Loving our Enemies to Find the Pathway to Peace, Second Sunday of Pentecost, June 2, 2013
Second Sunday of Pentecost, June 2, 2013
1 Kings 8: 22-23, 41-43 Psalm 96:1-9 Gal 1: 1-12 Luke 7: 1-10
Loving our Enemies to Find the Pathway to Peace
Let me again form the words of this sermon by the Prayer of Today:
Merciful Lord God, we do not presume to come before you in our own righteousness, but [we can only stand on] your great and abundant mercies [to change the words just a little]. Revive our faith, we pray, heal our bodies, and mend our communities, that we may evermore dwell in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Let’s work backwards. I’ll work backwards through the points made in the prayer. We are the body of Christ. A king always had two bodies: his own and the people, who were also considered his body. Jesus is our lord and we are also his body. We also receive his body and we dwell in the body of Christ, the body of which we are all the members respecting and standing with each other, especially if any one of us is in pain. Never will an arm be unconcerned if a finger is hurt, or the eye not care should the ear grow deaf, or the ear not care should the eye grow blind. Ears redouble their effort for blind eyes and the eyes take over for deaf ears. When we need those who hear in our community to be healed, then we pray for our community to be mended, for our church body and even our social body to be healed. We dwell in the Son of God and our eyes and ears and all our senses can be healed, the same way Christ healed that Centurion’s slave, opened the eyes of the blind, made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.
We have to pray for the revival of our faith, however, because physical healing without the change of heart that trusts completely in God can be evil; but perhaps not completely evil, if the physical healing still gives a person a chance to repent. Say a hate-monger of Moslems, gays, and immigrants gets sick. What good would praying for his physical healing be, so that he would have renewed strength to continue his campaign of spreading bad blood? Healing has to spread good faith in the precious blood of Christ.
That concern for only physical healing also includes all of us, you and me, in general and not only blatant bad guys. So many of us want to continue in the troublesome life-styles that make us and others sick and then have a doctor heal us physically, but we don’t want to change our ways. (I confess that I want to change other people. Changing myself is too hard.) We don’t want the revival of our faith that becomes active in love so that our love seeks justice.
Quench my thirst, dear Lord, with a nice cold beer, some expensive wine, a cold gin and tonic, scotch on the rocks or Margarita with salt all over the edge of my glass – and satisfy my hunger with a fat juicy piece of steak, so that I can do away with my hunger and thirst for justice. I don’t want to spoil good meat and drink for you. But think of reviving your hunger and thirst for justice when you eat and drink lavishly. In the same way you could think of your baptism when you shower and communion when you eat together: let a good meal remind you to keep hungering and thirsting for justice.
I spoke to a pastor who was not receiving a call and had to go back into high school classrooms to teach math. She had been away for four years and she could not believe the change that had come over the students. They had absolutely no respect, did not want to do any work, felt entitled, fought in the classroom, and she found them to be completely un-teachable. Why have our students become that way – at least those in her classrooms, and why shouldn’t immigrant children leave ours in the dust? Many of ours harp on privilege and want everything and have so much, but what they need and what we all need is repentance. We have to have good faith. In the words of St. Paul,
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12: 1-20)
We need the revival of our faith that brings a change of heart. We need to receive the mind of Christ to heal and mend our communities, while physical healing without that living sacrifice of our bodies, that spiritual worship, only exasperates all our problems.
Look at that Roman military officer. He was a centurion, meaning the captain of a 100 soldiers; but usually there were about 80. A cohort had six centuries, and a legion of Roman soldiers had ten cohorts. A legion was supposed to have 6,000 soldiers, but they usually had far less. Now he was part of the occupation forces controlling Palestine. What kind of integrity he must have had to have built a synagogue for the Jews. He also valued a slave, who was ill and close to death. The elders who interceded with Jesus for him, said, “He is worthy of having you do this for him for he loves our people and it is he who built our synagogue for us!”
Now Roman soldiers would make a Jew carry their pack for them. Jesus said, if they make you carry it one mile, carry it for them for two! Roman soldiers crucified Jews on both sides of the road that entered a rebellious city, and anyone who helped those wretchedly dying figures strangling there on those crosses, was crucified beside them. So hatred of the enemy can get way out of hand. For example the hatred of the American soldier who snuck out of his post at night in Afghanistan shot up supposed enemy women, children, and elderly in a whole row of houses, and then tried to sneak back into base. This Centurion was not like other soldiers filled with hate. He loved the Jews, his enemy. And he could have well had reason to hate them. For example, the Sicarii in that day were Jewish assassins, who hid knives under their togas in a crowd and slipped the knife between the ribs of a Roman and disappeared in the crowd so that they could not be identified. One theory holds that Judas Iscariot belonged to the cadre of the Sicarrii. So as you see there was no love lost between the Romans and the Jews of that day. But here you have an officer who loves the enemy.
