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Grappling with Our Enemies February 20, 2011

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Matthew 5:38-48

 Epiphany 7

February 20, 2011

Focus: God, who is perfect and holy, loves all of mankind.

Function: That the hearers live a life of Christian discipleship, loving their enemies as Christ loves them.


Grappling with Our Enemies

            In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth.  He created the world and all its wonders. And at the peak of this world, He created man.  Adam and Eve, people whom God wanted to develop a relationship with.  But we know what happened next.

Adam and Eve sinned.  They disobeyed God and chose to go about their lives as they wanted.  They put themselves first, and God last.  They made themselves enemies of God.

God later established a covenant with Abraham and his descendants.  Yahweh would be their God and they would be His people.  We know of them asIsrael, God’s chosen nation.  And to this chosen people, Yahweh also promised them a land of their own, a land flowing with milk and honey.  All they had to do was be His people and not turn aside to idols.

Yet again, we know what came next.  They chose to worship idols rather than Yahweh, and that led them into slavery inEgypt.  They made themselves enemies of God.

But God brought His people out of slavery and gave to them the promised land anyway.  He stuck to His side of the covenant with Abraham, that He would be their God.  And this time, He chose to give them a law, the Ten Commandments, as well as many other regulations that can be found in the Old Testament like our reading from Leviticus this morning.  All they had to do was obey God, or simply put, be His people.

But again, we know what happened next.  The golden calf.  Their desire to have a king as their leader rather than Yahweh Himself.  All of those rowdy and faithless kings ofIsraelandJudah.  Men like Ahaz, and women like Jezebel.  We know what happened.  Assyria andBabylonled them into exile.  They had made themselves enemies of God.

The cycle continues.  We ourselves are no better.  God formed each and every one of us inside of our mother’s womb.  We were uniquely and wonderfully made.  He gave us the gift of life, sent us His Son, granted us His Spirit and the right to be called His children.  Again, all we had to do was to obey God and be His people.

But yet again, we know what happened next.  We were frail.  We conceded to the devil and his wicked temptations.  Whether it was that small lie to your spouse to avoid getting into a fight or that small lie to your teacher to get out of a late assignment.  Or perhaps you can recall insulting someone or not keep your promise or gossiping about a relative behind their back.  Oh there are bigger problems too like murder, adultery and theft, but we don’t even have to go there!      One sin.  One.  That’s it.  That’s all it takes and we’ve done like the billions who have lived before us.  We have made ourselves enemies of God.  That’s what happens when God is holy and perfect.  He cannot stand sin.  He can’t tolerate it.  He wants no part in it.  And that’s part of the reason behind why He gave us the law: so we would know what exactly what it is that we had to do to be His people.  But we made ourselves enemies of God.  And now we’re lost without Him.

For whatever reason, though, God always chose to start the cycle anew…so just stick with me…

It’s to some of these various laws that Jesus speaks about in our gospel lesson today.  We see Him continuing on with the Sermon on the Mount.  His audience is still His disciples.  They would have known clear well what the Old Testament laws stated.  And they would have been trying very hard to keep them.

Jesus quotes two for us today.  The first is one we’re familiar with: an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.  It deals with revenge doesn’t it?  Not the way Jesus tells it.  First, the verse we hear all the time as Christians: just to turn the other cheek.  Jesus doesn’t mean not to defend ourselves though, that’s just been a common misinterpretation.  Let’s look at what He says a little closer: “But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.  But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Note where you are being slapped.  In that culture and time, the right hand was the dominant hand.  That’s the one people would have used to slap someone.  But think about it.  How can a right hand slap your right cheek?  Jesus isn’t talking about a fist fight.  This is a backhanded slap.  It’s meant to be an insult.  If you’re insulted, let it go.  It’s not that important.

He continues.  If anyone sues you for your shirt, give him your coat also.  Jesus isn’t talking about the million dollar lawsuits of our time.  No, it’s more the eye for an eye idea.  Lawsuits were small.  If you’d wronged someone, let them seek repayment, in fact be generous in your repayment.  It’s like Zacchaeus, the dirty tax collector who swindled people out of their money.  But when he met Jesus, he pledged to give back four times what he had taken wrongly.

