Friday, February 17, 2017

Loving Generously - Matthew 5:43-48

Matthew 5:43-48New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,[a] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

        In February, 2002, an American journalist was murdered in Karachi, Pakistan.  He was not just murdered.  No.  He’d been kidnapped and forced to sit in front of a video camera to beg for help.  The kidnappers made unreasonable demands, and they ignored pleas for mercy from his newspaper and even his wife, who pregnant at the time.

        After several days, his kidnappers cut off his head.  They then cut up his body and buried it in a shallow grave that was later discovered by police. 

         Not long after this man’s murder, I met his father.

         I met him at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, USA – which is the national level of our church that meets every other year.

        From time to time I would see this man’s father speaking.  He spoke at a luncheon. He spoke up in committee meetings as guests of the church.  He spoke at spontaneous gatherings in the hallways of this conference center.

        Well, General Assembly, being a Christian gathering, someone dared to ask the family a question.  “Have you been able to forgive?  Have you been able to love your enemies?”

        “NO,” said one of the relatives.

        “That’s the trouble with you Christians.  You love too generously.  I love only one thing.  My hate.  Since they cut off my son’s head, hate is what I have become, and I like it. I have a right to hate.”
        Man.  He’s correct.  He’s on target.  He has a right to hate.  Someone murdered his son.  They video taped the murder.  It’s posted on the internet.  His father has seen it.  Someday this victim’s son, unborn at the time of the murder, may Google it up and see it when he’s 6 or 7 or 8.

        How can this family not hate?

        They have a right.

        We’ve never been through what that man went through – or at least I haven’t.  And part of us can never understand what that family went through.  We would not want to know what that family has been through.

        But each of us may feel that we have a right to hate.

        Because something bad happened to us.

        Something unique.

        Something no one else can understand. 
        And we don’t forgive, because that would be absurd.

        And we don’t love, because we have a right to hate.

        Statistics tell us that 1 in 6 women have been sexually assaulted.  Statistically speaking, that means that given last week’s Sunday attendance, 50 women who were worshipping at Grace Covenant Church had been, at one time in their lives, at some point in their lives, sexually assaulted.[1]

        Well, let’s say that we are a statistical anomaly.  Let’s say that here at Grace Covenant Church, only half that number have been assaulted – so that still leaves 25.  Twenty five women we know whom have had something horrible happen to them.

        You see, it’s not just out there that bad things have happened.  We’ve had bad things happen.  Our loved ones and friends have had unspeakable things happen to them.

        People have been victimized and abused as children when they could not defend themselves -- And they were victimized by the very people who were supposed to love them and take care of them and protect them.

        They have a right to hate.

        Good people go to work day after day, and one day they find that they no longer have work to go to.  They have been fired and it happened in a way that dehumanized them and humiliated them. 

        They have a right to hate.

        A family discovers a child has cancer.  And they pray and they hope and one day they stand at a grave and watch a little casket lowered in the ground.

        And they hate.  They are angry.  And it is not satisfying enough to hate cancer, so the parents hate the doctors, who may have done all they could and more.  Or they hate the nurses, because maybe they didn’t think the nurses were gentle enough in sticking needles into the fragile daughter’s arm.  Or they hate their pastor, because the pastor represents God – and if they have the courage, they will God himself.

        They have a right to hate.

        And along comes Jesus Christ, who in this Sermon on the Mount says, "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies.”

        Jesus Christ, how you can say that?
        How can Jesus Christ say to the man who has worked hard, worked honestly, worked faithfully, and who now has been fired, “Love your boss.”

        After all, doesn’t that man have a right to hate?

        How can Jesus Christ say to the family of the dead child, “Love the doctors, nurses, pastors whom you think failed your daughter.”

        After all, doesn’t that family have a right to hate someone – something?

        How can Jesus Christ say to the person who was raped, or to the person who was robbed, or to the person who was humiliated, or to anyone, “Love.”

        After all, don’t we all have a right to hate certain people?

        How in God’s name, can Jesus Christ say to a family whose son was kidnapped, murdered, decapitated on video, “love your enemy?”

