Saturday, March 4, 2017

Love Who?

LOVW WHO Upper Rogue; UMC Feb. 19, 2017

Remember a few weeks ago when I said that Jesus didn't come to get us into heaven, but to get heaven into us? Well that's what makes Christianity such an effort to practice. As Christians, we are in the world, but not of the world. This sets us at odds with the rest of our culture. Jesus tells his disciples, and that's us,
(Mat 5:38) You know that you have been taught, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." 39 But I tell you, don’t stand up against an evil person. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek also. 40 If someone wants to sue you in court and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 If someone forces you to go with him one mile, go with him two miles. 42 If a person asks you for something, give it to him. Don’t refuse to give to someone who wants to borrow from you.
Under the law of Moses, God commanded: 19 And whoever causes an injury to a neighbor must receive the same kind of injury in return: 20 Broken bone for broken bone, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.
This law, known as Lex Talionis, is, perhaps, the oldest in the world. It is found the Code of Hammurabi, the most complete and perfect extant collection of Babylonian laws, developed during the reign of Hammurabi (1792–1750 bce) of the 1st dynasty of Babylon. It is the oldest known code of law in the world.

Before legal codes, the practice was unrestrained retaliation. You steal my “, I steal your whole herd. You respond by kidnapping my family, I kill your whole family. And so on until both sides are weak, worn, and unable to continue. The earliest legal codes, like the law of Moses, limited the retaliation. A practice continued in our legal systems today. If you commit a crime against me, you are punished according to the law. If you accidentally run into my car and cause damage and injury; the courts will limit what damages you are required to pay.

But now Jesus creates a whole new law code. Not only does he say that If you hit me, I am to let you hit me again. If you steal my cow, I am to give you her calf, too. If you compel me to take your luggage from the carousel, I am to carry it to your car. If you ask for a loan I am to give it; and if you don't repay, so be it. What kind of way is that to do business?

We aren't the only ones to struggle with Jesus' way of living Sir Walter Scott had difficulty with the idea of “turning the other cheek.” But Jesus’ words took on special meaning one day when Scott threw a rock at a stray dog to chase it away. His aim was like a baseball pitchers and he hit the animal and broke its leg. .Instead of running off, the dog limped over to him and licked his hand. Sir Walter never forgot that touching response. He said, “That dog preached the Sermon on the Mount to me as few ministers have ever presented it.”

In the days following 9/11 we heard countless calls for vengeance on those who conceived of, planned, and carried out those horrific attacks. Then President George W. Bush called for a war on terror. “...the only way to defeat terrorism as a threat to our way of life.” His statement that “Justice will be done” as resulted in 16 years of unrelenting bloodshed, countless lives lost, and no end in sight. When we seek vengeance on our own, the price is high indeed.

The writer of Proverbs tells us: “The righteous hate the wicked, and the wicked hate the righteous.” (Prov. 29:27) Jesus tells us: (Mat 5:44) “But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you.” Perhaps Jesus is thinking of another Proverb; [25:21-22] in which the writer encourages us: “If your enemies are hungry, give them something to eat. And if they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
This will be the same as piling burning coals on their heads. And the LORD will reward you.” I any event the idea of praying for our enemies is as foreign, and even distasteful to us as it was to the disciples who heard Jesus teach. But maybe, just maybe, it's time to give it a try.

An Armenian nurse had been held captive along with her brother by the Turks. Her brother was slain by a Turkish soldier before her eyes. Stunned to find that the same man who had killed her brother had been captured and brought wounded to the hospital where she worked. Something within her cried out "Vengeance." But a stronger voice called for her to love. She nursed the man back to health. Finally, the recuperating soldier asked her, "Why didn’t you let me die?" Her answer was, "I am a follower of Him who said, ’Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you’" Impressed with her answer, the young soldier replied, "I never heard such words before. Tell me more. I want this kind of religion."

"You have heard that it was said, 'love your neighbor and hate your enemy."' Enemies are not just other nations or terrorist groups. Who do you hate? Who is your enemy? Who are the hardest people in your history to love? Who would you rather not forgive? Who would you rather not sit next to in church? Who would you prefer to never even see, let alone speak with?

Often our enemies are those we know best: parents; children; brothers; sisters; friends; co-workers; bosses; employees. They are those around whom swirl divorces, custody battles, broken contracts, offensive words, not speaking, getting even, animosity, anger and hurt. If I were to ask those who know you best “who is the enemy you hate,” what would they say? If I were to ask who do you fear, (for fear and hate go hand in hand) how would they answer? Is it your brother or sister? Is it your ex? Is it the Republicans? The Democrats? The Muslims? The gays? The pro-choicers? The pro-birthers? The Westborough Baptists and their kind? The person next door who never speaks to you? The driver who cuts you off in traffic?

The circumstances and choices of life are the birthplace of enemies. Circumstances may be beyond our control. Others assault, abuse, hate, dislike or cheat us. It may be because of the color of our skin or the job we hold or the prejudice against us or the war around us or simply from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Choices, on the other hand, are within our personal control. The truth is, and listen carefully; No one absolutely NO ONE, can be our enemy without our choice, without our permission. Someone else may label us as the enemy, but no one can be our enemy unless we choose them as such.

The Love Christ calls us to have for our enemies has nothing to do with feelings, and everything to do with our actions. I don't remember much from my confirmation classes at St. John's Episcopal Church all those years ago, but I never will forget Fr. Evenson's proclamation: “You don't have to like them. You just have to love them.” That's the kind of love Christ calls us to have for our enemies: to care for and about them. To treat them with respect. To pray for them and to do them no harm.

At one of the churches we served, the stewardship drive plan we were using called on the leaders of the church to draw the names of every person or family from a hat. We were then to pray for those people by name for two weeks. One of the women on the board drew Judy's name. Judy was the thorn in the side of the congregation. Anything she didn't propose herself, she opposed; and did her best to undermine. At the end of the two weeks we met and discussed our experiences. The woman who drew Judy's name reported: “I was tempted to put it back and draw a different name, but I figured God must have wanted me to pray for Judy, so I did. You know, I cannot say that I like Judy, but I no longer dislike her.”

So here is you homework for the next two weeks (I will be gone next week). Select just one of the people or groups in your life that you have chosen as an enemy. At least once a day pray for them—by name, and see what happens. AMEN.

No comments:

Post a Comment