When our minister and his wife visited our neighbor, her four-year-old daughter answered the door. “Mommy!” she yelled toward the living room. “God’s here, and he brought his girlfriend.” Late for a seminar and unable to find parking, I pulled into a spot behind a church. It was only after I’d gotten out of the car that I spotted this sign: “No parking. Forgiveness is our business, but don’t make it harder than it already is.” Now that’s the truth. Forgiveness is hard. But loving our enemies is even harder. Blessing those who intend to harm us is perhaps the toughest of all. And yet Jesus said we are to do these. What he meant of course is if we want to be someone who follows him as role model we are to act as he would act, speak as he would speak, and then perhaps think as he would think. That always sounds good until we get to his tougher sayings, which we did this morning. I don’t know if this is exactly true but one church put this up on their sign out front. “Love your enemies. After all, you made them.” Now whether you believe that there’s no doubt that we encounter many opportunities to keep people close to us or to push people away. We fall so quickly into oppositional thinking. What I mean is our mind likes to make binary realities. I am this way and she is that way. I am right and he is wrong. This is black and that is white. We oppose this to that, my idea to that idea, me to her, us against them. We’re so quick to make an opposite out of someone else. We’re too fast to make an enemy. We’re too comfortable formulating a negative impression of someone, their motives or intentions, their actions and their words. We believe we need to put a period somewhere in someone else’s life. They said that, that’s final. If they’re an enemy, they’re an enemy. If I’m mad, they deserve it. Being wrong and bad, they also deserve what they get. Scripture tells us this is we’re on slippery ground here. Proverbs 24:17 says, “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or else the Lord will see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from them.” And that’s the problem with oppositional thinking. We end up too often taking pleasure in finding the bad person, making someone into an enemy,
dividing up the world. After a lifetime of this, we become someone we didn’t want to become. We start looking and sounding and acting like someone we weren’t planning on becoming. We need to choose a better role model. Of course I’m going to say Christ should be your role model, should be your teacher, your leader. Do I have another choice? Do you? It’s true that a lot of people say they’re Christian but if Christ isn’t the one they’re really following then are they really Christian? But since very few follow Christ all the way, who’s to say who follows Jesus enough to take on his name. I will have to leave that up to the Lord, but there is something that goes on quite often along these lines. People will say things like a Christian parent does a better job of raising a child. Or Christians are good at this or Christians do that really well. While we may wish this were true, it simply isn’t. I’m against folks using the title Christian as if because they’re Christian they are better than others, including those of other religions or no religion at all. Generalizing negative attributes toward groups of people is usually understood as anti-Semitism when it’s towards Jews, racism when it’s toward other races, victimizing the victim when it’s toward victims. As bad as that always is, it’s also as wrong to attribute special goodness to certain groups of people, such as Christians by Christians or Jews by Jews, etc. It’s fair to say that pretty much every flaw known to humankind is practiced or has been practiced by someone who calls him or herself Christian, as well as by every other human grouping. Now of course there are wonderful Christians and not so wonderful Christians, just as there are wonderful Muslims and not so wonderful Muslims, and Hindus, and Buddhists, and Jews, and atheists, and secular humanists, and so on and so on. But no a people cannot be said to be generally better than others by simply belonging to a group called Christians. In fact, if there’s anything that’s supposed to separate Christians from other people, other religions, it would be what Jesus said in our passage. If it’s supposed to mean something to be Christian then the rubber hits the road most often when Jesus tells us to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us. And this is also the point where most people have a tough time keeping Christ as their role model. Seriously. What are we supposed to do with this?
