Gospel lesson and Pastor Richard Pokora’s sermon from February 20, 2022 worship
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lod Jesus Christ.
What would you do for someone you love? The answer changes as you go through different stages of life and different relationships with different people. What would you do for someone you love? The answer is different for the 13 year old with their best friend compared to the bride and groom on their wedding day compared to the new parent holding their tiny infant in their arms for the first time. What would you do for someone you love? People have had some pretty unbelievable answers and done some pretty unbelievable things for those they love.
Recently, I read about the man who invented the pink flamingo lawn ornament, his name was Donald Featherstone. Donald loved his wife Nancy so much, that the two of them wore matching outfits for 35 years. (Maybe a bit odd, but…) Unbelievable! I heard about a Chinese teenager named Lui Shi Ching whose friend had a debilitating disease that prevented him from walking well. So, Lui carried his friend to school on his back every day for 8 years. Unbelievable! Y
You might not be familiar with the 17th century ruler of the Mughal Empire in India. His name was Shan Jahan, and he was completely in love with his wife. Even though theirs was an arranged marriage and he didn’t even get to see her until the wedding, the two of them fell head-over-heels in love and built a large family together. When she died giving birth to their 14th child, Shan Jahan was devastated. He ordered the whole empire to mourn for his wife for two whole years. Shan Jahan refused to be seen in public for an entire year. When he came back into the public eye, he decided to build a tomb worthy of the woman he loved so much. You’ve probably never heard of Shan Jahan, but you’ve definitely heard of the tomb he built for his wife – the Taj Mahal. What would you do for someone you love? Unbelievable love does unbelievable things.
You’d do a lot, maybe even anything for someone you love. So how about for someone who’s your enemy? What would you do for someone who hates you? That’s one of the many provocative sounding things Jesus says in our gospel lesson. But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies. But he doesn’t stop there. Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
When Jesus says this, maybe the biggest question that comes into our mind isn’t so much “What?!” but “How?!” Love my enemies? That’s completely counter-intuitive! Everyone knows what you’re supposed to do with your enemies…and it isn’t love them! When we hear the word “enemies,” our minds might run to those mask-wearing, Christian-killing, church-bombing ISIS terrorists, or some genocidal despot from recent world history – we immediately think those people are our enemies. And, I suppose that’s true enough, they are opposed to the gospel and everything we are as Christians, but chances are you’ll never meet them, much less be able to actively love them. Certainly, pray for their conversion and that God would grant them repentance and a stop to their sinful actions.
When you think of loving your enemies, think a little closer to home. Do you have any? Maybe you wouldn’t call them your enemy…at least not out loud. But you know the person – he’s the guy you avoid because you don’t feel like getting in a fight today; she’s your biggest critic and, coincidentally, the one who’s least helpful when it comes to resolving her criticisms; he’s the guy who will always find a way to blame you, even when he screwed up; she’s the one who’s got opinions and is never bashful about sharing them with you, never once taking your feelings into account. Those are the people Jesus is telling me are the beneficiaries of my love, my prayers, and my kindness? “How?!”
Jesus doesn’t leave us without an answer to that vital question, but as is often the case, the solution seems worse than the problem. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. But Jesus, this sounds like an instruction manual for how to be a total pushover! LOVE my enemies? Maybe if I want to get walked all over. Turn the other cheek? Then I’ll be a target forever. Give freely to the one who asks, no matter who it is? Then I’ll be a mark for people to take advantage of me.
Do you see how quickly even the mind inside a Christian person can work to find some wiggle room for the sinful nature? It’s almost as if we hear what Jesus says and immediately think, Well, Jesus CAN’T mean that!!! But he does! It’s vital to understand one thing about these words of Jesus: Jesus isn’t giving us worldly advice on self-defense, legal procedure, or financial management. He’s teaching us a lesson of love.
When I see opportunities to forgive, to give, to be generous, ultimately to show love – my question shouldn’t be, How can I avoid being taken advantage of, scammed, or walked on? When I see those opportunities – even with my “enemies,” my thought process is always, “I have been shown unbelievable love in Christ. How can I reflect that to this person next to me?” In other words, “How can I be Christ to this person?”
For every time you have failed to be Christ to the world and reflect his unbelievable love to me, remember Christ first came for you. Jesus tells us to love our enemies and he knew a thing or two about it. Father, forgive them! was his prayer for those who drove nails into his hands and feet. Jesus didn’t avoid those who were different from him or even those who, at the time, were at odds with God. This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.
Jesus loved everyone. In fact, Jesus loved the worst enemy of all – Jesus loved this worst enemy, the one who was born into this world completely hostile to him. Jesus loved this enemy – the one who was blind and in the dark with no desire or ability to come to the light. Jesus loved this enemy – the one whose every sin and rebellion was shaking the fist of defiance against God. Jesus loved this enemy – the blind, dead, hostile sinner – it was you and me. God demonstrates his own love for us in this – while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. That’s unbelievable love that does unbelievable things… we’d never believe it, but God has promised it!
Let the love we see in Jesus Christ be the standard for our life and relationships. May the Christ who loved you first and fully you motivate your love for others.. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your minds and heart in Christ Jesus.