Giving Up Enemies

Posted by on Oct 3, 2013 in Faith Words |

Words of Faith

Rev. Rita S. Platt

March 10, 2013-03-28

“Giving Up Enemies”

 

Gospel Reading: Luke 19:37-44

Mark Twain once said this about the Bible: “I have no problem with those parts of the Bible I don’t understand. It’s those parts of the Bible I do understand that give me fits.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that. The themes that we are examining in this Lenten study are not passages that are difficult to understand; they are concepts that challenge us and give us fits as we try to live them out.

Themes like:

Control

Expectations

Superiority

These are the things we are asked to give up if we are going to live the life God has for us.

Our Lenten journey is a journey inward, a journey that recognizes we will forever be changed. Our gospel reading is a journey. Jesus entered that city and in a few weeks we will proclaim “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” with a great deal of rejoicing, yet Jesus knows the rest of the journey – the journey when Jerusalem would not be that glorious place and there would not be one stone left on another.  And Jesus weeps.     

Let’s look at another passage: Matthew 5: 43-48. This passage will frame our theme of GIVING UP OUR ENEMIES.

 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighboraand hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons 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. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

 

These words are part of an extended teaching – words that are familiar to us, the Beatitudes. Jesus is challenging persons on how they should live.  Jesus gives us His wisdom on how WE can deal effectively with our enemies. He says we are to:
• Love them
• Pray for them
• Greet them

In another passage, Paul tells us that “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if she is thirsty, give her something to drink.” Romans 12:20

So let’s see if I have this right. I have to FEED my enemies if they’re hungry and I need to give my enemies something to drink if they’re thirsty. I have to pray for them.
Did I miss something here? These are my enemies. These are the ones that are tearing down the temple. They don’t care! Why do I have to care? The truth is I don’t like them! They’ve hurt me. They’ve wronged me. I don’t want to feed them; I definitely don’t want to give them a drink. And the last thing I want to do in my daily life is pray God’s blessing on them, perhaps heaping coals, but not blessing.

 
So, why on earth would I want to do something nice for people like this?  That is exactly what Jesus is telling us to do!

 

But before we delve into the reason why, I am going to invite you to enter into that uncomfortable place of trying to identify your enemies.  It’s easy to identify the enemies in scripture. It’s easy to identify historic enemies; but when we hear God’s word we are never focusing on history alone. God is inviting us into the space to identify our enemies. This week in Bible study we had a great conversation about that and opened it up in a broader way. And that’s what I’m asking you to do in your devotional life: allow God to reveal those persons you would rather not have share your space.  You might also broaden the circle to think about our national enemies because all we have to do is open the paper or listen to the news and there they are. We have justified labeling persons as ‘the other.’  However God might lead you in that time, there will be a recognition that an individual or a group is someone you just don’t want to like.  Maybe in your opinion that person doesn’t deserve your love. That’s the one Jesus said we need to love. But why?

 

I need to love my enemies because it is good for me.

Hatred is a horrible tool that literally destroys us!
1. It destroys us physically.  Anger causes your blood pressure and breathing rates to increase. It also can trigger headaches and lead to abusive behavior.
2. It can destroy you emotionally. It wears you out and makes your judgment less effective, leading to bad decision making. It becomes a filter on how we see the world. Often times the result of hatred is outbursts that can cause us to be embarrassed. This can lead to feelings of guilt and depression. Another side effect of always being angry and having intense hatred is that not many people will enjoy being around you.
3. Of course, hatred destroys you spiritually. We’re told throughout the Bible that the essence of God is love.

 

Enemies can help us learn about ourselves.

 I have found the words of Thomas Merton most helpful:
“Do not be too quick to assume that your enemy is a savage just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy because he thinks you are a savage. Or perhaps he is afraid of you because he feels you are afraid of him. And perhaps if he believed you were capable of loving him he would no longer be your enemy.

“Do not be too quick to assume that your enemy is an enemy of God just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy precisely because he can find nothing in you that gives glory to God. Perhaps he fears you because he can find nothing in you of God’s love and God’s kindness and God’s patience and mercy and understanding of the weakness of men.

“Do not be too quick to condemn the man who no longer believes in God, for it is perhaps your own coldness and avarice and mediocrity and materialism and sensuality and selfishness that have killed his faith.”

In other words, whom I label as enemy may say more about me than about them.
I told you I didn’t particularly like this part and especially don’t like it when others bring it to my attention.

 

When I was serving in Johnstown I started with two local churches and during that time we worked together to form a cooperative of six. It was a wonderful ministry and during that time we also extended hospitality to a housing project across the street. In the end, approximately 60 children – children who had no connection to the local church – were welcome in that space. It was then, and I continue to identify it as, a very high point in my ministry.  But there was a matriarch and patriarch of one of the churches, a husband and wife, who did not appreciate such a ministry. At any given meeting…ministry council, pastor-parish, finance or even after worship when they didn’t like the hymns, we began to have these lines that were clearly drawn.  In every situation I was on one side; they were on the other. The root of the problem: the ministry to the housing project had fruit in every area of our life together.

 

I struggled and finally I met with the District Superintendent. I was at wits end. What I really wanted, and often prayed about, was that they might find some other nice Methodist church in Johnstown where I could transfer their membership; but it didn’t occur.  So I met with the District Superintendent and I won’t forget her words. I expected great empathy. After all, she had been a local church pastor; I expected something to buoy me up. But she looked me in the eye and said, “What is God teaching you through them?” I didn’t like her for a while. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear; I wanted to focus my attention on the ministry.  I was on God’s side, so what side could they have been on? She was right and God and I continued our journey about how pride had gotten in my way, how I was taking things personally and how I was no longer seeing those persons as children of God.  I think in our lives we all find ourselves in that space, where there is someone and it’s difficult to hear Jesus say to love them.

 

The last thing connects to the second.

 
We need to love our enemies because God wants us to grow up to be like Him.
Until I learn to love my enemies… I haven’t grown up.  I’m still immature in my faith if I have hate toward someone I know.  So Jesus tells us: grow up.

Well, that’s not quite the way He says it.  What Jesus says is: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

Now, when people usually think about the English word “perfect” they usually think “sinless.”  But that’s not what that word means here. The Greek word translated “perfect” in Matthew 5:48 is “telios.” This same word shows up in Hebrews where it says that milk is for infants, but “solid food is for the (telios) mature.” (Hebrews 5:13-14)
“Telios” means “to be mature, complete, grown up.”  So Jesus is telling us that when we love our enemies, we “grow up like our heavenly Father.”

 

So let’s ask God to give us the grace to give up our enemies.