonize other people.
We have Christians and Christian leaders who are
more dedicated destroying their perceived enemies than loving them.
It feels like we’re sitting on a pile of dynamite with a lit match.
It’s hard not to pick sides and join in the animosity.
  
But now more than ever, we are called to go against our
inner instincts and follow Christ’s words and teachings.
To love, not just those who love us - everyone can do that-
but to love those that don’t love us.
Do not return violence for violence – in words or actions.
Love your enemies – pray for them.
This is a spiritual practice, the more we do it, the better we’ll get.
These things we can start now.

Love has an awesome power.
It is the power of God working in our world.
And Jesus has given it to us to use
and to share with a world who needs it.

We are the blessed people,
we are the light of the world.
We are the salt of the earth.
Blessed are the peacemakers,

The kingdom of God is ours.

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