Why Should We Love Our Enemies?
The text for this sermon is Matthew 5:43-45a. Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Trinity and St. Jacob’s on February 19, 2017, the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany.
I’m thinking of a four-letter word that is found 508 times in the Bible. Can you guess the word?
Yes, “love”! Jesus said that we are to “love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and we are to love our neighbor as yourself.” Please let me teach you’re a song about loving as neighbor.
Love, love, love, love
Christian this is your call
To love your neighbor as yourself
For God loves all.
Love of neighbor didn’t begin in the New Testament. The law codes for the Jews that we find in the Old Testament were meant to help people treat each other fairly and lovingly. Our first lesson today from Leviticus is a good example of what the people of Israel were taught:
*When harvesting your field, leave some for the poor and alien.
*Don’t steal or cheat or lie or swear.
*Treat the blind and deaf with kindness.
*Don’t slander people.
*Don’t hate any of your family or seek vengeance against any of your own people.
All of this is done for a reason. This reason is repeated several times in today’s first reading: I am the Lord. In other words, because I am the Lord and I am holy, I want my people to be holy. This is how I want my people to act and behave. It shows you love and respect me and you want to be my very own.
I could end my sermon right now, for this is a mighty fine message. To love God and our family and friends is wonderful. In the Sermon on the Mount, in today’s gospel reading, Jesus does what he often does. He goes a step further; this is a radical step. He says just loving those who are your family and friends is not enough. We are to love our enemies too. Here are the words of Jesus: You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…
Dr. Martin Luther King must have been thinking about Jesus’ instructions when he prepared this sermon while sitting in a Georgia jail just after the bus protest in Montgomery:
Here is a portion of that sermon: (about loving your neighbor) “Of course this is not practical; life is a matter of getting even, of hitting back, of dog eat dog…My friends, we have followed the so-called practical way for too long a time now, and it has led inexorably to deeper confusion and chaos. Time is cluttered with the wreckage of communities which surrendered to hatred and violence. For the salvation of our nation and salvation of mankind, we must follow another way. This does not mean that we abandon our righteous efforts. With every ounce of our energy we must continue to rid this nation of the incubus of segregation. But we shall not in the process relinquish our privilege and our obligation to love. While abhorring segregation, we shall love the segregationist. This is the only way to create the beloved community.”*
Dear friends in Christ here today at Trinity and St. Jacob’s: Why should we love our enemies? Of what benefit to us, the world, and God is there for us Christians to love our enemies?
It’s a good question, for much of the world and many folks we know don’t believe and practice loving our enemies. The natural tendency of human beings is to hate our enemies and figure out a way to get even with those who oppose us or hurt. It is Jesus who blasts our normal ways and commands us to respond in abnormal ways.
I read a story about former Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs. He hated Yankee Stadium. Not because of the Yankees; they never gave him that much trouble, but because of a fan. That’s right: one fan.
The guy had a box seat close to the field, and when the Red Sox were in town he would torment Boggs by shouting obscenities and insults. It’s hard to imagine one fan getting under a player’s skin, but this guy had the recipe.
One day as Boggs was warming up, the fan began his routine, yelling, ‘Boggs, you stink’ and variations on that theme. Boggs had had enough. He walked directly over to the man, who was sitting in the stands…and said, ‘Hey fellow, are you the guy who’s always yelling at me? The man said, ‘Yeah, it’s me. What are you going to do about it?’ Wade took a new baseball out of his pocket, autographed it, tossed it to the man, and went back to the field for his pre-game routine. The man never yelled at Boggs again; in fact, he became one of Wade’s biggest fans at Yankee Stadium. The point of the story is this: love your enemies. It might change the, and we know it will change you. **
What kind of “love” are we to show to our enemies? Let’s get practical now. Our enemies are probably folks that bug the fire out of us, who seem to oppose us and don’t appear to have our best interests at heart, perhaps are folks who really have injured us in some way, and probably are folks that we have a hard time being near. Do any of you here feel that way about someone in this world?
What kind of love then does Jesus call us to show to these folks? A Bible commentator, Douglas Hare, helps us to see that Jesus isn’t talking about a feeling of love. He does not say that we are to get these warm fuzzy feelings for folks who are our enemies, especially those we know continue to behave in hurtful ways. In fact, the Sermon on the Mount is simply silent on the subject of feelings. Where it is quite descriptive is about action, what we do in order to show the love taught by Jesus.
We are to walk the extra mile, turn the other cheek, and help all in need.
So, what can we learn today from Jesus’ command to love our enemies? We learn that:
*Jesus commands us to practice his way of forgiveness and peace.
*Jesus can transform our words and deeds to be like his.
*When we act this radical way of loving, we show that we want to be one with God the
Father and God’s Son Jesus.
So, Christian this is your call, to love your neighbor as yourself, for God loves all.
*Martin Luther King, Jr., A Testament of Hope: the Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.,
Page 596, quoted by Chuck Queen, Love Your Enemies
**Phil Trailkill, Loving Like God Loves