Sermon Of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton, VA
February 24, 2019
Pastor Robert McCarty
Preaching Text: Luke 6: 27-38
February 24, 2019
Pastor Robert McCarty
Preaching Text: Luke 6: 27-38
Wow! What a gospel text. What a gospel challenge: Loving your enemies, loving those who disagree with you. This would have been a good gospel text either right before or right after Valentine’s day. Imagine the greeting card with the scripture verse: "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them." Such a card may or may not be a best seller.
Some of you may have offered prayers this last week on behalf of our brothers and sisters in the Methodist Church. (Maybe today as well.) They face a difficult conversation that the Lutheran Church went through 10 years ago regarding “official policy” towards Christians who are in same gender relationships and similar questions of life, scripture, and fellowship together. We offer our prayers and recognize the challenge we face when people of faith disagree with one another. I wonder how the preacher this morning at their gathering in Saint Louis will handle this text. (I wonder) what he or she will say about this gospel truth from Jesus. Jesus tells us to love our enemies as if loving our friends and those close to us was an easy thing.
For what it is worth, people of faith disagree on many issues. Fairness calls on us to shine a light on disagreements and not act like this is just a Methodist problem. Christians disagree on issues of immigration and refugees. We disagree on issues of guns. We disagree on issues of race, the name of the high school, worship times, Supreme Court nominees, frequency of holy communion and how we spend money, whether or not Jello is dessert or salad. The last one we can laugh about, the others not so much.
Sometimes, I wonder if people might find it easier to love their enemies, typically those they cannot see and never met. I wonder if it is easier to love your enemies than those close to them who disagree with them. Considering it, I have to say "probably not." Most people probably work hard at avoiding their enemies. At the end of the first Harry Potter book, Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster says something to that affect when he praises a rather bumbling first year student Neville Longbottom. “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but jut as much to stand up to our friends.”
Jesus tells us to love enemies. The fact that I married a daughter of the Missouri Synod probably doesn’t count. There was an episode of Cheers that poked fun at that when Woody realizes his fiancee is from the other side of the Lutheran fence. Woody Harrelson, apparently, is not was not Lutheran. Bruce WIllis is Lutheran. As is Gary Larson, creator of the Far Side cartoons. Also, Collin Kapernick, who raised a maelstrom when he kneeled for the national anthem. Kapernick baptized in a Methodist Church, confirmed in the Lutheran Church, attended a baptist church while in college at Nevada. We can all claim him or disavow him. Then we can disagree about that as well.
Love your enemies—not that Kapernick is anyone’s enemy. Though our current national climate seems to create enemies rather easily and makes us wary of the people around us. I pray whoever preaches in Saint Louis this morning finds the right words to tiptoe through that reality. Who are our enemies? I remember another gospel story--the one about the good Samaritan. Jesus and a follower get into a discussion about the greatest commandment. "You shall love your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your self and your neighbor as yourself." And this one follower asks Jesus, well who is my neighbor. What follows is the story of the Good Samaritan. If we could just ask Jesus, “Who is my enemy?”
That might be a dangerous question to ask anyone, but especially Jesus. And we know the crowd around him would have their own answers. Rome is the enemy. The soldiers are the enemy. We always hear about the scribes and the Pharisees who opposed Jesus, and we wonder how close they might come to the enemy category. We also have the obvious answers: Devil, Satan, or Sin.
Even without our asking Jesus gives some suggestions for who the enemy might be. Some of Jesus’ description you might expect. Those who hate, curse and abuse you. “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you.” I find the mixture of bless and curse amusing, to flip curse into blessing. Some of you remember Julia. She could be colorful at times and had a few colorful stories working at the central office for the school. She had a story about I guess one of the school superintendent that she worked for getting verbally chewed out by a woman and member of the community who was irate about something. He had enough and told her bluntly, “Well this is what I say and that’s the final word on the subject.” Her retort was “Kiss my ___” (you can fill in the blank). To which he replied, “Now, now, this is no time for romance.” "Bless those who curse you."
“Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” We expect those enemies. The surprise comes not in the who but the what. Bless them, Pray for the, Do good, love.” That seems unexpected, and Jesus goes on, "Give to everyone who begs from you." That doesn’t sound like an enemy. "And if anyone takes your goods, do not ask for them again.” Do we view those who take our possessions our resources as enemies? Maybe. Maybe Jesus calls us out here. As if to underline this point Jesus goes on later. “But love your enemies, do good and lend, expecting nothing in return.” Love those who take, take, take from you.
And then Jesus gives us his rationale, which we should already know. Does not your father in heaven do the same. “Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” Probably we more easily remember the Matthew version of this. “for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” Or maybe your grandmother put it this way, “Kill them with kindness" (sickeningly-sweet, syrup-laden kindness).
This gospel teaching from Jesus about loving your enemies comes to us the same week when the news tells us about two ISIS brides trying to return home with children. One wants to return home to England, the other to Alabama. Not only do we struggle with loving our enemies, we protest when others love the enemy. As if love is a mutually exclusive arrangement. You can love one but not both. I heard the United Kingdom stripped their daughter of her nationality and refused to accept her back. The United States case has entered the court system.
This teaching is hard, perhaps the hardest in the Bible. Perhaps, you find it too hard to love your enemies. Maybe you have a good idea who your enemies are, besides the man or woman who cut your off on the interstate or the driver who gave you the one finger salute for whatever reason. When we recognize the difficulty of loving our enemies, it gives us all the more reason for keeping our friends. To work at not allowing our disagreements to define who is with us and who is against us. In the end, we all have different ideas about how to make this world a better place as well as how to make our community a better place for our children and our grandchildren. Keep in mind, our children will watch us disagree and they will learn from our behavior.
Jesus call to love our enemies, more than anything reminds us how difficult it is to love our friends and those close to us. So Jesus breaks it down into simple steps. Pray for them, Bless them, Do good for them, Give and expect nothing in return. For God has sent you both sunshine and God has sent you both rain and God has given to both of you his son Jesus. And Jesus has loved you to death and bore the cross with kindness. We sometimes forget that Jesus did not bear the cross for his friends, he bore the cross for sinners, all sinners whose actions oppose the will of God. And the last image of this gospel text displays the generosity of God.
"Forgive and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap." The image is of God pouring an immense amount of grain into your lap. Think of it like a cup running over, joyful excess. Because the joy of the Christ gift comes to us not in his death but in his resurrection.
We divide people. I pray for our Methodist friends who fear nothing but division is possible. I pray for them knowing some day an issue will pop up in the Lutheran Church that will threaten to divide us. With our disagreements, we divide people into camps and tribes and factions. Christ and God has the power to unite us again and teach us how to pray for others, bless others, do good to others and love.
Bless be God who saves and loves and unites in peace.