Fr. John Allison
Genesis 45:3-11, 15
1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
February 20, 2022
Christ Church, Hudson
Our Gospel reading today pick up where we left of last week, with the continuation of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. If you remember, last week that meant Luke’s version of the beatitudes, the list of those who were blessed, along with those for whom Jesus expresses remorse—and it’s not usual suspects. Indeed, most of us here gathered fell into that latter category. And so the teaching, the hard teaching, continues.
Today, Jesus offers some tangible steps we are to take if we are to be his followers: “I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who hurt you.” Love. Do good. Bless. Pray. All things we can do, for sure. But then there is this business of adding, “for your enemies.” Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who abuse you. That puts a new spin on familiar practices. For me, I could even say it calls on me to further examine the question who is my enemy?
When I was in seminary, I had a professor who, as part of an exercise, one day asked the class to make a list of our enemies. Everyone sat there is silence for a few moments before one person said, what if we don’t have any enemies? If you believe you do not have enemies you are not paying attention. I think we, as a people who strive to follow teachings centered on love, have a tendency to avoid recognizing feelings inside of ourselves that sometimes run counter to our aspiration to be a people who live from a place of love, from a place of God’s peace.
Who is your enemy? For the first century Jews to whom Jesus was speaking it would have been a long list of outsiders who were not part of the covenant. It may have included beggars and thieves but it also included your run of the mill Gentile or Samaritain. For us, the list may be different, but we do have enemies. It may be someone who hurt us in words or deed. It may be someone who is so different from us we just can’t understand their behavior or politics and we avoid them. It may be someone with whom we’ve had an argument and severed relations. The list could go on and on but the point is that we are called to actively love those people.
In my own case, as I’ve been pondering this question of just who my enemies are, I was reminded of an event several years ago when an acquaintance lost his temper and said some very hurtful and mean things to me. I remember first being shocked because the attack seemed to come out of nowhere, and then I remember being angry and wanting to retaliate. When it first happened I was so shocked I didn’t really say anything, but in the weeks that followed, my shock turned to resentment and then to anger and I would find myself plotting or planning just what I might say to this person. How I might retaliate. I had been hurt and I wanted to hurt him.
It was some time before I recognized the hate that had taken seed in my heart. What had begun as an isolated event in the reaction of this person had grown into something that had taken on new life in me. That’s what evil does. That’s what hate does. It infects us and grows to obscure and even deform our hearts.
For me, the healing began when I recognized this feeling in me, when I was aware of how it would pop up into my consciousness when I was least expecting it and before I knew it had set off a long chain of hateful thoughts. The healing began with prayer for that person. Genuine heartfelt prayers for love and the well-being of this person when I recognized the very opposite in myself. That’s not easy and, like most of what we do as disciples, it’s not a once and for all action, but it is what we are called to as followers of Jesus.
He couldn’t speak any more plainly in this teaching. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.”
This teaching essentially develops around what we know as the Golden Rule, but as I’ve continued in my life as a disciple I’ve come to understand just how challenging that rule is. I can remember, when I was quite young, first learning the Golden Rule, and how my mother would remind me of it at various times and how it might even influence my behavior in very specific circumstances, but here, as it comes to me today, I’ve come to understand just how much it demands of us. But what we must remember is that we are called to follow this teaching not because we must earn God’s love by doing these things that Jesus teaches us. No. We do these things, we love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us and pray for those who abuse us BECAUSE God loves us. God loves us first. We respond to God’s love by loving others. “Be merciful, just as your father is merciful.” Love one another as God loves us.
The theologian Karl Barth once said, the basic cause of all sin can be reduced to ingratitude. We sin, we miss the mark of God’s love, when we fail to love others as God loves us. Just as God’s love for us in Christ is pure gift, an offering so great we can do nothing to earn it, so is our love for others—for our neighbors and for our enemies alike. There is no distinction. We sin, we turn away from God’s love, when we forget that. Our thanksgiving is manifest when we come to this altar but that’s only the beginning. It continues when we step away and go about in our everyday lives. Our thanksgiving is in our love; it’s in the good we do; it’s in the blessing we offer; it’s in our prayers.
In just a few minutes we will share in another kind of beginning as we will baptize Lily Annabelle Snow. In the affirmation of the Baptismal vows, in our prayers for Lily and her parents and godparents, we affirm God’s love for us and we affirm the commitment we share as the Body of Christ to be vessels of that love in the world. And, as we see in our scripture today, that isn’t an easy task, certainly not a task that is complete at the end of the rite. Indeed, today is a great beginning for Lily, a beginning marked with joy and thanksgiving, but it doesn’t stop here. Lily’s journey with God starts here but will continue and unfold over the years of her life in ways we can only imagine. Like all of us, Lily will have joy and sorrow; friends and enemies; good times and bad times. What we can be certain of is that God’s love for her will not waver—no matter what. It’s the same love in which we share and participate as members of the Body of Christ that we welcome Lily. May we give thanks with our whole selves, in word and deed, to enemy as well as friend, as we live out our own baptisms. That’s the life of Christ we all share and into which we baptize Lily. Amen.