Matthew 5:43-47 (MSG) 43 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ 44 I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, 45 for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. 46 If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. 47 If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
“Think of the good that has been done you throughout your lifetime by those who have injured or attempted to injure you. Others call such people their enemies. You should imitate the saints, at least in this. You are nothing so special that you should have enemies; so call them “benefactors”. Pray to God for them: as a result, you will come to like them” (1)
As I feel a need to write this blog, I am also a bit wary of it. Simply put, many of my blogs – almost all of them, are written based in personal reflection and need.
As I sit in my office this morning, haven’t had to deal with any of those people mentioned in the title. So maybe this blog is for you, and not me?
Even so, if James is right about trials and trauma being beneficial to us, then it logically can be stated that those who are the cause of some of those trials and traumas are likewise blessings and not curses. That we can view the lesson they teach us, as a gift from God, and rather than get more and more frustrated, we can give thanks and praise for their being in our lives.
Well – were are you going to find the strength to rise above your own sinful nature and love them – as Jesus asks you to? How are you going to find the focus to pray for them, not that God would change their habits, or their ability to just tick you off, but instead that God would richly bless them, and reveal His love to them?
There is the lesson…
They aren’t your cross, they simply drive you to it. They are a reminder that you aren’t God, that you can’t walk alone in this world, that you cannot conjure up this transformation in your own soul, in your own heart – on you own.
You need Jesus love, you need the power of the Holy Spirit, you have to know that you dwell in the presence of God – and assured of His presence, His mercy shown to you – then you can love them, then you can pray for their best, then you will realize the blessing that they are…. and give thanks for them.
Pray for me, even as I know within the next month, I will need to come back and remember these words..
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2859-2863). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
“The Gates of Hell Cannot Withstand Us”
† In Jesus Name †
As we are engaged in spiritual battle, may we find the strength, and His might, which enables us to focus, not on the Evil, but on His Love and Mercy! AMEN!
St. Peter’s Confession!
In one of his better moments, right after putting one foot in his mouth and perhaps seconds before placing the other one there, St Peter proclaims to Jesus (and to the others) “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:16 (NLT)
Jesus response there in Matthew’s gospel affirms Peter’s words.
16:17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter which means ‘rock’, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not stand against it. Matthew 16:17-19 (adapted from NLT/ESV)
We shared this same hope we in the words of the Nicene Creed, They remind us that we are in a spiritual war, that we were once hostages that were rescued by Jesus, that there are still many that need to be rescued, and the gates of hell are powerless against the cry of faith in God.
It is a spiritual war, and spiritual warfare, though simple in words never seems to be so easy.
Most people, facing spiritual warfare and our epistle today take one of two actions. One they see themselves as a spiritual super-hero, Captain America or Superman – ready to take on the world if need be! Or having common sense, they run faster than the Enterprise going into warp
Often, we come often back from such spiritual warfare bruised and battered, as I have to admit, I did this week. The challenge is to realize that taking such a beating…isn’t always a bad thing. For it drives us to Jesus…
A Confession of Failure
As Vicar Mark and I went to St. Louis this week, we had some incredible moments. Some of the lessons were great, as we heard that the seminary process is as much about forming Mark as a pastor, not just a theologian. They left him a bit in awe, and somewhat in fear of the next four year’s work they demand. They did the same for us “mentors”. They told us of the burden we will bear – opening our lives us to share and model and help mold th making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
em as men of God, as leaders of their church.
I failed the very first test as Mark’s mentor, as we struggled through the week, and as frustration eventually got the best of me. I didn’t model very well being strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might, and in remembering that flesh and blood are not our enemies – but forces of much more conniving and forceful and yes diabolical nature.
