Well, let’s finish up the sermon on the plain from Luke…
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”
Jesus is preaching on loving enemies, turning the other cheek. We don’t much care for this teaching. Pastors don’t want to preach from this. It causes trouble for them, people get mad at this. People leave churches because pastors preach passages like this…
We live in a world built on a foundation of violence. It’s the way the system is. It’s violence we are taught to sanctify and cherish. Even if we don’t sanctify and cherish it, we at least sanitize it and conceal it. To critique the cornerstone of violence in our culture will draw the wrath of many.
This is why pastors don’t preach from this. But at least one pastor preached, and lived, directly from this teaching of Jesus. I shared from this sermon a couple of months ago, during the week in which we celebrate the Martin Luther King, Jr holiday. I’m going to share it again.
It was near Christmas in 1957 in Montgomery, Alabama, when Martin Luther King Jr was 28 years old, he was the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. This 28 year old pastor in Dexter, Alabama preached a sermon from this passage called ‘Loving your enemies”.
When Martin Luther King, Jr preaches about loving enemies, we must remember that for he and his congregation enemies are not theoretical. They are not people who’ve said mean things about them on Facebook. They have real enemies. These are persecuted people. Two years earlier, Mlk had his house bombed even while his wife and ten month old son were in his home. These people have been beaten and unjustly dragged off to jail. To preach a sermon on loving your enemies to that congregation has consequences, it has teeth. It means something. It’s not theoretical…
Here are some excerpts from that sermon –
The evil deed of the enemy neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is. An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy. We must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy, but to win his friendship and understanding. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Violence multiples violence. Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies or else? The chain reaction of evil hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars, must be broken or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.
To our most bitter opponents we say we shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we shall still continue to love you. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour to beat us and leave us half dead and we shall still love you. But be the assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day, we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.
That’s how you change the world. But – you might have to die in the process. Ten years later, Martin Luther king did. If you’re going to change the world like that, you might have to die, which probably has something to do with why Jesus said take up your cross and follow me. But that is how you change the world.
But here’s the sad part – Martin Luther King had to learn to use creative non violence to change the world from Ghandi, who used creative non violence to drive the British Empire out of India. Where did Ghandi learn it? From Jesus. So, a Baptist pastor had to learn from a Hindu how to live and change the world the Jesus Way. Why? Because Christians (now more that ever) have largely given up on the Jesus Way, exchanged it for sanctifying the ways of force. We’d much rather change the world with bullets than the cross. We much prefer other people’s suffering to our own.
We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We don’t want that. We’re not interested in that kind of Christianity. Those aren’t the promises we line up on Sunday to claim.
We must understand that the Kingdom of God is without coercion. The Kingdom of God persuades by love, witness, reason, rhetoric, and if need be, martyrdom, but never by force. G.K. Chesterton once said the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting, but difficult and left untried.
Martin Luther King’s Sermon was not given in an academic, theoretical state. Do to us what you will and we shall still continue to love you. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour to beat us and leave us half dead and we shall still love you. But be the assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day, we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory. Two years earlier his own home had been bombed while his wife and son were inside. Think about how angry and retaliatory we become when someone cuts us off in traffic. Or insults us in Facebook. Martin Luther Kings very family was physically attacked. He had enemies who meant he and his family physical harm. Yet he still preached, and lived, by the ideal of loving them. Was he a madman? Or Jesus?
Changing the world by embracing suffering. How very Christlike. This sermon is nothing less than a call to live the Jesus Way, a call to live the sermon on the Mount. And it changed the world. We keep arguing that the Sermon on the Mount is not practical, it doesn’t really work. We get to this part about loving enemies and we have all our arguments about why we can’t do that. It is practical, it does work, it just takes more time than the way of Satan. But the way of Satan doesn’t change the world, it only recycles the sin.
Martin Luther King changed the world. That’s why we have a holiday in his honor, because he changed the way we see the world. He didn’t just liberate African Americans, he also liberated white Americans from out intolerable burden of enacting injustice upon other people. He had the courage to follow the Jesus Way. Do we?
Before I wrap this up…from Matthew.
“”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 do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, 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.” Matthew 5:43-48 ESV. Jesus is talking about loving enemies. He sums it up by saying You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Keep that in mind as we wrap up the sermon on the plain in Luke.
“”If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:32-36 ESV. Jesus says we will be like this because it is how we will be like god. God is merciful. In the sermon in the Mount it is ended with be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. We can misunderstand this as a call to some sort of flawless perfection we know we are incapable of. But Luke helps us to interpret this a little better, Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. The perfection Jesus is calling us to is a maturity in mercy, where we are merciful because God is merciful. We begin to have the supreme characteristic of mercy that characterizes what God is like, and what is revealed by Christ. We begin to have that worked into our own lives. Jesus says now, you’re becoming sons and daughters if the most high God, because you are mature and perfected in mercy.
The Jesus Way, the way of mercy, does work. It’s been proven to work, from St Francis of Assisi, to Ghandi, to Martin Luther King, Jr, where it is tried, where it is practiced, it changes the world. But it’s also difficult. You might even die in the process.
Question is – are we even willing to try?