He also realized that Jesus had authority over the good spirits and could send angels, cherubim, and seraphim to do his bidding; just like he, a centurion, could send his underlings to carry out his commands. So he knew that Jesus could heal from a distance. The words of the Roman centurion have long been an invitation to communion: “Lord I am not worthy that you should come under the roof of my house…only speak the word and my soul will be healed.” An enemy understood the faith of the Jews better than they did themselves.
Huston Smith, a scholar of religions, notes that the old Hebrew prophets knew that a spirit world enveloped this everyday world and Jesus drew his power from the spirit world and used it to heal people and challenge their ways. Jesus was exceptionally oriented to the Spirit world, which empowered his ministry, he continues. This scholar of religions is trying to describe how he saw Jesus. He writes that Jesus deployed his Spirit-derived powers to alleviate human suffering and to bring about a new social order.
The centurion had the faith to understand who Jesus was, while the homebodies, the Jews who were supposed to recognize him and understand his authority did not.
How would we translate the integrity of that Roman centurion today? On the one hand we could not condemn all soldiers, because some of them are in the military but not of it. Their lives attempt to bring life and faith to the enemy instead of hatred, death, and destruction. But it also challenges us to think about the terrorists as people and not let that label depersonalize them so they can be killed without conscience. Even those dreaded Taliban. There must be some good spirits that can reach them, because heaven is deep and wide. I once read how after first defeating them in 2002 that the Afghans and our forces in what was called the Convoy of Death, let about 7,000 Taliban and other enemy prisoners perish miserably in sealed railway cars.
St. Paul writes, “Do not repay evil with evil” (Rom 12:17) because we need to overcome evil with good. And in the same place he writes, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay.” (Rom 12:19)
I read a frightful saying in the OpEd page of the New York Times on Friday. Our drone strikes have killed 400 elders of the Pashtun tribes and 3,500 people in the tribal regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The writer quotes the proverb: “The Pashtun who took revenge after a hundred years said, I took it quickly.”
Evil cannot be overcome by evil, but only by good. When we take revenge we need to dig two graves, one for our enemy and one for ourselves. Jesus showed us the way of peace, if only we would walk in it! If someone strikes you on the left cheek, offer the other as well. When a wolf makes peace in a fight with another wolf, he offers the jugular in his neck to the other, who does not bite it, but ends the battle. If only people could be as human as wolves!
Like the extraordinary relationship of the Jewish elders with the Roman centurion, who had such integrity, Jesus demands that we treat foreigners, strangers, and let’s face it, immigrants in our midst with decency and respect, instead of letting them die at our borders, lock them in jail, and deport them back into hopeless situations. Note our prayer: We can’t trust in our own righteousness. We can only stand on the mercies of God. Being self-righteous is precluded.
Solomon was praying that his temple should become a house of prayer for all nations and not a place that guards the privilege of some at the disadvantage of others. Biblical integrity also demands that we take care of the widow and orphan, that translates into a social safety net and it makes the cuts in food stamps, should congress pass them, when the lines in the soup kitchens get longer and longer, a real scandal and offense in the eyes of God. Luther said that there should be no beggars amongst us, that is, in a wealthy land that is inhabited mostly by Christians. Yet we not only have beggars, but huge populations of homeless throughout our land. Today Luther would probably shout: “There should be no billionaires among us!” It is so much easier to blame the recession on the poor, the workers, and the immigrants, when it really started on Wall Street with the derivatives, the credit default swaps, and other financial shenanigans of the banks and financial houses. We also have to confess that their greed was contagious and affected many of us. Many families lived far beyond their means and piled on debt and now they are struggling under water, have lost their homes, and languish in unemployment. We can’t stand on our own righteousness, but only on the mercies of God!
Now St. Paul does not try to be a people pleaser in his lesson from Galatians for today. We need to remember that he preached Christ and him crucified. Following Jesus is still going to make suffering come to us. Like Luther sings in a Mighty Fortress, “were they to take our house, goods, honor, child, or spouse, though life be wrenched way, they cannot win the day. The Kingdom’s ours forever.” Is our reward only other-worldly? It sounds that way. Like they say, to work for the church brings a very moderate income, but the retirement plan is out of this world. No, our rewards are not only other-worldly, but this-worldly as well. Love and integrity pour quality into our relationships. Following Christ brings a life full of meaning and promise!
Let’s stand on mercies of God because they are much more certain than any integrity of ours that we can speak of. Christ is at the right hand of God the Father almighty, and will raise up the body of Christ so that the faithful, who follow Christ and carry their cross, will all have a place in the Son! Amen.
 Jeannine K. Brown in WorkingPreacher.org http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1678#post
 The expression “going the extra mile” must derived from Jesus’ saying here.
 Huston Smith, the World’s Religions, (HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), pages 318-19.
 Afghan Massacre: the Convoy of Death. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afghan_Massacre:_The_Convoy_of_Death
 Albar Ahmed, “The Drone War Is Far from Over,” New York Times OpEd Page A19 Friday, may 31, 2013.