Love Your Enemies

Love Your Enemies

February 19, 2017
Pastor Monte Stevens – North Riverdale Lutheran Church – Dayton, Ohio

Matthew 5:38-48 – Version: The Message

38-42 “Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

In commenting on this passage someone once said, “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors and to love our enemies…Probably because they are generally the same people.”

This is the third week we have continued reading from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. 

Did you hear how I called it, Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, because it’s not really Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew has pulled together many of Jesus’ pity sayings, and lines of wisdom, and organized them together. 

As you remember from last week’s sermon Matthew places Jesus on a mountain to make it clear that Jesus is just like Moses who shared God’s instructions from a mountain Mount Sinai except Jesus, in Matthew’s understanding, is the new and better Moses Jesus is the Life-Giver, while Moses was the law Giver.

As you remember, I mentioned that Luke organized some of these same teachings together, but didn’t place Jesus on a mountain.  Rather Luke has Jesus teach on a flat plain. Luke also organizes these teachings differently because Luke is talking to a different audience, with different needs.

This is important to know because it helps us understand what scripture is. What the Word of God is, and how we are to use it for our lives of discipleship.

How we use and understand scripture is critical to our success and how the misunderstanding of scripture can lead to others rejecting organized religion.  There is a lot of rejection these days.  In fact, I will try to make the case that their criticism of the church and their explanations as to why they have abandoned the church is directly related to how they see broader Christianity use scripture.

We will hear their voice and listen to determine how their criticism is valid and discover who uses scripture this way and to what effect.  If we are to use scripture for our spiritual lives, we need to know what scripture is, how to interpret it, and how use it.

When we use the phrase “The Word of God” what do we mean by that?  If we mean, that scripture has dropped down from Heaven and so it’s inerrant and infallible, I think we quickly miss the point of scripture.

Just take Jesus in our passage today and from the past few Sundays.  Jesus takes a well-known line of scripture and says “You have heard it said, but I say to you.” That was last Sunday.

Today he says, “Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look” “An eye for an eye, tooth for tooth. Is that going to get us anywhere?” Sure it is he says. “It will get us all blind!”

Then Jesus says, “Here’s what I propose.  Don’t hit back at all if someone strikes you stand there and take it.”  If you get dragged into court and someone sues you for your shirt giftwrap your best coat and give it to them. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff.  Live generously.”

And Jesus is just getting started. Right?  While we’re still in shock over that, and we’re saying, Right Jesus. Jesus continues on “You’re familiar with the old law ‘Love your friend’ and the unwritten law ‘hate your enemy?’” I challenging that “I’m telling you to love your enemies.”

So first, let’s just recognize that Jesus is taking the scripture of his day and finding weaknesses in it. He is challenging the scripture of his day. He is saying the “Word of God” is not as “Word of God” as we thought.

We won’t get into all the reasons why Jesus felt free to change the scripture of day, or why he chose to lift up some scripture and disregard other scripture.

What we need to learn this morning(and remember) is that, for Jesus, scripture was something that could change and evolve and be adapted. That’s quite different than how many understand “Word of God” or scripture today.

I think many, if not most of us, might have been fine with Jesus leaving scripture alone and not changing it at all because it sure is easier to just hit back at people who annoys us and hate our enemies and just love those who love us.

We know tit-for-tat living quite well.  We are well seasoned in the law of retribution.

Jesus changed the scripture of his day to have us evolve ethically and morally because the kingdom of God was inbreaking and transformation was needed.

In a word, Jesus says, “Grow Up.  You’re kingdom subjects now.  Live like it!” As followers of Jesus, Jesus places new ethical and moral demands upon us, and if those new demands are lived out in the real world the world will be transformed, one person, one community at a time. 

There are about 30 of us who are reading various sermons and speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We are being challenged, because Dr. King is challenging us with the kingdom teachings of Jesus. He brought the words of Jesus to bear upon the segregated and racist culture. He let Jesus challenge the system of hate and subjugation so that liberation and life might be experienced, by both those oppressed and the oppressor. And he took the teaching of Jesus and told those protesting we will not win if we use the philosophy of tit-for-tat. We must practice the non-violence of Jesus; live by his wisdom. We will not win if we try to destroy our enemy. But rather we do not have an enemy. We have a brothers and sisters who are blind and who need our love so that their blindness may be healed.

