1 Advent Yr A

1 Advent Yr A, 2/12/2007

Isa 2:1-5

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson,

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Living in Hope”

 

You may remember the story of the long and rough Atlantic crossing where the seasick passenger was leaning over the rail of the ocean liner and had turned several shades of green. A steward came along and tried to cheer him up by saying, “Don’t be discouraged, sir! You know, no one’s ever died of seasickness yet!” The nauseous passenger looked up at the steward with baleful eyes and replied: “Oh, don’t say that! It’s only the hope of dying that’s kept me alive this long!”1

I hope that it’s NOT only the hope of dying that’s kept us alive this long! Although we need not fear death, and are given hope after death—nonetheless, today in our first passage from Isaiah we are given the opportunity to live in hope. Today we begin another new Church Year with this first Sunday in the season of Advent, which is the Sunday of hope.

I don’t know if you noticed it, but in the opening verse of our first lesson, it is the faculty of seeing more so than of hearing or speaking that is emphasised. Isaiah the Jerusalem prophet and preacher is given a beautiful vision of hope: “The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz SAW concerning Judah and Jerusalem. As the old adage has it, a picture contains at least one thousand words. What a wonderful picture-vision of future hope Isaiah describes here today! Mount Zion—another name for Jerusalem and the temple there—shall be the highest of all mountains. Here the prophet is likely meaning higher not in the literal sense of feet or kilometres; rather, in the sense of the most important place on earth spiritually, insofar as it is the place where humankinds’ highest dreams and hopes shall come into fruition. It shall be God’s capital city of all nations. Peoples from all directions shall flock to it for God’s instruction, God’s Torah, or as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message: “He’ll—i.e. God will—show us the way he works so we can live the way we’re made.” I like that, we shall be able to live the way God has truly made us to live. That is to say, it will be a living in hope because God shall exercise his perfect power to judge and arbitrate the nations which shall produce the result of transforming completely the way the world exits. The consequences of God’s judgement and arbitration shall be the beating of swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. Weapons of war and death shall become agricultural implements of peace and life—people shall no longer learn war any more. The endless resources presently being put into war shall end. Then there shall be enough resources to live in peace and prosperity for all nations. No more divisions of the world and its peoples into rich nations and poor nations. There shall be enough of everything for people to live healthy, meaningful, contented lives.

WOW! What a vision of hope that is! A vision of living hope for hundreds of thousands—even millions—of people down through the ages, right up until today. Is it for real, or is it too good to be true? Will the day ever come when God can actually right all wrongs and solve all of the world’s most difficult problems? Commenting on this passage, one scholar, Rev. Victor Zinkuratire, writes: Faced with so many problems that have no obvious solutions, Africans need to hear this message as an antidote to fatalism and as a prod to action.

Reading this poem in the context of contemporary Africa, with its seemingly insurmountable problems, one may be tempted to shun the challenge by trying to convince oneself that the opening phrase “In days to come” refers to the world beyond time rather than our present one. Certainly the Hebrew phrase can refer to the end time…but it can also refer to events within time…. It is in this latter sense that we in Africa should understand the phrase if we want this word of God to be a source of hope for us in our present hopelessness.2

I would suggest that it is not only the continent of Africa and its peoples that face such seemingly unresolved problems; rather, it is all nations and every people from every land who would do well to live in this hope during the present time with a view to a hope-filled future in anticipation of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

In the 1999 movie, Music Of The Heart, based on the true story of single parent, Roberta Guaspari (Meryl Streep), who, against all obstacles, pursues her vocational dream of teaching violin to children in an inner-city school. Roberta faces resistance from teachers, parents, and students alike.

However, with sheer perseverance, and a deep love for the children and the music, Roberta’s program and teaching talents produces successful and popular results. Several of her students gain enough confidence and inspiration to further their education and develop promising careers—including her own two sons.

