MATTHEW 5:43-48 – “Love Your Enemies” – NACCP, 1981, 1982, 1988

Delivered at North Anderson Community Church Presbyterian in 1981, 1982, 1988

“Love Your Enemies”

by Jack Crandall

This sermon was delivered at North Anderson Community Church, Presbyterian in 1981, 1982 and 1988.

Scripture Reading:  MATTHEW 5:43-48

“You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Sometimes you may wonder if Jesus really knew what it was like to live in the real human world.  Did he actually understand what people go through in the living of life? You wonder, because at times Jesus seems downright impractical, handing out commandments that no one can fulfill, like “Don’ t hate”, “Don’t lust”, “Turn the other cheek”,  and worst of all, “Love your enemies.” If he wanted to attract followers, why did he dispense such stern commands? They aren’t what you’d call a soft-sell.  It’s reported there’s a church with the words “Love your Enemies” chipped in stone over the front door. The minister said of his congregation, “If they ever looked up, they’d never come inside.” He has a point. In our kind of world “Love your enemies” sounds impossible, if not utter nonsense.

“Love your enemies,” Jesus said. We’ve heard his words and we’re in church; they haven’t turned us away. Are the words so familiar that they no longer get to us? Or is it because, by and large, we don’t think of ourselves as having enemies? We are reasonably decent well-scrubbed Protestant people who live far from a world of personal vendettas. If we have enemies, true enemies, we can’t think of them offhand. Of course, there are people who irritate us and neighbors with whom we disagree, business competitors and political opponents, but we wouldn’t call them enemies.  Perhaps in that uncivilized world of first-century Palestine, people had enemies, but times have changed. We’re not going to become paranoid simply to make Christ’s words sound relevant. “Love your enemies,” said Jesus, but the commandment doesn’t seem to apply to us, does it?

Or does it? The nation we live in is a land divided; polarization is an American fact. A news reporter conjectured we can no longer be a single nation, possessed of a common spirit. “We will meet as enemies.”  In a way we already do.  For we all belong to groups; racial groups, religious groups, labor, management, political parties, nationalities. . .Within groups we speak of ourselves as “we” and for every “we” nowadays, there seems to be a “they” or a “them”.   Pro Life/pro choice, pro bussing/anti bussing, pro-armament/pro-disarmament, Moral Majority, conservatives, liberals, moderates, anti/pro ERA.  Living in our separate groups we feed each other’s hatred with slogans, small gossip and put-down jokes until we meet one of “them”.  We become outwardly cool, inwardly choking on frustration and anger. I recall television coverage of a great peace march in Washington. I recall the faces of the people on both sides, people in blue jeans and people in blue uniforms, faces on both sides contorted by hate. A TV com­mentator said, “Mr. and Mrs. America, these are our faces!” Well, they were, they are.  Nowadays, when we meet, we often meet as enemies.

Maybe now we can begin to understand the words of Jesus. Love your enemies. We hear his words and at once we begin to hedge.  “But, Mr. Jesus, sir, don’t you think the world love is a bit strong?  Wouldn’t goodwill do just as well?” And “Mr. Jesus, sir, are there to be no exceptions in the name of national security?” “Love your enemies” he said, and he meant what he said. He’s not asking for a vague feeling of goodwill, because the Bible isn’t much interested in feelings.  After all, Jesus did not stand on Calvary and say “I feel for you all,” he died on a cross! Love in the Bible is always more than a feeling;

it is a deed, an act, a living for, a giving to, and nothing less. But still we hedge: “Mr. Jesus, sir, did you mean that we should send care packages to Vietnam?   Must every Christian live and work for the good of “them?” Answer:  That’s exactly what Jesus had in mind.