It started with a rental car which our 5’7 inch 150 pound friend found quite snug with the seat all the way back! (So you can imagine Mark and I trying to wear it!) Then there was the perfect weather – well the numbers matched perfectly – 95 degrees and 95 percent humidity. Add in every class we moved from was on the 2nd or third floor with the stairwells without any airflow. Toss in a number of irritating moments, like losing paperwork and forms multiple times. And cap it off with a mind-number eleven hour journey home including a challenge with TSA, weather delays, missed connections, and airport staff who seemed to delight in causing us problems! One of us, on a conveyer belt bringing us from one terminal to another mentioned the passage in James… “count it all joy when you endure..” except we couldn’t even find that quote funny. We were done, we were beat, and we lost sight of God’s incredible blessings of the week, or the people He brought us into contact with…including the divorced doctor going to see his son, and the foreign student who Mark and I had the opportunity to share God’s love with, on the first leg of our journey.
I have to confess that I struggled not to see the ticket agent as my enemy. Knowing I was preaching on this very passage, I gave up the opportunity to be a blessing to her, and to be an example on dealing with frustrations for Mark.
I had lost the war… or so I believed, as I shared with Vicar Mark that we needed to remember the incredible blessings, even as Satan and His demons, NOT DELTA, was trying to distract us from the grace we know so well! The goal isn’t to beat us up, but to do whatever is necessary to pull us away from Jesus, and then into the bondage of sin!
So where is our armor?
I am convinced that a great deal of spiritual warfare begins and ends with simply distracting us from Jesus. Whether it is causing us frustration or anxiety, getting us to be burdened by guilt or shame, causing us to repress our feelings, or giving into sin, the goal is the same – the people of God will struggle if we are weakened by forgetting the presence of God in which we dwell! That’s why one of the first tactics is to indicate that we don’t need to be gathered together around God’s mercy and love, poured out on us through His word and Sacrament.
Look at the weapons we are to take up – they lead us – each and every one of the weapons, to Jesus – and His work in our lives.
We start the belt of Truth! Back then a belt girds and strengthens us for the run, think of the kind of belt a weight lifter or stockroom worker uses.. John 14:6 tells us Jesus is the Truth – and so our first weapon, strengthening our endurance is given to us, as we dwell in Christ!
The Breastplate of Righteousness – as we read Romans 3-5, and we find that which protects our heart is Jesus. The second tool of the battle is the righteousness, for in Him and through Him we are found righteous, and free from the sin which so easily subverts us!
The shoes, the incredible shoes that were put on, ready to go out and share the gospel of peace! Again, the focus is on being in Christ, for in Him, there is the peace that passes all understanding!
The helmet that keeps our mind safe and secure, just as the breastplate kept our heart safe- our salvation – which is found again, as we live in Jesus Christ, it is His work in our lives! Does it sound familiar that our heart is guarded and our head is guarded as we journey in peace? This is a common theme for Paul, the blessing of our being united in Christ Jesus!
Lastly the sword, the Word of God, the words which cut open our sin-plagued heart and exorcises the sin – not just a weapon to attack and stab with, but a tool to use for healing as well! What an incredible thing Jesus does in our lives!
It is amazing, that as Paul focuses us on these weapons, the tools of our faith, the emphasis isn’t really on the war, but on realizing that we dwell in Christ! That is why he naturally moves from realizing what God has done, to communicating with God in prayer and supplication!
You see, that’s where we find our strength – not in our own maturity, but rather in communion with the Creator of all! That means, trusting in Him, we do lay every burden down, we bring Him into every situation! We trust Him not only with our life, but with the people we pray for! We trust Him with the lives of those for whom we “intercede” as we bring before the God that loves us. We know that as He takes them from our hands into His heart, the care will be there… that all things will work for good for them, for those who are loved and called into the very relationship we have with God!
A war against principalities and the cosmic powers of the present darkness means we realize that so many are still held in bondage – bondage to that which causes fear and guilt and share and anxiety!
Our war isn’t with them, it is to free them, as it was Paul’s vocation and prayer as well.
Think about these last verses,
“making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel!
As we consider where we are in Christ, we realize they mystery is revealed completely! What we’ve been saved to, the peace, of heart and mind! The peace of knowing real truth that God has cleansed us and freed us of that which poisons our lives! We realize our battle is to free those who were bound as we have been, whose life is missing that peace.
The funny thing, I said above that I was shocked at what a poor example I was, but perhaps the example that was needed is not that I reacted badly to the stress of the day and the burdens of the week – but instead that having sinned, I found the strength that cleanses our sins, and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus….
