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September 23, 2001

Love Our Enemies?
The Rev. Ruth Woodliff-Stanley

I Timothy 2:1-8
Luke 16:1-13

Twelve days ago ...twelve days ago. Any one of you could finish the sentence. And while the details you select may be different, the story is known by all of us alike.

Twelve days ago, planes crashed into strong, well-constructed structures, and the force and fire imploded buildings and lives in an instant.

Twelve days ago, people kissed goodbye for a day's work or a brief parting at an airport. Their lips touched for the last time without their even knowing it.

Twelve days ago, the illusion of insulation from the world's ailments and safety within our own boundaries was blown to smithereens, shattered along with these thousands of sacred lives of men and women, youth and children, people just like you and me.

Twelve days ago, a group of men who themselves once were someone's child deliberately crashed planes in order to deliberately end lives.

Now, a mere twelve days later, already we must begin to determine our response to these staggering and repulsive events. Thursday night, many of us watched the President's address and began to consider the long road our nation faces in defense of liberty and justice for all. As the President said, the course of action is not yet clear. But certainly military involvement seems likely. The stakes are up for all of us.

There are people here who are of draft age and families with loved ones of or close to that age. We are facing in "the enemy" a mindset and world view that we cannot begin to grasp and to which we hardly know how to respond. The stakes are up for all of us.

The "rules of war" as we know them do not apply in this kind of terror. Terrorists toy with our peace of mind and wreak havoc with our emotional sense of safety and confidence. The stakes are up.

And in the midst of this present danger come the words from Scripture to us today. And oh, what words they are. The apostle Paul writes to Timothy, "I urge that prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions....This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth."

I urge you that prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, kings, those in high positions...everyone. Certainly, we should pray for our own president; we've been doing that. But what about the leaders of the enemy? Pray for the terrorists? Pray for the enemy? It is a slap in the face. It is an offense to those who have lost the ones they came home to each night. It is scandalous. It is, nevertheless, for better or for worse, also the Gospel.

Pray for those who persecute you, love your enemy. Do not return evil for evil. Jesus taught it. We say it. Now, the stakes are up. How do we live it? How on earth do we live as Jesus' disciples, trying to love an enemy who can commit such ruthless acts of cowardice? How dare it even be suggested?

And perhaps more importantly, why should it be suggested? Why, in this horrendous situation, should we use any of our precious energy even thinking about the enemy, other than to catch and destroy him? Why especially, should we entertain the concept of loving the enemy?

Martin Luther King Jr. in a speech entitled "Loving your Enemies" says this: "I think the first reason we should love our enemies, and I think this was at the very center of Jesus' thinking is this: that hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. Somewhere, somebody must have a little sense, and that's the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil." (Delivered by Dr. King at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama 17 November 1957. All future references to Dr. King's words are to this same address).

By no means should we confuse love with liking. By no means should we assume love implies agreement on any count or even the ability to trust. Each of these can be absent and still love can be the operative foundation of our actions.

This love of enemy is not a feeling; nor is it based upon the worthiness of the enemy. It is, rather, a spiritual command, a responsibility we have to our God, regardless of the nature and action of the enemy.

The seed of that love is our recognition of our own sinful nature, our own capacity to do evil. Dr. King, in his speech, said that self-awareness is the first step in developing the ability to love one's enemy. There are no completely good people, and no one is completely evil.

The beginning of love, then, is to recognize my sin and to desire to see the goodness in my enemy, no matter how remote or undeveloped or eclipsed from view that goodness may be. It is hard to face our own evil and our enemy's goodness.

There are times in human history that test this theology severely. Hitler's reign of Terror, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Timothy McVeigh, and now, Bin Laden and the Al Qaida.

There are degrees of evil, to be sure. And in the face of such severe evil acts as we now witness, it seems almost impossible to search for good in the evil ones and almost irrelevant to focus on our own sin.

