Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Love Your Enemies

WARNING: This is a long post, but I don't have time to write something shorter.  I'm pretty busy here with family, but I wanted to post something since it's been a while.  This is a short sermon that I had to write for my Discipleship and Ethics class.  I think it's worth reading if you have a bit of time.   

  “Simon son of John, do you love me” (John 21:15)?  Here is the haunting question of Jesus as recorded by the Apostle John.  For me, the scene is a powerful one.  Jesus and Peter are standing beside the lake and Jesus asks the question that has been burning in His heart.  “Do you love me?”  Is it really such an odd question?  Peter: the Son of Thunder, the Rock, the man who recognized Jesus as the Christ, within the inner circle of Jesus disciples,  betrayer of Christ.  Where was Peter as Jesus suffered and died on the cross?  He was not there; he was not beside Jesus’ mother to comfort her.  No, Peter has betrayed Christ and fled.  “Do you love me?”  There is an invitation in those words.  It is the invitation to respond and return the love that is offered.  It is an invitation to the one who betrayed the Christ to come back into relationship.
    Not long before this scene, Jesus was sharing a meal with his disciples.  John sets the stage with heavy foreshadowing as he writes that the devil has already worked his way into Judas’ heart and that Judas has already made the decision to betray Christ (John 13:2).  Jesus, fully aware of what Judas is planning (John 13:21, 26), gets up from the table and takes on the posture of a servant.  In a humble act of service Jesus washes the feet of His disciples. The important point is that Jesus washes all of the disciples feet, even the dirty feet of the one who, in a few hours, will walk down a dusty road to betray him. 
    Sometimes it is hard for us to know what we mean when we talk about loving our enemies.  Is it the nation my nation is at war with?  While there is no doubt that we should seek peace and we certainly need to express love towards those people, they are often an abstract concept for us.  What is not abstract for us are those who have betrayed us. We can all remember the promises that have been broken, and the lies that have been told.  There is nothing abstract about the pain we feel when we have been betrayed, and we have all been betrayed.  Many of us have had friends who are no longer our friends because of real or perceived betrayals.  Our closest friends can become our enemies when hurt is left unchecked.  When bitterness, anger, and revenge are allowed to fester in our minds, even those we are close to can become our enemies.  It has happened to me.  I have lost friends because I have not lived a life of forgiveness.  Has it happened to you?  When the Pharisees asked Jesus what the most important law was, he replied that it was to love God and your neighbor, that this was the whole law.  To illustrate the neighbor, Jesus picks a Samaritan, a despised, heretical enemy of the Jews. This is what it means to love your neighbor.  It means to love your enemy as well as your friend; that is the law.
    In his own life, Jesus saw those close to him betray him and become his enemy.  For Peter, the betrayal was not the end.  Rather Jesus sought out the one who had betrayed him and extended his love.  One can only think that if Judas had been able to fight his demons for just three days, Christ also would have extended love, forgiveness, and a second chance to him as well.  What a beautiful scene this would have been, to see Jesus walk across the field and kiss Judas on the cheek and to hear the words, “Judas, I love you.  You are forgiven.”
    Brothers and sisters, Jesus is not just an example of how to love our enemies, our betrayers.  No, in the actions of Christ we can see the actions of God for us.  In the person of Jesus, God has taken on the form of the lowest servant.  Jesus came to serve, not to be served.  G.K. Chesterton writes, “There has fallen to earth for a token, a God to great for the sky” (G.K. Chesterton, Gloria in Profundis).  God is the mighty one.  The one who is too great for this world to contain.  God the creator, has come to earth for us, a token.  God’s heart was betrayed by Adam and Eve in the Garden.  God has been betrayed countless times since by us.  Yet still God comes hurtling towards us.  God’s grace, mercy, and love are like a volcano that explodes forth with unstoppable power and force.  Nothing can stand in front of this torrent.  We are engulfed and carried away in God’s love.  God comes not with judgement or anger, but with a question, do you love me?  Romans 5:8-11 says,

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  In deed, rarely   
will anyone die for a righteous person - although perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.  Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.  But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” 

This verse reminds us that we have been the enemy of God.  We have stood in combat with God and we have fought against our rightful Lord. However, our rebellion, betrayal, enmity, will never be enough to dissuade God from loving us and creating a way to be brought into God’s family.  God’s most earnest desire is that you be reconciled; brought into the family of God through Jesus Christ.  God is love, and God’s love for each of us is such that God will not allow us to remain his enemies.  God’s love overcomes the barriers that hold us apart.  Forgiveness is extended, adoption into the family of God is offered.  Betrayals are set aside and Jesus walks towards us, kisses us on the cheek, and says, “I love you.  You are forgiven.”
    It is with this, the deluge of God’s love, in the forefront of our minds that we return to Jesus’ command to love God, and to love your neighbor, even your neighbor is an enemy.  Any action of love that we make towards those who have hurt us, betrayed us, will only flow out of the love we experience from Christ.  Only as we experience the resurrection power of love and forgiveness will we find the ability to also love our enemies.  When we learn to love our enemies, we will find that our world is opened; we are freed from our grudges and hateful burdens.  Life is better lived when we are at peace with our neighbor.  I also believe that in learning to love our enemy, we will also learn to love God more.  We love our enemies by learning to forgive as God has forgiven us. We can learn to forgive by releasing our bitterness, anger, and grudges.  It can seem like an impossible task to love our enemy.  How can I forgive someone who has hurt me so deeply, but we never learn to love our enemies alone.  None of us walk this path alone.  Rather, we are the reconciled community of Christ.  We experience the power and support of others as we learn to love our enemies.  As a justified community of love, we practice what it means to forgive, to extend grace, to live in peace, to disagree without breaking fellowship, and to be patient.  Learning these virtues with our brothers and sisters will better enable us to live a life of loving our enemies, betrayers, and neighbors wherever we are.  We seek to live lives that obey the command to love our neighbors and our enemies.  And when we fail, we acknowledge that God’s kingdom has not yet been fully established on earth and we pray with Jesus, “Your kingdom come” (Matt 6:10)
    So may we be grasped once again by the amazing story of how God moves towards those who have betrayed him. May we be moved by the great God who, in grace and love, rushes to embrace those who have warred against him.  May we recognize our own betrayal of God and reach out to hear God say, “I love you.  You are forgiven.”  And then, in turn, may we reach out to our own enemies and betrayers and pass on the words that we have heard. “I love you. You are forgiven.”  

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