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October 11 lesson: Love for Enemies

September 23, 2020
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Love for Enemies

Fall Quarter: Love for One Another
Unit 2: Inclusive Love


Sunday school lesson for the week of October 11, 2020
By
Dr. D. Craig Rikard

Lesson Scripture: Luke 6: 27-36
Key Verse: To you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat him (Luke 6:27-28).

Lesson Aims
  • Doing the unthinkable for the sake of love.
  • Contrast Jesus means of interacting with those who challenge him with our temptation to do otherwise.
  • Learn how-to live-in mercy with all
Refusing to see only the evil in another

In conducting one of the funeral services many years ago the entire family of the deceased met me in the yard. Among the first things they said to me was, “Don’t say a good word about him.” They continued, “He was a lousy father and grandfather and deserves nothing good spoken in the service.” Naturally, young and green, I was stunned and clueless as to how to handle such a moment. I conducted the eulogy by talking about the love of Jesus, who could see goodness and something worth redeeming in those who hurt him most. Whether they were satisfied, I don’t know. But I was called to speak the gospel, and I felt this was indeed the message of the gospel. The nature of our sin would desire revenge and one last shot at hurting them as they had hurt the family through the years.

It truly is amazing that Jesus not only loved those who could literally be mean and unkind, and yet see good in them. He could see some attribute worth saving when my eyes were blind to it.

Some debate this passage from Luke as being different from Matthews’ sermon on the mount. I could certainly be mistaken, but I have no difficulty believing Jesus uttered such similar words in different places. This sermon was at the heart of his teaching, and more beautifully, at the heart of his life. I do believe the message was especially for his disciples, though others around heard the message and certainly remembered it and took it to heart. But this was the life to which the disciples were called to live. It was the life Jesus would teach, preach, live, and give his entire life as the most powerful expression possible. Even more profound for us is the fact that Jesus is describing the life he expects from his church. Since the church is the body of Christ, it must then embody this teaching in an authentic manner.

To you who are listening

Initially this sounds like an odd introduction to the sermon. But Jesus has always made a clear distinction between hearing and listening. He said in Matthew 11:15, “You who have ears to hear, let him hear.” We hear hundreds of varied sounds every day and pay little attention to any of them unless they possess a direct bearing on our life. But Jesus is asking us to listen as those who understand his words do indeed have a bearing on their life. As a matter of fact, these words are to be their life, the expression of their faith and that which is at the core of their life in relationship with others.

These words of Jesus sound very difficult, for they are. But just because they are difficult does not mean they are not possible. Moral issues can be very difficult because many moral issues we have learned since childhood. Granted, we live on a journey of learning to live this life. Paul called it “a race;” “a course.” But it is important to understand that every day is intended to be another step along this path of Jesus’ incredible love. This love refuses revenge when revenge is by far the easier behavior. Jesus’ sermon asks us to look for the redemptive in some who are hard-hearted and so selfish they make loving them difficult. Yet, Jesus calls us to love them because they are God’s child, which he expressed as worth his sacrifice on the cross.

But Jesus isn’t just asking us to “look at people differently;” he is asking us to treat them differently. We are to treat them as the beloved of God. I can look for the good in another far easier than I can treat them as being of great value to God,

An Incredible Ethic

The Sermon on the Mount is considered one of the highest moral statements in the world. Liberal theologian Rudolph Bultmann considered the Sermon on the Mount as so morally high and noble that Jesus had to say it because he believed the end of the world was near. But nothing could be further than the truth. This was an ethical statement he desired from his followers daily, as a way of life that could change the world. Some struggle with the content of the sermon because it exists as counter to our human way of life. We are sinners who are egocentric. Jesus’ teaching is asking us to lay down our selfish desires and self-centered perspective of life for the good of others; some of these others can even live lives that are immoral and uncaring. But our calling is not to judge them, but to see them differently and treat them as Jesus would. Jesus said if we want to find our life, we must lose it. If we want to find it, we give it away. This is the most difficult journey I seek to walk daily. Taking up the cross and following Jesus to redeem those I consider not worth redeeming is counter to the natural manner I would rather live my life. From my childhood I have been taught to look after myself and do that which brings me the most joy. Jesus is asking me to accept a totally different life. He has promised to empower us to live in self-sacrifice by dwelling in the Holy Spirit. Thus, we are not asked to walk this journey alone. We are accompanied by the one who lived this ethical, loving life perfectly. Following Jesus in obedience to the demands of this sermon is not easy just because Christ lives within us. We still battle a lifestyle we have been taught most of our life. But the life of Jesus is not only possible, it is rewarding and transforming. We indeed find the highest value of our lives in giving our self-centered life away.