Nonetheless, after ten years of teaching, the school district authorities threaten to eliminate Roberta’s program due to budget cutbacks. Roberta decides to fight back and discovers that several others—including world class professional musicians—support her cause and agree to perform a fundraising concert at Carnegie Hall.

Music of The Heart is a contemporary story that epitomizes, among other things, what it means to live in hope in the present and for the future. As Claire Booth Luce once said: “There is no such thing as a hopeless situation. There are only people who have gotten hopeless about it.”

Today, on this first Sunday of Advent, we are given the opportunity to begin again; to give up our false or misplaced hopes and renew our true hopes; to dream dreams; see visions like the prophet Isaiah; to live in hope now and for the future. The first candle of Advent is burning now and serves as a reminder of walking in the light of the LORD. Jesus our Light, has come, is ever coming in the everyday ordinary events of life, and, one day, shall come again to fulfill all of the biblical prophecies in a complete, definitive way. That is our hope, which gives us more than enough to live for in the present and for the future!

Our lives are like this first Advent candle of hope; they can shine light in the dark places of our community, our city, our province, our nation and world. It often starts out small—like baby Jesus did in a humble manger long ago. Yet, the more we exercise and live in hope, the larger it grows, until more and more people’s lives are touched by: a simple smile, a kind word, a loving deed, a heartfelt prayer, a shedding of tears, and shared joyful laughter. As lights burning with the Light of Christ in us and through us we can and do make a difference—spreading God’s life transforming hope to one and all! Ours is a living hope, for we worship and serve a living Messiah as he comes to us in and through life’s everyday events and the worshipping community gathered around the word and sacrament. Amen, come Lord Jesus!

 

 

1 Cited from: James S. Hewett, Editor, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1988), p. 292.

2 Victor Zinkuratire, “Isaiah 1-39,” in: Daniel Patte, General Editor, Global Bible Commentary (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004), p. 192.

 

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Crossroads Guitar Festival

Next to the Word of God, Martin Luther said that music was God’s second greatest gift to humankind. To that, I say “Amen!” Last night I had the opportunity to watch (and thoroughly enjoy) the Grammy Award®-winning king of guitar, Eric Clapton, who once again teams up with other guitar geniuses to present another Crossroads Guitar Festival, this time from Chicago, America’s blues capital. Like its predecessor, the concert was a benefit for Clapton’s Crossroads Centre in Antigua, a drug and alcohol education and treatment facility. “The Crossroads Festival is the realization of a dream for me, to gather a group of amazingly talented musicians to perform on one stage,” says Clapton, who remains on stage virtually throughout the entire concert. “The Crossroads performers are all musicians I admire and respect.” Hosted by comedian and actor Bill Murray, the program features a once-in-a-lifetime gathering of guitar superstars, including Jeff Beck, Robert Cray, Sheryl Crow, Vince Gill, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Los Lobos, John Mayer, Willie Nelson, Robbie Robertson, Hubert Sumlin, Jimmie Vaughan, Johnny Winter, Steve Winwood, and more.For those of you who enjoy guitar music, you can discover more by following this link

Sermon Christ the King Yr C

Christ the King Sunday Yr C, 25/11/2007

Jer 23:1-6

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson,

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“The LORD is our Righteousness”

 

James S. Hewett tells the following story: The lion was proud of his mastery of the animal kingdom. One day he decided to make sure all the other animals knew he was the king of the jungle. He was so confident that he bypassed the smaller animals and went straight to the bear. “Who is the king of the jungle?” the lion asked. The bear replied, “Why, you are, of course.” The lion gave a mighty roar of approval.

Next he asked the tiger, “Who is the king of the jungle?” The tiger quickly responded, “Everyone knows that you are, O mighty lion.”

Next on the list was the elephant. The lion faced the elephant and addressed his question: “Who is the king of the jungle?” The elephant immediately grabbed the lion with his trunk, whirled him around in the air five or six times, and slammed him into a tree. Then he pounded him onto the ground several times, dunked him under water in a nearby lake, and finally threw him up on the shore.

