September 13, 2020
Jesus says,” Love your enemies.” (Matthew 5:44)
“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” ~ Abraham Lincoln
I love the quaintness and intimacy of small towns, so I have chosen to live in them for most of my life. What’s better than sitting on the front porch and waving at people driving by or having kids or adults stop by to talk about nothing in particular? It’s nice to know the clerk when I go to the P&D or the mechanic who fixes my flat tire at Cox Conoco.
Growing up in Wylie, Texas (population 3,500) I learned that a community rejoices together and mourns together. When two of my friends Rob and Joe died in a tragic farm accident the summer of my freshmen year, the outpouring of love and kindness shown to their families was truly overwhelming. Later in life, when Jennifer and I were living in Meeker, Colorado (population 2,500 or so) and my sister died tragically, the town showed us that same tender love. Communities lift us up and hold us in good times as well as in difficult times.
I hope to always live in a loving kind community, but I also realize that every place I have ever lived there have been divisive knock down drag outs that have divided the town and destroyed relationships. How can we as people of faith help mend broken relationships?
In the twelfth chapter of Romans, Paul gives over thirty instructions to the Roman Christians who are fighting. Surprise! According to Barbara Taylor the church was splitting apart in at least two ways. There was conflict between Jewish and Gentile Christians inside the church and there was conflict between Christian and non-Christian Romans outside the church. “There were black eyes and bad feelings all over the place,” says Taylor. “It was a mess, all the way around.”
This makes me laugh in a sad way because Paul’s letter written sometime between 55 and 58 CE could have been written today. The United Methodist Church might split over human sexuality. Our country is split between Democrats and Republicans. Montezuma County and our nation are split between people marching for Black Lives Matter and people, quite often armed, chanting “Back the Blue” or “U.S.A.” It’s a mess.
Whether it’s the first century Romans or twenty-first century Americans, many people say they believe in God’s love, grace, and forgiveness at least until someone crosses them. Then, as Taylor writes, “goodness and love fall pretty much by the wayside and retaliation turns out to be what we believed in after all.”
Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” and he meant it. When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus one of his disciples drew a sword and attacked the enemy, cutting off a man’s ear. Jesus says, “Put your sword away. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” Today I am convinced Jesus would tell us, “Put your guns away. Listen. Forgive. There is another way to resolve your differences.”
Paul says, “Do repay anyone evil for evil.” “Do not overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” Barbara Taylor says Jesus and Paul understood that “the real enemy is not whoever pushes us down in the middle of our dance but whatever it is inside of us that wants to leap up and push back.”
So, what would Jesus do? WWJD? In Luke he reaches up and heals the ear of the man who has come to arrest him and send him to his death. On the cross Jesus cries out, “Forgive them Father they know not what they do.” Jesus loved his neighbors and his enemies to the very end and only through love and forgiveness can we halt the cycle of violence and revenge.
What will we do? How will we respond to the anger, the hate, and the divisiveness? Will we be part of it? Will we pick up our guns or put them away? It’s not easy to love as Christ first loved us. Will we follow His example? Will we love our enemies?
During the polarized Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. in a sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama appealed to the people to follow the third way of Jesus:
To our most bitter opponents we say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. Throw us in jail, and we shall love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory. Amen.
I have loved and lived in small towns throughout my life. Every town—Wylie, Texas; Meeker, Colorado; and Mancos, Colorado—has taught me so much about love and caring for our neighbors and each town has shown me the bitter taste of hate and anger. But the Good News is Love Wins (see 1 Corinthians 13:8).
May we meet physical force with soul force.
May we continue to love no matter what.
May we love our neighbors and our enemies.
Blessings and peace to you my small-town but big-hearted friends,
-Who do we need to work on Loving? Ask for direction. Take a small step.
-Thanks to everyone for your continued support for our church.