Eye Rollers, Week 1 — “Love Your Enemies And Pray For Those Who Persecute You”

Yesterday’s message ….

  • Connected John McEnroe and Jesus;
  • Poked at the so-called Red Letter Christians;
  • Brought Romans 5:10 to bear on Matthew 5:44-45;
  • Landed at this bottom line:  You can only love your enemies when you realize you’re the loved enemy.


Well we are going to start Eye Rollers with the eye rolleriest of them all.  I’m sort of starting near the end of this little speech-ette, sermon-ette from Matthew 5 into which we are going to take a deep dive over the next month, but I just couldn’t wait.  Wanted to get this one over and done FIRST!  Because what we are fixin’ to look at really is one of those REALLY JESUS?! moments, one of those that make me want to go all John McEnroe on Jesus:  You CANNOT be serious clip, a there you go again moment that just is like the apex of Jesus’ absurdity.  Here is it:  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.


            Come on.  There’s not a one of you here – religious or not, love Jesus or not – who wants to do that.  Not one.  We don’t want to LOVE our enemies … we want to ELIMINATE them.  Of, if not quite that comprehensive, we want to get even with them.  To have the last laugh on them.  Actually, do you know what I want to do with my enemies in the digital age?  UNFRIEND THEM or if I am feeling really aggressive, BLOCK THEM ALTOGETHER.  And pray for them?  Yeah if I can pray Psalm 137 on them … that they’ll gets what is coming to them!  And imagine these words coming into the ears of Elizabeth Eckford (AV) who in 1957 had the thankless job of integrating the Little Rock schools. And there is Hazel Massery behind her, jeering and insulting and you KNOW what kind of language she was using in 1957.  Or 2018.  Love her?  Nope, if I was EE, I’d be much more likely to wipe my hands of her.

            Because enemies.  I’ve got them.  You’ve got them.  President Richard Nixon (AV) famously had an Enemies List.  He may not have been a crook (play clip) but he WAS a list keeper.  But is he the last one?  I bet not.  Maybe yours includes your ex-spouse.  Your ex-spouse’s current mate.  That guy at work. That girl at the gym.  Democrats.  Republicans.  Gays.  Straights.  Some people you know; other people you only see through the news.  And this list is in many cases understandable, sensible, it sometimes offers us protection from people who would harm us, but it is ultimately lethal. For sure.

            Because when we keep this list and hold those enemies, we’re sort of like Andy from that OLD show Amos & Andy.  It’s even too old for me to have seen it.  In one episode, Andy had an enemy who would slap him across the chest every time they met.  So Andy decided to take action and he told Amos with some pride, “I’m fixed for him next time, Amos.  I put a stick of dynamite in my vest pocket and the next time he slaps me his hand will blow off!”  Of course, Andy’s heart will blow up.  Which is what we do what everyone does with our enemies. 

            So: we’ve got this eye roller.  We don’t want it to be true, but we have a sneaking suspicion it is, combined with a sneakier suspicion that we are completely incapable of living up to it.  So what should we do and how should we do it?  

            Like most of these Eye Rollers, it is helpful to remember C.I.E.  Context Is Everything.  Because none of the eye rollers we’ll be looking at together come out of nowhere … they are more like pearls on a string, and the string matters.  And in this case, the Context, as you’ll see, involves more than just Matthew 5.  It includes the library of Scripture, which makes me more grateful than ever for the marvelous ways God inspires all of it.   

            So look at 5:43:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’

So there is a BEFORE, there’s what’s common, normal, expected.  And then there’s 5:44, our eye roller, which means there’s Jesus: 

44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

But now it gets dicey; look at 5:45a:

45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

Oh Lord!  Does this mean that loving enemies is the price YOU PAY to become a child of God?  That there is an entry fee into the kingdom and you’re responsible to pay it and the main way you pay it is by loving and not UNFRIENDING your enemies?  Oh man!  If that’s the case, a whole lot of us have a whole mess of work to do in the meantime. 

            Then look at the rest of 5:45b:

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

So that’s establish our common humanity, Christians, Jews, Hindus, agnostics, atheists, whomever.  5:46 takes a different tack:

46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?

His point there is: yeah, I’ve just showed what all everyone has in common, but how is surrendering to me making you in anyway distinct or distinctive?  Ditto in 5:47:

47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

Fascinating back and forth between what all people have in common and what Jesus’ people are supposed to look like.

            But I have to be honest: the possibility of 5:45 gets me.  The price we pay?  How we earn it?  Looks for all the world like this is how you prove your worthiness for kingdom clothing.  So you’ve got Jesus going to great lengths to establish common ground.  And you’ve got his incredible insistence that ppl surrendered to him be distinct.  And you put those two threads together and I am so glad I am not a Red Letter Christian!  Huh?  Yeah, we have folks running around out there claiming they are RLCs because they just follow the teachings of Jesus and all that stuff about what he DID (like getting crucified and being resurrected) and all that material that ppl like Paul later added are not nearly as import.  Just the words of Jesus, the kind you’ll find in a lot of modern translations highlighted in red (AV).  (As if, of course, MT, MK, LK, OR JN had highlighters when they wrote their Gospels!)  Puh-lease.  What selective baloney.  Because in trying to figure Matthew 5 out, Romans 5:10 has to come into play:

10 For if, while we were God’s enemies,

            Oh gosh.  That’s what we have in common.  All people everywhere.  The least politically correct truth anywhere.  The kind of thing that might qualify as hate speech if you say it in a safe space at a modern American university:  that by virtue of our sin nature & our sin nurtured we are God’s enemies.  My gosh.  How striking is that?  Can you imagine that as a roadside banner?  WELCOME ALL YE ENEMIES OF GOD!  AND THAT MEANS YOU!  Yet Paul isn’t dancing around, he isn’t speaking metaphorically, he is telling the truth. Because of who we are & what we’ve done, without Jesus we are God’s enemies. 

