The text for this sermon is Matthew 5:38-48.
Who is my enemy? If you are like me, you might have trouble coming up with a name. I mean, I really don’t have anyone that I would call an enemy. I suppose as an American I have America’s enemies, but even they are harder to pin down. George Bush tried to give them a name, Islamo-Fascists-Terrorists, but it never caught on. It doesn’t really roll off of the tongue like commies did back in the good old days.
Who is my enemy? I have had an enemy that’s for sure. In high school there was a bully Jeff Mitchell who delighted in both terrorizing me and making my life miserable. There was that older guy at my last church that really, really, really didn’t like me and made sure everyone knew it. He passed away, so I don’t think he counts any longer and Jeff Mitchell hasn’t tormented me for thirty years.
Webster’s defines enemy as someone who has malice against me. I guess I have enemies while I am driving. I don’t know his name, but that guy that gets in that third lane going south on 256 into Pickerington then cuts over all of a sudden in front of me, he seems like he has malice against me. What’s his deal? Did he really not know that lane was going to become a turning lane into the movie theaters? I doubt it. I am sure he does it because he doesn’t care about me, whether I have to slam on the brakes, whether I am even paying close attention. That kind of behavior seems malicious. Maybe he is my enemy.
If so, I guess I live out this scripture, because I always turn the other cheek. Really what choice do I have? I could ride his bumper to show him I’m mad, but I don’t want a rear end collision. My car is old and paid for and I live in constant fear a fender bender is going to total it with the insurance company. No, I just grumble, let him in and pretty much forget about it a few seconds later. I suppose that is turning the other cheek, but honestly it doesn’t really seem like I earned a jewel in my crown in heaven.
Jesus and his disciples, they had real enemies, people that definitely had malice towards them, Pontius Pilate, King Herod, Caiaphas the Chief Priest. They were pretty much responsible for Jesus’ ending up on the cross. The disciples were afraid of these guys, too, and hid or denied knowing Jesus in order to protect themselves from them.
There is no record of any real warm embrace by Jesus or the disciples of these enemies. No fuzzy feelings that we would call love. Still, they didn’t return violence with violence or didn’t pursue justice because they were in the right. Jesus didn’t even allow his disciples to defend him with their swords. Jesus and his disciples had real enemies, much worse than that guy on 256. The thing is, he took his own advice, and ended up dying on the cross.
It makes me wonder if I did have real enemies, if Jeff Mitchell at 46 still hated me and went out of his way to physically hurt me like he did when we were both 14, would I really want to take Jesus’ advice. What would happen? At 14, not hitting back was generally my strategy anyway. Not because of Jesus but because I was afraid of Jeff and I made the calculation that if I hit back I would only make Jeff angrier and that wouldn’t be a good thing. Honestly, it didn’t really stop him from hitting me. It is not like I ended up on the cross, but my experience and Jesus’ experience makes me think that Jesus teaching today is not really meant to be a winning strategy for conquering our enemies, any more than letting that jerk on 256 cut in front of me has taught him not to do it again.
The entire teachings of Jesus in this part of Matthew called the Sermon on the Mount, are outlining how his disciples are to begin living today in the Kingdom of God. Even though we live still in the Kingdom of Man, in Jesus we have brushed close to God’s intention for creation. You and I live in a world of laws where justice is met when people pay a price for their bad actions. Not necessarily a chopped off arm for stealing, but two to five years in jail. Jesus talked about a different place, where justice was marked by forgiveness with no price to pay. In this teaching, Jesus is telling us to live in the Kingdom of God now, even though our address is still the Kingdom of Man.
In the Kingdom of Man, I am justified in showing my anger to that jerk on 256. By cutting me off he not only caused me to brake, but he slowed down the entire line of cars behind me. In the Kingdom of Man, the anger, the abusive words, the aggressive even dangerous driving that follows, are understandable. In the Kingdom of God they have no place. So I drive on without retribution. I turn the other cheek. Not to change him, but because this is who I have become or at least this is who I am trying to become.
Some of you have real enemies. Ex spouses that have hurt you badly by what they have done and who are still able to hurt you now even though you are no longer married. Dishonest business men that have taken advantage of your trust and have left you with a bill that you cannot pay a product you do not want or a life’s savings depleted. Cruel bosses who ridicule you in the office, belittling your gifts and treating you worse than a dog. Obsessed neighbors who you cannot reason with no matter how hard you try.
What do you do? Some of our enemies really do want to see us dead on a cross. We need to be aware of this and protect ourselves without giving into anger, hatred or revenge. Most though, because of their own brokenness just want to get our goat by building an ugly shed in their backyard, or violating the custody agreement and bringing our child home at midnight. We need to be aware of who is who. Protect ourselves from the first and work hard at loving the second one, the pain in the neck. In the Kingdom of Man, we may have to defend ourselves, but our home in the Kingdom of God still limits our response.
Sounds tough, huh? There is a benefit, though. When our actions move us toward the Kingdom of God, even if our heart is urging us to seek justice or worse revenge, there is peace to be found. When we return anger, hatred even violence with love, understanding and compassion, there is peace to be found. When we return evil with the same, there may be victory for us in the Kingdom of Man, but we will find ourselves further away from God. Whole life is lived in the Kingdom of God by the rules of that kingdom.
Who is my enemy? Really, no one. Not because I am such a nice guy that no one dislikes. Not because I am so holy that I am glistening with Jesus’ sweat. I have no enemies because Christ has transformed me and demands that like him I see all people as children of God and thus hate no one, even that jerk on 256. Oooh. I probably shouldn’t call him a jerk, huh. Oh well, at least that is the road with God I am trying to travel. Amen