You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your friends, hate your enemies.’ But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Matthew 5:43-44 (GNT)
There's a saying going around says, "Break the rules, love everyone."
When Jesus gave this part of the sermon on the Mount, he broke all the rules. He contradicted the law of Moses, and he contradicted the traditional interpretation of the law of Moses in radical ways.
This is just one place where he did it, so you can tell why it made a lot of the people around him mad whenever he talked, whenever he told people his vision for humanity. When he told people what he thought God meant by whatever God said, and what God wanted for us. This was radical because he contradicted Moses in the Bible. What it said right there in the Bible in plain (not English), Hebrew.
[Listen to the transcript of the audio for this sermon]
preached extemporaneously at Briensburg UMC on September 8, 2019.
preached extemporaneously at Briensburg UMC on September 8, 2019.
Jesus contradicted what most of the theological thinking of his day was. He told people, don't do it that way, do it this way. Love even your neighbor, which takes love to a whole new level doesn't normally think about it. Everybody knows it is easy to love the people who love you, who can bolster your career, or throw a party and invite you to it, or do all kind of things like that. But it's a little harder when people, if they don't like you. To still love them.
That takes a little more work, that takes a little more practice, that takes a little more thinking and studying on how best to do that. But that's what He calls us to. I put a picture for this. I'm doing landmark passages that are landmarks to my own spiritual growth along the way. So today's landmark is about loving even our enemies. I've put a picture there to go with the Bible, and the Book of Discipline because that's kind of what Jesus contradicted, the similar materials from His age in giving these and other things that He said.
The Bible for Jesus was really what we think of as the Catholic Bible today. The Old Testament, including the parts that were removed a few hundred years ago by some of the reformers. It was hundreds of years later before the New Testament was added to our Bible. So He was looking at the law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets and the Psalms that they sang and everything like that, that was the scripture that He quoted from.
It's also in this passage, the scripture He'd known and quoted from, but that He contradicted directly, intentionally. We have the Book of Discipline. Of course, it wasn't around. It's just a couple of hundred years old. It's our Book of Discipline for our church. But they had the Talmud, and they had other materials like that. Theologian's papers. People would write, you know, things that people would say, and they would get together kind of like our representatives do in general conference. They voted on whatever they thought that the Bible meant, and sometimes one side would win, sometimes the other. It would go back and forth like it does now.
Jesus directly confronted those votes. He confronted those decisions on how the scriptures were being interpreted and applied. Probably the most radical place that he did that was not even here. It was when he said, when he was asked, what are the most important commandments in the whole scripture, in the whole Bible? He said, "Love God, and love one another." Then he added this too now, "On these two commandments, hang all the law and the prophets also." Those two commandments are what pull together and interpret everything that we read in the Bible. Whether it's the law, or whether it's people preaching on the law.
By extension, everything else we talk about, everything else we do as the people of God is to be interpreted by love. That made a lot of people mad. But not everybody, because some people believed in Him, and they followed Him, and His law, and His vision. But it still made some people mad.
It addresses really the way we do things today with the, what we do with the Bible. What we do with not only the Bible as it came about in its original forms, but also the various translations and interpretations and the way we apply the scriptures to our lives. When we do that in love and in genuine curiosity to know what God is trying to communicate to us, the God who loves us, the God who identifies as love. Or some other basis and standard of what we want to say, and what we want it to mean, and what we want to do with it.
People have always, and still do, come up with all kinds of ways to justify some of the most atrocious applications of the scripture that they can imagine. We stand against that. We stand for love. We stand for loving each other the way that Christ has loved us. Fully, completely, unconditionally. Absolutely. Universally.
The Bible that Jesus quoted from Exodus 21, he said, "The punishment shall be life for life. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise." There's some other ones in there if you read before and after that.
Except that right after this, there's another one that he said, that addressed the issue of slavery. He said, "If anybody harms their slave, and harms their eye or their tooth, then the payment that they need to make to that slave is to set that slave free." Freedom will be the price that they pay. Well, I think we're pretty clear on that, but that didn't really happen among our slave holding ancestors.
They came out with a slave Bible, where they just took out the whole book of Exodus. So that the Bible wouldn't say that anymore. They prevented people from being able to read, and were not learning how to read, so that if they did get a hold of a copy of the Bible with the book of Exodus in it, they wouldn't be able to read it! Some people will go to almost any length to suppress the word of God, the true word of God, in order to oppress others.