            But look what happened!  He didn’t get even with us, he didn’t ignore us, he didn’t UNFRIEND or block us! 

we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

Yes!  Easter happened.  The death reconciles; the resurrection saves.  We didn’t earn it, we don’t have to live up to it, he just DID IT.  And in surrendering to what he has done for you (crucifixion!) and what he is doing in you (resurrecting!!!!) is the way, the only way; the power, the only power to love your enemies.  You celebrate where you were without Jesus and who you are in him.  Here it is:  You can only love your enemies when you realize you’re the loved enemyYes!  You realize you utter desperation without Jesus, that apart from the Savior you stand apart from and at enmity with your Maker … and then you treasure how good it is to be enfolded in his love … and THERE is the supernatural ability to love others in the same way.

            Of course loving enemies isn’t your PAYMENT for the kingdom as I thought maybe 5:45 was teaching!  Jesus PAID IT ALL!  Loving enemies, then, isn’t about living up to the standard; it’s about living into your identity.  It’s not a way to earn; it’s a way to reveal what Jesus has earned for you and what he is doing in you.  When you soak up how you are loved then and only then do you have the capability to love others in a similar way.  What a unique way of recognizing what we all have in common – we’re LOVED ENEMIES! – and accessing the power that makes Xns distinct:  the enemy loving power of Jesus.  You can only love your enemies when you realize you’re the loved enemy.

            It’s a bit like Ira Sankey who big time travelling evangelist in the late 1800s.  After one meeting he was on a steamer in the Delaware River & one of the passengers came up to him.  “Did you serve in the Union Army in the Civil War?”  “I did.” “Were you on guard duty one night in Maryland in about 1862.”  “Yep, that was me.”  “Well I was in the Confederate army.  I saw you one night in Sharpsburg and I had you in my gun sights.  As I was about to pull the trigger, you started singing that hymn, ‘Savior Like A Shepherd Lead Us.’  I couldn’t shoot you.”  Wow.  That’s what it’s like.  You can only love your enemies when you realize you’re the loved enemy

            Or it’s like that guy who was at the same seminary I attended.  Now: at seminary you have everyone training to be professional Xns.  You should all love each other.  Nope! This guy bothered me.  I’m SURE I wasn’t the problem; just him.  Annoying.  Yet one day at seminary worship there was a shared prayer experience.  Everyone had to find a partner.  I was looking around, hoping to find someone to approach my coolness, and having no luck. Isolated.  And I looked up … and there he was.  Yup.  Him making the first move, breaking the barriers.  Reconciling & coming to life.  That’s what it’s like. I realized he and I weren’t so different.  Sheesh.  You can only love your enemies when you realize you’re the loved enemy

            And speaking of that prayer part, can I say how NOT to use Matthew 5:44?  “I’ll pray for you.” And we say it when we’re frustrated, to someone with whom we disagree, and the unmistakable tone of it is “I’ll pray that you see I’m right, I pray that you get your life in order, I pray for your soul because I know I’m going to be relaxing in heaven while you’re roasting in hell.”  It’s WEAPONIZED prayer.  Don’t use this verse that way.  I had to work my way there, but ultimately got to a place with a person with whom I’d had a bad falling out that every night I prayed for their flourishing and blessing and contentment.  Not their apology. Their abundance.  Can you do that on your own?  Nope. By and in Christ. You can only love your enemies when you realize you’re the loved enemy

            And what is so great about this end of Matthew 5 is also tucked in 5:45.  Loving enemies reveals you as a child of your Father in heaven.  Not as a child of Israel.  Not as an American.  Not as an Indian.  No more tribalism.  Because face it: so much of our enemy energy is tied up in our different tribes. Democratic, Republican, conservative, progressive, libertarian, immigrant, native born.  Loving enemies always involves tearing down walls and demolishing barriers.  This is not some PC drivel but this radical rootedness:  “Hey are you a loved enemy of God saved by his grace & being filled with his Spirit?  Me too!”  Guess what? We at GS get to be a laboratory of that every Sunday.  As red staters, blue staters, high tax, low tax, NRAers and Brady Billers all gather at foot of the cross to treasure what was done for us and at the opening of the empty tomb to celebrate what he is doing in us.  You can only love your enemies when you realize you’re the loved enemy

            Because instead of keeping that list – remember? – how about you pray over it instead?  Not that that person will come around to seeing things your way but that you will be in love with God enough to see how you’re both loved enemies.  A bit like these two. (AV)  You know who that is? Those same two – Elizabeth Eckford & Hazel Massery, who referred to herself as “poster child of the hate generation” – now reconciled and reconciling.  Wow.  That moves you from an eye roll to a hand raise. 

            You can no more love enemies on your own strength than you can pay for heaven by your own goodness