Do you believe the ethical demands of the Sermon on the Mount are too difficult for practical living, and are they mere ideals? Some believe Jesus’ ethics are ideals akin to stars. A sailor can navigate by noting the movement of the stars, but we can never reach them. Is the Sermon on the Mount intended therefore to be a journey toward the ideal?

Bless and Pray

To bless another is to speak the love and truth of God over them. Remember, in Judaism words had and continue to have creative power. It isn’t coincidental that God created the world by “speaking it into existence.” And in John’s Gospel 1:1 he opens the good news by writing, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was and is God.” The Messiah is the word incarnate. His presence is eternal, his ministry is irrevocable, and the content of his salvation is forever and unstoppable.

Once something was spoken it set forth a course of action that was as good as done and complete. The words were irrevocable. Thus, when the Jews said a vow, it was binding. A contract was made by simply speaking. To speak God’s love, mercy, wellbeing, and goodness over the life of another was to set forth a way of life that had creative power. In a culture that takes the power of words so lightly it can be difficult to grasp the creative power of words to the Jewish people in contrast to our use of words in the west.

How often do we truly pray for God’s blessing upon someone who has deeply hurt us? What is the difference between contracts and promises today in contrast to Judaism in Jesus’ day?

To pray is not a weak exercise we use as a last resort. How often have we said, “I’m praying for you,” as a manner of saying “good bye?” Praying is speaking powerful, creative words to God very often for the benefit of one we love and goodness for their life. When the words are sincere and consistent with the Gospel they too set forth a course of action. The action may not always manifest itself in the way we might choose. It will be an action that considers the redemption of everyone in the world. Therefore, there are requests I make in prayer that are not fulfilled for they are inconsistent with the high ethic of Jesus in Luke and Matthew. We do not live in a vacuum; we live in a community where all are equally important and loved of God. If I truly love one who has deeply hurt me, the most Christlike action I can take is to genuinely pray God’s blessings of love upon them, thus loosening redemptive words to work in their life and those affected by their life.

Forgiveness and generosity

Usually, when we speak of another hurting us, we mean verbally inflicting upon us actions that emotionally sting. I admit, it is very difficult for me to forgive and reach out in generosity when that person has intentionally hurt me. First, it humbles me. It makes me appear sheepish, or as some might say, cowardly. The world expects an eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth, yet it is amazing how often this O.T. passage is quoted and Jesus’ command to love and forgive are ignored. To act in a manner that refuses to injure in like manner can look weak to the world. Yet, I doubt walking the Via Dolorosa with a cross beam across one’s back after a severe beating could be understood as a weak action by one who was known as a miracle worker to the curious crowd. Even on Golgotha the crowd still expected Jesus to call down an act of retribution from heaven. He did not, though he could. It requires the most noble form of humility to allow another to strike you in public, and you just stand there and humbly do nothing but take it. We are not being asked to “just take it” and do nothing in return. We are asked to return their humiliating action with tangible acts of forgiveness. We live in a culture that values possessions so highly some would kill or injure to protect something they own. In this statement Jesus puts possessions in their proper place as they relate to human existence. Nothing is more valued than the soul. Jesus willfully gave everything he owned, including his life. As a matter of fact, he asks us to respond to their stealing our possessions by giving them an act of grace that is unexpected and transformative. It is astounding that Jesus places no conditions on his request. He doesn’t say, “You can protect your property if. . .” or “You can forgive the thief if he or she . . .” or “We might allow them to be forgiven if perhaps they need what we have….”

Was Jesus a total pacifist? Is it permissible to protect one’s family against intruders that threaten their life? Are there special circumstances when protecting one’s property is permissible? How do we reconcile Jesus’ statements with war? Is it absolutely wrong to own possessions others covet so deeply they attempt to take them? There are most likely many other questions dealing with war, pacifism, possessions and the protection of those items. Let these questions lead you into some interesting discussions as followers of Jesus. Expect a variety of responses, some quite passionate. The Golden Rule opens the door to questions and perceptions perhaps we’ve never considered.

Jesus is asking his followers to choose grace over penalty. Who owns what? And, who has the right to injure another over a blessing God gave in the first place? After all, everything is God’s creation and gift to humanity.

