Preacher: The Reverend Dr. Cathy S. Gilliard
Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
Our Gospel lesson takes us again this morning to the Sermon on the Mount. That masterful teaching by Jesus to the masses and also to his closest followers. We have been dealing with it for the past few weeks and it’s worth spending some time with on your own – reading, reflecting, and trying to digest all those sayings that Jesus had to say about so many things.
One of the lines that stood out for me this week is when Jesus tells his disciples: “love your enemies.”1 Love your enemies. It’s hard to hear, isn’t it? “If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete (holy), set apart to be light in the world, so also are you.”2
It might be sobering to think that we actually have enemies – that there are people who choose to do us harm; who have no thought whatsoever about our well-being and common good. It’s hard to imagine sometimes that there are those who would go out of their way to do us harm or engender our demise.
Harder still, perhaps to imagine that we ourselves might be considered among that group; that others might somehow perceive us as their enemy. That even on our worst day, we are capable of possessing ill will or intent, indifference. True or not, enemies do exist; and they are all around us.
And the Scriptures tell us that right from the beginning that has been our constant. Cain hated Abel, his brother, and killed him.3 He hated Abel because God chose Abel’s gift as a greater offering and anger, jealousy, and insecurity set in.
That’s how it starts, isn’t it? Small starts that grow into bitter and hateful things so that the only recourse sometimes is death in one way or the other. How many families are still beset by such things – brothers and sisters against one another? Perhaps choosing not to use the word “hate” or enemy because let’s face it, we are Christian people after all, and these words are so hard but relationships remained fractured almost beyond repair.
Saul hated David. He hated David and sought his demise aggressively. “When David returned from killing the Philistine,” according to 1 Samuel 18, “the women came out from all the cities of Israel singing and dancing and playing songs of joy; and they were singing ‘Saul has killed his thousands, but David has killed ten thousands.’” And what was left for a guy like Saul but to grow angry? Saul was jealous and did not trust David from that day on.
We know that whole nations of people have been hated and despised; races of people, people because of their faith or family line – hundreds and thousands, millions have been slaughtered and abused because others hated their very existence. That’s what hate does. It begins to despise the very existence of the other.
I suspect that at least some of us can attest to that feeling at some point in our lives; to being disliked, treated poorly, actively opposed to, or the recipient of hostility and aggression. You may know something about having the bitterness of anger, jealousy, or hate hurled at you, spewing out everywhere.
In the past months and years, have we not heard and read enough hate-filled lines and conversations that can last us a life time? Just pure hate perpetuated over and over. It’s one thing to disagree; we are all entitled to our opinion; it is our basic constitutional right to have freedom of speech, but at some point we lose our civility when there are no sensors at all – in my opinion – when everything is acceptable. Some of this stuff is just plain wrong, it’s ugly, and mean and evil and it does not lead to nor allow room for healing and reconciliation as a people or as a nation. And it just ought not to be ok or normative as if this is the best we can do in a civilized world, the best we can be. Therefore, it’s helpful every now and then to include this great hymn of the church that we just sang:
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be. With God our creator, children all are we. Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony. With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow; to take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally. Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.4
John Howard Yoder, writes:
“In saying this, Jesus was not a foolish dreamer, spinning out futile hopes for a better world, thinking that if only we keep smiling everything will turn out all right, with our opponents turned into friends and our sacrifices all repaid. He knew full well the cost of such unlimited love. He foresaw clearly the suffering it would mean, first for himself and then for his followers. But there was no other way for him to take, no other way worthy of God. Jesus’ teaching here is not a collection of good human ideas; it is his divinely authoritative interpretation of the law of God.”5
And we might be asking ourselves, how can we do it? How can I possibly go about that? Does Jesus not understand how cruel people can be? The more I think about it the more it occurs to me that the ‘’how” of it may be the 2nd question. Perhaps, the first question is “why.”
Why love my enemies? Why try? Why set out on this discourse of which we might feel so inadequate; setting ourselves up for even more injury? “Bless those who curse you, do good to those that hate.”6 Because like it or not, this is what it means to walk with God. This is what it means to have life with the Almighty. It is imperative to at least try – to work toward that end. Jesus says so. And the Scriptures remind us that all of our faithfulness comes down to this: love God; love neighbor and neighbor includes all of creation including our enemies, those we find and those who find us most challenging. Because we have been washed in the waters of baptism and there can be no separation of these two – God. Neighbor.
And then Jesus gives us the how: pray for them; for those who persecute you; despitefully use you. Pray for them. It is as practical and as useful a tool as any I have ever known. Again, you might be asking, how. Well, just get started. Bring yourself into the presence of the holy with your heart, mind, and hands open. And if words fail initially, just know that the Holy Spirit makes intercessions on your behalf. Stay with it. Begin with words like:
Lord, I don’t know how. I am unable. I don’t even want to. But your word calls me to it. I want to be at peace with my brother or sister. With all people. I want to trust your hand at work; that you are bigger than even the greatest enemy. No weapon formed against me will prosper.7 They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up on wings like eagles, they shall run and not grow weary; they shall walk and not faint.8 I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence comes my help; my help comes come the Lord.9 The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh – my adversaries and foes – they shall stumble and fall. Though an army should encamp all around me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, in this will I be confident.10
Aint gonna let nobody turn me around. (No body.) Aint gonna let nobody turn me around. Gonna keep on a walking; keep on a talking; marching up the kings highway.11
Did you notice the quote on this morning’s bulletin? Martin Luther King Jr. puts it this way: kills. Enemies kill and destroy.
There is another reason why you should love your enemies, and this is because hate distorts the personality of the hater. We usually think of what hate does for the individual hated or the individuals hated or the groups hated. But it is even more tragic, it is even more ruinous and injurious to the individual who hates. For the person who hates, the true becomes false and the false becomes true. That’s what hate does.12
 Matthew 5:44a
 Matthew 5:46-48
 Genesis 4:1-8
 Sy Miller and Jill Jackson, Let There Be Peace on Earth, United Methodist Hymnal #431.
 John Howard Yoder, Living the Disarmed Life What is our cross, https://sojo.net/preaching-the-word/living-disarmed-life?parent=49426
 Luke 6:28
 Isaiah 54:17
 Isaiah 40:31
 Psalm 121:1-2
 Psalm 27:1-3
 African American Civil Rights Song
 Martin Luther King, Jr. The Toll Hatred Takes, Sermon
Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church November 17, 1957 “Loving Your Enemies.