The first book of the Bible, Genesis, tells the story of the creation of the world, not from a scientific way but from a faith perspective. The bible is neither history book nor science book, it is not an exact account of what happened or will happen, it is a book of a faith journey and a guide if you will for living a life that we have been called to live.
But in that story of creation, we read about Adam and Eve, the representation of humanity in the story of creation. We understand that they were naked, not in the physical sense but in the spiritual and metaphorical sense, and they walked with God. Eden and the garden are representations of heaven as we Christians call it, a life of perfection, a life lived out in the very presence of the creator. Then, something happens, some might say fruit was involved, I have my own theory, but that is for another day. For now, let’s just say that something happened and humanity could no longer live that life of perfection, and they were expelled from paradise.
The relationship between God and humanity was broken. No longer did God walk with what God had created, a gulf had been formed between the creator and the creation. The pages that follow tell stories of people that came in the name of God, the prophets, to try and get the people back, to try and repair the breach that had been created by humanity in the relationship. But try as they may, they failed, and the people rejected them, just as they had denied the creator.
As we continue to read, we learn that God has sent the Son, God’s Son, not another creation but a being that was in fact, “in the beginning.” John’s Gospel tells us that “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Now it may be a literary form, but the word “Word” is capitalized to indicate a proper name because John was speaking of Jesus as the Word of God. We often referred to the bible as the word of God, but the real Word of God, the one we need to take heed of and notice of is Jesus Christ the Son of God and the Word God that became flesh and dwelt among us.
With the birth of Christ that gulf has been repaired and, for a brief moment in time, God once again walked with his creation. God could touch creation and creation could touch God.
The Gospel passage we heard this morning is a continuation of Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, and he takes this concept of Love to another level. Luke is pointing out the radical nature of the message of Jesus. We are not just to love those who love us back, we are to love those who hate us, who want to do us harm or who have done us wrong. This is a radical form of love.
You may have noticed that I speak about love in almost every sermon. Recently, it might have been last week, a comment was made that I end every sermon with love. I believe that to be true because, in the end, we are to love. Strip it all away, strip away all the doctrine and theology, knock down all the church buildings and burn all the furniture and we will be left with love. Love is the beginning, and the end of what it means to be a Christian and I mention it as often as I do because I think, we have forgotten that point.
I call this message of Jesus radical because it is requiring us to go against our very nature. Human nature is not to “turn the other cheek,” human nature is to fight back, you hit me, I am going to hit you back. We see this physically, and we see it in the spoken language. Jesus is calling us to another place another plane of existence that is radically different than the one we live in, and it is not easy, and Jesus acknowledges that.
But there is another side to love that needs to be discussed, and that is the redemptive quality of love.
We read in the Gospel of John that because God loved the world so much, he sent Jesus into the world that all might have eternal life that is redemption. The relationship that had been broken “in the beginning” was not repaired not by the crucifixion but by the birth of Christ.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King had this to say about the redemptive power of love:
“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love, they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says, love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”
Bottom line, love changes people.
Now some will claim that this belief requires us to be doormats and I say that this is just not true. Yes, love is our default position, but we also need to be cautious. In God Father Part II, the only time that a sequel was better than the previous movie, Michael Corleone said, “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” Now I believe this to be an ancient proverb that just did not roll of the pen of the writer of the movie script, but the point is we have to be cautious around those who may or may not be our enemies.
I have said to you on numerous occasions, we have to love everyone, we don’t have to like them. The point here is that it is okay to walk away. Jesus tells his disciples this.
Jesus sends the apostles out in pairs to go into the cities and towns to spread the good news. He tells them that is their message is rejected they are to shake the dust of that town off their feet and move along. He tells them to offer the news for free but if they reject it, do not force it upon them, do not scream at them and call them sinners, don’t tell them they are going to hell, just walk away. Continue to pray for them, but walk away.
It has become all the rage to classify certain groups of people as enemies. I was alive during the reign of Joe McCarthy and his enemies list, but far too often today we hear the term enemies used against those who disagree with us and this is not confined merely to the political arena. Far too often we listen to preachers making reference to those who disagree with them as their enemies and that their faith is being attacked. Just because someone disagrees with you does not make them your enemies nor does it mean they are trying to oppress you or your religion or your speech. There was a time when you could have a disagreement with someone and when the discussion was finished walk away, maybe not as friends, but as human beings. Our human instinct is to fight, and yes there are times when we must fight, but our intuition needs to change and our first instinct should be to love, love changes and love redeems.
I just want to say a few words about the do not judge bit near the end of the passage. Far too often this passage is misused, usually when you point out to someone how they, or someone they align with, have come off the rails. There is good judgment and bad, and we have to make those calls. We have to discern what is right and what is wrong. I mentioned last week that if your belief, religious or political, requires you to hate another, think of them differently or less than you then it does not align with the teachings of Jesus. Each time we begin to open our mouths, each time we agree or disagree we have to ask the question if this fits with the teachings of Jesus Christ the Word of God.
The 4th chapter of the 1st Letter of John we read:
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
If that spirit requires us to think less of another human being created in the image and likeness of God, it is not a pure spirit, and our judgment should be to reject it. It’s that simple. If you are unsure, ask. “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” Why? Because “your reward will be great, and you will be children of the most high; for he is kind to the grateful and the wicked.”