The nation will stop to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. tomorrow and on this day I intend for us to do the same. Dr. King spoke often of a beloved community…a place of economic and social justice where people are reconciled to each other in love…this morning we are going to talk about how the journey to that space of beloved community begins with the enemy and ends with you or me or us. I intend to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by focusing on one of the chief teachings of the Jesus that he served…loving your enemy.
We live dark spaces of injustice that are often not all that different from the space of injustice that Jesus experienced in the last few days of Jesus’ life. Just like Jesus, many of the greatest social prophets of our time have been silenced and sometimes killed. Nevertheless, I want to concentrate on three principle actors from the last few days of Jesus’ life to illustrate the principle of loving your enemy…Judas, Peter and the actions of Jesus.
We all have our enemies. On many days, I believe that I might have been blessed with more than my fair share…but I digress. It seems that the more you speak out and demand change in the way that populations act and think…the more you have to worry about the Judases of the world. The more you push the slack of inaction and indifference the more you have to worry about those that you love the most revealing a knife from behind their back. When you challenge the status quo there will be Judases. Perhaps it is even true that the number of Judases you have in your life is indicative of the level of work that you are doing and the good you are accomplishing. Many of us know the feeling of standing at the height of our success… and then looking around the room knowing that everyone else has knives behind their backs and not knowing who is going to stab you first. How do we remain to be love in such circumstance?
After taking some coins for his work, Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss…in order to let the gathered government officials and authorities present know exactly who Jesus was. A kiss is intimate. Jesus could have smelled the breath of Judas. How many of us have been betrayed by those we love? How many of us have been to hell and back with those we expected to love us forever? How many of us have gone on a journey of a love that seemed indestructible and brought back nothing but broken memories? Love can sometimes be a dangerous thing…but it also our salvation.
We could sit here for a long time and talk about Judas’ faults…but let us also remember one key point…if God is love…then the actions of Judas should not overwhelm the outcome for Judas. Ultimately, Judas commits suicide by hanging. Obviously, the grief of Judas was great. In such a situation or even in any situation, I cannot imagine a God that asks us to love our enemies to not keep such a command.
I know many of you do not believe in heaven…but I ask that you appease me for a second. I want you to imagine going to heaven and meeting Jesus. Then all of a sudden a few people walk up and then some more…and they all seem vaguely familiar. Jesus says I want to introduce you to a few of my enemies that I have loved and reconciled with. This is Judas. This is Adolf Hitler. This is Jeffrey Dahmer. This is the person that oppressed you. This is the person that abused you. This is the bully. On and on and on…until we begin to realize that the love of God must be big enough to change the hearts and souls of us all. I believe in a God whose love is that big. Let us join God in the process of dreaming about the potential for loving and being reconciled to our enemies.
On the same night of Judas’ kiss came Peter’s cut…you see Peter was a macho man and when Jesus was being arrested…Peter fought back. Peter pulled out his sword and sliced off the ear of Malchus…one of the government officials present. Jesus healed the ear and told Peter, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” The more I think about this series of events…the more I think that we too cut off people’s ears and destroy our own lives as a result. You see when we monsterize someone and hate them we silence them by refusing to listen to anything they say and then we damage the relationship so that they no longer are willing or can hear what we have to say….we cut off the ears. When people cannot talk or hear each other then the relationship is damaged beyond repair and then the death of love comes quickly. I think that our task is the task of Jesus. Our task is to heal the ears of people so that they might learn to hear the love of those they thought were their enemies again. When you love your enemies…you become a healer and not a slicer my friends. This interaction also reminds us that we cannot love our enemies with weapons in our mouths or hands…our mouths and hands must be used for healing.
When Jesus hung on the cross…blood dripping from all the wounds and abuse the body of Jesus endured…Jesus looked out and asked God to forgive all of those who put him through this hell. The ultimate example of love is to love those who are oppressing, abusing and killing you. This is how you fight for justice…you love your way out of oppression. May we live like Jesus and believe that love can heal the world.
Now all of this sounds beautiful, wonderful and all…but the message of loving your enemies doesn’t stop at those we call other…it ends with us. Thomas Merton in his brilliant essay “The Root of War is Fear” writes, “So instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmongers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed–but hate these things in yourself not in another.” Only when we learn to love our self will be able to love our neighbors and enemies as our self. Forgive your self and have grace for your self so that you might forgive and have grace for others. To paraphrase Merton’s “The Root of War is Fear” once more, “It is as if the entire world is walking around with a gun in their hand and no one knows if they are going to shoot their self or someone else first.” This morning I invite you to put down your guns. We talk so often about the shooting massacres that have happened all over the world…but we fail to talk about the massacres of hate we perpetuate in our own lives and souls every day. Stop the shooting and put down your guns. You can have peace within and without no matter the circumstance if you will root your self deeply in God and love. Let us go to that space…
Imagine you are in a giant tub full of gelatin dessert and the gelatin moving all around you is love. It is oozing into all of your pores and it has just engulfed you. The feeling you get from it is absolutely electrifying… it is the most amazing thing that you can imagine. You cannot figure out where the source of all of this love is coming from and then you realize that all of your enemies are around you…but the difference is they are no longer your enemies they are the source of all of this electric love and you their electric love. Your former enemies are so close that you can feel the warmth of their love and they you. Everyone is electrified because they chose love and not hate. This is an imaginative representation of a world that begins to gel in love…a world where loving enemies and pushing for reconciliation is valued above all else.
When we begin to love our enemies we quickly find that many of them reside within our own person. So on this day let us start to love our enemies…may we look to them as a representation of what lies within and may we choose love for both.
Delivered at Prism Denton: A Church