Pastor Tony’s Sermon February 19, 2017

Matthew 5: 38-48     2-19-17        Rev. Tony Clark         ACCUCC

“You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. “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; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

 

Today is the fourth Sunday that we are working on Jesus’ teachings called the Sermon on the Mount. Although the Sermon on the Mount goes on for a few more chapters, we are stopping here as the church calendar calls us onward.

We started with the Beatitudes, blessings for people who are not feeling blessed, and we claimed them to be life preservers for when the storms get rough. Next, we heard Jesus tell us all that we are salt of the earth and light for the world, but that none of us does that alone; we claimed these to be provisions for our faith journey, remembering the community we are journeying with. Then we heard Jesus stretching the law, reminding us that the laws are there to build and strengthen community not divide it. This we claimed as the rope, the tie that binds us. Today we think about loving not just our friends, but also our enemies, which is an anchor to our faith.

In this passage, Jesus asks us once more to expand our thoughts and actions. When asked to go a mile, go an extra one. When asked to give your coat, give your cloak as well. When asked to love your friends and family, love your enemies too.

Jesus never made it easy to be fully faithful disciples of his way. But he also gave us tools to work with—blessings for when the storms get rough, friends and community to share the work, rules intended to build up that community. Once again, though, he asks us to stretch the idea of community to those with whom we fundamentally disagree, and even to our sworn enemies.

As I hear this, folks, I think this may be impossible. I want to believe that a new world can arrive where there are no enemies, that there are no divides, that we can agree on how to care for the least in our society. I’m not so sure anymore. The Cold War has been over for almost 30 years now, and yet we are still afraid of Russia. And we have added enemies in those years: ISIS, Iraq, Afghanistan, The Taliban, and we worry now about China. Democrats seem to be the sworn enemy of Republicans and vice versa. Is there something in our humanity that requires an enemy, a scapegoat to put the blame on, or even just someone to disagree with? Maybe.

However, Jesus believed that humanity could actually expand beyond hatred and conflict into a state of justice, peace, and love.

And it’s not just Jesus who speaks of this. Most world religions get us to step out of the hating our enemies and into loving them. This is not an easy task for those of who haven’t reached the Buddha’s enlightened state, or Jesus’ personal connection to the Father, or Gandhi’s inward peace that led him to his non-violent protest.

Their ideas about love were radical and stood in the face of political powers that see the need for enemies, scapegoats, and conflict. Seeing love as a power greater than the Empire eventually got Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, among others, killed.

This “love your enemies” thing that Jesus talks about is difficult. Remember the beatitudes? Blessed are you who are reviled and persecuted for righteousness sake. Jesus gave that blessing to any of us who try to expand our love toward our enemies.

Today we claim that love is an anchor to faith. It keeps us held I a claim port, holding us near the gospel, anchoring us from drifting away into open seas. The image of an anchor can mean many things, as can any of the metaphors we’ve used for our boat theme. The anchor keeps us from drifting away, but it can also keep our little boat from doing what it is supposed to do—travel quickly in water.  While the anchor of love holds us near the shoreline as we rest, it must be pulled into the boat for us to travel far away.  The anchor of loving your enemies can hold us in a blissful meditative state, and this can keep us from moving into the open water of faith. If the rope gets wrapped around your ankle as you throw it overboard, if you take this truth of love into unrealistic realms of always needing to agree with each other, you might be pulled over and drown.

Love your enemies. That doesn’t mean change them or insult them or even necessarily agree with them. Love doesn’t mean that you are romantically involved with them; it means that you see their humanity at its core and understand that we share something, even if it is not ideology. Love their humanity in order to collaborate on bringing God’s kingdom to reality.

In a workshop on conflict resolution[1] that I attended, I learned that collaboration comes only after you can find the simple similarity both sides can agree on. Of course, this means that you are willing to even sit in the same room together. What do we share, what is it about you that is the same in me? A conflict about sharing resources means that we might need to stop talking about ownership of limited resources and come together about our shared values. If we can’t agree on our shared values, then maybe we can agree on our identity as children of God or that we agree on being part of something greater than ourselves. At the simplest level, we might need to find and agree on our source of life, and then we need to do the simplest thing we all do, breathe.

I may not like you when we argue about money or this building we share. I may not even really understand why you value one behavior over another. However, if we just sit and be in prayer together, maybe we can find spiritual commonality. At that level, we are not enemies. If we cannot even do that, then we can sit and breathe together. At that level, we are biological beings needing the same thing—air to fill our lungs and flow through our blood bringing fresh oxygen to the whole body. Deep breathing lowers blood pressure, reduces the fight or flight instinct, and gets us into a peaceful feeling. Eating together shares a common biological need for food and the spiritual need for companionship. I can love you at that level.

This is the deep sense of love that Jesus asks us to move into—seeing the other not as enemy but as human. In this spiritual state of shared humanity, we can step out of the competition and rejoice that each of us is beloved of God.

At our core, we share biology, the need for oxygen and water and food and shelter. At core, we each love our children. At core, then, maybe we can agree not to kill each other, because of love for our children. At core, you are beloved of God, just as I am, and God’s love is not a scarce limited commodity owned by one party; it is an abundant, impartial love. Therefore, be perfect; offer impartial love even to your enemies.

It is all too common a human fault to call forth our enemies to challenge them, change them, or even just insult them. This is a challenge to our faith. Our faith is being tested just about now, and we could use a calm port to rest out this coming storm! Time to drop the anchor for a bit and remind ourselves what that anchor really is about. But remember that our little boat of faith is intended to move through the water, not just rest forever in port.

When you are weary, when your enemies are at your throat, when you are reviled and persecuted and people utter all kinds of evil against you—remember those words from the Beatitudes?—put on your life preserver to weather the storm. The life preserver is the reminder that you are still blessed and beloved by God. Then, as you pull into a quiet port, move to the anchor, the anchor of our faith—love even your enemies. Drop the anchor to remind yourself that your enemies are beloved by God, too. And then when you have rested and reminded yourself of the shared humanity of living in God’s love, you can weigh the anchor, bring it up, carry it with you, as you move on into the ocean of life. Once you are rested and have remembered this love for humanity, you do not need the anchor to hold you in place; in fact, you need it to go with you. Staying in the meditative space of love is blissful, but it doesn’t really solve the problems of the world. In order to do that, we actually have to set sail, set forth, step out of this place and go do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

We gather each week in this port, for an hour or so, to rest in the peace of God’s love. I don’t know about you, but I need a port each week, where I can drop anchor and rest, away from the storms of Facebook and Twitter, away from bickering partisanship, scapegoating, conflict and sworn enemies. I need this place, this port, this place of calm and rest.

So thanks be to God, As the storms of life are raging, this port is here. May it be here for years to come. Amen.

 

[1] Notably, Clergy Leadership Institute’s Appreciative Way led by Rob Voyle. Here is a link to his article “From Conflict to Collaboration.” http://www.clergyleadership.com/training/collaboration-prog.cfm

Leave a Reply