The Most Difficult of Prayers

This is the text of a homily I preached, light night, at our September 11 Prayer Service. The text comes from Ezekiel 18:21-24 and Matthew 5:43-48.

Today has been a long day.

All day, we’ve been reminded about that September morning 10 years ago. Maybe you have told stories about where you were on September 11, 2001. Perhaps, you have relived the emotions you first had.

As a community, we have gathered tonight to remember those who lost their lives on September 11. We have prayed for those who lost their lives in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. We have remembered and prayed for those who gave their lives in response to the attacks. We have prayed for our country, and we have prayed for our world.

Now, we have to come to the most difficult of prayers. We have come to a time to pray for our enemies.

Christ calls us to a difficult task in praying for and loving those who are our enemies. This is not easy. It is difficult for all of us. But, in showing love to our enemies, we are making a stand against terrorism. We exhibit a nonviolent response to terrorism that is a witness to the grace and transforming love of Jesus Christ.

Love, Christ tells us, cannot be limited to those whom we like. Our neighbors include not just those whom we are on friendly terms with, but also those whom we do not understand, like, or want to harm us. To truly be the light in a dark world, we are called to make the first move. We are called to reach out and love our enemies.

One of the ways we make that first move is recognizing we all share something in common. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us we are all created in the “image of God.” This means all of humanity reflects something of the character of God. We all share this in common, regardless of who we are, what we look like, where we live, or what we have done.

When we begin to see our enemy as someone God loved enough to create, and not as someone who desires our destruction, it changes our interactions with them. We no longer seek revenge for the sake of our own justification, but we begin to make room for God’s love and justice to work. Even more, we earnestly desire that our enemies come to know Christ, and are transformed by that love in their lives.

When we think of loving our enemies, we cannot help but think of God’s love for us. Though we were sinners, Christ died for us. We were enemies to God, yet God sent his son to take our place, and die the death we deserved to die. In response, we are called to respond in prayer and love to those who are our enemies. It is the purest example of “taking care of someone with kindness.”

As Christians, we cannot wish for our enemies to be destroyed, or even their death. We do not rejoice in the death and downfall of our enemies. As our passage from Ezekiel reminds us, not even God wishes for the death of his enemies. We are called to hold out hope that even the most vile person can be transformed by the Holy Spirit. That hope opens the door for reconciliation and the possibility for communication. It creates opportunities for all of us to be the witness of the love of Christ to our enemies in our own lives, and throughout the world.

Loving our enemies does not ignore the wrongs that have taken place. When we offer love and prayer for our enemies, even the terrorist, we do not ignore what took place on September 11, 2001. What took place on September 11, 2001 was wrong and immoral, and should never have occurred.

When we love our enemies, we are taking a stand. As a community, we are saying that we will do all that we can to make sure that events like September 11 do not happen again. We pray that God will open doors for reconciliation and transformation among those who support radical ideals and terrorist sympathies. We trust God will work in the lives of all, even the terrorist.

When we live our enemies, we seek justice in the ways of the kingdom of God. We respond with a “faith that works through love” to transform the world in the name of Jesus Christ. We make a stand and say that this is wrong, and it will not happen again, not here, not anywhere. As a community, we respond by looking at the world and making sure there are opportunities for all of God’s people. I firmly believe that children in the Middle East need opportunities for education a better life, so that terrorism is not a “viable option.” In the next 10 years, let us move from our anger and frustrations. Let us work for peace and reconciliation, and pray for the transformation and renewal of communities that harbor terrorists, and for the terrorists themselves.

There is a reason why this is difficult. On our own, we cannot do it. By our own power, we cannot fathom how to love our enemies, or even how to pray for them. Through the love of Christ working in us, and through us, we can do what seems impossible to us. When we allow Christ to work, walls will come down. There will be opportunities to love and pray for all of our enemies. Reconciliation will begin, and true freedom and peace will come.

This is difficult, and it will take time for all of us. We may not be ready to do love the enemy today, and that’s OK. The Christian life is a journey to the mountaintops of discipleship, and imitating the love of Christ in our interactions with others.

It is difficult to love our enemies, but the things that are right are often the most difficult to do. Let us take this difficult journey together as a community. As a body of Christ, let us make a public stand together that we will not live in hatred, but in peace. That we desire that all of humanity, including the terrorist, will repent of their sin, recognize, their need of God, and seek to live in peace with one another. Let us be a true representation of the love of Christ to all, even to our enemies, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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