The lion—beaten, bruised, and battered—struggled to his feet. He looked at the elephant through sad and bloody eyes and said, “Look, just because you don’t know the answer is no reason for you to get mean about it!”1

Although some may find this story somewhat humorous, there is a truth to it similar to that of our first lesson from Jeremiah. In today’s first lesson, the prophet begins by speaking out against the political leadership of Judah. Jeremiah speaks a woe against Judah’s kings. He says they, in large part, are responsible for the sheep, the people of Judah being scattered and taken into Babylonian exile.

Indeed, Jeremiah had warned his contemporary, King Zedekiah, who was a puppet king, not to rebel against King Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army. However, Zedekiah did not listen, and therefore he, and the people of Judah suffered the tragic consequences—they were taken into Babylonian exile for seventy years. Like the vanity of the lion in the story who ends up being thrown around by the elephant; Zedekiah who out of vanity thinks he can throw his weight around and assert his authority; ends up being defeated by the Babylonian, King Nebuchadnezzar, and living under his authority.

However, as Jeremiah prophesied, the story did not end there. In verses three and four, Jeremiah tells us what God will do: First, he will gather the remnant of his scattered flock in exile and will bring them together to the fold. They shall return to Judah. Second, they shall be fruitful and multiply, in fulfillment of the covenant God made with his people. Third, God will raise up good shepherds-leaders over them who will shepherd them. These shepherds will not be corrupt or selfish or vain—they will genuinely care for the people.

According to Jeremiah the consequences of these liberating actions of God for the people of Judah are: they shall not live in fear any longer nor be dismayed, nor shall any of the people be missing. They shall live together in community and enjoy their freedom.

Then, in verses five and six, Jeremiah, speaking of the future, prophesied that the long-expected Messiah would eventually come. One scholar, Professor Ralph Klein, commenting on these verses, has this to say about a Hebrew word play, which underscores the important reign of the coming Messiah: The king’s new name “Yahweh is the source of our vindication” reads in Hebrew yhwh sidqenu.  This king can be seen as the direct opposite of Jeremiah’s contemporary Zedekiah, written in Hebrew as sidqiyahu.  “Yahweh is the source of our vindication” is “Zedekiah” written backwards!  The messiah’s name points to the real source of hope:  Yahweh is the source of our vindication.2 In other words, just as the name of King Zedekiah is the reverse of the coming Messiah-King, so too shall the reign of the coming Messiah-King be the opposite of Zedekiah’s reign as well as that of all previous unfaithful shepherd-kings of Israel and Judah.

Today, on this last Sunday of the church calendar year, we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, also known as Reign of Christ Sunday. We Christians, reading Jeremiah’s prophecy of the Messiah-King, interpret it to refer to Jesus as our Messiah-King. In this prophecy, it is rather telling that the name of the Messiah-King is: “The LORD is our righteousness.” This name for Jesus, a righteous Branch from David’s line, also describes quite well the very function of Jesus’ reign.

Over against all other kings in history who are sinful, self-centred, and all-too-easily corrupt and unjust in the abuse of their authority and power; King Jesus, according to Jeremiah, “shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”

As we know from the New Testament, the wisdom of King Jesus is a different kind of wisdom than that of this world. The apostle Paul tells us that the foolishness of God is wiser than worldly wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than earthly strength. What kind of wisdom is that? It is the wisdom of Jesus Christ crucified. On the cross Jesus reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords. Unlike the palaces and thrones of earthly kings, the palace of Jesus is his kingdom, which is not of this world, and consists of the world’s poor, weak and forgotten peoples. Jesus’ throne was not decorated with silver or gold or any other expensive material—rather, it was a plain, ordinary, wooden cross. That is the wisdom of King Jesus, who came to welcome the last and least first; and those who are now first shall be last and least in his future realm. Such wisdom is the reverse of all worldly kings.

