Luke 6:27-38 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
“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 God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as God is merciful. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
Love your enemies! Does it seem to you that we just heard these words? Not again, was my first thought. In fact, we have heard these words in the time I have been with you when we had the sermon series based on Karen Armstrong’s book: 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life. This is, however, one of those passages that just keeps cropping up until we get it right or at least knowing that we need to be seriously working on it.
Love your enemies. If you think you have no enemies then love those that annoy you to death. If no one annoys you then love those that simply irritate ou. Not always an easy thing to do, is it? And also consider that you maybe, just maybe, are someone’s enemy, or that you annoy someone to death, or that you simply irritate another. Don’t you wish that they would love you rather than plan your demise or stop looking for ways to deliberately continue to annoy or irritate you?
Last weekend our guest, Barb Doerrer-Peacock, (Associate Conference Minister of the Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ) led us on Saturday morning in an informative and important dialogue on boundaries – helping us understand what boundaries clergy are expected to maintain to continue to be in good standing with their denominations.
Then in her sermon on Sunday Barb shared with us how she was in the role of being the outcast for five weeks during a church camp experience as a kid. At the boiling point of having had enough bullying, retaliation became her focus on her antagonist. Well, she and the other girl were both hurt when that situation came to a head. The lesson that Barb shared out of this situation was that she would stand up to anyone who would bully another kid at camp – or anywhere else. And because of that situation there is now training to stop bullying even before it begins. Barb shared with us: “After that painful experience in my youth, I knew how much it hurt to be an outcast, rejected, made fun of for who you are. Now – we don’t have cabin outcasts. We work hard at showing EVERYONE what it is like to be unconditionally accepted.”
Steve Molin in He Hit Me First, (sermon.com) notes that “It’s a story that is repeated on every elementary school playground, nearly every day in our country. Two fourth-graders get into it during recess; something about ‘he did this, so I did that’ and it kind of goes south from there. When they get back to class, Billy trips Joey. After lunch, Joey breaks Billy’s pencil on purpose. Somebody gets hurt. Somebody else gets hurt worse. And then there is no telling when or if these conflicts will ever end. We have all experienced this sort of escalating pettiness and we readily admit that it is silly.” Molin suggests that “we can remove the names ‘Billy’ and ‘Joey’ and insert the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ and the story is much the same. Or we could insert the names ‘The Hatfields’ and the ‘McCoys.’ Or Republicans and Democrats, or ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice,’ or Israel and Palestine. You get the picture. Conflict at any level is conflict. And if not preventable, most conflict is at least resolvable . . . but not until one side refuses to retaliate and instead decides to reconcile.”
Love your enemies. There is a line we often overlook when we read today’s scripture. I think we get stuck on the love your enemies part and have a hard time hearing anything else. Listen to this: “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 God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” Did you catch that? God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. “Be merciful, just as your God is merciful.” Wow! Jesus is not expecting too much from us, is he? And then on top of that Jesus says: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.” Well, golllllly!
I’ve asked myself: Does Jesus really expect that of us? Was Jesus really serious? Then I think of Jesus’ words on the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” and the answer I get is, yes, Jesus is absolutely serious.
You may think that it’s because it was Jesus that he was able to do that – to forgive. Well, yeah – it was Jesus after all. But can mere mortals? I share with you two stories of forgiveness from mere human beings.
The first story is about a sermon written in a Georgia jail and preached just after the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said this about loving your enemies (sermons.com). After noting that hate is just as injurious to the hater as the hated, Dr. King says, “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 the salvation of [humankind], 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.” Oh, how his words ring true today. (Luther Kings, Jr., A Testament of Hope: the Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.)
And you may think that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was not an ordinary person – he was a minister, after all, and was expected to live by a higher standard. Jesus and MLK – think of their lives and how they lived and died.
So I share a third story this morning of Immaculee Ilibagiza. I actually got to meet Immaculee several years ago and heard of her story first hand when she came to Sedona and shared her journey with us. Her photo is on the bulletin cover.
Immaculee was born and raised in a small village in Rwanda, Africa. Most of this background information is from her website. Immaculee “enjoyed a peaceful childhood with her loving parents and three brothers. Education was very important in her household, so it was no surprise that she did well in school and went on to the National University of Rwanda to study electrical and mechanical engineering. It was while she was home from school on Easter break in 1994 at the age of 22 that Immaculee’s life was transformed forever.
On April 6 of that year, the Rwandan President’s plane was shot down over the capital city of Kigali. This assassination of the Hutu president sparked months of massacres of Tutsi tribe members throughout the country. Not even small, rural communities like Immaculee’s were spared from the house-by-house slaughter of men, women and children.
To protect his only daughter from rape and murder, Immaculee’s father told her to run to a local pastor’s house for protection. This Hutu pastor risked his life as he sheltered Immaculee and seven other women in a hidden 3X4 foot bathroom where a small wardrobe hid the door. For the next 91 days, Immaculee and the other women huddled silently in this small room, while the genocide raged outside the home and throughout the country. For three months they endured hunger, fear, and the sounds of soldiers in the house unsuccessfully searching for Tutsis.
Immaculee shares that while in hiding, anger and resentment were destroying her mind, body and spirit. It was then that Immaculee turned to prayer. Prior to going to the pastor’s home, her father, a devout Roman Catholic, gave her set of rosary beads. She began to pray the rosary as a way of drowning out the anger inside her, and the evil outside the house.
In those cramped quarters, as she prayed the rosary, she often stumbled over the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” She knew that the prayer called her to forgive those who had killed her family and endangered her. She didn’t think she could do it, but she realized she was consumed by hate. She was afraid she would become like the people who had killed her family. Nevertheless, in her mind, forgiving her family’s killers was like forgiving the devil. Finally, afraid that her hate would crush her heart, she asked God to forgive those who had done her so much harm. It was that turning point towards God and away from hate that saved Immaculee. She says that forgiveness saved her life: “It’s a new life, almost like a resurrection.”
After 91 days, Immaculee was finally liberated from her hiding place only to face a horrific reality. Immaculee emerged from that small bathroom weighing just 65 pounds, and finding her entire family brutally murdered, with the exception of one brother who was studying abroad. She also found nearly one million of her extended family, friends, neighbors and fellow Rwandans massacred.
After the genocide, Immaculee came face-to-face with the man who killed her mother and one of her brothers. After enduring months of physical, mental and spiritual suffering, Immaculee was still able to offer the unthinkable, telling the man, “I forgive you.”
In 1998, Immaculee emigrated from Rwanda to the United States where she continued her work for peace through the United Nations. Her first book, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust (Hay House) was released in March of 2006. To date it has been translated into seventeen languages and has sold over two million copies. Three days after finishing her manuscript, Immaculee met Wayne Dyer, who, within minutes of meeting her, offered to publish her book. Dyer is quoted as saying, “There is something much more than charisma at work here – Immaculee not only writes and speaks about unconditional love and forgiveness, but she radiates it wherever she goes.” Quite a story.
Love your enemies. A challenge for us all. Rev. Phil Trailkill (Loving Like God Loves. semons.com) challenged himself this week by asking: “Who are my enemies, and who do I feel justified in putting outside my circle of concern? He found the words of Thomas Merton to be helpful: “Do not be too quick to assume that your enemy is an enemy of God just because he is your enemy.” Trailkill comes to understand that who we label as enemy may say more about us than about them.
Three little words – Love your enemies – one big challenge.
Jesus did it.
Martin Luther King, Jr. did it.
Immaculee Ilibagiza did it.
Can you? Can we? With God’s help all things are possible. Amen. Copyright DMC 2019