The culture we live in has suffered some very sad and some very strange changes. These changes have become especially obvious since the election of our new president, Donald J. Trump. The debate in our culture has changed. At one time, we struggled to discern between truth and error … right and wrong. That struggle used words and civil debate to try to draw out the truth of any situation … to determine what was the right and wrong action to take at the current time.
For many people that has changed. Discerning truth from error and right from wrong are no longer important. Now many in our culture insist on basing decisions on what makes them feel good and what makes them feel bad. The goal is total, instant happiness, pleasure, and gratification. Furthermore, society should do everything within its power to remove all negative consequences of any decision a person makes in their personal quest for total, instant happiness, pleasure, and gratification. Society is supposed to step aside and allow anyone to do anything … even self-destructive things … if that is how the person is to achieve happiness, pleasure, and gratification. Love means letting me do what I want even it means destroying myself in the process.
Civil debate is gone. People use personal attacks to assert their point of view. Peaceful demonstration has been replaced by riots and destruction. The slightest offense causes people to react with violent rage. Everything has become personal.
The words that we heard from Jesus’ Sermon on the mount are especially relevant for such a time as this. Jesus opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Matthew 5:38–41) “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43–45)
The principles that Jesus taught are in direct contradiction to the principles of today’s culture. Our culture proposes revenge and violence in retaliation to any offense. Jesus, on the other hand, taught us to forgive the offense … to love the offender. He even taught us to make ourselves vulnerable to a second attack … to turn the other cheek … to walk the extra mile. He taught us to pray for those who make our lives miserable.
Now I must confess that I find this very difficult. I still remember incidents from my childhood when bullies would pick on me. I confess that there are times when I fantasize about different ways that I could get even with them. They probably don’t even remember me … it was well over fifty years ago … but I remember them … and I remember the pain. Jesus taught that I must love these men who were boys back then. I must forgive them. I must pray for them. I really don’t want to do that. I want revenge instead. The words of Paul come to mind: I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:15)
What about you? Do you love your enemies? Are you ready to turn the other cheek … to walk the extra mile? Do you love the one who offended you? Do you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you? (Matthew 5:43–45) It’s tough … isn’t it?
Then as we aren’t already guilty enough, Jesus calls on us to follow the example of God the Father. [Your Father who is in heaven] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:45, 48) As Christians – people who have been adopted into the family of God – we are to follow the example of our heavenly Father and love all people – even the most unlovable. Even the dregs of society are kind to their friends. Instead we are to be perfect just as our Father in Heaven is perfect and love even our enemies.
I find that I am all too ready to take offense when someone loves me enough to point out an uncomfortable truth. The saying goes, “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” But how often do we enjoy cursing the darkness? How often do we enjoy tearing someone to shreds verbally rather than examine what that person says in the light of God’s truth – the Bible? How often do we cut someone down so that we can feel better about ourselves?
Jesus calls for us to follow the example of His father by loving our enemies and praying for our persecutors. He calls for us to set aside insults and offenses – to willingly submit to inconveniences and trials. He calls for us to be perfect even as our Father in Heaven is perfect. He calls for all these things and we fail miserably.
Fortunately, when Jesus asks us to do things that are beyond our ability, He does them for us. He did more than suffer the slap of insult. He endured cruel beating by mockers and flogging by soldiers. He did more than carry a burden for a mile. He carried the sin of the world – your sin – my sin – our unloving sin of gossip – our inability to love our enemies – our desire to exalt ourselves by damaging others – He carried it all to the cross and there He died to pay for it all. He gives us more than a cloak and tunic. He gives us forgiveness, life, and salvation. He gives us the robes of His righteousness.
He does all this in love for His enemies as the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write: “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6–8) Christ died for sinners … for the ungodly … for those who are by nature His enemies. It is for enemies that Christ gives the ultimate love. It is to enemies that Christ offers forgiveness, life, and salvation. It is to enemies that Christ offers His loving heart.
As Christ offers His love to His enemies, so also the Holy Spirit works in those enemies to change them. The Holy Spirit works in God’s enemies to convert them into God’s adopted sons. He gives them the faith that receives all the gifts that Christ has earned for them. By the perfect, loving power of the Holy Spirit we become children of the Most High. We become the children who live with Him forever.
With the exception of Jesus Himself, every human being enters this world as God’s enemy. God terrifies us and we want nothing to do with Him. As a result of the love that God the Father has for us – His natural born enemies – He sent His only begotten Son into the world, into our flesh to rescue us. As the result of the intense and perfect love that God’s Son Jesus Christ has for us – His natural born enemies – He took our animosity to the cross and defeated it. He endured the punishment that His enemies deserved. Now He and the Father send the Holy Spirit to work in us by Word and sacrament. As a result of the love that God the Holy Spirit has for us – His natural born enemies – we now have the faith that receives all the blessings of God’s love. We are no longer God’s enemies. We are His eternal children.
As His children, God enables us to do that which is impossible. The Holy Spirit transforms us with God’s love. Now that we have eternal salvation in Christ Jesus, He gives the love that loves our enemies … turns the other cheek … walks the extra mile. You were God’s enemy, but in His love, He redeemed you. His love at work through you can also redeem others. It may even redeem others who are now your enemies.
While we live here in this sinful world, we shall never be perfect, as [our] heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48) Never the less, because Jesus loved us and died for us while we were still sinners, the day will come when God will call us to leave this world and enter eternity. There in eternity, we shall attain the perfection that God has for us while we enjoy eternal life in His presence. Amen
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