September 4, 2012

Making Room: Love Your Enemies

People love to make excuses don’t they. You catch your kid doing something they shouldn’t...and for the next 10 minutes it is nothing but excuses. You almost want to let them get away with it so you don’t have to listen to their excuses.

But we do the same things. Excuses. Excuses. Excuses.

If you are ever unable to make up an excuse...there is an app for that! Or rather, there are several apps for that. You just download them to your phone, and when you are faced with a situation that calls for an simply open the app, choose your appropriate situation, and voila! you have your excuse.

We love excuses, and I would bet that today’s passage has one of the highest excuses rate of any passage in Scripture for why people don’t do for why people don’t do is Jesus’ command to love our enemies.

We are currently in a message series called Making Room. We are looking at what it means to make room in our lives for others. It can be a messy thing to make room for other people with all their problems and sins and jacked up lives. But the idea of making room in our lives for people whom we would consider an enemy is even more threatening and dangerous.

Let’s read our passage for today.

Luke 6:27-36
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Love your enemies. Our first reaction is to define enemy. Who is my enemy? Many of us might say, “I don’t really have any enemies.” But we have a long list of people we don’t like.

It is least it is obey this passage if we define “enemy” as someone who has just mildly offended us. Maybe it is someone who was honest enough to say that “Yes, you do look fat in those jeans!” (He might be sitting right next to you and he knows who he is). Maybe it is a friend who hurt you in a relationship. You shared a secret with them, and they told someone who had no right to know. They broke a confidence. It might be someone who just doesn’t like you; so they talk about you and say bad things about you. They seem to be set against you.

These we might struggle a bit with, but we can see how, in the long run, Jesus’ command to love our enemy might be okay in those situations. But, the excuses become more frequent the deeper the hurt. We are fine with this passage and the love your enemy stuff as long as the person hasn’t done anything too bad. But we have to draw the line somewhere don’t we?

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is an Orthodox Rabbi who has made a name for himself by appearing on Oprah Winfrey and as an unofficial spiritual advisor to Michael Jackson. Despite these glowing theological credentials, he expresses what many people both inside and outside the Christian faith feel when they hear Jesus say, “Love your enemies...”

He writes,
“Jesus meant to love those who criticize you to your boss or who swindle you in a business deal. But to love those who indiscriminately murder God's children is an abomination against all that is sacred. Is there a man who is human whose heart is not filled with moral revulsion against terrorists who target a rabbi who feeds the hungry? Would God or Jesus ask me to extend even one morsel of my limited capacity for compassion to fiends, rather than saving every last particle for their victims instead? Could God really be so unreasonable, could Jesus really be so cruel, as to ask me to love baby-killers? And would such a God be moral if he did? Could I pray to a God who loves terrorists? Could I find comfort in Him, knowing that He offers them comfort as well? No, such a God would be my enemy. He would abide in Hades rather than Heaven. And I would be damned before I worship Him. I will accept an eternity in purgatory rather than a moment of celestial bliss shared with these beasts."
He puts into words what so many people feel if it is suggested that God might have an infinitesimal amount of compassion for a rapist, a terrorist who targets a school house full of children, a child molester, someone who murdered a family member.

Horrific, evil acts committed against innocent people are to be condemned. These people deserve punishment for what they have done. Surely Jesus doesn’t mean for us to love those who have done such horrific things...

Even people in the church have wrestled with the meaning of this passage. The Early Church held that everyone was meant by this passage, but around the Middle Ages this verse was reinterpreted as only applying to the personal sphere. One must not hate the individual who lives in an enemy nation, but hating their country, their faith, or their ideology and their actions was acceptable. So in the name of God they burned villages and towns and killed the “heathen.”

But what if Jesus meant all of it, and if He did mean, How is it possible to live up to that? What if he meant the neighbor who keeps stealing your paper and the child molester? What if he meant the friend who keeps raking you over the coals emotionally and murderer? What if he meant the person who calls you horrible names and the terrorist?

What if Jesus really meant what he said, and had these expectations that we were to love even those who hate us, curse us, mistreat us, and do whatever is in their power to stand against us?

Luke, the writer of this Gospel, is writing to a group of Jesus’ followers who are being hunted and killed for their belief in Jesus. They are being hauled into jail, beaten and tortured, executed and slandered. He is reminded them of Jesus’ words in the midst of some pretty horrific things happening to them.

