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7A Leviticus 19:1-2;17-18/ 1 Corinthians 3:16-23 / Matthew 5:38-48

When I was praying about this week’s Gospel,
and “loving my enemies” I realized something –
I realized that I’m not very qualified
to preach on loving enemies.

I’ve never been spat upon.
No one has arrested me under bogus charges.
No one has planted bombs under or around my house,
No one has ever physically threatened me.
No one has stabbed me.
No one has stoned me.
And, as far as I know, no one is out to kill me.

So any words that I might speak on “loving enemies,”
would ring rather hollow wouldn’t they.

A couple of weeks ago, I spent the night at my dad’s house,
and for whatever reason, I couldn’t sleep.

So I wandered into my dad’s office to look for a book to read.

As I looked on the shelves, I saw a book that caught my attention:
Strength to Love by Dr. Martin Luther King.
It’s a book of some of his most famous sermons.

I took the book from the shelve, went to bed,
looked at the table of contents,
and knew immediately which sermon I wanted to read.
It was “Loving Your Enemies.”
He says he wrote it while serving time in a Georgia jail.

This would be interesting I thought because this man had real enemies:
He was spat upon.
He did have bombs planted under his house.
He was stabbed and stoned even.
People were out to kill him.

Well, reading his sermon didn’t put me to sleep at all.
It’s practically about all I’ve thought about for the past two weeks.

How could a man preach and live these words like he did,
when he had so many enemies-
real enemies, real enemies out to do him in.

So what does it mean to love our enemies?

Dr. King makes an important distinction
between loving someone and liking someone.

Liking someone is something sentimental,
something affectionate,
something that stays on the superficial and emotional level.

But loving someone goes much deeper
than just “emotional bosh,” as he calls it.

The love that Jesus is talking about is agape love.
That means that it is “the love of God, [the love of God]
operating in our hearts.”
It’s loving someone because God loves them.
It’s a love that seeks another’s goodwill.
It’s a love that seeks absolutely nothing in return.

This love, this agape love, this Jesus love, is an act of the will.
We can choose to do it.
We can choose to love this way.

And why Dr. King asks, would Jesus demand
His followers to love His enemies?

First, he says, “returning hate for hate only multiplies hate.”
And this is absolutely true isn’t it.

“Force begets force, hate begets hate, and toughness begets toughness.”
“It is a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction. . . ”

As such, Dr. King says that “far from being the pious injunction
of a utopian dreamer, [Jesus’] command [to love our enemies]
is an absolute necessity for survival . . .”

Jesus is no “impractical idealist,” but instead He is a “practical realist.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that “
Hate multiplies hate.

Next, Dr. King says that we must love our enemies
because hate “scars the soul and distorts the personality of the hater.”
Hate “scars the soul and distorts the personality of the hater”

He says, “You can’t see straight when you hate.
You can’t walk straight when you hate.
You can’t stand upright [when you hate].”

He says the vision of one who hates is distorted. . . .
“For the person who hates,
the beautiful becomes ugly and the ugly becomes beautiful.
For the person who hates,
the good becomes bad and the bad becomes good.
For the person who hates,
the true becomes false and the false becomes true.”

“Hate is just as injurious to the one who hates.”
So true isn’t it.

And lastly, Dr. King says that we must love our enemies
because radical love is redemptive.
Radical love has power.
Radical love has the power to transform.

Dr. King says “you just keep loving people
and keep loving them, even though they are mistreating you.”
Only with this type of love is conversion possible.

“By its very nature, hate tears down and is destructive.”
“By it’s very nature, love creates and builds up.”

So why does Jesus ask us to love our enemies?
Hate multiplies hate.
Hate distorts and ruins the hater.
And radical love, agape love, Jesus love is redemptive.
It can transform.

Now all of this sounds so wonderful on theoretical level.
But the theoretical will just take us so far.

What are the practicalities of it?
How do we learn to love our enemies?

Well Dr. King has plenty to say about this too!

Step One in loving your enemies – “develop and maintain the capacity to forgive.
He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.”

“It is impossible even to begin the act of loving one’s enemies
without . . . over and over again,
forgiving those who inflict evil and injury upon us.”

“Forgiveness,” Dr. King says,
“does not mean ignoring what has been done
or putting a false label on an evil act.
It means, rather, that the evil act no longer
remains a barrier to the relationship.”
That’s powerful isn’t it.

Forgiveness means reconciliation,
a coming together again.
Without this, no one, [no one] can love their enemies.”

It’s so true isn’t it.
The first step of loving our enemies:
learning how to forgive, over and over again.

Step Two, according to Dr. King, in learning to love our enemies:
“Seek to discover the element of good in them.”
(Oh, this is so important)
He says, “every time you begin to hate that person
or [even] think of hating that person,
realize that there are some good points there
and look at those good points which will overbalance the bad.”

“Within the best of us, there is some good,
and there is some evil;
and within the worst of us, there is some good. ”

“We must recognize that the evil deed of the enemy-neighbor,
the thing that hurts–never quite expresses all that he is.
An element of goodness can always be found even in our worst enemy.”

Look for the good and see the enemy in a new light!!!

So Step 1 in loving enemies: Learning to forgive.
Step 2: Look for the good in the other person;
and Step 3, and this is where the rubber really meets the road:
we must not seek to defeat the enemy,
but to win his friendship and understanding.
Dr. King says, “At times we are able to humiliate our worst enemy.
Inevitably, his weak moments come
and we are able to thrust in his side the spear of defeat.
But this we must not do.”
This we must not do.

You see, this is turning the other cheek.
This is handing over tunic and cloak.
This is going not one mile, but two.
This is the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

I got such inspiration from reading Dr. King’s homily.
It’s a masterpiece.
A masterpiece not just because of it’s structure and content,
but a masterpiece because he lived it.

And if he can live it, with God’s grace, then I can live it too.
I can learn to forgive, I can look for the good,
and I can learn to never humiliate another person.
I can refuse to hate and I can choose to love.

It’s true that I haven’t been spat upon,
It’s true that no one has physically threatened me.
It’s true that no one is out to kill me- – – –
and the same is probably true with you.

But there are those who I know don’t care for me,
for whatever reason.
And there are those who I don’t particularly care for either,
for whatever reason.

Maybe I spit on them– in my mind.
Maybe I wish them harm–in my mind.
Maybe they are my enemy– in my mind.

That’s why this Gospel is for me.
That’s why Dr. King’s homily —
is for me.

Holy Spirit 02/19-20/11

Note: there are multiple versions of this sermon, and different parts of this homily are taken from the different versions.