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“Loving the Unlovable”
Luke 6: 27-38
February 20, 2022
Loving the Unlovable. That’s what Jesus is telling us to do in this passage. Love our enemies? People who hate us, who have been unkind to us, who have taken from us? Those people are unlovable! How in the world are we supposed to love people like that? Everything within us screams against it. Everything around tells us to do just the opposite. The world draws lines and creates boundaries.
Think of the phrase, “out of bounds,” in athletics. According to the rules of the game, lines are drawn, and the action of the game must take place within those lines. Football, basketball, volleyball, tennis, all have areas that are designated out of bounds. If the line is crossed, the whistle blows.
That works well in athletics, but sometimes we try to draw lines around the grace of God. There are individuals or groups that we consider to be out of bounds, off limits. None of us does this intentionally. But in subtle ways, our minds draw distinctions. This person is in; that person is out. This person is good; that person is bad. This person is worthy; that person is not. We stand on one side of the line----the side we see as the good side, the right side---and all those other people are on the other side. Even well-intentioned people can do this without realizing it. It is so natural for human beings to stand toe-to-toe with people, to draw lines and refuse to cross them.
This passage from Luke’s gospel challenges us to take a good hard look at the people we consider to be out of bounds.
This passage is part of what is known as Jesus’ sermon on the plain. Because it shares some similarities to the sermon on the mount in Matthew’s gospel, some scholars think this was the same event described from a different perspective. But it is also possible that Jesus was speaking in a different setting here, to a different group of people. Like most good teachers and preachers, Jesus would often preach the same theme with different variations, depending on what the people listening that day needed to hear. In this context, Jesus was speaking to a large crowd who had come to hear him and to be healed, a crowd that included his disciples and, verse 17 tells us, “a great multitude of people, from all Judea, Jerusalem, and!---and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.” It would be fair to say that the people in this crowd did not get along. The people of Tyre and Sidon were not friends of the Jews. They had been alienated from one another since the time of the patriarchs and matriarchs. Remember a few weeks ago when we were looking at Luke 4; Jesus was teaching in the synagogue, and when he said the prophet Elijah helped a widow in Sidon, the people in the synagogue were filled with rage! Some good religious folks would not even enter the territory of Tyre and Sidon for fear of becoming unclean! Within this very crowd were people suspicious of one another, hostile toward one another, people who considered themselves enemies.
So Jesus’ words here were not just philosophical ideals. He was giving clear instructions in a real-life situation among people who would have been able to look right across the crowd and see their enemies.
And what about us? We may not have people in our lives we define as “enemies.” But are there people we find difficult to love? People we judge and condemn? People we see as “different” than we are, like the people of Tyre and Sidon, people we categorize into groups that we place on the other side of an imaginary line?
Two years ago, in February 2020, a young Black man named Ahmaud Arbery was jogging in the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick, Georgia, when he was chased down by three men and murdered. Sadly, the former D.A. also was charged with a crime, because she instructed police not to arrest the men, one of whom had worked for her office. The assailants, convicted of murder this past November, now are facing Federal hate crime charges, and prosecutors have presented conversations and texts and social media posts to substantiate that the crime was motivated by racial hatred. The people who committed this crime saw Ahmaud Arbery as being “out of bounds.” He was in their neighborhood, someplace they thought he should not be, and their hatred was so great that they took his life and ruined their own lives, as well.
I lived in the wonderful city of Brunswick, Georgia and served a church there; I have been to the Satilla Shores neighborhood where Arbery died. It grieves me that such a terrible crime of hatred could happen in a place with so many good people. But the truth is no place is immune to the evil effects of judging those we deem different.
Just last week in Mississippi, another father and son were arrested for chasing and shooting at a Black Fed-Ex driver delivering packages in their neighborhood. When will we learn?
When taken to the extreme, this judgment of those who are different, this placing them on the other side of a line, has been the spark that ignited some of the greatest atrocities in history. The 1930s in Germany. Adolph Hitler convinced the German people that their economic distress was the fault of a group of people who were different. Let’s draw a line, he said. Those people, those others, they are inferior, they are bringing the rest of us down, they are the cause of all our problems. And in the end, six million Jews and five million others were murdered in the Holocaust.
And then more recently, the Khmer Rouge, Bhutan, Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Sudan, all within our lifetime.
When will we learn?
My friend Rabbi Rachael Bregman, the Rabbi in Brunswick, Georgia, has been working to promote peace and unity in the aftermath of the shooting there. Last month, after a Rabbi and others were held hostage at a synagogue on Colleyville, Texas, she wrote an article for the Atlanta Journal Constitution titled, “Love Anyway.” In the article she acknowledged that if we can see the brokenness, the humanity of others, “we can also have more compassion, more love for one once believed to be an enemy. We are learning that when the anger gets in the way of the love, we end up exactly in the world we find ourselves in now. Anger breeds fear and fear breeds violence. We are learning that this love we are called to in sacred texts and ancient wisdom, to love our neighbors, to love the stranger, to love ourselves, is not a feeling but an action, a series of actions, which turn against the anger, fear and violence. Actions steeped in the knowing that we are all made from the same stuff; that there is no ‘them,’ there is only ‘us,’” she said.1
There is no them. There is only us. All of us are sinners in need of the grace and mercy of God. Only love has the power to transform; acting with love---even toward people we may not like---has redemptive power.
When I was in seminary, a professor for whom I had great respect was continually challenged in class by a group of students who disagreed with his theology. The students were outrageously rude and mean-spirited, but the good professor was unfailing calm and polite in return. One day after class, I asked him how he could stand to be so nice to people who were so hateful! With a patient smile, he replied, “If I were not kind to them, I would not have the opportunity to change them.”
He understood being merciful, as God is merciful. He understood the transforming power of love.
In a sermon on “Loving Your Enemies,” Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. That’s why Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ Because if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and to transform your enemies. But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption.”2
We must learn to love our enemies. In his sermon on the plain that day, Jesus spoke radical words. Loving enemies was just as counter-cultural then as it is today. Jesus said, You have to be different than the world! Even sinners love those who love them. You must be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Ah. There is the key: our relationship with a Holy God, who chooses to love us, even though we are sinners, because God is love. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged,” Jesus said. “Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven, for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
We are to imitate the one we follow, to love as God has loved us.
This morning the sacrament of baptism reminded us that we are all God’s children. All people were created in God’s image, and within each one is a child waiting for redemption. When we feel the beginnings of anger or judgment or hate stir within us, we should remember that each person is a child of God. When we realize that we are placing people in groups or categories on the other side of a line, let’s stop in our tracks, and remember: there is no one who is outside the bounds of God’s love. That person on the other side of a line we have drawn is a child of God. And when we push out those boundaries, when we expand the circle, when we move the lines so far out that they disappear altogether, we will see that those other folks are not so different than we are. Sinners, to be sure, but so are we. In need of the grace of God—and so are we. Loved by the God who created us, who claims us and who sent his own Son to save us. So may we have the eyes of God to see all people as God’s children, and may we love with the heart of God that welcomes all of us into God’s loving arms. In the name God, our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, Amen.
Rev. Dawn Mayes
Manassas Presbyterian Church