Sermon: Being a Proper Reflection of God
“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” [St. Matthew 5:44]
As you all may know, I have been away for about two weeks. The first part of my trip was to visit my family in Maryland and to see my father. I made it out the day after Father’s Day, so the family decided to get together that next Sunday at a restaurant to have dinner and to celebrate Father’s Day.
Well, like all great plans, when more than one person is involved, there is usually a miscommunication. It seems that, instead of all the children and grandchildren covering the costs for my father, they thought that all the fathers would have their dinners paid for. Additionally, some were eating less than others. So, you can imagine what happened when the check came.
Some wanted it to be split evenly among the several heads of families; others wanted to figure out precisely how much they owed and give only that amount. And, being half-Italian, the discussion was very passionate and very vocal. But there was an unforeseen consequence.
My father, who is almost 86 years old and who suffers from a loss of hearing and arterial flow problems, became very upset. Although he sometimes gets confused, in this case he clearly was not, though in his youth such discussions would not have upset him. I also noticed that those who worked, managed, or owned the restaurant were equally displeased with the discussion.
The next day, my sister was at the house and the discussion continued because that is what we do. We discuss things ad nauseum. She kept on saying that it “wasn’t fair.” It wasn’t fair that my niece should pay the same as others because she ate less. It wasn’t fair that my brother paid a certain amount even though he did so because he thought we were dividing the bill evenly. She felt that he should have paid more. She tried desperately to convince me of the error of my way because I supported the even split.
Finally I had to say to my sister, “You are so concerned with justice that you have forgotten about love. Who cares if one person pays more and another pays less. The point is to support our love for each other.” After all, in my way of thinking, it’s not like we are paying more to cover the expense of a stranger. We are all one family. Our generosity stays within our family. Yet, not to contradict our Gospel lesson for today, sometimes it seems that it is easier to be generous with a stranger than with our own families.
The reason I am giving you this very cursory summary of my family dynamics is that it relates directly to our Gospel lesson for today. Our Gospel lesson comes from Saint Matthew’s account of the great Sermon on the Mount. And in it, we are presented with a very clear vision of the way God sees our dynamics here on earth. And that vision is contrary to almost all our concepts of justice and fairness:
[JESUS said,] “Ye have heard that it hath been said, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.’ But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven:”
There is a movie called “Enchanted April.” In it, two wives decide to have a holiday in Italy to escape their lives in London. They go to a villa on the coast, and on the very first day there, one of the women has a change of heart. She announces that she is going to invite her husband to join her, which shocks the other. Her answer is telling. To paraphrase, she says that she was too concerned with justice; that she wanted to love her husband only as much as he loved her; and that she metered out her love to make sure it was always equal. Now she realizes that this is wrong.
This IS our Gospel lesson in a nutshell. We all are sometimes too concerned with justice that we lose the ability to be generous. We want everything to be fair – even Steven – but rarely is anything even. What Christ is telling us is that, loving those who love us is way too easy, though my family seems to refute that argument. Jesus is telling us that, in order to be a child of God, we must love those who HATE us!
“For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
So, how do we show this love? How do we encorporate this great principle in our lives so that we may become the children of our Father which is in heaven? The first and perhaps the easiest thing is to be loving to strangers:
Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.
At our church, we have had “visitors” who come up in the evening and hang out. This is one group of people to whom we need to show our love. We need to welcome them, let them know that they are loved, and invite them to our services. They may not come; they may never do more than just hang out here. But, if we can show them God’s love, then maybe God can use US to get to them. And, in the end, they may end up with a proper image of what it means to be a child of God.
The second thing is to love our enemies. We are not just to tolerate but love those who despitefully use us, who persecute us, and who curse us. At our church, we had an incident where someone kicked in our shed door. I am asking you here and now to forgive this person in your heart. I am asking you to turn any fear, anger, or alarm into love.
When I went to our neighboring church, the Antiochian Church, on the anniversary of the burning of their church by an arsonist, Father Samer produced the Gospel that was found in the rubble. All the pages were charred, but the book was found open. The page was charred around the edges, but the passage could still be read:
“But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
This is verse 39 from the same chapter we read today. If our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters can turn the other cheek when someone burnt their church down, I think we are fully capable of forgiving the person who kicked in the door to our shed.
Forgive our enemies; love those who hate us. This is what is meant when we say we are a Christian. This is what is meant to be a child of God. And we are commanded to learn how to do this.
When the Holy Spirit instructed our church as to what we should do, He made it clear that we are not ready for a major outreach project yet. We need to grow as Christians first. And our Gospel lesson for today is one of the most important aspects of our growth. So let us NOT be like the little boy who prayed, “Lord, if you can’t make me a better boy, don’t worry about it. I’m having a real good time like I am.”
Instead, let us all let go of our obsession with “justice.” Let us not worry if our generosity seems to be more than what we get. Let us, instead, learn to act in love. Let us love the stranger. Let us love those who hate us. And let us realize that our actions, not only reflect on who we are, but who our God is.