Sermon by The Rev. Jo-Ann R. Murphy, D.Min.
“Love Your Enemies”
JESUS SAID TO THE DISCIPLES, “YOU HAVE HEARD THAT IT WAS SAID, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AND HATE YOUR EMEMY.’ BUT I SAY TO YOU, LOVE YOUR ENEMIES AND PRAY FOR THOSE WHO PERSECUTE YOU,…
Love your enemies? Ha! The Jews of Jesus’ day hated, despised their enemies, the occupying Romans who oppressed their people with outrageously high taxes. Yet biblical scholars almost unanimously agree that the teaching about love for your enemies originated with Jesus.
So that’s question #1 about today’s text. Why would Jesus, a Palestinian Jew, tell his followers to love the Romans, their enemies?
And here’s another puzzlement. Why would our liturgical masterminds, those gurus who put together our Episcopal Church’s Lectionary for weekly worship choose this passage to be read at Independence Day worship?
After the Revolutionary War and the declaration of the colonies’ independence from England, the Episcopal Church General Convention appointed psalms, lessons, and prayers for the Church’s national observance in the Proposed Book of Common Prayer Book of 1786. That observance didn’t last very long. The next General Convention (1879) deleted, scratched, eliminated the observance of Independence Day. Independence was very unpopular with many if not most of the Anglican bishops who were serving in the Colonies in those years. In fact, many of them fled the colonies and returned to England, hopping on the first ship they could manage to hop on – sometimes fearing for their personal safety. It took 139 years for the American Episcopal Church to again add the liturgical observance of Independence Day to our worship calendar. That happened in 1928. Are we starting to see a pattern here? Wonder why those liturgical gents chose the “love your enemies” passage following World War I?
But, let’s back up. Howard Thurman writes “In the main, there were two alternatives faced by the Jewish minority of which Jesus was a part [in Roman-occupied first century Palestine]. Simply stated, these alternatives were to resist or not to resist.” One could imitate the social behavior-pattern of the dominant group. In other words, one could try to fit in – repudiate one’s heritage, one’s customs, one’s faith. Herod was an excellent example of this.
The other alternative is resistance - - physical, overt, observable resistance, a dangerous, passionate choice. This was the position of the Zealot in Jesus’ day. Judas is widely believed to be a Zealot.
Jesus, however, in his Sermon on the Mount, presents a third and altogether different alternative. Jesus taught The
Kingdom of Heaven is within Us. Jesus recognized that those who permit another to determine the quality of their inner lives gives into the hands of the other the keys to their destiny. Christianity was born in the mind of Jesus, a Jewish teacher, schooled by the justice-seeking Hebrew prophets. Jesus knew hatred is destructive to hater and hated alike. “Love your enemy, that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven.” Jesus challenges his listeners to a higher standard, then and now. The inbreaking kingdom of God already belongs to these listeners, then and now.
So, the answer to question #1, why did Jesus tell his disciples - - and us - - to love their enemies is because he is teaching an alternative way to be in this world. He is teaching that the way of Jesus is to exist in this world knowing that we are citizens of the kingdom of God.
And I think that the answer to question #2 is that in 1776, in 1928, and in 2021 enemies are always to be found. How we respond to our enemies shows who and whose we are.
Jesus’ humility cuts across the grain of our natural response to perceived enemies who may curse what we most value. Jesus teaches “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” Live as a people to whom God has shown mercy.
The admonition on Independence Day to love our enemies is not just a good idea where we try our best to make it happen. It is not just a call to grit our teeth and make a resolution to be nicer even to those who are not nice to us. Rather, the call of Matthew is to live in a way contrary to our human nature, a way that is possible only as we “live out” of a new power born from above. This faith is a way of life, a way that is contrary to our own inclinations. The kingdom of God is within us.
Jesus knows full well that we will never love our enemies without an amazing grace that transforms us and makes us different than we are. The Gospel is good news but not easy-to-hear news
God’s call is to live righteously. Jesus’s call is to love our enemies. It is a blessing to live in America. It is a blessing to live in America in 2021. Our church and our national scholars are taking another look at our national history and denomination’s history and as our collect prays - - what it means to “maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace.” Thanks be to God. Amen.
 Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, chapter 1 “Jesus: An Interpretation.” (Boston:Beacon Press. 1976).