Last Sunday the Gospel passage from the Sermon on the Plain had a repeated message, "Love your enemies." This was a particularly relevant theme to reflect on in my sermon, noting that Russia appears poised to invade Ukraine and that protestors continue to camp on our Parliament's grounds, promoting a series of objectionable messages, including calls for executions of politicians and journalists. Thus (slightly adapted for publication on a blog):
Sermon for 8 am and 10 am Transitional Cathedral 20 February 2022
Readings: for “big picture” theme, Love your enemies.
“Gen 45:3-11,15 [8 am] – Joseph is reconciled to his brothers who hated him.
Ps 37:1-11,39-40: verse 8: refrain from anger andforsake wrath.
1 Cor 15:35-38,42-50: the spiritual body of the resurrection … our hope of glory!
Luke 6:27-38 [8 am]: love your enemies.
How would you move the protestors on from the lawn and surrounds of Parliament? From Cranmer Square?
For our sister cathedral in Wellington, St Paul’s Cathedral, this is a sharp question because the protest is disrupting life in and around the cathedral.
Perhaps your answer to the question would be the current answer of the police: to do as little as possible which inflames the situation, which, effectively, is to tolerate the situation.
Or maybe you feel a bit more militant, like a number of people, otherwise occupying both the left and the right on our political spectrum, who want to see police action, even military action to bring the protests to an end.
Or, since we Anglicans are often teased about taking the middle way, our answer may lie somewhere in between.
Actually, no one seems to have the answer right now, and perhaps that’s because each answer has strengths and weaknesses, possibilities for success and risks of painful failure.
Why not just let the protests go on for as long as the protestors want to camp? Winter will come eventually!
One answer is that when protestors are calling for our politicians and media to be hanged, when they threaten young and old alike for wearing masks as they walk to school and to work, there is a level of hate which is intolerable (and may be illegal) in a civil, democratic and compassionate society.
It is, you see, actually quite a challenge to love people when they hate us, to love people when they promote hate through word and threatening actions.
Yet our gospel reading this morning has some quite direct and clear messaging from Jesus to us, his disciples:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.
No ifs, buts or maybes.
Indeed Jesus goes on:
Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
Then a bit later on Jesus challenges us about loving those who love us in return and then says, again,
Love your enemies.
The final point he makes is that when we do this we love people like God love people.
AND the lectionary today places a story of Joesph in juxtaposition with this message of Jesus:
Joseph, whose brothers hated him and nearly killed him, is reconciled to those same brothers.
Yet, we do have questions:
What is a Christian response to the protestors?
What is a Christian response to someone, anyone who hates us and makes our lives difficult if not impossible?
We must love them. We must do good to them. We must bless them and pray for them.
We do so confident that God see what we are doing and will reward us – our Corinthian reading reminds us that God blesses us both in this life and in the next life. Our confidence to love an enemy is the confidence from knowing that we share in the resurrection of Jesus Christ himself.
Now, let’s be careful about one thing: we can love someone without returning to their abuse of us, without giving them further opportunity to give expression to their hate. We should not be doormats to abusive people.
As Dean Lawrence writes this week, we may need to not be present to a hater, but we can, nevertheless, pray for them and thus do good for them in that way.
Some of us agree passionately with the protestors. Some of us disagree passionately with the protestors. Some of us may have mixed feelings about everything Covid.
But we have no choice if we are willing to listen to Jesus, we must love those who make us uncomfortable, those whom we disagree with, those who go beyond disagrement with us and hate us as our enemies.
That’s something for deep reflection on our part as Christians who belong to our civil, democratic and compassionate society: how do we love our enemies today?
It would be good to pray also for our brothers and sisters in Christ in Ukraine at this time also: their Jesus is the same Jesus as our Jesus. But they are facing a much, much more difficult situation than we are.
Finally, all times of upheaval are also occasions for speaking God’s truth into people’s lives. Chris Trotter, a well known left wing NZ columnist wrote something interesing on his blog:
It was the Italian socialist, Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) who grasped the extraordinary fluidity of reality in periods of acute social stress and political disintegration. Moments in history when the hegemonic explanations of the ruling-class have lost, or are beginning to lose, their power to allay the fears and misgivings of subordinate classes. In such times – and we are living through them now – people are desperate for new and more persuasive narratives about the nature of reality.
The most persuasive narrative about the nature of reality I know is the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.
The best evidence we can provide for the truth of that narrative is the lives we lead as loving people.