"DEALING WITH OUR ENEMIES"1

LUKE 6:27-36

25 Aug 2013

 

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            How do we treat our enemies? 

            Before a group of Navy Seals eliminated Osama Bin Laden, a little girl came home from Sunday School and asked her father if she could send a note to Osama Bin Laden.

            Why him? asked her startled father.

            Because, said the little girl, if Mr. Bin Laden got a nice note from a little American girl, maybe hed think that were not all bad and he might start liking us a little. And then maybe hed write a note back and come out of his cave and talk to people about our differences.

            Suzy, said the proud father, thats a wonderful idea.

            Yes, said Suzy, and once hes out of the cave, the Marines could blast him to kingdom come.

            How do we treat our enemies?

            One day long ago, when things were looking particularly dark for the free world, Adolph Hitler was addressing a large audience in Germany.  On the front row sat a man of pronounced Semitic appearance.

            Following his address, Hitler came down from the platform, walked up to this man and said: While I was speaking you were laughing. What were you laughing about.

            The man replied, I was not laughing, I was thinking."

            "What were you thinking? asked Hitler.

            I was thinking about my people, the Jews, and how you are not the first man who didnt like us.  A long time ago there was another man who didnt like us.  His name was Pharaoh and he put heavy burdens on us in Egypt.  But for years we Jews have had a feast called Passover and at that feast we have a little three-cornered cake and we eat that cake in memory of the Pharaoh.

            Years later there was another man who didnt like us.  His name was Haman and he did his best to get rid of all the Jews throughout the realm of King Ahasuerus. But for years we Jews have had another feast called the feast of Purim and at that feast we have a little four-cornered cake and we eat that cake in memory of Haman.

            And while you were up there speaking, sir, I was sitting there thinking and wondering what kind of a cake we were going to eat to remember you by."

            How do we treat our enemies? 

            Do you have any enemies?  Most people do. We may not think of them as enemies, but let me ask you:  Is there anyone who mistreats you at work, anyone at school, perhaps someone in your own family?  Is there anyone who takes advantage of you?  How do you feel about people with a different political outlook from your own?  There is a great political divide in our country today. Its not unusual for people on the left and people on the right to regard each other with disdain.  During the Watergate scandal reporters discovered that President Nixon had an enemies list.  Do we have an enemies list?  How do we treat the people on that list?

            There is an old Irish blessing that goes, May God bless those who love us.  And those who do not love us, may God turn their hearts.  And if God does not turn their hearts, may God turn their ankles so we may know them by their limping.

            Do we have any enemies?  How do we treat them?

            Listen to what Jesus says about that in his "Sermon on the Plain."  By the way, for those who were not with us last Sunday, what can you tell them about the differences in the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain?  They are two versions of the same sermon, Luke's version takes place on a plain and Matthew's on a mountain, but what do you remember about other differences between the two? 

            OK, let's begin reading what Jesus has to say about how to treat our enemies. 

 

            But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. 

            If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.  But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

           

            Who among us is able to live out this teaching?  Somebody pulls out in front of us in traffic.  Whats our first reaction?  Do we say, No problem, friend.  Jesus loves you and I love you.  Someone at work gets credit for an idea that rightfully was ours.  Do we say, Yes, sister, Im glad youre getting the credit.  Theres more than enough to go around.  We find out somebodys been saying bad things about us behind our backs.  Do we say, Thats all right, friend.  You can still put me down for a good character reference on your resume.

            Its a good thing that God loves us even when we are imperfect, because all of us would fail this test.  The desire to lash out, to exact some measure of revenge on people who have wronged us can sometimes be overwhelming. 

            It is not easy to love our enemies, whether on a personal level or a corporate level or a national level.  In light of 9/11 and subsequent events and threats, many Americans are having difficulty with their feelings toward Arabs and particularly toward the followers of Islam.  Even though a relatively small number of adherents of this ancient religion are involved in acts of terror, our fear might cause us to generalize our hatred to the entire population.

            It is true, of course, that the fundamentalist followers of Mohammad are very difficult to love.

            You may remember when writer Salman Rushdie first gained the public eye because he had a bounty on his head.  Why?  For writing words critical of the Prophet, even though he is a Moslem himself. 

            Years ago, sometime in the mid-90's, Islamic fundamentalists in Kuwait issued a fatwa, a legal ruling, against Barbie dolls.  This she-devil has polished nails and wears skirts above the knee, proclaimed  Kuwaits College of Islamic Sharia.   That seems a little extreme.   We might not like the message Barbie dolls sends to young girls about body image, but still that's nothing like issuing a fatwa.

            It is very difficult for us to relate to such a religion, and yet Jesus tells us to do so.  Love your enemies. Do good to them.  Bless them.  Pray for them.  If we dont, he implies, how does our behavior differ from those who dont follow him?

            Some of you will remember the epic Hollywood motion picture titled Ben Hur, starring Charlton Heston.  You may remember it for the exciting chariot race at the end. At the time Ben Hur was the most expensive Hollywood movie ever made.

            In the movie, based on a Lew Wallace book, an old friend named Messala has become Juda Ben Hurs enemy.  Because of Messala's evil doing, Ben Hur is captured and forced into slavery in the galley of a ship.  Meanwhile, his mother and sister are sent off to prison.  Ben Hur loses contact with them and later is told that they are dead.   Ben Hur, returns to Israel intent on one thing - revenge.  Because of Messala, he has lost everything, and now he lives for one thing, to avenge himself upon Messala.  This passion consumes Ben Hur to such an extent that his sweetheart, Esther, looking into his tortured eyes exclaims, Juda Ben Hur, you have become a Messala.

            Thats what hatred does to us, and yet, it is so hard not to have ill feelings toward those who have wronged us.   Truthfully, every one of us will fail this test one day.

            Yet, yet, it is possible to pass this test.  Note Jesus' words, Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.  Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

            In case you missed it, here's the point, put another way.  We can show grace to others because God has given grace to us.  We love because God first loved us.  God is love and those who in Christ are possessed by the Spirit of love.

            That is our only hope.  That is the worlds only hope, that the Spirit of Christ will one day rule in every heart.  Do we see any other hope?  We keep killing terrorists and more terrorists step in line behind them.  Mole-whacking is what some of our soldiers call it.  You whack one mole in your yard and another sticks up its head in another part of the yard.  Violence may keep the enemy at bay, but it will not solve the problem.  Only the love of God can do that.

            TV news reporter Peter Arnett was visiting the West Bank in Israel when a bomb exploded in the middle of town.  He was surrounded by anguished screams and clouds of smoke.  A man holding an injured girl ran up to Peter and asked for a ride to a hospital.  As they sped through the streets, the man nursed the bloody girl in the backseat.  The doctors did everything to save the girls life, but to no avail.

            Peter turned to comfort the man on the loss of his child, but the man interrupted him.  She wasnt his child, he said.  She was a Palestinian.  He was Israeli.  He found her lying in the street and decided to help.

            Mister, he said through his tears, there must come a time when we realize that we are all family.[2]

            If a Jew, outside of Christ can pass this test, certainly we, who are in Christ, can pass it as well.  And hopefully, we will get really good at acting like this.  Amen.



[1] Borrowed from King Duncan and his sermon of the same title. 

[2]Tony Campolo, Let Me Tell You a Story (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000), pp. 120-121.