And now Jesus talks about unconditional love. Do you have an enemy? You might not even know it. We're expected to love that person anyway. Wha-what??
This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it. The sermon notes which are included for convenience.
Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley.
February 19, 2017 - 7th Sunday after the Epiphany
"Who is Your Enemy?". Text is from Matthew 5:38-48
Good morning to you my sisters and brothers in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God.
What better way to close out this year's Epiphany season--before next week's transfiguration, that is--than the final reading of Jesus's Sermon on the Mount. We've found out who was blessed, we've learned how to be disciples, we've learned that it isn't enough just to hold to the letter of the commandments, that we need follow the spirit of them as well, and now Jesus breaks down what God expects of what it means to truly follow Him.
Jesus takes the original Levitical retributive justice rule of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth meaning that if someone causes the loss of an eye, then they should lose an eye as well, and shines a new light on it. If someone hits you on one side of your face? Show him the other side. And if someone robs you of your jacket? Give them the shirt off of your back as well. And Jesus is telling us if someone is begging of us, and this isn't just about panhandlers on the street but anyone begging assistance, or whatever need, by all means do what you can for them and if someone wishes to borrow, loan what you can to them.
And then Jesus goes on to talk about one's enemies. The old law told us to love our neighbors and hate our enemies, but Jesus is asking us to love our enemies, and pray for those who would harm us. And he exemplifies this point by reminding us that anyone can love those who benefit them. Anyone can love those that do well for us. But to follow Christ is to remember that the sun of creation shines down on those who do bad as well as those who do good.
And finally Jesus concludes, if not the Sermon on the Mount, because it goes on for another two chapters of Matthew, but at least this section, by telling us to be perfect--as God is perfect. And perfection is easy enough to achieve.
Love your enemies? Who are your enemies. Raise your hand if you can say that you have enemies. It's a strange request, I know, but with Jesus talking about it as he is, it bears explanation, don't you think?
I had this conversation with a few of my colleagues last week and I can honestly say that while there are people in the world that annoy me and I would rather not be around, and there are people who I just don't care to run into, I don't view any particular person as my enemy. So my first impulse is to say this little adage of loving my enemy doesn't hold its first meaning for me. But wait just a second. Simply because I don't think of someone else as my enemy, doesn't mean that there aren't some people out there who view me that way. And that they're certainly not going to go out of their way toP accommodate my needs and may in fact be working against my own interests. Doesn't that mean that these unknown people are my enemies as well? So the difficulty begins at this point. How do I actively try to love someone who is working against my interests? Particularly if I don't even know who they are!
But what about those that we depend upon who wind up disappointing us? Sometimes our enemies are not the people that we think of as those who resist us or go against us, or are the polar opposites of us. Our enemies can sometimes be people that we already feel fondness for.
I have seen a number of people recently decry that they've broken off relationships with family members, or good friends because of the deep political differences that have been going on lately. I find this incredibly sad, and am heartbroken for them. I've tried to maintain good relationships with all my family and most of my friends, but I'm sure that some people have removed me from their own friend list online because of the occasional thing I'm outspoken about. And sometimes someone says something so reprehensible that I simply want to take stock of how important this person is to me and whether or not I want to keep them in my circle of friends. And many times, particularly if it's just a casual acquaintance anyway with no emotional ties, I hit that remove friend button, whether literally or metaphorically and they're gone.
But for those people who I have to make a deep choice, what do I do? How do I remember that the people I thought I knew have made some decision in their life that seems reprehensible to me, to accept a situation that is dire and harmful to so many other people, how can I love that person? Jesus, no, you're demanding to much here.
But then I also remember that love does not necessarily mean accept a point of view. I can still love someone and decide that their words and behavior are beyond the pale. I can still care about you even if I find your political opinions to be ridiculous and obtuse. And I can still dialogue with you in a caring, loving way.
It also means remembering that as we move into Lent that some of us will be making Lenten commitments of fasting, almsgiving and prayer, and some others will be saying the words, but then those of us who do find ourselves abandoned and taking the Lenten journey alone. Or worse yet, to have our diet failed to be accommodated or our practices dismissed. Then we find ourselves searching for a meansto love each other once more.
If we are worried about not being able to love with any depth of feeling toward those who would persecute us, we are reminded that this passage from Matthew about loving is not so much about how we feel about others but how we act toward them. That loving is not here an emotion but an action and a behavior. It's to treat others fairly and with respect. The way we want to be treated.
And when Jesus tells us finally to be perfect, we need not balk at the impossibility of this. We are already there.
What about being perfect? When someone I know in recovery shares his story, he talks about meeting with his first sponsor...
The good news is that because of all that God has done for us, God loves us unconditionally. We find perfection because of Jesus sacrifice on the cross and defeat of death and the grave. Our imperfections are purified from us and we become the Saints that God has called us to be in creation. Perfection is not so much an impossible job but a gift from God and the ability to love our enemies, and our friends at their worst behavior is given to us by the power of God's grace over us. We are beloved children of God and we are given this wondrous gift in order to live out this glorious promise of a kingdom on earth and in heaven.
Jesus is preaching to his disciples, his friends about what he already knows we can do. And this, my sisters and brothers, this love and perfection, is indeed a beautiful way to live.