This power is an edited version of my sermon for November 13, 2016. It’s based on Matthew 5:43-48
Jesus Calls his disciples to be different.
This is something Christians will frequently point out, but rarely reflect upon. The truth is, everything Jesus taught, and especially the contents of the Sermon on the mount, reveals a kingdom in which common wisdom is turned on its head. The powers of this world love the strong, Jesus declares the meek blessed. The powers of this world value self-assured confidence, Jesus declares the poor in spirit would gain the Kingdom of Heaven. The powers of this world champion the strength of warriors, Jesus declares the peacemakers will be given the moniker “children of God.”
And in Matthew 5:43-48 Jesus does it again. Our Lord tells us we are to love our enemies. This not something we haven’t heard before, but it’s easy to love one’s enemies over there. It’s another thing to look directly upon the evil people can do in this world and hear Jesus’ words, “Love you enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
To demonstrate my point, match the video embedded below.
This man crows the name of the now president-elect, and confidently tells the man filming the incident “Black lives don’t matter.”
What do you feel like doing as he leans toward the camera and smugly declares a race’s existence worthless?
How on earth are we to love a person who believes these vile things? It’s hard, almost to the point of being impossible. This is why we’ve been given the power of the Holy Spirit, because being formed into Jesus’ disciples and living out his teaching is difficult.
When Jesus proclaimed this message his people were under the occupation of the Roman Empire, it was seen as a duty to hate and despise them as oppressors. When Jesus said, “Love them,” many people likely lumped him in with those who willingly went along with the oppression of his own kind. But Jesus proclaimed a Kingdom which transcended human dividing lines, and called everyone to follow him. This is the message we still bear today. And it’s more needed than ever.
In the few days since Donald Trump’s election there have been verified accounts of assaults on people from his supporters. Students in a Michigan middle school chanted “build the wall” during lunch. On Wednesday in York County, PA white students walked through the halls of a technical high school declaring “white power.” And, on the anniversary of the “Night of Broken Glass” no less, Nazi graffiti was been sprayed on windows in Philadelphia. Hatred has been emboldened.
And how are we to respond? Many people in this country have had enough. I’ve read too many comments of people who have declared, “Enough of this turn the other cheek crap.” And, in fact, there are recorded incidents of people being accused of being Trump supporters being beaten. There’s a rising movement in California to secede from the Union 1, and “not my president” has become a slogan chanted in protests throughout the country. This is a statement I’ve been telling angry conservatives is unacceptable for the last eight years, it looks like I’ll be using it for the next four as well.
We are truly seeing Jesus’ words in action. In this world, people love their neighbors and hate their enemies. But we have to be better. Because, as Jesus says, anyone can love those who love them. Even the lowest human beings in Jesus’ world, Roman tax-collectors, were capable of loving people who loved them! Generally speaking, isn’t that easy 2?
But looking into the face of someone who spews hatred, who may not only be our enemy but also an enemy of human-dignity itself, and loving them is not easy.
Nor should it be.
And what does it mean to love our enemies? What does it mean to pray for those who persecute us? It means praying for them to have their eyes opened to the blessings God pours out on everyone — the light of the Sun on the good and evil, life giving rain on both just and unjust. It means we don’t long for our enemies to suffer, but for them to recognize their evil. And with that recognition we hope the grief of their sin leads them to repent and be blessed.
We must understand something about the nature of following our savior. If we are going to be his disciples Jesus calls for perfection.
Now, what does that mean? Well, it’s an obvious riff off of the Old Testament declaration “be holy, because I am holy.” Whereas holiness speaks to a separation for God’s will, usually centered around the rituals around the Tabernacle and Temple, perfection speaks to completeness 3. It looks beyond ritual and calls people to be wholly transformed into an image of Jesus’ very teaching — to be utterly committed to seeing his work be done in this world. Especially in times of uncertainty and upheaval we must never forget Jesus is the only path out from darkness. As the old hymn, “The Solid Rock” puts it,
When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ the solid rock we stand.
All other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.
May we be a people who love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. And may our compassion and love shame those who celebrate evil, that they might repent and turn toward the Light of the World. That is love’s true power. May it never be forgotten. Amen.