[This was the sermon text from this week.  Due to technical difficulties we are unable to post the video.  Our appologies!]

Matt 5: 43 (ff)- You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

We see here in this important Sermon on the Mount scripture that radical love for your enemy is possible if we allow God’s love to transform us.

I still think many people think love for enemy is beyond human capacity and the end of this verse pretty much confirms it in our minds:  Jesus says “Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.  Has there ever been such an audacious statement as this one?  

Some have tried to make Jesus’ statement into something that it isn’t.   I did that with a statement my grandmother told me once that I often think about when I read this verse.

I was running the NYC marathon about 20 years ago and was talking to my Grandmother one afternoon a few weeks before I was to run. I was telling her the finer points of training, tapering, how long and hard I’ve been training. After listening to all of this she simply asked me, “That’s good Todd.  Are you going to win?” 

I was taken aback a little bit.  I told her, “Grammy, there are people from all over the world running this race, some of the most elite runners will be coming and looking to take the first place spot.”  I told her, “I wasn’t really looking to win, but just to finish.”

Her reply has become one of my favorite things my Grandmother has ever said to me. She said, “Well, you are NEVER going to win with that attitude.” 

I think most of us view this command by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, “to be perfect” as a goodhearted, but misdirected, grandmother telling us to do our best.  This might be more believable it weren’t for the verses just before it, where Jesus was explicit about what this would look like in our life:

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.

This is the radical stuff of Christian living and I want to tie this into the theme Christiane and I have been writing about in the Words from the Rector and in these sermons:  The Kingdom of God.

The reason my Grandmother’s statement is so funny is she basically ignored the laws of this planet, thinking that if I just willed myself to win, I should win the NYC marathon.  Doesn’t matter that some people train harder and are simply are in another class of running than your average person.  We all live on planet earth with the same laws of physics, so there are physical limits to what can be accomplished. 

The notion of loving your enemy and praying for those who persecute you would also be in this category, if we based what is possible on the Kingdom of this world.  If the things of this world continue to drive who we are and how we respond to circumstances, then the statements “pray for those who persecute you”, and “love your enemy” would be as impossible as the average Joe winning the NYC Marathon. 

But the Kingdom of THIS world is not how Jesus operated and he is teaching us here that it’s not how we should think of ourselves either.

I was asking a mentor of mine a couple years ago about these things.  He always seemed to meet every thing in his life with peace and grace – whether he was talking with someone with different political views, or dealing with personal grief (he had lost his wife soon before this time), or theological or philosophical differences with others.

I’ve seen him love others when they betrayed him.  He never seemed to be sucked into the political hot topics of our time. He loves everyone with so much sincerity.   I asked him, “How do you stay so loving and soft towards others, no matter who they are?”  I was asking him, “How do you love your enemy?”

He made a comparison, I’ll never forget, to the NFL draft.  Maybe we can relate to it since we were so close to the draft this year.  He told me the reason he can rise above the stuff of this world, arguments, ideologies, and personal offenses is because it simply isn’t his Kingdom. 

He said, just like you really have to be an insider in the NFL kingdom to emotionally invested in whether the Broncos, or the Steelers, or even the Lions, get this Linebacker or that cornerback. Most of us just aren’t that into the NFL Kingdom to know or care that much. It just isn’t our main concern.

So it is with our relationship with the things of the Kingdom of this world.  Politics, financial gain or loss, issues of power, come with an attachment to laws of this world that Christians are not called to be as concerned, as others will be.

Therefore when Jesus says to ‘love our enemy’, if we are attached to the laws and stuff of this world it seems like an impossible task.  However, we are called to be “IN, but not OF, this world.”

This isn’t an attitude that this world doesn’t matter, not at all.  It’s just that we are not bound by the same laws of love and fairness that this world is bound to.  This is why in the Kingdom of God everything seems to be upside-down.  The poor are rich, the first is last, and the last, first.  This is why we can love our enemy in a world where most people want to jump out of their car in rage just when someone takes their parking spot at Target.  Children of the King are different.  We love others with different eyes and different laws.

That’s why we don’t just greet our brother, or we don’t just love those who love us, or we don’t just hang out with only those who are like and agree with us.  No even those who don’t know God do that, Jesus says.  But we live by a new set of laws, from a different Kingdom.  It is the law of love that even allows us to love our enemy.  These are the laws of HIS Kingdom. 

Is this natural?  It’s only natural to the ones who see themselves sons and daughters of the King that rules in THAT Kingdom.  When our identity and our love comes from that source, then everything changes.

How?  How do we have this mental and spiritual shift?

  1. Meditate on you are, not what you do or what you need to accomplish.

Romans 8:35-39 ESV

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 

Do you hear the seeming powerlessness here?  But then it goes into the verse we all know and love.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So we Meditate on who we are, not what you do or what you need to accomplish.

  1. Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in this Kingdom’s (kingdom of this world) news of the day.  I know this is hard.  It’s not just that news and drama is at your fingertips now, but everything seems to be such an existential crisis.  This really isn’t anything new.  The world is always having political power shifts, cultural changes.  It’s not that we don’t care, or pray for these things, we should. But, it just shouldn’t have our heart and our mind so much that we can’t love those on the other side of these conflicts.  The Kingdom of God perspective allows us to do this.
  1. Practice loving those who aren’t like you or who don’t like you– There are very practical ways to do this.  You can go out of your way at work or in your neighborhood to be kind to those who are different, may have a different political sign for a candidate in the yard than you would have, different religion or philosophy in life.  This is where rubber meets the road in loving your enemy.  I pray that even right now God is bringing someone into your mind, who you may consider and enemy to love this week.

As we contemplate once again the scriptures to love our enemy and pray for those who persecute us.  May we not just look at this as a kindly old grandmother asking us to do the impossible, but our heavenly Father, Son and Holy Spirit showing us the way to live in this world, as Children of the King.