For that is our combat lesson. AMEN?
We all have them – the people that drive us bonkers, or cause anxiety in our lives, or simply rob us of Christ’s peace.
It may be the politician in the town who wants to restrict what you can do in your own backyard, or the policies of state and federal folk that endanger your livelihood, or even want to encourage immorality (as if it needed it)
Our enemies may be a neighbor or a relative, or one we counted as a friend. It might be even someone in your church body, or even closer, a member of your congregation. Someone who you aren’t sure whether it was intentional or not, but someone who betrayed you, or hurt you, the pain of which makes you want to cry out for revenge.
Been their done, that, bear the scars, or at least I think I do.
The writers of the scripture, especially David and the other psalmists knew pain well, they were threatened. They knew enemies and adversaries well – not just the kind we deal with in America today – but those who would kill the body as well as try to kill the soul. Their answer to such people was simple – turn them over to God – let Him deal out justice.
Such is Psalm 140, where the psalmist cries for the LORD (All capitals means it is His name – not His title) to rescue Him from them – to keep him from the hands of the wicked. He calls out for justice for those who are wicked – but if you look at it – that which is called out for is that they don’t succeed in their desires, that they plans are foiled, but for what purpose?
Consider Ezekiel’s take on the wicked (by definition – our enemies and adversaries are… aren’t they?)
3:18 If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. Ezekiel 3:18 (ESV)
23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? Ezekiel 18:22-23 (ESV)
If God puts blocks in the way of their schemes, their actions, if He, as promised saves us from the snares of the evil one ( and his minions) then isn’t it possible, even probable, knowing the heart of God, that in their frustration they might determine that they plans for evil, God will redeem and use for good? If they grasp that, then they too will be granted repentance, even as we were. They they will come ot know God’s peace?
In praying that God rescue us, could that rescue be accomplished by making these people His children? To trust in God for this – yeah – that’s a level of faith we need to cry out that in His mercy – we find ourselves able to trust in Him.
Lord, may we learn to pray, as our forefathers did, that You turn the hearts of our enemies and adversaries toward you…
And then may we, having seen your mercy.. your heart, your love.. rejoice.
Devotional /discussion thought for the day!
“All right, I agree! That person has behaved badly,; his behavior has been reprehensible and unworthy, he deserves no merit at ALL!
Humanly speaking he deserves to be utterly despised, you added.
I understand what you mean. I can assure you, but I do not share this concluding view of yours. That life which seems so mean is sacred! Christ has died to save it, if He did not despise it, how can you dare to?” (J. Escriva, The Furrow)
We often talk about the commandment, “you shall not bear false witness” in regards to our deeds – what we say. But we know from Matthew 5 that it is not just about our deeds but our thoughts. Luther’s small catechism urges us to “see the best side of everything he does” (some translate it “put the best construction on it”. ) Again, we see the challenge, of doing this not only in what we say in public, but what we think and feel in our hearts.
For surely we all have people that irritate or annoy us, whose behavior is just… hard not to see as wicked, or narcissistic. Yet we are called to love them, to forgive them, to work alongside them and encourage them to look to Christ, for forgiveness – and yes as Paul urges – to imitate Him.
Hear these words… though they be hard…
5:44 I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, 45 for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. 46 If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. 47 If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. Matthew 5:44-47 (MSG)
This is not easy, for we struggle with doing it, because of our own sin, or those sins of theirs which we repress rather than forgive. Yet we too need to look to Jesus, who did exactly this – He looked at what we have done, and died, so that the absolute best construction would be all that is visible to the Father! Look at the underlined phrase above… and realize – God has given you His best – and He puts the best construction on you… that you are His righteous, holy, unstained by sin, children.
It is from realizing this, that you can go… and in thought word and deed look at those who most would count as your enemies, as see them with love – your brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus! So look at them – see them under the cross… with Christ saying about them… Father forgive them, and there… in that moment.. find the strength to love His friend, His adopted brother, the one along with you whom He died to save…
And know the peace of God is with you – as is His mercy… and love!