In Ottawa this weekend, at least at the time I printed my sermon, 76 bank accounts have been frozen, 147 people have been arrested, 22 drivers licenses have been revoked. Divisions in our nation have been made plain and deepened.
In this context we hear the voice of our God: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you”
We will have enemies if we are to call ourselves Jesus’s disciples, if we are to try and follow him. He promises as much in the Beatitudes and elsewhere. To follow Jesus is to take his enemies as our enemies. Many hate him and those he loves because they, as we, have dark spiritual forces clawing at their souls. Loving our enemies means acknowledging a struggle not primarily against flesh and blood but against the world, the flesh and the devil. From these Christ has come to liberate those who trust in him. To this end Jesus commands us to love those people who we find come to us in hostility, those who approach us meaning evil.
Yes Jesus, but how? Bless them Jesus says. Do good for them Jesus says. Make yourself vulnerable to those who harm you. Be generous and give gifts to those who steal from you. Do you hear how radical this commandment is? I expect I will struggle with it every day of my life. How do I love that which is a threat to my safety and peace? We all know how wicked and destructive others can be to us especially when they hate us. These we are to love. These we are to be vulnerable before. These we should show generosity. This demands seems so unreasonable.
And what’s more: don’t expect some reward from doing these things we are told. Do them because you trust the Jesus who commands them. You aren’t hacking some deep code in natural law that will make your enemies like you. Loving your enemies doesn’t make your life easier, doesn’t make you more successful in negotiations or relationships. It is a commandment that in every earthly way costs us, costs us dearly, and gives us no worldly comfort.
Even so, Jesus says there is a reward: you will be changed. As you give mercy to your enemies you will become merciful like your heavenly Father is merciful. Bless your enemies as God causes the rain to fall on the good as well as the evil. Bless your enemies as you were blessed by God when you were still at war with him. Do good for your enemies as he has done good for you and in you. Subject yourself to their beatings and degradation and ridicule. Give to them freely when they would steal from you. Is this not what you see when you see the cross? It should be. Love your enemies, take up your cross and follow, Jesus invites us by this narrow way to walk in the mercy of God.
This commandment is so hard to follow. I know there are other passages and other theological work that promotes Deus Vult and the waging of crusades, I know others have written of the justification of the Christian soldier and the right of Christians to overturn tyranny, I know of the life and example of Bonhoeffer. We would do well to at least bear that in mind. Yet, I for my part, using the best of my reason, the bulk of my heart, and such faith and discernment as Jesus has given me kneel before this commandment- love your enemies – and am stayed.
One resource to help us call upon grace to try and love our enemies are the prayers in the litany:
From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness; Good Lord, deliver us.
From all uncleanness in thought, word, and deed; and from all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil; Good Lord, deliver us.
To bring into the way of truth all who have erred and are deceived; We beseech thee, good Lord.
And especially these last two petitions paired together:
To forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, to turn their hearts: We beseech thee, good Lord.
To give us true repentance; to forgive us all our sins, negligences, and ignorances; and to endue us with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, to amend our lives according to thy holy Word; We beseech thee, good Lord.
The hardest part of loving those who hate us is forgiving them. We must most especially remember the words of Jesus: “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” In this terrible way we are instructed to forgive our enemies, not even holding them accountable. “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.”
I know a common critique of pastors is that we should practice what we preach. I tremble before this commandment afraid of how little I can imagine myself obeying it. So do pray for me as I pray for you, that the love of Jesus may truly pour forth in our lives. And remember the promise of Jesus that as we give such mercy we will be given mercy: “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.”
Help us, we beseech you Good Lord.