Tag Archives: Love your enemies

Love your what?

Readings
Genesis 45.3-11, 15
Luke 6.27-38

After I finished my lecture Professor Jürgen Moltmann stood up and asked one of his typical questions, both concrete and penetrating: ‘But can you embrace a četnik?’ It was the winter of 1993. For months now the notorious Serbian fighters called ‘četnik’ had been sowing desolation in my native country, herding people into concentration camps, raping women, burning down churches, and destroying cities. I had just argued that we ought to embrace our enemies as God has embraced us in Christ. Can I embrace a četnik—the ultimate other, so to speak, the evil other? What would justify the embrace? Where would I draw the strength for it? What would it do to my identity as a human being and as a Croat? It took me a while to answer, though I immediately knew what I wanted to say. ‘No, I cannot—but as a follower of Christ I think I should be able to.’ — Miroslav Volf, Preface to Exclusion and Embrace

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Perhaps you’ve heard this before: ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold.’ Or so they say.

Joseph’s brothers were lucky he didn’t subscribe to that little piece of wisdom. They had thrown him into a hole, sold him to slave traders, and never expected to see him again. Years later, they were begging for food while he had risen to the top in Egypt. Now, they were at his mercy. Would there be any mercy, or would they get what they deserved? Would they get the reward for their dreadful actions toward Joseph, or could something else be born out of their situation?

Well, the story goes, Joseph treated them with grace. Unmerited favour. And Jesus today speaks about treating people with grace, even our enemies.

One of our kids came out from preschool after his first day there. His face was beaming, and I wondered what he would say to me about his day. Excitedly he said to me, ‘Dad, I made two […pause…] enemies today!’ I never did get to the bottom of that; but most of us like to think we don’t have any enemies. 

But suppose you do. Just suppose there’s someone in your past or present who’s tried to do you harm. To damage your reputation, or undermine you at work, or just dead-head your favourite flowers in the garden. It could be anything. Enemies don’t all come in one size or shape. They’re not necessarily obvious at first. 

(Maybe you really don’t have any enemies; but there may be people who annoy you, irritate you or rub you up the wrong way…)

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Love your neighbour—seriously?

Readings
Leviticus 19.1–2, 12–18
Matthew 5.38–48

Christianity is always political. But not in the ways we imagine—for the Beatitudes are its constitution, and love is its only law.
Diana Butler Bass

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I’m going to say something a congregation rarely hears from me. Are you ready? It’s this: ‘Let us listen to what the Book of Leviticus has to say to us today.’ That doesn’t happen often.

Leviticus is slap-bang in the middle of the so-called ‘Books of Moses’, the books that form the basis of Jewish law. It is number three of the five books of the law. It follows Genesis and Exodus, and is in turn followed by Numbers and Deuteronomy. Most of Leviticus deals with rules about the priesthood and also about daily life—for example, what you can and cannot eat or wear, and what are proper—and improper—sexual relations.

It reads oddly to us; what can you expect? It was written a long time ago. It’s a ragbag. Different topics are jumbled together, nestling cheek by jowl.

The passage we read tonight ends with ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’.

That’s a very high theme; but it is immediately followed by laws about not breeding different animals together, not wearing clothes of mixed fabric, and then rules about what happens when a man has sexual relations with a female slave.

Leviticus is a mixed bag.

But when Jesus was asked which is the greatest commandment, he says (Matthew 22.37–40)

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ [and] ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’

Then he says, ‘On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ Remember the Golden Rule that fulfils the law and the prophets?

Jesus is quoting from two books of the law. ‘You shall love the Lord your God…’ comes from Deuteronomy 6.5. ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ is from our passage today. Leviticus 19.18.

From among all the laws in Leviticus about not wearing polyester-cotton shirts and not eating bacon or prawns and when you’re ritually clean or unclean, Jesus zeroes in on this one. We should look at it more closely. Jesus did.

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Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A, 20 February 2011)

Blessed are…the enemy-lovers

Readings
Leviticus 19.1-2, 9-18
Matthew 5.38-48

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Remember our theme in this sermon series? It’s this: the Sermon on the Mount is addressed to people who ‘get it’. They are the people of the Beatitudes: the poor in spirit; the mourners; the meek; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; the merciful; the pure in heart; the peacemakers; the persecuted.

The persecuted. Many people are being persecuted today, for their faith, for political reasons, for their sexuality. Christians are leaving Middle Eastern countries today because it’s just so difficult to live there; there are places in which Christians don’t have full civil rights. We really aren’t persecuted for their faith here in Australia; none of us is liable to personal harm or even lack of professional advancement purely because we belong to a church.

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake’. This is surely the hardest beatitude. How can people who are persecuted be ‘blessed’ in any way, shape or form? What sense could it make to say that?

Let’s look at how those who were being persecuted for their faith might have responded to what Jesus is saying here.

We need to remember again that Jesus lived in a different time and place to us. His culture was based on ‘honour’ and ‘shame’. A person with honour could hold his head up anywhere, and be highly regarded. A person without honour felt a sense of shame, and could not command any respect at all. Think of the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Pharisee prays with a sense of honour:

God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.

The tax-collector takes the place of the shameful: he stands far off, beats his breast and says,

God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

If we look at those who are persecuted in such a society, we see they know what shame is; they have no honour. The people who persecute them have honour; but they have none in their eyes.

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