Love Your Enemy

Passage: Matthew 5:38-48
Date: February 12, 2017
Preacher: Rev Laurie M. Newman
Guest Preacher:

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February 12, 2017                    
San Mateo Presbyterian Iglesia in Xela, Guatemala
Matthew 5: 38-48                                
The Rev. Laurie Lynn Newman
Love Your Enemy

Every year, once a year, beautiful bouquets of red roses, delicious chocolates, and clever cards celebrate romantic love. The yearning that we have to receive and give love is celebrated in Guatemala and also in the United States. Romantic love is wonderful and fun to celebrate. But there are many meanings for the word “love.”

The passage from Matthew holds up a vision of love, but not romantic love. And not simply love for our families, and our tribe and our own nation, but love for our enemies. In Jesus’ life and teaching, relationships are redefined. Love is not feeling warmth and affection for another. At the heart of love is respect for the life of another and reverence for the other as a child of God. The love that we are called to is to see and honor the humanity in each person, including our enemies.

Who comes to your mind when I saw the word “enemy”? Well, the enemy can look like a stranger.

I speak to you in Guatemala today, with great sadness, now under an administration that singles out certain countries, certain religions, and strangers, who are labeled the enemy. Fears of the “other” are being inflamed and used to build more divisions and walls. We know that for Guatemalans and many other immigrants and refugees, there is fear of deportation from the United States. I want to assure you that in this time, many people are seeking ways to protect the vulnerable and to bring justice. Many churches are seeking ways to live the Gospel’s message of loving the neighbor as the self.

We are seeking the opportunities in this challenging time to work together for justice and love. We work and pray and ask for your prayers for us that we will welcome the stranger as Christ in our midst, and that this time of division will soon cease.

The enemy can look like our government. How do we love leaders who do not speak for us, and whose policies elevate those who have the most and hurt the most vulnerable? How do we love the ones we did not vote for and who seem contemptuous of the values we cherish? How do we love those who have led in a war against the people and in the killing of those who would resist?

The enemy can look like the church. I grew up as a pastor’s daughter. I have seen that some of the most angry and conflicted people are those in the very same church. We split over different interpretation of Scripture and over who has power in the church. From the time of the Reformation until now, churches have fought and split, sometimes with no reconciliation, yet.

The enemy can look like family. Just ask those of us from Westminster who have come to visit you. Many of us have a relative, a brother or a sister, with whom we are in conflict. I am the older sister of one brother. I live in Oregon. He lives far away in another state. We see each other about once a year. Some of our connection used to be through Facebook. But we had a silence between us for eighteen months because I posted a positive message about President Obama, and my brother made a mean comment about him. Our anger at one another kept us from any communication until last December. When I read Jesus’ words about loving the enemy, sometimes it is my brother’s face that comes to mind.

Jesus says to his followers: “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. . . Be perfect, as God is perfect.” That word, “perfect” can trip us up. A better translation from the Greek word is “mature.” Be mature, be whole, as God is whole. We can only be whole when we see every person—including our enemy—is part of us. We are all God’s children. We can and must resist when we see injustice, but we must never demonize the other. To be whole, as God is whole, may seem impossible, be we are given God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit in us.

To quote Guatemalan theologian Osmundo Ponce: “God is good, but we need people to be good, too.”

This work of maturing, so that we are children of God, whole and redeeming the world, happens by grace, and the work of the Spirit with us. But it also means that we must choose day by day, hour by hour, to turn away from retaliation and hatred. We are called to love. And in pursuing justice, we are called to loving resistance.
I want to close with remembering a man who was not Christian but who understood and taught that loving resistance. In 1940, Gandhi wrote a letter to Adolph Hitler. Here is part of what he wrote:
“Dear Friend, that I address you as a friend is no formality. I own no foes. My business in life has been for the past 33 years to enlist the friendship of the whole of humanity by befriending mankind, irrespective or race, colour, or creed. I hope you will have the time and the desire to know how a good portion of humanity who have been living under the influence of that doctrine of universal friendship view your action. We have no doubt about your bravery or devotion to your fatherland, nor do we believe that you are the monster described by your opponents. But your own pronouncements. . .and those of your friends and admirers leave no room for doubt that many of your acts are monstrous and unbecoming of human dignity. . .”

The letter continues in that vein and then concludes:
“Signed, I am your sincere friend, M.K. Gandhi”

We may see enemy in the stranger, in the government, in the church, in the family. But still, we are inspired to mature, to be whole, and to bring healing to this broken world, as God dreams of justice and wholeness for us.

Who comes to your mind when you hear “enemy”? How would your relationship change if you saw the child of God in that enemy, even as you resist their wrong and hurtful action? How would we change the world if we did this together? What would change in you?