For those who will be called children of the Most High...this sort of love should be what sets us apart.
Luke 6:32-35 says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.”
And that is the challenge; isn’t it? To love those who don’t love us.

It is easy to love those who love us back. It is easy to love those who treat us nicely. It is easy to love those who act proper and don’t commit the sins that make us feel icky or downright repulsed and angry. We can care for those who care for us back. We can say nice things and pray for and lend money to and hang out with those who will do all of those things back to us

But Jesus says what should set His disciples apart from everyone else is their ability to love the person who will not love them back. It will be their ability to love the person who mistreats, uses, curses, and even takes up arms against.

This passage lays out for us 4 very important ways to work this our practically.

We are to love them and do good to them.
These first two deal with our outward approach to the enemy, and require an active approach. This isn’t just NOT doing them harm. This is a seeking opportunity to do go for them.

Luke 6:31 says, “Do to other as you would have them do to you.”

An old woman is walking down the street in front of you when she stumbles and falls. Most of us would rush toward her, and help her up. This is the active approach to love and doing good required of us in regards to our enemies.

We don’t wait to be asked. We don’t reserve our love and goodness to just not doing them harm. We jump forward and offer the help needed...even though they are our enemy.

Proverbs 25:21-22
21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
    if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
    and the Lord will reward you.

This has an air of religious superiority, but it is so much more than just being better than them. It being obedient to our call to be imitators of God. Luke says it this way, “[God] is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Matthew 5:44-45, 48 says it this way, “I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous...48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Our love for our enemy and our call to do good to them means we are to actively pursue the enemy’s good. Not grudgingly or only in exterior manner, but from the heart.

That brings us to our next two...

We are to bless those who curse us and pray for them.

These are deeply personal. They must come from deep within our inner person. And they deal, primarily with our the position of our heart toward our enemies.

Proverbs 24:17-18 says,
17 Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
    when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice,
18 or the Lord will see and disapprove
    and turn his wrath away from them.

You know there is nothing like watching an arrogant person get what they deserve. The smack-talking quarterback on the opposing team gets crush tackled by your linebacker. You stand up and cheer. Watching Michigan get beat by Alabama 41-14. You know what I mean.

But we love seeing something similar happen to those we don’t like. The boss that seems to keep picking on us gets fired. The person who stole our boyfriend or girlfriend gets cheated on just like we did. We also won’t admit the dark pleasure we take in when really bad things happen to really bad people. The molester gets attacked in prison. The person who crashed the plane into our buildings gets shot in the head.

We call it Karma. They got what they deserved.

But here we are reminded to Bless those who curse us. To wish them well. This cannot be done as mere show. It has to come from the heart. Often we have to pray for ourselves before we can even think of praying for others because blessing and praying for someone is deeply personal, and they are rooted in our hearts, and we just can’t create those on our own.

How can we live this out?
It is impossible to live this way on our own. We can’t do it. The pain and hurt we experience or the anger we feel toward a person who has wronged us really does take time to heal, but more than that it requires a work of the Holy Spirit. For us to Love our enemy, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who mistreat us...and really, really mean it we must have the Holy Spirit working deep within us because we can’t do this on our own.

Within a few chapters of saying this to His disciples, Jesus led the way in demonstrating this love of enemy as he hung, dying on a cross. He had been beaten, spit upon, abused, called names, and yet while he hangs there on the cross He prays, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

He did this not because he tapped into some God-like ability enabling him to love those who were hurting him. Philippians 2 tells us Jesus emptied himself of all that to become like us. No, Jesus was able to do it because he remained constantly in communion with God and desired to reflect God’s nature to the world around us...which is our call as well.

I read the story of Don Miller, a UCC pastor in the Central Congregational Church in Topeka, Kansas.  Every Sunday his church was visited by the Westboro Baptist Church and Fred Phelps with their awful signs. Sunday after Sunday they arrived with their signs and picketed his church. It was extremely difficult for that congregation and for Don Miller, but he tried to live out this passage toward Fred Phelps and his congregation of picketers.

Awhile later Fred Phelps’ nephew was in the hospital and it wasn’t certain whether he was going to live. Fred Phelps called up Don Miller and said, “Don would you go visit my nephew in the hospital?”  Don Miller went to the hospital and visited this hateful pastor’s nephew and while he was there he ran into Fred Phelps. He said to Fred, “Why, of all the people in the world, would you call me to go visit your nephew?” And Fred Phelps said, “Because I didn’t think anybody would come, and I knew you would.”

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