Sermon for 2/23/2014 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA.
Gospel: Matthew 5:38–48
38"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
43"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed or not, but every week, during our prayers, we include a prayer for our enemies.
This is also something we did at the congregation I was serving on my internship in South Carolina. My supervisor Pastor Will and I sometimes would ponder what would happen if we went beyond this generalized prayer, and made things more specific, like saying, “we pray for our enemies…Al Qaida, Bin Laden, …” We wondered how people would react to this, because it would really be striking, and unnerving to hear this prayer spoken out loud.
And, since we weren’t 100% serious all the time, we also joked around about praying for our enemies and then mentioning the other person “We pray for our enemies….like Pastor Will.”
And, it is good that we pray for our enemies every week, but when we actually get a little more specific, praying for our enemies becomes a little more difficult. I don’t know if you’ve ever done it, I have from time to time and to be completely forthright, it’s very, uncomfortable.
There’ve been times in my life when I’m really angered, or annoyed, or even hurt by people, and a tinge of guilt comes in and I’m drawn to pray for them. I mean like actually say or consciously think “God, be with so and so.” I’d like to say that in these times, all the negative emotions just melt away and I’m given inner-peace, but really, I tend to find myself just sort of carrying out a stupid duty for a God who’s a little bit crazy and overboard in loving all people more than we can comprehend.
The truth is, is that loving your enemy, even just by praying for them, goes against so much of our human nature. Really, if it was easy to love our enemies, we probably wouldn’t have enemies. But loving our enemies is what, among other things, Jesus is calling us to do as we hear once again from his Sermon on the Mount. And, this teaching is a nice thing for us to say and put on bumper stickers, but carrying out this command is a little tougher.
For instance, how many of those gathered around the mount where Jesus was preaching gave this an amen…at least in their heads. And maybe, those gathered left the mount that day inspired and uplifted by this message of love from Jesus. But then, later on, how many of those folks, when they saw Jesus loving even those who had nailed him to the cross, decided that our love should certainly have limits, that Jesus was taking things a bit far. When Jesus put loving his enemies into practice, it was really costly.
The concept of loving our enemies isn’t any easier for us today. What happens to us when we hear names like Zhokar Tsarnaev, Aaron Hernandez, Westboro Baptist Church, Al Qaida, or the Canadian Hockey team? If you’re like me, you don’t exactly get happy thoughts in your head. Or think about someone who has really done you wrong in life, the people who have twisted your stomach in bitter knots before. Now, if we’re real charitable people, we might not have great scorn and spite for these people, but we don’t have love for them either.
Now, as we’re thinking about these people, as we get anxious and tight, I want you to think about someone else. A baby boy named Lucas. Lucas is going to be baptized today, right here at Christ the King. In baptism, we will become Lucas’ family in faith, and we, along with his parents and family and Godparents will promise to nurture him with love, so that he may come to trust in the God that we worship today. This God, is shown to us in Jesus, and this God is shown to us not just in Jesus’ words and teaching, but ultimately in his act of loving us humans, even while we killed him.
So, how will we, as the Body of Christ, as a family of faith, show and teach and share our savior with Lucas? Will we show Lucas a savior who said a lot of nice things a long time ago? Or, will we show Lucas that that savior is risen and living and doing those nice things, like being merciful and loving towards us today? Are we called to just tell Lucas the story of Jesus, or are we called by baptism to be the story of Jesus for Lucas?
Indeed, we’ve been called to be the story of Jesus for Lucas. We’ve been called to love our enemies not just as a matter of concept, but as a matter of practice. We’ve been called to be this story for Lucas, so that he can learn to be a part of that story too. We’ve been called to be this story, because if we don’t love our enemies, if instead we insist on revenge and human justice, if we follow our sinful human instincts to take an eye for an eye, there will be only a world of blind hatred for Lucas and for all our children.
In this time and place, the price for showing love to our enemies isn’t high. For instance, we aren’t peacefully marching unarmed into violent mobs. We aren’t standing between protestors and police like some Priests in the Ukraine, nor are we urgently sending out messages like this from the Ukranian Greek Catholic Church, “Every person, no matter which side of the fence they are on, is a child of God and needs to protect every human life.” But, there is a price, there is a call, there is a Savior among us who is here doing something for us, and that Savior is here freeing us from our hate. There is a Savior who is here today giving new birth to another human being and feeding us with his life.
And so, this morning, while we might not be called to march or face physical threats, we will face down our own instincts and hate with Christ’s love. We will pray for our “enemies”, the type of people who have done us harm or wish to do us harm. And when we have moments to pray on our lips and in our hearts, perhaps you will be called to pray for someone who fits this description, whether someone on a global scale, or in your personal life. We will pray for these people so that God will help us to love them in the same way that God loves them, and each of us. We will pray for these people, because if we refuse, than we are those people. We will pray for these people, remembering that as Jesus was dying on a cross, he prayed “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” for each of us.
Loving our enemies isn’t easy, it doesn’t seem natural, but this is how God has saved each of us and the world. May God continue to make us bearers of this merciful love, so that we may bear it for Lucas and for all those with whom he will share this life-giving love.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,