Sermon for February 23, 2014: Matthew 5:38-48

Let’s imagine for just a moment that you are transported to some amazing place you’ve never been before. After some research you find out that the name of this place is “we-know-nothing-about-Jesus-Ville.” I’m sure it exists somewhere and the population is more than just 1, trust me. There are people who exist that want to know more about Jesus and we just may be the lucky ones who get to tell them about Christ some day. So what would you say? What would you say when asked “who is this Jesus and what exactly do Christians believe?” Would you quote Bible verses? Would you start in with the Apostles’ Creed? Maybe you wouldn’t tell someone what Christians believe, you would show them by caring for those on the margins. Would you mention this verse? If someone didn’t know what Christ was all about, would you tell them that loving our enemies is part of our call as disciples? Or would you leave that part out? It’s messy, confusing, and uncomfortable at best. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” sounds good in theory. When you try and apply it, its actually quite difficult and may take a lifetime.
I struggle with this. I struggle with this every day. I don’t completely blame my ethnic heritage, or my family, or my upbringing, but a combination of many things and maybe even a little bit of stuff I still don’t understand at my fairly young age. See, I was raised with the attitude that “blood is thicker than mud” which means that family comes first. I was also raised that if anyone messes with my family, you mess with me. This has, at times, carried over to my friendships. I am fiercely loyal, which isn’t a bad thing. But, again, you mess with my friends, and you mess with me. My Italian blood sometimes gets the best of me and I get wrapped up in getting revenge. It’s not a healthy cycle, but I know I do it. Since starting seminary, I have tried to make it more of a practice to pray for my enemy. If you haven’t prayed for your enemies lately, I recommend it; it’s quite freeing! Loving my enemy is a bit harder. That doesn’t make any sense. But, there are very few things in the kingdom of Christ that make sense.
Have I mentioned how much I struggle with this? I don’t like loving my enemy. It’s much easier to dislike my enemy. Because by disliking my enemy, I’m proving a point! I don’t know what my point is, but I’m proving it! Maybe if I love my enemy it feels like I’m saying “you’re right, I’m wrong” and I hate admitting I’m wrong. Maybe if I love my enemy I will have a change of heart and my enemy will become my friend. Lord knows, I don’t need any more friends. I hope you are starting to see how ridiculous this is getting. But, if Christ tells us to love our enemies then I guess that’s what I’ll do. And doing what Christ tells me to do makes me feel good. So, love my enemies makes me feel good. Who doesn’t like feeling good? End of story, end of sermon. Easy enough, right?
Friends, you should know by now that when Christ is involved, nothing is as easy as it first seems. So, let’s get a little uncomfortable, shall we? What is interesting, is that I have always read this text as I am the one doing the loving. I am the one doing the loving. I am doing such a noble thing–loving my enemies and all. I am doing what Christ has called me to do. It’s all about me and what amazing and wonderful things I am doing. But, here’s where the sand gets in our swimsuits, if you will…what if we’re the ones receiving the loving? What if we are someone’s enemy? Ouch. Let that sink in for just a moment. What if you are someone’s enemy. You may not know if you are or not, but what if you are. And now, the person who considered you an enemy now loves you.
I don’t know if this makes anyone else uncomfortable, but it sure does make me uncomfortable. I don’t like the idea of being loved by my enemy. Because if we’re going to be honest, okay, if I’m going to be honest, I have a hard enough time loving myself, let alone someone else loving me. And here’s the thing, if I have a hard time loving my enemies, it makes me uncomfortable to think my enemies are okay loving me. And it should be noted that if you love your enemies or vice versa, that doesn’t mean that you have condoned what they have done, but that the ill will you feel towards them or even the ill will that they feel towards you no longer has the power.
Or what about this, just in case you weren’t uncomfortable enough. What if your enemy isn’t a person. What if your enemy is a thing? It’s almost a little too easy to hate an enemy. We can picture this person. But what if your enemy is something that doesn’t have a face but it sure enough has a name. What if your enemy is cancer? Or Alzheimers? Or what if your enemy comes in the form of alcohol or drugs? Maybe your enemy is depression. What if your enemy is self doubt? Heck, perhaps your enemy is an old friend named “stress.” It’s easy to hate all of those things, right? I have a list of faceless enemies as long as my arm. Demons I battle every single day. And now, NOW Lord, you’re asking me to love my enemy? I don’t want to love my self doubt. I don’t want to love my body issues. I don’t want to love my issues with mental health. I didn’t love the cancer that attacked my grandfather. I didn’t love emphysema that slowly took my grandmothers life. I’m pretty sure I hate the drugs that have affected too many members of my family. Love is about the last thing I want to do with any of these things. Yet, Christ has the audacity to ask me to do just that. And I don’t want to. And here’s the harsh fact and reality: sometimes it just feels better to hate or dislike something than it does to love something. And because I’m a follower of Christ, the fact that it’s easier for me to hate than it is for me to love makes me really uncomfortable–which I guess is a good sign.
But do you understand how obnoxious this is? Are you starting to understand how preposterous it is that Christ asks us to love our enemy? How can we even start to do that? So many times I’ve tried to love my enemy, no matter what that may be and I fail. Time and time again, I fail. And it hurts. Because as much as I say to myself “I’m a good person! I’m a follower of Christ! I love and welcome everyone!” when it comes down to it, I find myself slipping back into old habits of hating my enemy. And I visit that dark spot in my heart all over again and it’s a little too comfortable. Christ challenges us to a life that is difficult. If being a disciple were easy, everyone would do it, friends. But, a life of discipleship isn’t easy and this is the life that Christ calls us to.
Christ is our example. On the cross, Christ could have very easily turned his head towards his executioners and declared his loathing or hate for them. But what does he do instead? “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” We already belong to Christ. We became Christ’s the day we were washed clean in the waters of baptism. Your place in the kingdom does not hinge on whether or not we love our enemy and our place in the kingdom does not hinge on whether or not we’re successful in loving our enemy. Because here’s the thing: we’re not going to be successful. Our sinful self will always get in the way.
So, what is the good news in all of this, friends? How can I possibly love a person or thing that has made my life hell? I don’t know. It’s a struggle. I try. I turn to God and pray that my heart be softened. And then I start over again–trying to love my enemy. I do this because Christ loves me. Christ loves me, which is a miracle when you think about it. A miracle because the way I treat other Christians, heck, just the way I treat other human beings is enough that I should be considered an enemy of God. But that’s just not the way God works, is it? Thanks be to God.

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