So that's what Jesus was standing up against, when he said this about... They took this, and they went around talking about all the time the way that we still hear it being talked about. An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. The Bible says that, right there. It does. Says about so in the book of Leviticus, that everybody likes to quote.
Whether they take the ones that they have applied to someone else, and they say, "Oh, those are still valid for today." But the ones that apply to themselves, they say, "Oh, that's in another category, the category of the ones that don't apply today."
That's pretty much the whole basis for deciding which apply and which don't. The ones they want to apply to somebody else, they still apply. I saw on a meme on the internet recently, and somebody had a tattoo of a verse in Leviticus that they wanted to say what God was against, you know? There's only a few verses later that it says don't put tattoos. So that's not the way to decide.
So Jesus was really coming against people, and saying, decide it on this other basis. Decide it on the basis of love, not on the basis of whatever your personal whims are, or what you even, even on the basis of what our delegates vote on. Those are all guidance. In fact, the whole Bible, and all of the body of theology is guidance of people pointing to Jesus, and saying, there's Jesus, find Him, and get into a relationship with Him, and let Him love you. You love Him, learn all about love. Love each other. Love the world around you. Be the people of God loving each other and the world around us, no matter what. Even if they're our enemies.
Segue back to the passage. I think I was still on the passage, but that's where Jesus was doing. He was confronting those notions. Another thing was that in the book of Leviticus, that verse that Jesus lifted out as a basis of interpretation, said thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Well, when Jesus said this about that. You've heard it said, love your friends, and hate your enemies. This was not in the Bible that it said love your friends and hate your enemies. It was the votes of the delegates, you might say. It was the votes of the people who were trying to interpret this. It was the kind of orthodox thinking of the day.
That since the Bible said, (this is the reasoning), since the Bible said love your friends, it must mean also that you're supposed to hate your, everybody else. If they weren't your friends, if they weren't your neighbor, if they weren't your family, if you didn't love them, then hate them. That's the way they applied it. That's the way a lot of people look at it today. Love your friends, and hate your enemies.
But I say to you, love everybody. Even your worst enemies. Especially your enemies. If you do, then you will be able to be called children of your father in heaven. Doesn't that remind you of what he said in the Beatitudes, because really that's his summary as He began, His introduction to Sermon on the Mount, and one of the things He said, "Blessed are the peace makers. They shall be called the children of God."
So He confirms it in His teachings, not only some of the things that were already written in the Bible, which I'm sure He knew because my understanding in Hebrews, call Him the author and finisher of our faith. He knows all about our faith. If anybody, and in fact, the Bible even says, in John, about how that Jesus is the word made flesh, living among us. Living out this whole expression of God, self-expression of God among us. He's demonstrating how we can do that.
What better demonstration of loving our enemy, than when Jesus was hanging on the cross, and forgave the people that were hanging him on the cross? Even when they were torturing him. Sometimes we might think, well, maybe later, after he got over it, he forgave him. No, he forgave them while they were doing it. Oh, later, maybe after they begged him to forgive him. No. He forgave them even while they were in the middle of doing it. He loved them.
That's pretty profound; that's more than what I can really wrap my mind around, actually. But that's the demonstration that he gave of what he meant. That's what the Bible means to Jesus. That's what He invites it to mean to us. It may take us an eternity to work into that and live into it, but that's what we're trying to do here.
In the last verse that Peg read a while ago, said, "you must be perfect, just as your father in heaven is perfect," in this translation. I think in the translation that she read, "complete as your father in heaven is complete." In the Message version, it says, "live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you." Jesus pointed out that God makes it to rain on the just and the unjust. He shares His blessings with everybody. Good, bad, everything in between.
God loves everybody. God loves the whole world, to send Christ to be our savior. Teach us how to love one another. Teach us how have that joy. "Lift us to the joy divine," as the song says. So live that way toward one another as best we can. The more we do it, the better we'll get at it. Practice love. Practice up on love. Put it to work in our lives. It seems almost obvious that if we can love, the more we can love our enemies, the even better and easier it will be to love our friends, automatically.
The more lovable we become as people of love. So that's what Christ invites us to. So that's why it's a landmark to me, is because it's just one of those things in spiritual realm that really guides us, and shows us the way to being complete and full and fulfilled and happy. In this life, and in the life of the world to come.
In the name of Jesus, amen.