7th Sunday after Epiphany
20 February 2011
St. John's, Chicago, IL
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
"Love your enemies." Jesus' words are no easy task. In fact, this is most difficult. What about the Christian church in Egypt that was bombed at New Year's? The police portray the situation as trying to keep the people of the church from rioting, and the media reports their supposed anger. But these Christians have actually been models of forgiving their enemies and loving them.
"Love your enemies." You know, the girl who ignored you in high school. The bully who picked on you in gym class. The neighbor who gossips about you. The kid who stole your Halloween candy. All those people who have scared you or hurt you or intimidated you. Do you think you can really love them?
Truth be told, you like the Old Testament idea of "an eye for an eye." You are like everyone else, preferring what is "fair." Bullies and thieves should get what's coming to them, right? For all their cruelty you don't dare love them; you want them to be punished! Face it, you cheered when the Wicked Witch of the West was melted by Dorothy. In Star Wars, you were thrilled when the Emperor was thrown down the shaft of the Death Star. In real life, you had a personal sense of justice when Saddam Hussein was hung, and in 1990, you smiled as you saw young people chisel away at the Berlin Wall, until it came toppling down.
But are you so sure you want to live by "an eye for an eye?" Stop and think for a moment about yourself. Are you perfect? Do you treat absolutely everyone with pure kindness and love, constantly? Or have you ever, even if only for the slightest second, sinned? Have you fallen short of expectations? Have you even accidentally hurt someone's feelings? My friends, you are sinners.
And there is some very bad news. "an eye for an eye" gives a green light to responding in kind when you transgress against someone. At least to the human mind, trying to justify actions and retaliations, the victim of sin can respond with sin.
It quickly becomes a nasty, never-ending spiral into the depths of sin. One responds to his treatment from another. Then he responds because he was treated poorly. Then the other. It never stops.
But take a step back and look. "The wages of sin is death." The Lord is firm and direct here. Sin deserves death. Sin makes you His enemy. "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." King David reminds you that even from your very first moment as a single cell inside your mother, you have been flawed and filled with sin. Before you could even think, or choose any of it, you were an enemy of God.
That is actually a terrifying thought. Think about it; the Lord is the only One who is absolutely perfect, while you are filled with sin. He could be constantly punishing you with this "eye for an eye" mentality. And yet, He does not. You see, the Lord "loves [His] enemies." He does not desire your punishment; He longs to lavish His love on you.
The Lord God rejoices to take His enemies and transform them into His children. "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Yes! You were an enemy of God, but Jesus came and gave Himself up for you. He suffered and died the "eye for an eye" death of the cross, so that you can be spared of punishing death. He wrestled death and burst from the tomb triumphant, conquering our true enemies of sin, death, and hell. As He worked this victory, you were rescued from the camp of God's enemies, and restored as His child.
None of us are getting what we deserve. That's Good News! Jesus has saved you from being His enemy, and loves you! He has rescued you in Holy Baptism, and shown His love by transforming you into God's own child.
Our dear Lord does indeed love His enemies. But is that all it is, an example? Not at all. By loving you,His enemies, He opened the kingdom of heaven to you. Christ won forgiveness, life,and salvation on the cross. Now through His holy gifts of Baptism, Absolution,and His Holy Supper, He delivers these amazing treasures. He is loving you, who were His enemies.
So rejoice, dear friends in Christ. You once were His enemies. But Jesus loves His enemies, and reached out and saved you. He has restored your relationship with His Father, so that He is your Father too!
And now our gracious Lord "prepares a table before [you] in the presence of His [former] enemies, [and His] cup overflows." Come, your dear, sweet Jesus who loves and saves His enemies has forgiven and renewed you, so you are no longer His enemy. He bids you to come to His Table where His cup overflows, and where you will dine on His Body and Blood, as He fills you with the Feast of His Love. Amen.