Lenten Sermon Series – Giving it up: Enemies
This morning we turn in our Lenten Series of “Giving things up” to the topic of Enemies. God calls us to give up our enemies.
And if you were clever person you could say, “Ah! Easy father, I have given up all my enemies! I don’t ever have to deal with them. Anyone who is an ‘enemy’ I just wipe them out of my life. I delete them off facebook, I erase their number on the caller ID. I forget about them.”
But, I would, in response, tell you, that what God really means for us is that we need to give up being the kind of people that have enemies. At its core, the Gospel is about reconciling the whole world to God. And that means that all the people of the earth will one day need to be reconciled with one another.
The locus classicus for the moral teaching of our Lord regarding “Enemies” is probably found in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew Chapter 5.
(Jesus said) “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”
If someone is our enemy, because we have made them so, or they have made us their enemy, Jesus tells us that rather than letting our hatred towards them fester is our hearts, we need to pray for them. Ask of God good things for them. It’s amazing how your attitude changes for someone when you ask God to have mercy and love on them.
IN the same place Jesus tells us that we ought not be the sorts of people who retaliate when wronged. He says:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But 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. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Jesus’ message to us is to do the opposite of what our emotions want to do. When someone hits us, we want to hit them back. When they steal from us, we want to get our stuff back and more. But he says no – don’t reflect that negative energy. Don’t be like them. Be more like our Lord, who prayed for the nailers as they put him on the cross.
Giving up enemies and not retaliating against those who wrong us, is a hard pill to swallow. Some of those people whom we call our “enemies” are people who have hurt us in the most terrible ways. They’ve left scars in our hearts.
But giving up enemies is one of the most important things we can do, not just for them, not just for God and the Kingdom, but for ourselves. We can’t control what others feel or think. But if we allow them to remain in our hearts as enemies, by refusing to forgive them for the hurt they have done to us, the sins the have committed against us; if we refuse to leave anger alone and not retaliate when wronged; then what we really are doing is allowing those people to do is have power over us. We are allowing them to have control over us.
We need to forgive them – they may not forgive us – but we need to forgive them and refuse to let them have that power and dominion over us.
Last week I said that the great thing about our God is that he doesn’t ask us to walk any path that he himself has not walked. And that is true of giving up enemies. God is the great exemplar of forgiving his enemies.
Paul writes in Romans 5:
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
“While we were still sinners and enemies of God”, Paul tells us, God sent his son into the world to die for us.
Think about the people who you have not been reconciled to. Those people in your life who’ve done wrong by you – would you die for them? Probably not – we would have trouble dying for a good person, but that’s exactly what God did- he died for us when we were still sinners.
Why? Because he loves us. And although we turn our hearts from him by sinning – making ourselves enemies of his goodness and love, he still reaches out for us, calling us back.
In our gospel this morning, we read the parable of the Prodigal Son. We all know the story of the younger son anxious to get his inheritance and head out into the world. He’s had enough of his father’s house and he wants to make his own way in the world. He squanders his inheritance; he loses all his money on the horses in Saratoga. Rather than facing the shame of what he’s done and going back to his father penniless, he hires himself out as a laborer.
But at some point, the text tells us “he came to himself”. I love that line. The Prodigal son came to himself. And he said – how many of my father’s hired hands have better than I’ve got?” I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘
You see the prodigal son saw himself as an enemy of his Father. He must have thought to himself – I’ve done so much damage to our relationship that he’ll never love me again, at least not as a son. But if he would hire me as a laborer I would do better than I am now.
But what does the parable say?
It says that while the son was still far off, the father saw him coming – and had compassion on him- and he rejoiced so much that his son, who was dead and was now alive was returning home to him that he threw a party and invited everyone in the neighborhood to rejoice.
You see the father was willing all along to reconcile the son back to himself. Just as God is always willing to reconcile us to himself when we “come to ourselves” and return to him.
But you know, I think I’ve told you this before, the Parable of the Prodigal Son really isn’t about the prodigal son.
The parable of the prodigal son is about the son who had made his father his enemy and didn’t realize it. The parable of the prodigal son is about the son who took the father’s love for him for granted, the older son. He took the father’s love for him for granted so much that he refused to rejoice with him when his brother came home.
We can make enemies with the people around us and not even realize what we’ve done.
We can take things for granted, like the older son.
Our enemies are those with whom we are not reconciled. The Father loved his sons, always and invariably. But both sons failed to recognize that love. The younger because of what he had done, the older because he never saw what the father really did for him.
Who is your life do you have something with whom you need to work on? God calls us to be the kind of people who don’t have enemies. The kind of people who work for reconciliation.
That process is an active one. One which we need to work on, and not let “just happen” – it never works that way.
We may not always know the way forward, or the best way to reconcile, but God calls us to be people who seek to reconcile, who seek to be the kind of people who don’t have enemies. If we come to him, he will show us the way.
For his Glory and his kingdom.