In our first few weeks together, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the idea of a “good life.” It’s a life that we all want and desire for ourselves, our family, and our communities. I hope that we’ve seen bits and pieces of what God says is the “good life” as we’ve walked through Romans 12.
This good life is about being constantly renewed in the image of God. It means we are called to be transformed and continually grow in our relationship with the Lord. We are called to seek after the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength through the grace that comes from God’s love for us.
This good life means that God has called each of us to certain tasks in the body of Christ – the church. Each of has a role to play, and we were gifted with certain talents and abilities. We are called to glorify God, by serving God and being a living witness of Jesus Christ in all we do.
Last week, we talked about a love that is truly genuine and how we are called to love others as Christ has loved us. This means that we live in kindness, peace, and hope with one another.
We can all recognize how each of these are good and needed. We want this good life. But, Paul saved the most difficult aspect of living this good life to last. Living the good life and loving our neighbor means that we are not just called to love those who we get along with. We are called to love those who we may be enemies with. We are called to be loving to those who are the most difficult to love.
The call to live the good life means we are called to live at peace with those who we’ve had disagreements with, have done us wrong, or have hurt us in some way. This is not a call to a life of passivity. It is a called that challenges us to not live in the ways of the world, but to live according to the life and example Jesus set for us.
To love our enemies means we have to do something that is counter to our natural tendencies and desires. When someone wrongs us, our first tendency is to get upset. We want to get frustrated. We want the whole world to know that we’ve been wronged and how we were treated unfairly. We want to break off relationships. We want to get our friends on our side. We do everything we can to create an “us versus them” response.
In other words, when we’ve been wronged by someone we want to look more like Clark W. Griswold in “Christmas Vacation” than our Lord, Jesus Christ. We all know the scene. After receiving membership into the “Jelly of the Month Club” as a Christmas bonus, Clark unleashes on a diatribe where he announces the things he would like to call his boss.
While we may not set off on a Griswold-like tirade, our impulse and desire is to do something that creates a distance in our relationship with the other individual or institution. This sets us on a path that leads us to go against God’s call to truly love our neighbor as ourself. We want to see our neighbor as only that person we are on friendly terms with. Yet, when we look throughout Scripture, both Old and New Testament, we see God calls us to see our enemy as also as our neighbor. God calls all of his children – all of us – to see those who we would rather not get along with in a new light. Jesus says love your enemy, pray for them, and it’s a message that Paul is picking up here. Jesus calls us to go against what our first impulse would likely be, and to live a life that seeks to live at peace with one another.
To love our enemy is a call to a deeper reality that lives in the recognition of who we all are in God’s eyes. We live in the realization we are all sinners. Our sin made us enemies to God. It creates a distance in our relationship with God, just like the hurts of our enemies creates distances in our relationship with them. But, God never stopped loving us even though we were a enemy to God because of our sin. We are saved through the free grace of God’s love. As Paul says in Romans 5:9-10, God’s grace reconciles all of us into relationship with the Father, through the sacrifice and resurrection of the Son, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is by Gods grace and the blood of Christ that we are justified and cleansed so we may live in a renewed relationship with God. Because of God’s love for us, we are called to show that same love towards those who have hurt us, and seek to find ways to build reconciliation, restored relationships, and live in peace. The Christian life is not about seeking revenge, but about renewed relationships and finding room for forgiveness to take place between both parties.
For this to happen, to be able to being the process of loving our enemy, we need to see their shared humanity. Genesis 1:27 reminds us that we were each created in the image of God. That means we are all reflections of God’s love. All of humanity – regardless of gender, race, or culture – shares in this image. When we are able to see the humanity of our enemy, walls start to break down. They are no longer that person who has harmed us, but someone that God loves and created.
Jesus never lost sight of the humanity of the Pharisees and Sadducees. His interactions with these two groups was always about helping them to see the error of their ways, and to bring them into deeper relationship and a renewed existence with the Father in Heaven. Jesus never lost sight that they were created in the image of God, and so he engaged them in love. He was tough when he needed to be tough. He loved enough to walk away when he needed to. And he embraced those who had honest questions.
Jesus serves as our model in interacting with our enemies, especially as we move from a posture of exclusion to embrace. We are called to reflect the mind and love of Christ as we engage those who would harm or stand against us. There is probably no better image of exclusion and embrace than in the film “Forrest Gump,” when young Forrest is riding the school bus. Children refused to let Forrest sit next to him, until finally Jenny allowed him to sit next to her.
While this is mostly about embracing someone with differences, I think there is a parallel for us today. Here me out for a moment, what if that person whom we had a disagreement with showed up at church today, and attempted to sit next to us? What about that person who cut us off on the highway? Maybe that family member that we’ve struggled to get along with? I think we would all wrestle with how to react, or how we would engage that person.
To be fair, we would probably want to be like those kids on the school bus and say “we’re saving this seat for someone.” To exclude means to place a wall between ourselves and the other, and to distance ourselves from any form of relationship. The difficult choice is to chose, like Jenny, the path of embrace. To embrace our enemy, means we are opening the potential of dialogue and relationship. We make the first step. Perhaps this means we offer a kind word to them, maybe it means we hold our tongue, or even find the way to have constructive and calm dialogue about the hurts. When we chose the path of seeking to embrace our enemy, we offer kindness and hospitality to them, and treat them with love. No longer are we about seeking revenge for our own need, but we allow God’s love and desire for justice to reign. And, as Paul says, in Romans 12:21, we do not allow evil to conquer us, but we conquer evil by doing good.
This is not easy. There are going to be people where it will be hard to love them. Maybe that person who abused us, or even that person who refused to seek a conversation to discuss what has taken place. Sometimes loving our enemies means that we break off communication for a time, while earnestly trusting in God’s grace and love to work in both that individual, and us, that perhaps one day forgiveness will be possible, reconciliation will take place, and relationships will be renewed, both between that person and God, and between us and that individual.
Yet, in all things God calls us to pray for our enemies. In prayer, we give over to God the differences, the separation, and the hurts, and we pray God’s peace to take place. We pray for God to bring forth healing and reconciliation. We pray that God will transform that individual who has hurt us, so that reconciliation will take place. But, we also pray that God will transform us, and open our eyes to any issues that we may have caused to bring forth the separation as well. We must never stop praying for those who have hurt us, because it is only through the love and grace of God will reconciliation truly take place.
We must be a people that is about reconciliation and renewed relationships between all of God’s people. But here this: The difficult path is not easy. That is why it is called difficult. God’s call to love all people – including our enemies – is a deep challenge. There are going to be moments when we are not completely loving to others, or always offer the right words. Let that not be a stopping point for us, and may we be moved by the Holy Spirit to seek to live in peace with one another. If we can live in peace with each other, if we can live with the hope of reconciliation, I believe it will inspire others to do the same. I firmly believe people are waiting to be shown the way of how to live lives of true peace and reconciliation, so why not the church, through Jesus Christ’s witness through us, show the way?
Let us be the people of peace. Let us be the people who strive to for renewed relationships. And, let us strive for the best for all of God’s people, including our enemies.