The nation of Israel, especially the Zealots, had one major desire: drive the Romans from their land. They considered Israel as God’s gift to them, and therefore did not belong to Rome. Thus, when Jesus asked his followers to give to another, especially Romans, it would have irritated almost every Jewish man and woman. But Jesus was not defining the kingdom of Israel as a limited geographical possession for the Jews alone. The kingdom was always intended to exist in the heart of the Jewish people as a gift. It was a gift for which they would display great affection, and most importantly was a gift intended to be an instrument that would transform the world into a reflection of God’s kingdom believed given by God. He never called for instruments for war or violence. Remember, later prophets like Isaiah were used by God to beat weapons into plowshares. Isaiah offered us a vision of the world streaming to Jerusalem for truth, liberation, love and justice. Jesus called for a measure of forgiveness, and giving that was very difficult to understand by the Jewish people. To enact violence did not matter to many of the Jews against the Romans. Killing an enemy was considered acceptable. In the earlier years of Israeli life warfare was a necessity and permissible. However, Israel was involved in a moral progression designed by God. They would grow in grace and forgiveness and begin to understand the value of all to God. This was a slow process, but it did involve a moral development that would eventually be perfectly lived in and through Jesus.

Jesus never diluted his message or altered truth to make God’s love of the world more palatable. Love is love. Forgiveness is forgiveness. The power of truth is the truth. These were the weapons that would usher in the kingdom of God when swords, knives and violence would always fail. Violence only created more violence. Hatred created greater hate. Revenge always resulted in greater attempts to make the one who did the injury pay even more. There was a kingdom, God’s kingdom, and it would express its power and might on Golgotha between two forgiven thieves.

Lover to All

Though the Sermon on the Mount was mostly heard by the Jews around Galilee, now Jesus wanted his message reaching and transforming the world. This section of the sermon is often called “The Golden Rule.” Here Jesus is not just concerned with how these followers treat one another. He now is asking the entire world to consider how each person treats another. In the 1980s the self-help bookshelves in book stores were stocked with “How to love yourself” books. I admit I was a little puzzled. I met very few people who struggled with the issue of loving themselves, including me. Most of us loved the self and were very concerned with maintaining the value of the self. I did note that many did struggle with learning to love others as much as they loved themselves. I met few who wanted to learn how to care for the self and value the soul. Most seemed to already value the self. I also found it interesting that as these self-help books flew off the shelves, many were purchasing the bestseller by Elizabeth Kubler Ross, “On Death and Dying.” So, we wanted to live in a loving, meaningful manner, and yet admitted we had yet come to terms with death.

In the one statement, “love one another as you love yourself,” Jesus captured the one self-help statement that enriched all our social relationships. Loving the self was not that difficult and required few seminars. However, learning to love every other person from every walk of life with that same depth of love was the difficult section of this Golden Rule. If the world truly loved and respected each other with the same love of self we would begin to transform the world and note an obvious decrease in human violence. Furthermore, we would notice the greater power of loving others as the self. It would become possible which facet of the Golden Rule was far more powerful. Our teacher? The only person I know who loves with that broad and deep dimensions of love and treats every soul as precious to God is Jesus. Who loves themselves enough to die for the best and worst? Who would forgive every soul as one truly made in the image of God? How powerful is this love? It immediately began to change the world and still continues to transform the world with the power that fills the human soul, with a measure of love possible only through the love of God in Jesus.

Conclusion

Christianity doesn’t simply offer us a moral set of rules. Our faith differs from others in that we are given a teacher who perfectly embodies the highest moral, ethical life possible. At its foundation is the Christ, the embodiment of perfect love. We are called to imitate his life. In our weakness we are offered the strength of the Holy Spirit to empower us to be the church, the embodiment of Jesus. The church is the body of Christ and therefore the incarnation of his perfect love. In his humanity he above all others understands the temptation to love the self above all others. Yet, he alone understands what it means to love everyone as precious to God and is willing to accept our worst behaviors when he has the power to respond with revenge. In its most simple expression, we are called to imitate the God who made us, loves us all equally, and refuses the mighty power of revenge, accepting a measure of humble love that transcends all other expressions of love in the world.

Prayer

Almighty God, you have blessed us with the greatest power in the world. We have received the gift of treating all with respect and love even when living out such love is costly and very difficult for the world to understand. It is a risky love we accept. In Jesus’ name, the lover of every soul, Amen.

Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at craigrikard169@yahoo.com.

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