Jeremiah goes on to promise that King Jesus our Messiah “shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” Unlike all worldly kings who can be subject to bribes and political intrigue to protect their authority and power; King Jesus shall not execute justice and righteousness on the basis of bribes or political intrigues. Unlike all other kings, King Jesus shall grant justice to the lowest of the low; unlike the case of that poor widow who kept coming to the unjust judge; King Jesus shall come to deliver his justice even before the widow states her case. Unlike worldly justice, which relies so heavily on military and political force; the justice of King Jesus shall be based on perfect peace, the non-violent shalom of God.

Moreover, combined with the justice of King Jesus, there shall be righteousness. Jeremiah says: “The LORD IS OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” God sees us as righteous by looking at Jesus. Unlike all other kings, King Jesus is without sin. What he has and is—namely, his righteousness—becomes what we shall receive as a gift of grace. He is OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS because he is the only one who could ever be perfectly righteous—without King Jesus we have no hope of obtaining or achieving righteousness. To employ an imperfect example: Without a boat or airplane, it would not be possible for us to travel safely and reach a destination here from Canada over to Europe or Asia or Africa. Without Christ our King, it is not possible to be righteous—he carries us safely into the Promised Land of his realm of righteousness. This has been accomplished for us thanks to his life, teachings, suffering, death and resurrection. We don’t have to live in dread or fear of the present or the future. In the present we do see inklings of Christ’s reign as we pray: “Your kingdom come.” Today we can indeed celebrate Christ our King, confident that our future is full of hope and joy, peace and love in the Perfect Realm, which has no end. As composer G.F. Handel so majestically proclaims in The Messiah: “He shall reign forever and ever!” Thanks be to God! Amen!

1 James S. Hewett, Editor, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1988), p. 312.

2 I am grateful to Professor Klein for his insightful commentary at: <http://fontes.lstc.edu/~rklein/Documents/pentcost.htm#Christ&gt;.

 

 

 

Sermon 25 Pentecost Yr C

25 Pentecost Yr C, 18/11/2007

Isa 65:17-25

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson,

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“The Future, Dream or Reality?”

 

Rev. Dr. Tony Campolo tells the following story: A friend of mine tells the story of having counselled a man who was falling out of love with his wife. My friend advised the man to think of all the ways he could make life happier for his wife and then do them. A few days later my friend received a phone call in which the husband related the following:

“Every day I leave for work, put in a hard day, come home dirty and sweaty, stumble in the back door, go to the refrigerator, get something to drink, and then go into the rec room and watch television until supper time. After talking to you, I decided I would do better than that in the future. So yesterday, before I left work, I showered and shaved and put on a clean shirt. On the way home I stopped at the florist and bought a bouquet of roses. Instead of going in the back door as I usually do, I went to the front door and rang the doorbell. My wife opened the door, took one look at me, and started to cry. When I asked her what was wrong she said, ‘It’s been a horrible day. First Billy broke his leg and had to have it put in a cast. I no sooner returned home from the hospital when your mother called and told me that she is coming to stay for three weeks. I tried to do the wash and the washing machine broke and there is water all over the basement. And now you have to come home drunk!”1

As humorous as this story may be for us, there is an important truth that it underscores, which is quite sobering. The truth is that change is often difficult to accept or believe. The husband had gone all out to try and change for the better, yet his wife had a hard time accepting or believing his changed ways. This truth that change is often difficult to accept or believe may also be true for you and me. The change may seem so unrealistic, so out of the ordinary, so shocking that we struggle to accept or believe it. I think we’ve all had this kind of experience in life, haven’t we? Especially when we think of what is life going to be like in the future. How many of us have been surprised by the future becoming a reality? I think the answer to that question is that all of us, at one time or another, has been surprised by the future becoming a reality. It is sometimes very difficult to see or understand what is going to happen to us in the future. It is also difficult to comprehend how the world can change. Today change is moving so fast that it is very difficult to predict what life might be like in ten years from now. When someone speaks to us with certainty about the future, we find it difficult to accept or believe them because what they are telling us seems more like a dream than reality. We, like the wife in the story, might think that they are drunk, and fail to take them seriously.

