Thursday, February 17, 2011

Epiphany 7 A Love Your Enemies

Somewhere along the way, someone told most of us something that will probably trip us up for the rest of our lives.  And just what was this “something?”  Well, it was the idea that being a Christian was something that would make our lives easier.  Somewhere we got the idea that the ways of Christianity were going to lead us to a life of leisure and ease.  If we just became Christian, we were going to have an easy life.  But what usually happens is that we find Christianity often makes our lives more difficult.  Our gospel reading for today gives us a view of how difficult being a Christian can really be.
The way the world would tell us to behave is to return evil for evil.  And actually, returning evil for evil is in the Bible!  In Leviticus and Deuteronomy we have laws of retribution.  We know these laws: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”  This seems to make some sense when we think about it; if you hurt me, I hurt you in equal measure.  If you take something from me, I take an equal amount from you.  Sounds logical.  And it is also a means of making sure that we do not over punish or under punishing someone.  It does make sense.  But as Gandhi would say, if we follow this law of an eye for an eye, all it does is leaves “everyone blind.”  Frankly, if we follow this law, it does not bring any kind of closure to a situation, all it does is makes the situation worse.
But this is the world we live in.  Even if we may not acknowledge it, we still do, on some level, feel entitled to equal justice.  Many people justify shop-lifting by saying that the companies have taken so much from us for so long that they owe us the candy bar we popped in our pocket.  Or that the frustration we cause another is justified because of how mean that person was to us.  We feel justified in cutting someone off in traffic because that person is being an aggressive driver, or we feel ok gossiping about another because we feel that person has wronged us.  So, although we may say that “two wrongs don’t make a right,” it is pretty well ingrained into our system that if we are wronged, we can wrong that person in return.
So how do we go about trying to live up to the standard Jesus has set for us in our gospel reading for today?  How do we make the change from “getting closure” (which in my opinion is just a nice way of saying “getting revenge”) to truly loving our enemy?  What practices or disciplines can we set up for ourselves to help us become the people Christ intended?
Christ tells us that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  Those can be very difficult things to do!  But if we stop to think it through, hopefully we can see this practice as a way that can help us through the troubles in our lives.
I think one of our big problems is that we get tangled up in what it means to “love.”  We just got over Valentine’s Day with all of its images of little cherubs shooting arrows and big lacy, frilly hearts.  We get movies that present love as this big warm-fuzzy that will bowl us over if we are not careful.  This is what is presented as “being in love” and this is what we often think of as love.  But for anyone who has been in a relationship for more than a few months, there will come times when leaving the toilet seat up will not be met with, “Aw, isn’t that cute?” but met with, “How often have I told the idiot not to do that?”  There will be times when the warm-fuzzy can feel like a cold-prickly.  But just because we are not feeling the warm-fuzzies, this does not mean that we do not love the person.  What it means is that we are frustrated with the behavior of the person. 
And so it is with our lives.  Just because we do not feel like we want to jump for joy every time we see the person does not mean that we do not love the person.  And in truth, we may not even LIKE the person but we can love the person.  Love means wishing for that other person what we would want for ourselves.  Love means seeing the world through that person’s eyes and helping that person to achieve their dreams just as we would like others to help us achieve our dreams.  Love is more than a feeling, it is something that we actively DO. The pop psychologist, John Bradshaw, would say that the emotions are exactly that e-motions; energy in motion.  So Love as an emotion is all about how we place our energy in motion, again, what we actively do.
One of the things that I love about our God is that God is really practical.  God knows that doing good things for people who are our persecutors is going to be difficult, and in some cases down-right impossible.  When someone seems to be actively hurting you, trying to act in a loving manner can test even the most saintly among us.  So Jesus gives us another option; Jesus tells us to pray for those who would persecute us.  I think we can all do that, can’t we?  Can’t we all pray for those whom we feel are opposing us?
Who knows what will happen if we pray.  When we pray for God to shine God’s light into the life of another, quite often that light will spill over onto us.  When we pray for God to lead that person to understanding, we are often also led to understanding ourselves.  When we pray that God changes THAT person, we are often given the tools to help THAT person see a new way.  And sometimes, when we pray that THAT person sees the light, we find that it is actually US who are fumbling around in the dark.  When we angry or frustrated with someone, prayer is the first thing we should do.  I know that there has been more times than I care to count where I have said something to a colleague and the colleague’s response was, “Have you prayed for them?”
Praying for the person whom we find angering, frustrating, or persecutive, is a wonderful way of moving ourselves out of the way and allowing God’s love to work in the situation.  Praying for those with whom we are troubled allows the Holy Spirit to enter our lives and show us ways to be a friend to that person.  Prayer allows us to “get into that person’s skin” and see life from their point of view.  It doesn’t necessarily give the person a free pass, but it often affords us a way of dealing with situations beyond the knee-jerk fashion to which we often get used.
I had been told that one of the best ways to settle something with someone you dislike is to sit down and eat with the person; it is hard to remain angry with someone when you are eating with them.  The same can be said for prayer:  It is hard to remain angry with someone when you are praying that God being blessing into their lives.
This is not easy to do.  But if you are looking for easy, then you need to join a country club.  God is asking more of us than the path of least resistance.  God is asking more of us than to just do what is easiest.  God is asking more of us but God is promising more too.  In the easy life of the country club, we may get exactly what we want, but we are paying for it too.  We pay through our cash, through our segregation, and through the  rules and mores that are present.  With God, more is asked of us, but we have the promise of love, forgiveness, and eternal life.  With God, we are wonderful because we were made that way, not because we have lots of cash.  With God, the world is something that we are drawn to; to explore, to share, and to love; not something that we hide away from.  With God, all are welcome, there is no gate keeping people out.
We are called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  We are called to go the extra mile and to reach out to those who would attack us.  We are called to spread Christ’s love to those who need to feel this love.  We are called to move beyond our walls and become the church in the world.  We are called to be Christ in the world.
We will be having a meeting next Sunday after worship.  During this time, we will be discussing our eventual fate as a congregation.  We will be discussing the vision for what we, as a congregation, wish to be in the world.  Hopefully we will find ways to move beyond the concept of “church as country club” and move back to the vision of “church as agent of change” that energized the founding of this congregation.  We will be discussing good stewardship of our time and our finances and ways we can keep our doors open as we strive for ways to become the presence of God’s love in our neighborhood.  We are not looking for ways to just put a band-aid on things, we are listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit working among us to make us more than we can imagine!  I encourage you to pray for guidance over the next week and keep your mind open to the workings of God.  I don’t think God is done with us yet, but if we just choose to sit down, God will allow us to do that too.

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