We think, “Come on. Do we really have to go this far? There’s gotta be someone more realistic and yet of course still spiritual for me to follow, perhaps Deepak Chopra or Oprah Winfrey.” C.S. Lewis said, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” This would certainly be a strange sales pitch today, when Christianity is more often presented as good medicine for life’s ills than a complete call to faith. “Jesus will make your life better” is the gist of it. Are you sad? Jesus is your joy. Are you depressed? Jesus is your comfort. Are you confused? Jesus is your guidance. Surely, these are all important truths that are part of real faith. But they are not the whole package. If we’re not careful, we inadvertently imply that if one only focuses enough on Jesus, one’s circumstances will get better, and better, and oh-so infinitely better. It’s certain Christ didn’t see his life and mission as having this purpose and direction. Christ’s lived freely and completely for God, and in that life there was no room for hating enemies. Bonnie Ware is a nurse in Australia. She has spent more than a decade counseling dying people. Over that time span, she began recording the top regrets that people have on their death bed. After 12 years, she concluded that the most common regret of all was this: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” That is sad, isn’t it? We did things because someone else told us we had to or we didn’t do something we wanted because we were afraid we would fail, or we didn’t trust our dreams, or we didn’t have the confidence to see where the road would lead. What we wish we had lived from was a much stronger sense of freedom, and of course the courage to live it. Where we may have misplaced our lives and misspent our time was by not living through a deeper sense of personal freedom. Instead of personal freedom, we want complete security. Instead of liberty, we want an easy path. We make so many trade-offs for something that seems as valuable as freedom but isn’t. We settle so often for the feel of freedom without the fact of it. But since everyone else is committing the same errors it doesn’t seem wrong or out of line.
So many talk about the importance of freedom, but very few understand the implication. Freedom implies the ability to be free toward anyone and in the face of anything. Freedom that is only acquired when someone frees us is no freedom. Freedom that is enacted only when someone else first behaves in a certain way or says a certain thing is no freedom. When our action is in truth a reaction, we are not free. Jesus told us this is so even when we consider enemies. Most people are very willing to give up the beauty of freedom for the power of hatred. The capacity to love our enemies and not hate our enemies is exactly the capacity of being free and not being enslaved. This is what people don’t understand about love. Jesus absolutely didn’t mean it to be a warm and accepting feeling toward someone who is terrible to us. He didn’t tell you that you have to have an emotional connection to an abuser. He tells us just the opposite when we understand him correctly. Actually, hatred is that emotional over-connection. Hatred is the demand he or she must alter before you can be freed. Hatred is the chain that wraps itself around both and their destinies until one breaks free through the power of an openness, a possibility, a hopefulness, a break with what went before that Christ understood to be the power of love. Sixteen-year-old Jimmy Mizen from South London was killed in a brutal attack in May, 2008. At the time his mother Margaret said ‘I just want to say to the parents of this other boy, I want to say I feel so, so sorry for them. I don’t feel anger, I feel sorry for the parents. We have so many lovely memories of Jimmy and they will just have such sorrow about their son. I feel for them, I really do…People keep asking me why I am not angry but I say it was anger that killed my son. If I was angry I would be the same as this boy. There is too much anger in the world.’ On the first anniversary of the murder Jimmy’s father said, ‘Today, for us, was a message of peace, a message of change that we have been gradually working towards over the year. If the will in this country is for it, we can change. This affects everybody. If somebody is killed in your local park or in your local shop, then this affects you. We didn’t just get here overnight. This problem is the result of 20 or 30 years of the way society has been living, but we can change it.’ There is too much anger in the world today.
Practice emancipation from hatred. Keep your mind clear of quick anger, easy negativity. Let go of the thought that you need to decide that person is wrong or bad or not someone worthy of kindness or gratitude. It leads us down wrong roads. It hardens our heart. We lose the spirit of the Lord in us. When Jesus tells us we are to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us, he was giving us no wiggle room. There is no escape clause. There are no exceptions when he is your role model. And this is the way it must be. Without being able to love our enemies and bless those who curse us, we can’t be free. Without the power of love being the foundational truth of our lives, we suffer the loss of liberty. Without love, we are enslaved. It has been said, “No wind works for the (one) that has no intended post to sail towards.” The winds will blow in your life, just as surely as horns will honk and people will be rude and your loved ones will upset you and enemies will arise. Instead of floundering in anger and resentment, post toward Christ. Tack toward love. Steer yourself for freedom. The surest safeguard is to hold tight to what’s truly important: your freedom in the Lord. Love God, and neighbor, and enemy, letting Christ Jesus be your role model. Can the church say Amen?
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