When the audience of our first lesson from Isaiah heard this important vision for the future, I wonder what they thought. Did they accept or believe the prophet or did they think the prophet was crazy or drunk? Was the prophet’s vision of the future more like a dream than a reality? Of course, the prophet’s vision never has become a reality in a final, complete sort of way yet. So does that mean it is only a dream and should not be taken seriously? NO! We all need dreams for the future. The Jews coming out of exile from Babylon needed a dream for a better future. They had to rebuild their homes, and nation. They had struggled with despair and wondered whether God was still with them. They probably lacked confidence or hope in a better future.

We too need a dream for a better future. Maybe at times we too feel like the ancient Jewish people living in exile. There are so many doom and gloom visions of the future. Such visions may have squelched our dreams and made us more despairing and sceptical. We may be struggling to accept or believe the prophet’s vision for a better future. Our focus on the way things have been in the past and are right now in the present may make us feel and believe that the prophet’s future vision is too idealistic, too much of a dream to become a reality.

Rev. Dr. Richard A. Jensen tells the following story about a bishop who had met a scientist who spoke at a meeting for bishops about the future. Here is what she said: (The bishop) reported to his staff on that conversation as well. “She told me,” the bishop began, “that she had been very carefully observing our group over our five days together. And she was impressed. ‘These are wonderful leaders,’ she told me. ‘As a group you are incredibly bright and talented. I’ve never heard any group that is so knowledgeable of the kind of issues you discuss with each other. I’ve been listening in on your conversations and I am thankful that my church has such dedicated leaders. But,’ she said, ‘everything you talk about is in the past. It’s the past that you are so expert in discussing. It’s the church’s past that you are so knowledgeable of. But I don’t think I’ve heard anyone discuss the future. Where is your church going in this exciting time? What kind of new future are you going to create? Surely in the church you have language to talk about the future. Surely you have language in the Bible which can hold out a vision of hope for a new world.’ “2

Yes, indeed, that scientist was correct; we do have language in the Bible bursting with a vision of hope for a new world, a better future. What a wonderful new world the prophet describes in today’s first lesson! A world where there will be enough of everything for everyone. People will no longer be homeless; everyone shall have a decent place to live. People will no longer be hungry; everyone shall have enough to eat. People shall no longer be afflicted with premature death or suffering or grief—they shall all be blessed with long, healthy, and meaningful lives. Prayer requests shall be answered immediately, or even before they are asked, God promises: “Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.” Then, the prophet ends with that wonderful verse, which we have seen pictures of in works of art, which fill us with a hope beyond what we’ve ever seen or experienced yet: “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.”

Do you accept or believe this hope for a new, changed future? Or are you afraid of such a future? The prophet, speaking the word of the LORD, provides us with these comforting, hope-filled words. We do not have to live in fear. The future is going to be wonderful. One day, God, through our Messiah Jesus will act to usher in his eternal reign of Perfect Shalom—everlasting peace. This is God’s Good News for us today. Amen.

 

1 Cited from: James S. Hewett, Editor, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1988), p. 52.

2 Richard A. Jensen, “A Vision For The Future,” sermon for Proper 28, on the following web site: <www.esermons.com>.

 

On talking with the enemy

On talking with the enemy

How should we treat our enemies? That has been and still is one of the most important questions for humankind throughout history and into the future. Some would refuse altogether to talk or associate with the enemy—for many that may translate into hatred, which soon escalates into violence and war. For others, the biblical principle of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is the correct response to our enemies. Today this seems rather barbaric to many peaceniks, yet in biblical times it was a more progressive way of treating one’s enemies, since it defined the limits of retaliation. Rather than killing the enemy plus all of the members of their family or clan or village, etc., the limit was one eye for one eye, one tooth for one tooth, actually a more merciful, less barbaric practice than prior to this principle. However, in contemporary times, one of the most popular critiques of this principle came from Mohandas Gandhi, who said that if we lived by an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, everyone in the world would be blind and toothless! If Gandhi was right, I suppose that would make war more difficult, since one could no longer see one’s enemy.

