February 20, 2022: Sermon Preached by Andree Appel
Sermon February 20
Love Your Enemies
Today’s reading from the gospel of Luke follows what is referred to as Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. Jesus has just chosen 12 of his disciples to be his Apostles, his closest followers and those who will become the primary teachers of his message. As in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has presented a set of teachings, the beatitudes, outlining a path to a state of divine joy or blessedness, and a corresponding set of woes.
Then, in verse 27, Jesus turns his attention to how the disciples (ourselves included) are to deal with our enemies- and this in very specific terms: we are to LOVE our enemies, in other words-
- To do good to those who hate us,
- To bless those who curse us,
- To pray for those who abuse us.
- To give to everyone who begs from us; and if anyone takes away our goods, to not to go looking to get them back.
And then, as if he is reading peoples’ minds, Jesus adds-
If you love those who love you, so what? Even sinners do that…
If you do good to those who do good to you, do you think you deserve a blessing?
If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you?
In other words, do not deceive yourselves- but do ths: love your enemies, be merciful as God is merciful and your reward will be great.
It all seems pretty clear, doesn’t it? Jesus’ words leave little doubt as to is what asked of us.
But wait, I say!
If there was ever a list of asks that seemed like a bridge too far, this is it…Aren’t we being set up to fail? Are these things even humanly possible?
If we truly followed the instruction given by Jesus in his Sermon, we would never hold a grudge again. Never again put concerns for ourselves or our own family ahead of others. Never make a critical judgement or a sarcastic remark about another- the “other”, again. Just think of how our conversations on a whole range of topics might have to change!!
If I am honest, I know that loving my enemies has not exactly been a very high priority…and I have failed pretty miserably at the rest of the list as well. Not for lack of wanting to follow Jesus more nearly. But then why?
And this leads me to what I’d like to share with you today:
We should not be surprised, or discouraged that Jesus sets the bar so high, seemingly too high. We are, after all, only human- and not at all perfect…Being merciful just as God is merciful is NOT humanly possible.
God knows this- and God has given us the remedy to our human inadequacy. God gave us Jesus and the Holy Spirit, to offer us a way to grow into that perfection that Jesus describes. God invites us to share God’s superpower- God’s LOVE.
And by love I don’t mean the feeling that comes to mind when we think of our loved ones. I mean God’s love as an action, an ethic, meant to be engaged in everything we say and do.
Howard Thurman, the American theologian, pastor, mystic and author of Jesus and the Disinherited, has a lot to say about how to love one’s enemies. He reminds us that the religion of Jesus makes the love-ethic central but Thurman points out that even Jesus had to work out the application of his love ethic. Even Jesus had to apply his love ethic to the “other”, the Canaanite woman, and to the enemy, the Roman, just as we need to.
That should give us reassurance that living a love ethic is not easy, and it is not because we lack faith. No, this is just hard work. The love-in-action that Jesus describes in today’s Gospel reading is hard work. And going against our natural instincts does not come easily to most of us.
So how do we work out this love ethic in our own lives? How do we engage in a positive way with those we would just as soon ignore or wish away? Or with those who might curse or wish us away?
I’m am currently part of a class offered by St Francis Episcopal Church in Blue Hill entitled Images of Jesus. Each week we are asked to look at different representations of Jesus from around the world, without knowing anything about where the pictures come from, who made them or their titles. Recently, we were presented with an image of an ecstatic Balinese dancer, surrounded by bright light, and a woman kneeling in adoration.
What I saw in the image was Jesus, “the lord of the dance”. But another one of the participants focused on the light around and between the two figures and said that she felt the Divine was represented or present in the space between the two figures.
That idea has stuck with me the past few weeks- that how we fill the spaces between ourselves and others is a measure of our capacity to love, and determines whether we succeed or fail in following Jesus…
But lest we be discouraged, or worse yet, dismiss Jesus’ words as a lofty ideal only Jesus could attain, remember God has not left us alone to struggle with our human shortcomings and limitations! Our shortcomings should remind us instead of the help available to us.
Richard Rohr tells us, “Godly attributes are only possible as we look to Christ and away from our own fleshly self.”
Rather than seeing Jesus’ teaching on loving our enemies as a list of impossible imperatives, let us think of them as a path to divine blessedness, as a path toward sharing in the Divine fellowship of love.
I often think back to a term I first heard years ago, the growth stretch. Think of it as moving to the edge of your comfort zone, your normal or instinctive response, and then taking one little step beyond, into new territory. Or for those of you who have done yoga, think of yourself in a difficult or uncomfortable pose….then, remembering to take a breath, exhaling and realizing you can go just a little bit further, just a little bit deeper into that pose, as impossible as that seemed.
Think of the spaces between you and another, perhaps “the other”, as the space where God is, inviting you into love, awaiting your response. Then take a breath, exhale and extend yourself a just little further, just a little deeper into God’s love.
My hope is that in the coming weeks, and especially as we head into Lent, we can take a fresh look at our love ethic and how we apply it in our daily lives. My hope is that we will see God in the spaces between us and, seeing God, enter more deeply into God’s loving kindness and mercy. Let us embrace the words of Jesus and the love they invite us into. Let us not be afraid to love as Jesus did, modeling as he did the Christian love-ethic for us- that we may grow, little by little, more perfect in love.
“Imitating Jesus means being perfected as a human being…and fulfilling our vocation as human beings.” -Catherine Lacugna