Here is the sermon I gave at St. Peter’s last Sunday:
Have you ever noticed most children’s board books about the Bible seem to use the same few Bible scenes: Creation, Noah and the ark, Jonah and the whale, Daniel and Lion’s den, the birth of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus. You might see some other variation, but one picture book page you probably will never see, is Jesus teaching the disciples and the crowds to love your enemies and pray for those who hate you and persecute you.
We don’t teach this to children at the youngest of ages. Perhaps it’s too strange a concept to teach to children, to think about loving enemies and praying for those who are unkind to us or even hate us. Come to think of it, it might be a confusing message for adults. Wait aren’t those the bad guys, why are we loving the bad guys, when there are plenty of good folks all around to love?
The going school of thought for the people of Israel, and just as well for us, is to like those who are good to you and dislike those who are threatening to you. Jesus reflects this assumption as he begins his teaching with “You have heard it said.”
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.” With authority Jesus reshapes our view of how we should see the world.
Jesus is not contradicting the Old Testament when he references it and provides clarification, but He is addressing the true meaning that has been obscured by how teachers of that time interpreted the Torah.
In last week’s reading from Matthew we heard Jesus talk about the true intent of permitting divorce as not being about approving separations, but about protection for those who are put away by their spouse.
In the same way the commandment about eye for an eye tooth for a tooth was intended to provide a fair guideline for punishments for wrong doers, preventing escalation of violence and revenge. The commandment was not giving permission to hate those who wrong us, but instead calling for loving consideration in administration of punishments.
It is part of our sinful human nature that we take something like a command to provide for fair punishments and see it as justification for making people pay for their transgressions against us. It is human nature for violence to escalate in a cycle that keeps getting greater.
In other words, if people are in the wrong, we want to let them know it and we don’t want it to be forgotten. In recent years with the growth of social media and online chat forums our society has experienced communication of the right and the wrong on a large scale. I generally make the choice to stay away from social media, but I have heard many people tell me how emotionally taxing it is to read comments of people writing back and forth with great anger over opposite political viewpoints.
Through the anonymous nature of the internet people often display less inhibition and restrain, letting their anger pour out at people they do not even know or see face to face. We can easily lose sight of how destructive anger is to our well being. The teaching of Jesus to love your enemies is essentially scorned by us in the midst of a self conviction of being right. A conviction of being right no matter what, and viewing those who disagree as enemies is a state of being that has lost touch with the humility that we ourselves are not the all knowing God.
For Jesus’ disciples there is no such thing as keeping tabs on the transgressions of others as contrasted to their own rightness. As disciples of Jesus, even the enemy is to be treated like a neighbor. This does not mean that we allow others to harm us or take advantage of us, but simply that we approach everyone from the starting point of God’s love and compassion.
We here at St. Peter’s are called to see the world with a humble awareness that we do not see as God sees. Think of how different the world can look when you have sunglasses on. Depending on the lenses the colors can look darker or brighter, the glare from the sun is neutralized. Things can look different through sunglasses. What if we could wear a type of glasses that would allow us to see as Jesus sees! What would we see in other people if we could look without our sin, if we could look from the perspective of the perfect love of Jesus.
I’m not about to take out a patent for the idea of such a type of glasses, but God’s Word does provide essentially this same service. The scripture tells us that God provides to both the good and evil, “He makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” God gives his gifts to all. This is true not only of the gifts of creation, but also of Jesus, who came to give his life as a ransom payment not for a few, but for many!
On the cross Jesus prayed for those who crucified him, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” Out of this perfect love Jesus showed, the church also learns what it means to love the lost and even those hostile to the gospel.
We show ourselves to be sons of the Father in heaven when we love our enemies. The purpose of loving enemies is to show the truth and reality of our relationship with the father. That because God is holy and loves all, we also shall love all. We show the world how great a love Jesus has, that his disciples love even their enemies.
At the close of our gospel reading Jesus illustrates the selfishness of exclusively greeting our friends. “What more are you doing than others, do not even the gentiles do the same?
In the society of status and patronage that existed back then and exists just as much now, you want to give to those who give to you in order to build up a series of claims over others. Because accumulating wealth possessions, status and honor are important to many in our society today, who we are friends with and who we choose to greet can have implications for how much success we have in life.
In the next chapter of Matthew Jesus will announce “For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.” If wealth and status is our treasure, how much greater will be our temptation to greet only those who we call brothers.
Jesus intended that the disciples find their treasure in Him. As a result he follows up the statement about greeting only your brothers, with this statement of summary of what it means to love your enemies: “You therefore must be perfect, as Your heavenly Father is perfect.”
We know the drill when it comes to God’s expectations of us to be perfect. On our own we fail every time, we discover that we cannot earn our own salvation, we fall short of perfection, we need a Savior. But this is not what Jesus means about being perfect.
Jesus does not mean that we are to be perfect in the manner of earning our salvation apart from Him, or perfectly fulfill the law. What he means is that we live our lives abiding in him, instead of living our lives by our own terms. God is holy and we as heirs of the promise are also called to be holy.
It is as if Jesus is saying, ‘don’t think you can just take a short cut and skip this one because it is hard’, we are to be perfect towards others in the sense of following the clear command to love because God first loved us, to forgive because God first forgave us.
To be perfect is to strive toward meeting our vocation and purpose as disciples of Jesus. We see this is Ephesians 4:13 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
In other words, even though it seems near impossible for us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, these actions are exactly the type of things that life in Him should lead to as we continue to mature in our faith.
The call to be perfect is a call for maturity, completeness, and perfection. Trusting in Christ we press on toward this completion. This call to maturity suggests that as a congregation we should not become overly complacent and comfortable with our progress of growing in the faith.
Instead we should look past the minimum standards of attending worship and teaching our children the basics of our faith. We should strive to grow together as a congregation to attain a unity of how to live as disciples in the challenging surroundings that we find ourselves in today. Seeking every opportunity to be built up with God’s Word against the temptations of life in our culture today.
This was exactly the message pastor Barlow taught last Sunday from 1Corinthians chapter 3, the need to continue to change from immaturity in our faith to maturity. The need to avoid spiritual malnutrition, and find true sustenance through letting the Word of the gospel dwell in us richly.
We have been given the blessing to be the body of Christ, with the result that no challenge is too great, even the calling to love our enemies. May God grant this to us through the power of our perfectly patient Savior, Amen.