Yet, over and over, our Scripture compels us to do so. In today's Gospel we heard the parable of the shrewd manager. It is a parable about facing our own wrong actions. It is a confusing text to many because it is unclear by the end of the story who is the pure protagonist and who is the clear antagonist. The owner of the property could be seen as the enemy, the powerful land owner who can dismiss a servant at will. The servant can be seen as a louse. He squanders the owner's resources...scattering them carelessly. We can easily vilify this servant, not only because he is careless, but also because he is immoral, cheating the master by reducing the bills of his debtors. Even the debtors become suspect, as they collude with the manager to their own gain.

Yet, just as we imagine the master is about to lay the servant low with even more severe punishment, he praises the servant for being so shrewd. No one in the parable is completely pure.

Yet, the moral is that even in the shrewd moves of the servant, mercy is obtained. It is not always clean and clear, this path to the right thing. By the end of the story, everyone is tainted.

Is it not true of humanity as a whole? While there are, to be sure, severely differentiated degrees and kinds of evil, yet still, any starting point for peace and justice must assume some capacity for good in the enemy and some capacity for sin in our own lives.

These two coordinates of awareness—the awareness of good in evil and evil in good—become the crossroads at which we can meet the enemy and hope for love to conquer hate. It is in this intersection where negotiations for real justice and liberty always begin and end.

But this is no simple task, no simple conflict in which we are presently engaged. Those who stand on the other side of the divide hold a position which makes dialogue with us highly unlikely, in part because they seem not to see the sin within them or the goodness within us at all. But we cannot exchange our Gospel for this same blindness. We must continue to confess our sins and look for God's light, even in them. This is the better path. We know that justice and liberty begin with these teachings of Jesus.

The defense of this justice and liberty may require war of our nation. Already in this conflict there have been acts of courage and love in which people have given their lives to protect and save others. And we are likely to see much more sacrifice of this kind in the months ahead.

If we go to war, there will be men and women—perhaps even in this room today-- who, moved by love and the desire for justice, will lay their own lives on the line for principles we each hold dear. They will need to be prepared even to kill the enemy for the sake of love and justice in this world. We will ask them to do this as a nation.

But never ever is this a reality to be desired. The inability of humanity to resolve our deep rifts without resorting to violence is the greatest tragedy of our existence on this earth. If both sides were able to enact love, deeply and powerfully, then the horrible pain of war would become entirely unnecessary.

Now, more than ever, we need to return to Godly love. We need to become students of love's ways. We need to seek wisdom, even as we seek to respond to the events of twelve days ago.

If every decision from this day forward could be made from the vulnerable cross love of Jesus, a love like the best kind of mother love, a love that holds every young man and woman who will die in battle, both on our side and on the side of the enemy, in the deepest caverns of the heart, then perhaps, perhaps we could find a way to live and create liberty and justice for all that did not rely on a foundation of power and war.

We know that every decision will not be made from this vulnerable cross love of Jesus. We know that the world is sick and filled with hatred.

But you and I must know, too, that we have a responsibility as Christians to do something more than just lament this fact. Somehow, we the Church must find ways to witness in tangible form to the hope for God's reign of love that is within us.

If we are to take risks, if we are to risk our sons and daughters, let it be for love. Let it be with a mother's heart of grief that the Church responds, not falling prey to our understandable impulses for vengeance. For vengeance, in the end destroys the avenger.

Dr. King said that many people dismiss Jesus' words about loving the enemy as the impossible ideas of an impractical idealist. But, Dr. King said, "Far from being an impractical idealist, Jesus has become the practical realist. The words of this text glitter in our eyes with a new urgency. Far from being the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer, this command is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization."

You and I have committed ourselves to obey Jesus Christ. What now does he require of us? The Church has a part to play in our nation. The love of God is stronger than the evil at hand. And we must make it known.

© 2001 The Rev. Ruth Woodliff-Stanley
Preached at St. James' Episcopal Church, Jackson, Mississippi

1 Timothy 2:1-7
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all--this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (NRSV)

Luke 16:1-13
Then Jesus said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.' Then the manager said to himself, 'What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.' So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' He answered, 'A hundred jugs of olive oil.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.' Then he asked another, 'And how much do you owe?' He replied, 'A hundred containers of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill and make it eighty.' And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. "Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." (NRSV)


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