2019-02-24/7th Sunday after Epiphany-C/Community Lutheran/Rev. Joseph Vought

    Proverbs 37:1-8    Luke 6:27-38

    A pastor was preaching Jesus’ command to love our enemies: “I’ll bet most of us have enemies, so raise your hands if you have enemies.”  A lot of people raised their hands. “Now if you have a few enemies.”  Half as many raised their hands. “Now raise your hands if you have only one or two.”  A few hands went up.  “Now raise your hands if you have no enemies at all.”  Way in the back an old man stood up, “I have no enemies at all!”  “Wow” the preacher said, tell us how it is you have no enemies?”  The man said, “I’m 90 years old, all the jerks died!”   Unless you’ve lived long enough to outlast them, I’ll bet most of us have had enemies or anger toward people who have wronged us.  Last week I met with a parishioner carrying the burden of a family member who is angry and unwilling to reconcile with another and this person just needed someone to listen.   Listen and you will hear people carrying anger or hatred.  It’s in our culture and politics, it infects our lives and families, sometimes across generations.  I have wondered if my mom’s Alzheimers was intensified by her anger over my sister’s divorce and her own sadness from childhood.   

    Joseph had a lifetime of reasons to be angry with his brothers for selling him into slavery in Egypt and they had reasons to be angry with him, but with faith, humility and tears, Joseph overcame his instinct for revenge and there was healing.   And then Jesus words in our Gospel, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who abuse you.”  How can we ever do this?  These words confound us.  Most of us consider this an ideal for some perfect world but not workable here.  I don’t know what you are carrying, maybe you have some family wounds like Joseph and his brothers, got people you are angry with, but I know Jesus is calling to each of us that there is another way.   When we cling to hate and hurt, we are robbed of joy, health and all that God gives us.  Nelson Mandela said, “Harboring hatred is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die.”  It is medically proven that people who filled with anger and hate are more depressed, have higher blood pressure, suffer more symptoms than others.  I think we must listen to Jesus for our own health and serenity. 

    In Greek, the language of the Gospels, there are three words for love: philios, which is a fraternal love or friendship, eros, which is romantic love.   But the word Jesus uses is agape, which is Godly love and grace freely bestowed on the other.  Listen to how Martin Luther King, Jr preached on this text in a sermon “Loving Our Enemies,” in 1957.  “Agape is God’s creative, redemptive goodwill for all people.  It is a love that seeks nothing in return. It is overflowing love.  And when you rise to love on this level, you begin to love all people, not because they are likeable, but because God loves them.  You love them because you know God loves them.  And they might be the worst person you’ve ever seen.”  We know King had the courage to practice it.  In 1962 he was speaking in Birmingham when a man attacked him, repeatedly hitting him in the face.  After the first punch, King dropped his hands to his side, refusing to defend himself.  Others jumped in and removed the man, while King kept saying, “Don’t hurt him. We must pray for him.”  Those who witnessed King’s response said it changed them.  They realized it was a way of life so practiced even his reflexes responded non-violently when attacked.      In a Godly way, King was the words of our Psalm:  “Do not be provoked by evildoers; do not be jealous of those who do wrong.  They shall wither like the grass….Put your trust in the Lord and do good.”   Episcopal Bishop Marian Budde puts it this way: “This is the hard path of redemptive suffering.  We do not choose it, it is thrust upon us when we are faced with tragedy, injustice, or pain we cannot control.  The challenge to reconcile belief in a loving God in the face of evil in this world is real.  Many people turn away from God because of it.  But it is not necessary to believe God causes evil or tragedy to experience the transforming power of God’s love, a love that can bring good out of evil.  This love is offered to us through the grace of God and Jesus, the one who came to show us the depth and breadth of God’s love.”  

    We need to listen to the Parables of Jesus many of which are about God’s agape and forgiveness for us that we are meant to share with others.   And then those amazing words from the cross, even as he was being crucified Jesus stretched out his arms in agape for this sometimes hateful world we live in and said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”   And then we need good stories of those who practiced the agape love of Jesus and changed their world:  Martin Luther King, Jr, and Congressman John Lewis in our country, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, The Healing in Rwanda between Hutus and Tutsi after genocide that created a new future, which some of us have been privileged to see.  The families of children killed a few years ago in the Amish school in Lancaster County PA; those Amish families reaching-out in amazing grace forgiveness and love to the family of the gunman, attending his funeral and continuing to comfort his wife.  And closer to home, the story about a football team in Alexandria 1971, made into a movie, “Remember the Titans,” when young black men and white men first played on the same football team.   They were all filled with hatred and prejudice learned from their families, passed down through the generations.   A beautiful triumphant story about a white coach and a black coach who found courage and friendship and with Godly love and faith,  turned those young men from hatred into a team with Godly love and respect that not only made them a winning team and champions but changed their whole world.  

    So that we may become the children of God we are meant to be, will we be prisoners of the past or will we give up anger, pride and hate for a new future?    In the hearing of Good News today, you are forgiven, in Bread and Wine Jesus meets you gives you power and grace to become the children of God.   We are forgiven by Jesus to share God’s redeeming love with the world.   Let me end with a poem by Seamus Heaney

    Doubletake” by Seamus Heaney
    Human beings suffer,
    they torture one another,
    they get hurt and get hard.
    No poem or play or song
    can fully right a wrong
    inflicted and endured.

    The innocent in gaols
    beat on their bars together.
    A hunger-striker’s father
    stands in the graveyard dumb.
    The police widow in veils
    faints at the funeral home

    History says, Don’t hope
    on this side of the grave.
    But then, once in a lifetime
    the longed for tidal wave
    of justice can rise up,
    and hope and history rhyme.

    So hope for a great sea-change
    on the far side of revenge.
    Believe that a further shore
    is reachable from here.
    Believe in miracles
    and cures and healing wells.

    Call the miracle self-healing:
    The utter self-revealing
    double-take of feeling.
    if there’s fire on the mountain
    or lightning and storm
    and a god speaks from the sky.

    That means someone is hearing
    the outcry and the birth-cry
    of new life at its term.