Like Father, Like Son
A sermon based on Matthew 5:38-48
Sunday, February 20, 2011 – Epiphany 7A
So, did you have a good Valentines Day? Did you get cards and sweets from everyone you wanted? Did you get a valentine for that special someone? Did you get cards for all your friends? …How about your enemies? Did you get a card for the co-worker that said, "I know I can't stand you, but come get a hug, Valentine!"? Or for the debt collector that keeps calling, "I hate when you harass me, but be my valentine!"? Or for the IRS auditor, "You can take my time and my money… now take my heart!"?
Not, likely, huh? The truth is, it's pretty easy to love the people who love you, and to pay kindness back with kindness and friendliness with friendliness. But how about loving the people that don't love you? Now that's not so easy, is it? To return good for evil or love for hatred? Now that's asking a lot.
The human animal snarls when attacked and bites back when bitten. But in our text for this morning, Jesus tells us not to resist evil, but instead to turn the other cheek, and even to love our enemies! Who would live like this? Only the Son of our heavenly Father. And now God calls us, as his sons (and daughters), to return love for evil just like he does to us!
Listen again to Matthew 5:38-48 for the next portion of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount…
38 "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
43 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
I. The Love of the Father
When Jesus says, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," he doesn't mean to do like the guy who told his co-worker, "Bob, I've been praying for you… but you're still here!" No. He means to love in action: to be patient and kind, not envious or boastful, rude or proud, to put the other person's best-interests before your own, and to forgive the wrongs others have done us. Go home this afternoon and read 1 Corinthians 13 to see God's definition of this kind of love in action.
But is that how we act toward our enemies? Is that even how we act toward our co-workers, our families, or our friends? After all, too often we treat those we "love" with greater hostility than the people we don't care about. The word for enemy here comes from the word for hate, that is "to not show love." Our "enemies" that we are to love can often be the kids who disobey, the spouse who is unloving toward us, the boss or co-worker who walks all over you. Your enemy doesn't have to be the one you're locked in mortal combat with, destined to forever fight until one of you finally perishes at the hand of the other. It could be the person sitting next to you right now, who doesn't always treat you with loving kindness.
So how do you treat them? With agape love? With that special love that would put their welfare above your own? Or do you seek to love only those who love you and to hurt those who've hurt you? After all, don't we often feel justified in our loveless actions toward those who have been loveless toward us? Isn't it right to seek justice for the sins of others?
But do you really want justice? Really?
After all justice means hell for you and me. For our loveless attitudes toward others, even toward those who are loveless toward us, we really say to God, "It's all about me and what I deserve. And I don't deserve what that guy does. My sin's not nearly as bad as his." But Jesus points out by the mirror of the law what we really look like and what we really deserve:
"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?" And he sums up everything he's been saying in Matthew 5 and the entire law with verse 48: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
"Love your enemies... pray for those who persecute you... Be perfect"? Well, that sure isn't us. And so we make ourselves to be God's enemies. And we deserve to remain his enemies for all of eternity. After all, that's what we choose by our loveless and hateful words and actions toward others. Yes, "justice" means hell for you and me.
But thank God that we don't get justice! For "[our] Father in heaven… causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." And he hasn't just caused the sun to shine and the rain to fall, but has sent his only Son to pay for the sins of the evil and the unrighteous… that is, for us. As God said through Paul in Romans 5(:6,8), "Christ died for the ungodly… God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
In other words, Christ loved his enemies and prayed, "Father, forgive them" for us who put him on the cross by our hostility toward him and others! And now we get sunshine and rain, forgiveness and peace, heaven and glory, when we deserve none of it! Now by taking our sins on himself on the cross and giving us his record of perfection, he has made us as "perfect… as [our] heavenly Father is perfect!" Now we are sons (and daughters) of our Father in heaven, brought into his family as recipients of his undeserved love.
