Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you think there are sharp divisions in our country? An honest examination will say that there are divisions. There have been for a long time. Maybe you’ve experienced such divisions among your family, friends, or co-workers first-hand. This epidemic has divided our own congregation. And honestly, I’m ashamed to have to say that. But what are we to do about it? How do we deal with division in our congregation, in our society, and in wherever we may find it? What cure for division does Jesus offer us?
Love Your Enemies
Jesus does not waste time or mince words. He goes right to the heart of the matter in our Gospel lesson: “Love your enemies.” That’s right. Love them. Those who oppose you and want you out of their way. Love them. Pray for your persecutors. Don’t be like the world that loves the friend and hates the enemy. That includes those who hate, curse, strike, and steal from you. It certainly includes people with different politics or ideas. It’s Christians in other denominations and those you don’t like in this church. It actually includes everyone. No exceptions. Love your enemies. Think of the best thing you can do for the worst person, and go ahead and do it. Think of what you’d really like someone to do for you, and do it for them. Think of the people to whom you are tempted to be nasty and lavish generosity on them instead. Go beyond the divisions and love those on the other side.
But how do we put this command to love your enemies into action? Jesus answers: “Do good.” That requires that we end the cycle of violence and retribution. Jesus calls us to be concerned about people beyond the narrow boundaries of group or tribe. Doing good includes feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, giving shelter to travellers, visiting the sick and the imprisoned. It means you help and support your enemies in their bodily need. You even help them to protect their possessions and income. You protect your enemies reputation, defend them, and explain everything in the kindest way.
Jesus also tells us to give even the shirt off our back. This command is practised when we share what we have with those who ask something of us. Even if he takes what belongs to us without asking, Jesus wants us to share it with him and not demand that he give it back. This requires us to trust and depend on the promise of God to provide for us and care for us.
This is illustrated in Les Miserables. Jean Valjean steals the bishops silver. He is caught and brought back to the bishop. What does the bishop do? He says, “Oh. Yes. He took them. And you know what, he forgot this.” This illustrates what Jesus is saying.
But, “How can I love my neighbours if they’re actively doing hurtful things to the people I love?” We need some discernment since we cannot allow an innocent to be harmed or oppressed. The natural reaction of our sinful nature is to hate our enemies and do something which will hurt those who hate us. Most of all, it asks us to give up our grievances toward our enemies. We must think of them, not as enemies at all, but fellow sinners forgiven by God. But Jesus reminds us that when his forgiving love for us warms our hearts, this will show itself both in our attitude and what we do. Our enemies will know that our hearts have been changed by Jesus’ love so that we love them. Those who hate us will see by the good we do to help them that Jesus now lives in us.
Jesus tells us to bless those who curse us and pray for those who mistreat us. People may speak words that wish evil on us or say things to torment us. However, Jesus commands us to wish them well and especially that God might bless them. But also offer prayer for them where we ask God to help our enemies bodily and open their hearts in faith to their Savior. Among other things, this means that we stop gossiping. We stop complaining to others about things we disagree with. This means we stop making divisions in this church between “us” and “them.” If you disagree with them and it bugs you, go talk to them about it! Work it out. If you don’t like someone, go out of your way to show kindness and love to them. It also means that we need to have the humility to admit we might not always be right. It means learning to see things from their perspective.
This is also illustrated by our Old Testament Lesson. Saul sought to put David to death. David was living as an outlaw. What does David do? Does he pin him to the ground with a spear? No. He does good by him.
Love, doing good, showing mercy, being generous, forgiving. Without looking at whether they deserve it. Not hitting back; not taking vengeance. These are the things that will heal divisions wherever they may be found.
Because God Loved You
What would motivate us to love our enemies? Why would we ever do good and wish good upon those who mistreat us? It’s simple. You are to be like this because that’s what God is like. When we look at what divides us, we should not forget that we are divided from God. Our sin, evil, and selfish rebellion has separated us from God, and we are the ones at fault. So, how does God act? God is generous to all people, and He is astonishingly merciful. The Creator God provides good things for all to enjoy, the undeserving and the deserving. He has given you your body and soul, eyes, ears, and all your members, your reason and all your senses, and still takes care of them. God richly and daily provides you with all that you need to support this body and life. He defends you against all danger and guards and protects you from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in you.
No other person, no matter how holy and perfect in the eyes of men, lived up to the standards that Jesus sets here. Close doesn’t count. Trying hard doesn’t cut it. One man did what’s right down to the smallest detail. Jesus of Nazareth, the messiah and Son of God. He loved His enemies. He prayed for His persecutors. He was taunted and insulted. He healed the ear of one of the men in the crowd who came to arrest him. Jesus is generous to his own hurt. Jesus offered His cheek to His smiters. His back to those who whipped. He carried His cross down the lonely road of sorrows. When they ripped the coat and shirt off his back and pounded nails into his hands and feet, he went on loving and forgiving. He didn’t show love only to his friends but to his enemies, weeping over the city that had rejected his plea for mercy. He dies for His enemies. He dies for you. He embodied the love he spoke about. He took no revenge on those who falsely accused him. Instead, He prayed for them. “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” He gave to those who begged of Him. He still does. He gives to you. He is has made you part of his family, the Church. He has forgiven you for all those times you were the cause of division. Today, he feeds you with his Body and Blood, which unites you to himself, and to your fellow Christians here this morning.
The answer to division is to show love, do good, and be merciful and generous. We show mercy and love to everyone, even our enemies because that is how God has been with us. God is compassionate and kind to everyone. While we were God’s enemies, Christ died for us. We deserved wrath and vengeance, and we get instead unending love and mercy. What more excellent reason is there for us to show love and help heal the divisions in our daily lives?
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.