What made the civil rights movement such a success? It’s because they took this passage, “Love your Enemy” from the lips of Jesus and put it into practice; all the while receiving tremendous abuse by a system that did not know how to live generously.

In Dr. Kings sermon titled, “Loving Your Enemies,” he spoke these profound words: “There will be no permanent solution to the race problem until oppressed men develop the capacity to love their enemies. The darkness of racial injustice will be dispelled only by the light of forgiving love.  For more than three centuries American Negroes have been battered by the iron rod of oppression, frustrated by day and bewildered by night by unbearable injustice, and burdened with the ugly weight of discrimination. Forced to live with those shameful conditions, we are tempted to become bitter and to retaliate with corresponding hate.  We must in strength and humility meet hate with love. While abhorring segregation, we shall love the segregationist.  This is the only way to create the Beloved Community.”

This, my friends, is living generously. It is to that Living Generously that I would like to now turn.  

On Friday, February 10th, a very generous person died.  His name was Mike Ilitch.  He was the owner of the Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Tigers.  Detroit was beloved his city. During his ownership of the Red Wings he won 4 Stanly Cups!  He was so beloved that thousands upon thousands of people stood in long lines just to have the chance to walk past his casket.  One resident of Detroit said “I think Mr. Ilitch was the most significant person in Detroit. He was Detroit.”

If his name is still not ringing a bell maybe this will help. Mike Ilitch was the founder of the billion-dollar pizza empire, Little Caesar’s. You know their tag line: Pizza! Pizza!

A little background might help. Mike Ilitch was born on July 20, 1929, in Detroit to Macedonian immigrant parents. He graduated from Thomas M. Cooley High School in Detroit and spent four years in the U.S. Marine Corps. In the early 1950s, he was an infielder in the Tigers farm system until a knee injury ended his athletic career. After a few stints as a door-to-door salesman, he and two partners started a company that sold awnings.

He met his soon to be wife Marian in 1954 on a blind date and they married within one year. When his partners told him they were buying out his share of the awning business, Ilitch and his wife spent $10,000 to open a carry-out pizza restaurant in Garden City on May 8, 1959. This was before the first Pizza Hut, Domino’s or Papa John’s had opened. Marian named the store Little Caesars after her husband, who she thought looked like the Roman emperor and hadn’t yet accomplished much. As the pizza empire grew, his millions grew into billions. By all accounts he was a kind person and very philanthropic. He did many very visible things for the city of Detroit. Like spending millions saving the Fox Theater and bringing it back to its former glory. But he also practiced what I call silent philanthropy … which after his death is slowly becoming known.

You know the story of Rosa Parks, but how many of you know that after the bus boycott in Montgomery was over, both she and her husband were fired because of their involvement? This led them to moving several places and eventually Rosa Parks moving to Detroit.  In 1994 someone broke into her apartment and robber her. 

Damon Keith is a federal judge who knew both Mike Ilitch and Rosa Parks.  Damon Keith said, “Mike, I don’t want Rosa Parks going back to that bad neighborhood.” So Ilitch arranged for her to move to a much nicer apartment.  Then he sent checks for the next 11 years, paying her rent for the rest of her life. Keith said. “Mike just believed in helping people,”

“It’s important to know that there are people of wealth in this country who are still concerned with the underprivileged and those who are deprived,” Rosa Parks taught us all about courage, dignity, and resolve. When she needed help, along came another teacher with a powerful lesson of his own. The purest form of giving is when no one knows your name. 

Jesus in his ministry teaches us to Live Generously. He is constantly stretching our moral and ethical behavior. Jesus will call you to places, like he did Rosa, to a segregated bus to love her neighbor and not act with revenge, but rather love.

Jesus calls us all to live generously.  We may not have the wealth of a Mike Ilitch, but we all have the ability to be generous and live like Jesus calls us to live.

For as we live as Jesus calls us to live, we will be living like the kingdom subjects we are. We will be living out our God-given identity.

Living generously toward others, as God lives toward you.

Here’s what Jesus proposed: Live generously!  So we will.