The editors of the Christian Century, commenting on the recent visit of Iran’s president to the U.S. suggest that folks talk with their enemy. Read more about it here: http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=3759 . Jesus’ way involves more than talk though, love—tough and otherwise—is the way we are called to treat our enemies. This love involves it seems praying for the enemy, blessing those who curse you, when someone strikes you on one cheek, offering them the other one as well, not asking for your goods/property back if someone takes it. Read more about it in Matthew 5:33-48 and Luke 6:27-36. This higher way, antithetical teaching of Jesus is certainly equally as tough for those disciples who seek to follow this path as it is tough for “the enemy” recipients. Yet, if followed to the letter and in the true spirit of Jesus, I’d speculate that the consequences for the world would be absolutely revolutionary!

Meanwhile, governments and the mass media around the world have too much money to lose to give even a one second consideration to such an approach to the enemy—war and violent television programs and movies are the bread and butter of the real world it seems. Or is the opposite equally or even truer: Do governments and the mass media around the world have too much money to lose if they fail to pay attention to peace, love and non-violence? Maybe, too, some things are more valuable than money—another revolutionary thought!

Sermon All Saints Sunday Yr C

All Saints Sunday Yr C, 4/11/2007

Lk 6:27-31

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson,

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“On Loving Our Enemies”

 

Pastor Jack Harris tells the following story: I should have made the connection sooner—a lot sooner.

The banner was right there in front of the sanctuary, conspicuous as can be. Intended as a colourful exhortation to the congregation, it was hung a week or two before.

Before the funeral, that is. As I stood to begin the service, my eyes were opened. “Oh, Lord, no!” I groaned.

Looming large over the casket, the banner admonished, “Bloom where you are planted now.”1

Once we have died, we may not bloom where we are planted now, however, while we’re still alive, each and every day, we’re given opportunities to bloom where we are planted now. Today, on All Saints Sunday, we remember how people of faith in the past bloomed where they were planted, and we remember the saints of today who bloom where they are planted now. Hopefully as we remember the saints past and present who have made a difference in our lives, we will be energized and encouraged in our Christian discipleship. In today’s gospel Jesus teaches us what sainthood is all about. This passage is a very difficult one, who is good enough to live up to these teachings of Jesus? These sayings of Jesus are indeed some of the hardest ones in the Bible for us to live by. And yet, Jesus gives us these teachings, trusting that we as saints, as forgiven sinners, will strive to live up to such teachings. Yes, we will fall short of them, of course, and when we do, we call on Jesus for forgiveness. And yet, life is not very meaningful unless we have something or someone greater than ourselves to live for. The truth of the matter is that we need to keep growing in our faith all of our lives. These hard teachings in today’s gospel shall certainly help us to keep growing—for in this life, we shall never perfectly live up to these teachings. Yet, insofar as we do live by such hard teachings, we reflect the love and presence of Jesus to other people and bear faithful witness to him and his Gospel message.

Today, I’d like to focus on, probably the most difficult teaching that Jesus gave us, found in verses 27 to 30, which has been paraphrased rather colourfully by Professor Eugene Peterson. Here is how he puts it: “To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: 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 that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. Here is a simple rule of thumb for behaviour: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!“2

No question about it, these are hard teachings for us to live up to. How do we live up to such teachings? How do we love our enemies? Well, I think the best way is to learn from other Christians, other forgiven sinner-saints who have provided us with examples of loving enemies.

