Love Your Enemies

Luke 6:20-36                                                                        17th Sunday after Pentecost

Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                          11 September 2016

 

Well, here he goes again.   Jesus is putting a heavy load on us.   Last week, we read if you love your family or your stuff more than him, don’t even bother to follow him, you know, unless you are willing to put Christ first, denying yourself and taking up your cross.   And today, we read the call to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who mistreat us.   Whew!   Come on, Jesus.   Can’t you stop reversing all our world values.   You’re getting us all mixed up.  

Friends, hear, if you dare, the Gospel of our Lord, the Sermon on the Plain, from Luke 6.

Then he looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

24 "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 "Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. "Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

27 "But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 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. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 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? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 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. 35 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. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (NRS)

I had a frenemy in third grade.   You know one of those girls who would be besties with me and then say, “If you talk to that person, you are not my friend anymore.”   And she could get a whole group of girls treating other girls miserably.   I lived in a small town and went to a small school.  This went on for several years.   It was miserable – whether you were her friend or her enemy – because she used all her power to control all the relationships.   Until we grew up and stopped letting her play that game with us.   But one thing I learned along the way was that she came from a household where the parents were always bickering and forcing her to choose sides, so she probably did not know how to have a healthy relationship.   I hope she does now.

The thing is – this frenemy behavior happens among nations too.   We play power games – trying to get other countries (allies) to side with us against enemies.   Sometimes it is hard to know who are your real friends and real enemies – among the nations.    The Bible has a lot to say about enemies.   The psalmist is always asking for God’s help with enemies, always convinced that God will give them what they deserve. 

There’s a sort of trust that handling the enemy is God’s job, not ours.   We read that in Romans 12 too – that we should leave the revenge to God, live peaceably with all of our power, and try to overcome evil by doing good.   And Jesus certainly makes it clear that we should treat others as we want to be treated, that we should love when we want to hate, that we should do good when we want to do evil.   So I think we can all agree that we should do this in our personal relationships – even if we don’t always do it, we believe we should.  

I was talking to a friend about marriage issues this week, and she was saying how hard it is to stop an argument when it begins to escalate.   We want so badly to defend our positions, rather than say what hurt us.   (slide) We’d rather say, “I hate you,” than say “I feel hurt.”   We’d rather lash out or keep bickering than express our fears, our longings, and our shattered expectations.

And it seems to me this translates to global problems as well.  Call me naïve but I’m just saying what Jesus said.   If we can speak and act with respect and kindness to people who have been disrespectful and unkind, there is more hope for international peace, than if we just use threaten or drop the bigger bomb.   Let’s think about what happened in the last fifteen years.

We were attacked.  (slide of ground zero rubble)  It was shocking, horrible, unjust, and miserably wrong.   Understandably we wanted to right the wrong.   We wanted to stop the enemy.  We wanted to feel more secure.   But we rushed to Afghanistan (slide), and to Iraq (slide) to secure ourselves, and while we are more secure now than in 2001, we were not able to stop the root cause of terrorism, which is hatred – instead there seem to be more enemies stirred up.  And in Syria (image), the enemy has wreaked more havoc than we can even begin to imagine.  

Of course, justice was carried out with Bin Laden and we continue to try to  contain ISIS, and I am extremely grateful to all our military personnel who put their lives on the line to protect us.  God bless them for their sacrifices.   But seeds of hatred continue to grow so on this day, we have to think about what makes for peace.  We don’t want more little boys and girls growing up in a world that looks like those images we have just seen – images of destruction and human hatred.   (slide of boy) This is the face of war – children growing up knowing nothing but disaster and fear.   So what can we do?  

(MLK quote:  Love is the only thing that will turn an enemy into a friend) Well, some of us will attend a Peace Feast with Muslim friends so that we can better understand who they are and how we share many common values, as fellow citizens of the United States and residents of Manatee and Sarasota counties.   We do not want to stereotype all people of the Islamic faith. 

Hitler and the Nazis stereotyped the Jews and you remember the horrific outcome of a whole country filled with hate and mistrust of the Jews.  So we will be peacemakers with Muslims   (MLK quote:  Love is the only thing that will turn an enemy into a friend)

What else can we do?   We can vote for candidates at all levels of the elections, whom we believe will help us to live securely under the golden rule, turning enemies to friends by kindness whenever possible and using force when necessary.  Could it be that we are actually going work together with our frenemy Russia, hoping to help Syria after five years of civil war?   If that effort succeeds, it will be a huge turning point for people who have suffered too long and too much.  

But Jesus in his sermon gives hopes to those who are suffer.   He says, “If you are poor now, you are blessed, for the kingdom of God belongs to you.   If you are hungry now, you’re blessed and you will be filled up.    If you’re crying now, don’t worry, soon you will be laughing.   If people are hating you, rejecting, insulting you, because of your Christian faith, take heart because the prophets got the same treatment.   You will have a great reward.

But unlike in the Beatitudes in Matthew, Luke’s version moves from blessings to woes.    The woes are like “watch out” or “be sorry” or “too bad for you” if you are rich now, if you are full now, if you are laughing now, if people speak well of you, because you already have your reward.   This part is more than a little disconcerting, because by the world standards, we are rich and full, nearly all of us.   And many of us are laughing and well-though of too.   Jesus is always turning things upside down.   It is at this juncture that Jesus says, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 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. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.   

Many believe Jesus was teaching psychological strategy when he said, “Turn the cheek, and give away your shirt to the one who took your coat.”  

By doing these things, a less powerful person undermines the authority of an abuser by being super-generous, by not allowing the oppressor to rule him or her.

Then Jesus asserts the Golden Rule and launches into the humbling statements about how if we do good, just to get good, we are not accomplishing anything of value.   No, to do good, we must do it and expect nothing in return.   Only then are we living like God does, giving generously to those who deserve it and to those who don’t. 

It’s hard to keep giving in relationships when you feel like you get nothing in return.   But that’s our calling, and there are rewards, though not immediate ones for those who keep up the good work.  Keep engaging, keep forgiving, keep sharing, keeping loving even the enemies.   Believe that transformation is possible.   (GW Carver quote:  “Fear of something is at the root of hate for others.  And hate will destroy the hater.”  So we refuse to fear and to be consumed by hatred.  If the young jihadist can see that there are leaders and people in the Western world who care about his life, rather than being radicalized by watching videos of fiery speakers telling him the West is humiliating people of the Islamic faith, then the world begins to change.   It is harsh, hateful ideology that needs to shift – both on their side and on ours.   Only then is peace possible.  

 

Do to others as you would have them do to you – not AS they have done to you.   All the major religions hold to a version of the golden rule.  From the Quran we read “Do unto all {men} as you would wish to have done unto you, and reject for others what you would reject for yourselves…   There should be neither harming nor reciprocating harm.”   When asked to sum up the entire Torah concisely, the sage Jewish Rabbi Hillel explained: That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.   And Jesus, after reciting the golden rule, said, in the last words of our text today, “Be merciful as God is merciful.”  If all peaceful people of faith would join hands to combat ignorance and to extend mercy and compassion to the most hopeless in our society, we might bring a measure of healing to our hurting world.