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.

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About dimlamp
I am, among other things, a sojourner, a sinner-saint, a baptized, life-long learner and follower of Jesus, and Lutheran pastor. Dim Lamp: dimlamp.wordpress.com gwh photos: gwhphotos.wordpress.com

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