Even if Jesus had never spoken these we’d be confronted by the demand. For are we not the professed followers of Jesus, and did he not love his enemies? He did, and therefore we must. Listen, can we glance past the pastel pictures of Jesus patting lambs and I hugging children to have another look at his life? He loved enemies. He ate and drank with  rank unbelievers;  welcomed uptight Pharisees; hobnobbed with hated Roman soldiers; broke bread with Judas, forgave the crowd that celebrated his crucifixion.  Oh, make no mistake, Jesus was no starry-eyed romantic saint striding through life with a fixed smirk.  He was a realist. He knew the Roman soldier was a vicious storm trooper; that the tax collector was a glorified thief; that the crowd of cawing people who pushed around his cross was a bloodthirsty, murderous mob. He had no illusions; an enemy was an enemy. Yet, he loved them all. Even if we had no commandment, we’d be stuck with Jesus Christ, the mart who loved his enemies.

“Oh, but he was different,” we say. “He was different and that lets us off the hook!” After all, wasn’t he the Son of God, filled with God’s own special brand of love? And isn’t God’s love utterly different from our poor, pale imitations? God makes his sun to shine on cheap skates and on generous persons; his rain to fall on the just and the unjust. God’s indifferent, mind you. God is no great love machine strung from the stars, grinding out mindless affection for one and all alike.  He knows us better than we know ourselves, sees the deep, dark within us that we dare not peek at and still he loves us.  A Christian missionary to India has explained how hard it is to preach the love of God to people who have not heard of Jesus Christ. “To them,” she says, “God’s love is not only possible, it’s immoral.”  Shall we spell it out?  God loves Charles Manson as much as he loves Billy Graham, loved Malcolm X as much as Albert Schweitzer; loves hard-core Communists as much as he loves hardheaded Presbyterians. Not only impossible but immoral that God should love those we call wicked as much as those we label righteous, but He does. The love of God in Jesus Christ makes him different. After all, wasn’t he the Son of God? He was different, and that lets us off the hook:

Guess again: we’re not off the hook. What were the words of Jesus? “Love your enemies so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”  We are to love the same way God loves, which is to say differently. The hymn we often sing here, “They’ll know We Are Christians by Our Love” well, how will they know if our love is merely a little more of the same old thing?  Our love must be different. Everyone loves friends; we must love our enemies.

So now do we begin to see what Jesus is doing? He’s not laying down a commandment, he’s handing out a mandate for change. Somehow we’ve got to be different. As the old time  evangelists used to say, “Brothers and sisters, we’ve got to change our ways. Can we give up talking about “we” and “they” and begin to speak of all of us? Can we quit thinking in terms of friends and enemies when we are all the children of God? Listen, the Christian gospel is not a mild-mannered enjoinder to be nicer, kinder, neater, sweeter, day by day; it says we’ve got to be new. We’ve got to change. We’ve got to love our enemies.

Of course, it’s easier said than done. Deeds of love are often difficult deeds; especially when directed towards an enemy, they don’t come naturally. How hard it is to force ourselves to care even a little for our enemies. We can brood over them with malignant black humor, but not love. In a novel there’s a half- mad artist who tries to sum up his faith in a sentence “Go love,” he said, “without the help of anything on earth; that’s the real horsemeat.”   Well, it’s poor advice. Unaided we’ll never whip up enough love within ourselves, much less extend it willingly. So what’s the answer? A little Jesus in our hearts? No, that won’t do it. Christian faith adds something more than a “Jesus Turns Me On” bumper sticker and a warm tub feeling in our hearts.  It’s a commitment and an act of the will, to love when we don’t feel like it; to really mean it when we say we are a follower of Jesus Christ. We are to exhort one another, correct one another, encourage one another, for so the Spirit works among us.  Then perhaps, by God’s grace, the world may then “know we are Christians by our love.”

History under God’s providence has reached an era of perpetual emergency, when humanities age-old sin acted out in the saga of Cain and Able, combined with humanity’s new technology threatens the survival of the human race.  Even the most violent of persons must recognize that there can be no satisfaction in destroying an enemy by thermonuclear weapons while they are destroying us. The Sermon on the Mount offers no program to present to Congress, or the United Nations or the Presidium of the Soviet Union. But something of its vision and daring, combined with wise stagecraft, offer the only hope for humanity.

Mussolini called for “that cold, conscious, implacable hate, hate in every home, which is indispensable for victory.”  Another national leader said while war still raged:  “with malice toward none, charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in, so bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have won the battle and for his widow and orphan. . . to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves and with all nations.

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