If someone makes you serve them for an hour, help them for two.  That’s the idea of going the extra mile.  Do more than what is asked.  And if someone is in need and asks you for something, give it to him.  Jesus turns an eye for an eye from a revenge idea into helping others.  Give them more than they ask.

And for the second law, He quotes our Old Testament passage.  He goes back to Leviticus.  Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  Wait, though, just a second.  You don’t remember the second half about our enemies being in Leviticus?  You’d be right.  In fact it isn’t in the Bible at all.  The teachers of the law had added to God’s law something sensible. It’s good to seek revenge, so let’s do that with our enemy.  They are our enemy, so we should hate them.  It just makes sense.  But then Jesus turns it.  Don’t even the tax collectors and Gentiles love those who love them?  The answer would be yes.  But it also hints to the disciples that more is expected of them.  Jesus fills that hole.  Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.  But that’s hard isn’t it?

Imagine the childhood bully.  That’s an image we can all think of.  The bully isn’t our friend.  He’s mean, beats us up, shoves us into lockers or trash cans, and then on top of that takes our lunch money so we have to starve.  He gets bigger, and we get weaker.  Or maybe the bully is a bit less than that, and just picks on you, with namecalling and such.  But does any wimpy kid like a bully?  We know how to hate our enemy.

This brings us back to the idea that we, as all those before us, made ourselves enemies of God.  Thankfully, He doesn’t treat His enemies like we do.  God kept on loving us.  After Adam and Eve sinned, He clothed them and spared their lives.  After the slavery inEgypt, God brought His people out and gave them the land He had promised them.  And those who were exiled?  He destroyed Assyria in one night and crippledBabylonas well.  He restored His people and brought them back from their exile.

So God keeps the cycle alive.  Despite our failure, our sin, and our despising of God, He still loves us.  This love appears clearly in what He did for us.  He went the extra mile.  He loved His enemies so much that He continues to provide.  He does all of this through His Son Jesus Christ.  We all know what Jesus did for us.  We know that He went to the cross and died in our place.  He went the extra mile and did away with our sins.  We were enemies of God, but because of Christ’s sacrifice, we can again live as children of God.

And that’s where Christ’s message in the gospel is going.  The entire Sermon on the Mount is about how the disciples are to act, how they are to live their lives.  And that itself is summed up in the final verse: “you therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  We know that God is perfect, and He truly expects nothing less of His children.  That’s what the Christian life is to look like.  But we still live in that cycle.  When we sin, God forgives us.  He chooses to keep us as His children rather than treat us as His enemies.

But just because we know that God will forgive us, that doesn’t mean we should go on sinning.  Instead, we are to strive to live the life God has given for us.  We see this in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “[f]or we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  We are God’s creatures and part of being His creatures is to do what He created us to do.

So, we should not only listen to the things Jesus has to say, but also do them.  In today’s lesson, we learn that we shouldn’t just love those who already love us, but also to love our enemies.  Essentially, to love everyone as God loves everyone.  Instead of cursing or insulting people who persecute us and treat us poorly, we should pray for them, praying for their wellbeing, and ultimately that they may be led to know Christ as we do.

Why should we love our enemies?  What’s the point?

There was a little girl who had a very large collection of dolls heaped on her bed. A guest in her room one day asked her “Do you love dolls” Then, with tender, loving care, she spread out the whole collection for the guest to inspect and admire. The guest asked her, “Which doll do you love the most?”
She hesitated, then said, “Promise not to laugh if I tell you.” He promised. She picked a ragged doll with a broken nose whose hair had mostly come off, and one arm and leg were missing. “This is the one.”

“Why?” the visitor asked.
“Because if I didn’t love this one, nobody else would.”

That’s the love God has for us, for all of mankind.  And that’s also where we are, showing God’s love to our enemy.  By loving our enemy we are witnessing Christ to them.  Think about it.  Remember, or imagine, your greatest rival or a bitter enemy, and suddenly picture them starting to act nice to you and being helpful to you in the midst of the competition.  Why would they do such a thing?

Maybe you’ve heard the song “They will know we are Christians by our love.”  The title is the very point.  By seeing the way we act, they see the life of a Christian, something different than their own.  It forces them to ask the question; it forces them to wonder why.  And that opens the door for Christ.  They have the chance to no longer be enemies of God, but children, our own brothers and sisters in Christ.  As God loves us, so we love others.