And now we thank God for being so un-fair in loving us, who were once enemies, and we, in turn, reflect his love toward others. In other words, seeing his love toward us, we are to be like Father, like son (or daughter), showing undeserved love even to those who are cruel and unloving to us. …
II. The Love of His Children
What does your enemy – the disobedient child, the abusive spouse, spiteful co-worker, or demanding boss—deserve? Well, let's be clear: the unloving way in which they treat us is sin. They deserve hell for the way they treat us… just like we deserve hell for the way we treat God. They deserve punishment. They deserve to have justice dished out. And God has called the government that he's established to administer that justice. 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'
But he has not called, you, dear Christian individual, to seek vengeance or justice. He has not called you to make them suffer or hurt in the same way they have made you suffer or hurt. Instead he has called you to show the same mercy and love that he has shown to you.
Now, don't misunderstand. This doesn't mean it is wrong to enforce consequences for sinful behavior. But it does mean that even if we give tough love (and that's what consequences really are), we're always to show love—even to our enemies. Like Father, like son: "I tell you:," Jesus said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven."
Others may deserve hostility and vengeance from us, just as we deserve hostility and vengeance from God. But instead they get love and kindness from us, just as we get love and kindness from God.
Someone once said that the best way to destroy your enemy is to make him or her your friend.
Former Boston Red Sox Hall-of-Fame third baseman, Wade Boggs, used to hate playing at Yankee Stadium. Not because of the Yankees—they never gave him that much trouble—but because of a fan. The guy had a box seat close to the field, and when the Red Sox were in town he would torment Boggs by shouting obscenities and insults. One day before the game, while Boggs was warming up at third base, the fan began his typical routine, yelling, "Boggs, you stink! You're a bum!" Finally, Boggs decided he had enough. He walked right over to the man, who was sitting in the stands with his friends, and said, "Are you the guy who's always yelling at me?" The man said, "Yeah, it's me. What are you going to do about it?" So Wade Boggs took a new baseball out of his pocket, autographed it, tossed it to the man, and went back to the field. And the guy never yelled at him ever again; in fact, he became one of Wade's biggest fans at Yankee Stadium.
But it won't always be that easy. Your "enemy" may not respond so well. You might struggle with bitterness in your heart. Well, God doesn't say "like your enemies." That is to say, he doesn't demand that you produce an emotional feeling of happiness and joy when your adversary walks into the room. But he does say, "Love your enemies." That is to show patience and kindness, to refuse to be envious or boastful, rude or proud, to put the other person's best-interests before your own, and to forgive the wrongs others have done to us. (again, cf. 1 Corinthians 13:4ff.)
And the cool thing is that when you choose to love and choose to do what is right (in spite of how you may feel), then, more often than not, the feelings will follow.
A woman was separated from her husband and told her counselor, "All I want to do is to hurt him in the worst possible way. What can I do?" The horrible counselor told her, "Compliment him, show him love and respect, be as nice to him as possible… and then, when he has every hope for reconciliation, when he thinks you love him and are devoted to him, then file for divorce. That's the way to hurt him most." She returned two months later to report that she'd followed the counselor's advice. "Good!" he said, "Now is the time to file for divorce!" "Divorce?!" the woman cried, "Never! I've fallen in love with the guy!" … Indeed, the best way to destroy your enemy is to make him or her your friend.
And why should we do it? In the hopes that the other person will quit making life so miserable? That may happen. But then again, it may not. But you and I don't love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us for our own selfish gain. But instead "We love because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19) God didn't give us what we deserve. And like Father, like sons and daughters. We don't give others what they deserve in thanks to him. Just as the moon shines brightly not because it has any source of light in itself, but reflects the light of the sun, so too, we reflect the light of the Son [point to the cross] and show the same love that the Father's shown to us, even to our enemies.
People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Love them anyway. If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway. Honesty and truth make you vulnerable. Be honest and truthful anyway. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth. Give the best you have anyway! …Because if you give the best you have, you will truly be like your Father in heaven. Like Father, like son (like daughter). As children of God, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven!" In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.