SERMON Epiphany 7C 2019
Love Your Enemies
If we want to be Christians, there is really only one thing we need to know, one thing we need to be, one thing we need to live into: Jesus tells us everything we need to know in the command he gives us today: Love your enemies.
In nearly 30 years of parish ministry I’ve never been able to convince a Confirmation class of this idea, though it is the thing that sets Christians apart from everybody else. Loving your enemies makes no sense to anybody, least of all to kids who have a very acute sense of justice, especially as regards themselves. There is no more merciless justice than playground justice. No, over my years as a pastor, I have come to recognize just how revolutionary, how upside-down this idea is. Loving our enemies goes against every instinct we have and most of the lessons life teaches us.
Nevertheless, dear friends, learning to love our enemies is the beating heart of the Christian faith, and takes us right into the heart of God, as Jesus teaches so directly and powerfully today. If you only love those who love you, what good is that? Even sinners do that, he says. But Jesus is speaking about a different kind, a different level of love, a love that literally knows no enemies, recognizes no enemies, a love that has already forgiven, already forgotten, a love expressed nowhere more powerfully than in Jesus’ words, Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.
When Jesus commands the disciples on the last night of his life, Love one another as I have loved you, this is the love he’s speaking of: a love that has already forgiven and keeps on loving in the face of betrayal, stupidity, denial, even open treachery. Jesus loved his disciples with a love that was deeper than their sin, stronger than their ignorance, wider than their foolishness. I like to use a series of four words to describe this kind of love, God’s love: unconditional, universal, impartial, and irresistible. That’s how God loves us, how Jesus loved his friends, how we are to love one another.
In our first lesson today from Genesis, we heard a small part of a long story, one of the longest in the Bible, of Joseph and his brothers. It’s a love story; a love story about God’s love.
You may recall that it’s a complicated family: Jacob had twelve sons by four women. Joseph and Bejamin are the sons of Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife, and Jacob makes no secret of who he likes best. Joseph is his favorite and Jacob shows this by giving him the famous coat of many colors. Add to that Joseph’s own arrogance towards his brothers, and you have a recipe for the kind of jealousy and intrigue inside the family that is worthy of the Greek tragedies and is common enough among us today. To be rid of him, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and told his father he was dead.
Fast forward to the end of the story: the brothers and their families are driven by famine to seek help in a foreign land, in Egypt. By this time, Joseph, who began as a slave, has risen to a position of great power there. He recognizes his brothers (though not they him) and could easily exacted revenge on them, by simply leaving them to starve. They certainly deserved it, and no one knew that better than Joseph.
Instead of exacting justice, however, Joseph offers them forgiveness and love, a new home, plenty to eat … he gives life to those who tried to take his, and he does so freely and joyfully.
This is not how the story would have played out if it were an episode of GAME OF THRONES, but it is the way of God. Love everyone as I have loved you; love even your enemies. If we can find a way to do this, we will find our way into the heart of God.
To put this another way: Christians can never take revenge on anybody for anything. Revenge hurts no one more than it hurts us. Taking revenge is an act of self-harm. Even thinking about it, indulging in old resentments, remembering our grudges, watering our garden of grievances as some rise to do each day, this hurts us … hurts no one but us. We have to let all that go: the resentments and grudges and grievances. It’s not about being right; it’s about keeping our souls clean and free and supple. Loving our enemies is something we do for ourselves.
The other side of that particular coin has to do with accepting forgiveness, yielding to the miracle of unconditional love, and dropping the guilt which is the revenge we take on ourselves for our sins. Guilt does not come from God. Healing comes from God. Healing is what happens when unconditional, universal, impartial and irresistible love happens – to us. Love is an energy. Love is an event. Love happens.
We don’t make love happen; we let love happen, we give ourselves over to the power of love and love does its thing with us.
So listen again to what Jesus teaches today; hear his words with your heart and be ready for a great blessing:
Do not judge and you will not be judged;
Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.
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,
for the measure you give
will be the measure you get back.