First of all, one way of following this hard teaching of loving our enemies is by using difficult situations and introducing the element of surprise and humour. Here is one example as told by Pastor Nancy Kelly: South African archbishop Desmond Tutu was out walking on a narrow path when a white man came his way. Recognizing Tutu, the white man stood his ground in the center of the path and said, “I don’t give way to gorillas.” In his typically gracious manner, Tutu smiled, moved over and made a sweeping gesture to the man, saying, “Ah yes, but I do.”3

In this encounter, Bishop Tutu was able to use the element of surprise and humour to help the white man see how ridiculous his attitude and behaviour were. With surprise and humour, the white man who intended to humiliate and make a fool of Bishop Tutu, was himself actually humiliated and made the fool of. Love of enemies can often be a surprising attitude and action. It also can help people realise with humour, how ridiculous their sinful attitudes and actions are, and in so doing, it opens a door of opportunity to repent of sin and change one’s ways.

Another inspiring example of loving one’s neighbours comes from the following story told by Hildegard Goss-Mayr, a former Ambassador of Reconciliation from Vienna: Several years ago, in the midst of tragic fighting in Lebanon, a Christian seminary student was walking from one village to the next when he was ambushed by an armed Druze, a Muslim guerrilla. The Druze ordered his captive down a mountain trail where he was to be shot. But an amazing thing happened. The seminarian, who had received military training, was able to surprise his captor and disarm him. Now, the table was turned, and it was the Druze who was ordered down the trail. As they walked, however, the Christian began to reflect on what was happening. Recalling the words of Jesus: “Love your enemy; do good to those who hate you; turn the other cheek,” he found he could go no farther. He threw the gun into the bushes, told the Druze he was free to go and turned back up the hill.

Minutes later, he heard footsteps running behind him as he walked. “Is this the end after all?” he wondered. Perhaps the Druze had retrieved the gun and wanted to finish him off. But he continued on, never glancing back, until his enemy reached him, only to grab him in an embrace and pour out thanks for sparing his life. Maybe there is something to those seemingly impossible and impractical words after all.4

Jesus’ difficult teaching in these verses to love our enemies is the most radical, revolutionary political, social and spiritual agenda for change in the world. According to New Testament scholar, Rev. Dr. David Tiede: The golden rule is not original with Jesus or the evangelists, but it sounds quite shocking when applied to enemies, abusers, thieves, and beggars. Yet this is not a counsel of masochism, as if Christians are simply doormats. Nor should such a command, which is grounded in the promise of the kingdom, ever be used to give God’s sanction to violence. This is a vision of courage and integrity…5

May we gain our greatest inspiration and strength to follow this teaching to love our enemies from Jesus himself; the perfect saint, without sin; who so willingly, freely, and lovingly carried out this teaching through not only his teaching, but also through his life, suffering and death on the cross and resurrection. In him we see the Perfect Role Model of loving our enemies, and in doing so, we are given a glimpse of what the coming of God’s realm is all about. One day, as we are united with all the forgiven sinner saints, there shall be no such category as the enemy—we shall all be together, living in perfect harmony, complete love and total peace with our Triune God. That’s our hope. Until then, we continue to live imperfectly and love our enemies imperfectly. Yet, in our imperfect living and loving, Jesus is able to move us closer to him and his realm. So we celebrate the communion of saints on this All Saints Sunday and we give thanks to our Lord for the many blessings we have received from and through his sinner saints. Amen.

 

1 Dave Anderson, compiler, & Tim Wilcox, editor, More Funny Things on the Way to Church (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1983), p. 19.

2 Eugene Peterson, The Message (Colorado Springs, CO: NAVPress Publishing Group, 1993), p. 117.

3 Citation from: B. Skonnord, F. Baglo, E.D. Ward, editors, Eternity For Today, July, August, September 1997, Vol. 31, No. 3, (Winnipeg: ELCIC), devotion for Monday, July 14, “Listen!” by Nancy Kelly.

4 Unfortunately I’ve lost the source of this story.

5 David L. Tiede, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Luke (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988), p. 143.