Services and Sunday School are cancelled today, February 24, 2019
Here is the sermon you would’ve heard:
Seventh Sunday after Epiphany – Feb 23, 2019
Luke 6:27-38 – Sermon by Rev. Dr. Rolf Svanoe
27“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.34If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (NRSV)
Our Gospel reading today has Jesus giving his followers his most challenging and difficult teaching. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” Love your enemies? It goes against human nature. We don’t want to love our enemies, we want to hate them. And if we are brutally honest with ourselves, we would rather kill our enemies and not have to deal with them ever again. Why would Jesus ask us to love our enemies? Doesn’t he know what terrible bad and evil people they are? They don’t deserve to live. The world would be much better off without them. At least those are the messages we tell ourselves so that we can justify our crusades, our jihads or holy wars.
But Jesus will have none of it. Again and again, he comes to us with his command, Love your enemies. And Jesus backs up his words with his own example. From the cross he prayed for his enemies, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus commands us to love our enemies, and the honest truth is that most of us just don’t want to follow Jesus. We would rather hate our enemies. When we are hit, we want to hit back instead of turning the other cheek. It is a natural human instinct.
Jesus doesn’t want us to look at the world through our natural human instincts. Jesus came to help us see the world as God sees it. “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Jesus wants us to see the world as God sees it. God so loved the world. Every human being is made in the image of God. Jesus died on the cross not just for you and me, but for every person that ever lived and ever will live. Our enemies are not demons, but someone that God loves and for whom Jesus died. This is how God looks at the world, and as followers of Jesus this is how we need to look at the world as well.
How do we develop a different perspective, a different way of looking at the world? First, we need to study the Bible and let God’s Spirit speak to our heart. But sometimes other stories can open up new worlds and new understandings for us. I want to tell you about a story and a movie that did that for me.
One of the first movies that I ever remember seeing in the movie theater was Sleeping Beauty. It was 1959 and I was five years old. My parents thought because it was a Disney cartoon it would be okay for me to see. I liked the movie a lot, except for Maleficent, the evil fairy. She absolutely terrified me. To my five-year-old mind, it was pretty clear who the good guys were and who the bad guys were. King Stefan, Princess Aurora and the people in their kingdom were good. Maleficent and her people were bad. At the end of the movie, Maleficent was destroyed and Sleeping Beauty woke from her death sleep by a true love’s kiss from the Prince, and everyone lived happily ever after.
Sleeping Beauty presented a pretty simple, black and white world. There is good and there is evil, and everyone knows which is which. Maybe that’s the way we wish the world was, nice and simple. But often the world we live in isn’t so simple. Often things are a mixture of good and bad and it’s hard to separate the two. We can even go into a situation with good intentions and end up having evil consequences that we never intended. We live in a complicated world.
That is the kind of world we are presented in the movie Maleficent. I have to warn you right away that I can’t preach this sermon without spoiling the ending for you. But I hope in telling you the ending you want to see the movie all the more. In this movie, there are two kingdoms. Both are a mixture of good and bad, of love and hatred, of acts of kindness and revenge. We know there are always two sides to every story. This story is told from Maleficent’s perspective. (You can watch highlights that set up the movie’s story here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Puc2ElvzdXo )
In this telling of the story, what we learn that we didn’t know from the original Sleeping Beauty movie was that Maleficent and King Stefan met as children and developed a trusting relationship. Later, as a young man, Stefan learned from the previous king that whoever brought him the head of Maleficent would become the next king. Stefan’s lust for power led him to betray Maleficent. But he couldn’t make himself kill her, and instead he cut off her fairy wings. It was this act of violence and betrayal that led Maleficent to curse the child born to King Stefan. (You can watch highlights of the next part of the movie here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brd-ssFxMnQ)
Over the years, Maleficent watched as the Princess Aurora grew up, and a curious thing happened. She started to care for this child that she once cursed. In fact, she even regretted having made the curse in the first place, and she used all her powers to try to revoke it. But she was unable to take the curse back. At one point in the movie, Princess Aurora learns about the curse and confronts Maleficent. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KmK0XdntGk
Is Maleficent really the shape of evil in the world, as Princess Aurora has been told? As it turns out, when Princess Aurora falls into a death sleep on her 16th birthday, it is Maleficent who tries to rescue her by bringing a young Prince to the castle to kiss her and try to wake her up. The Prince kisses her, but fails to wake her. It was not true love’s kiss. In the most powerful scene of the movie, Maleficent realized what her curse has done to Aurora, and in tears she asked the Sleeping Beauty for forgiveness. Maleficent bent over to kiss Aurora’s forehead, and as she turned away, Princess Aurora woke from her sleep. True love’s kiss came from an unexpected person, from one who, earlier in the movie, had been called the very source of evil in the world. (You can watch this moving scene here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7MrANzFR_o If you want to know how the movie ends, you can watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCrxMb4wlIw)
Life is complicated, isn’t it? None of us is all good, and none of us is all bad. Martin Luther had a helpful way of talking about Christians. He said that we were simul justis et peccator, at the same time saint and sinner. Yes, we are Christians, made right with God through faith in Christ, but we are still sinners and capable of great evil. Look what evils have been done in the name of religion: Crusades, the Inquisition, wars and terrorism- and it continues today. We do it every time we think of ourselves as only good and the enemy as only bad. The truth is that we are a mixture of good and bad growing together in our hearts. And the same is also true about our enemy. There is a reason that Jesus commanded his followers to love their enemies. When we hate our enemies we fail to see that our enemy is not completely evil. And we also fail to see the honest truth about ourselves, that we are not completely good.
At the end of the movie it is Princess Aurora who is able to unite the two kingdoms and bring lasting peace to her world. She does that by seeing the good in both kingdoms. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to do that too. We are called to love our neighbor, and we are called to love our enemy. We do that by refusing to label anyone as evil, but by seeing them as people created in God’s image, as people God loves, as people for whom Christ has died. We do that by being peacemakers, working for peace and justice, helping people learn to live together and see the face of God in each other. May God help us to do that.