        After all, don’t some people have the ultimate right to hate beyond question?

        The father of that reporter whose death can still be found on the Internet said, “The problem with you Christians is that you love too generously.” 

        No, that’s not the problem.  Because Lord knows, we haven’t loved nearly that generously.

        We hate.  We despise.  We have a right.

        Loving generously is not the problem.

        Loving generously is the goal that we’ve never been able to quite reach.

        What did Jesus know about all of this anyway?  What did he know about life?  I mean really. 

        He was never a woman who was sexually assaulted.

        He never had a daughter die of cancer.

        He never turned on the computer to see a video of his son being murdered.

        Nobody ever fired Jesus from a job.

        But then – he was humiliated. 
        He was deserted by friends. 

        He was mistreated by the government. 

        He was assaulted and beaten and tortured.

        And he was nailed to a cross and put to death – and if the Internet had been around back then, his mother Mary would have stumbled on the reruns on You Tube.

        Jesus had a right to hate.

        But Jesus found it possible to love even his enemies.

        Jesus was hanging on a cross.  At his feet people have taken his clothing and are playing games to see who wins the clothing to take home.  As if it is not bad enough to have your life taken away, you have to die in front of people who don’t care – who in fact care more about your clothing than they care about you. 

        Jesus had a right to hate – but instead, he prays “Father, forgive them.”[2]

        I’m not going suggest that you don’t have the right to hate.

        Maybe you do.

        Maybe you do have the right to hate the person who humiliated you, took advantage of you, fired you, deserted you, raped you, assaulted you, did some unspeakable thing to you… whatever.

        Maybe you do have the right to hate.

        But what Jesus does is to offer you a better way.

        You may think you have the right to hate, but Jesus says, “Love your enemies.”

        The problem with Christians is that we have not loved generously enough. 

        On July 12, 1986, New York City Police officer, Steven McDonald, was on patrol in Central Park and stopped to question three teenagers.  One of them, a 15 year old, took out a gun and shot the officer in the head and neck. 

        McDonald was rushed to the hospital, and while he survived, he was paralyzed from the neck down.  He had been married for 8 months and his 23 year old wife was 8 months pregnant. 

        After 18 months in the hospital – 18 months – that’s a year and a half – that’s more than twice the amount of time he had been married -- McDonald was able to go home.

        One of the first things he and his wife did was to have their son baptized.  At the baptism, McDonald told people that he had forgiven the 15 year old who had forever changed his life.  McDonald told his church, “I wanted to free myself of all the negative, destructive emotions that this act of violence awoke in me - the anger, the bitterness, the hatred.  I needed to free myself of those so I could be free to love my wife and our child and those around us.”

        In the years following this shooting, McDonald has often told people that the only thing worse than a bullet in his spine would have been to nurture revenge in my heart.  He says that such an attitude would have extended his tragic injury into his soul, hurting his wife, son, and others even more.

        McDonald had a right to hate.  No one can deny that. 

        But he found a better way.  He learned to love his enemy.[3]

        On October 2, 2006, a man walked into a school and began killing and wounding students and teachers.  The school was in an Amish community, and the grandfather of one of the murdered girls told CNN television, “We must not think evil of this man” who killed our children. 

        That community had a right to hate, but they sought love and forgiveness, and out of that, they found healing.  Instead of a community torn and wounded and destroyed, they refused to be a part of a cycle of hatred and violence, and found peace.  As community, they marched to the home of the parents of the man who had murdered and injured their children.  They didn’t march to that family out of revenge, but offer that family forgiveness and love. [4]

        We clothe ourselves in hatred.  In bitterness.  We were humiliated.  We were hurt.  We were the victim.

        And we KNOW that we have the right to hate.

        But at some point, we have to let go of that.  We have to walk out of the cycle of hatred and bitterness.  We have stop clothing ourselves in bitterness, and instead find a way to do what the Bible tells us to do – to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”[5]

        Maybe we do have a right to hate.  But there is another way.

        It is time for us to love generously -- and to find peace for ourselves.

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2017. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.

[5] Colossians 3:12