Turning the World Right Side Up


A sermon delivered by Kate Hanch, Children’s Pastor and Ministry Associate, preached at the Academy of Preachers Breakout Session at the CBF General Assembly on June 24, 2011.

Matthew 5:43-48

Looking at our enemies with God’s eyes.

 

Love people who hate your guts.

Welcome those who would rather ignore you.

God sends good times and bad times on good people and bad people.

I haven’t really heard these things on the top 10 topics of preachers and theologians. 

I’m sure they weren’t popular in Jesus’ time, either.

There’s something about that passage that makes us uneasy and anxious. It goes against our gut feelings and automatic responses.  In a world of many polarizing politics and reality television that capitalizes on finding the scapegoat, and too few stories of reconciliation and peace, Jesus must have not meant for us to follow this command literally.  This commandment is much too hard.

Maybe we should try to interpret this passage like we would the parables, digging for hidden nuggets of truth behind characters or images. Or maybe we can apply this passage to Jesus’ day only. Jesus’ listeners would have identified their enemies right off the bat.  These Judeans certainly felt the strain of oppression of Roman Rule that required them to pay outrageous taxes and tiptoe around Roman officials.  Rome determined how they would live and if they would live.  They may have experienced some peaceful times, but they were not truly free. The Judeans would have understood who their enemies were, and Jesus’ words might have brought up feelings of anger, resentment, pain, and denial and not-so distant memories where they were exploited or unheard.

Or maybe we are to interpret this passage metaphorically.  Enemies could be drugs, power, poverty, fundamentalism, liberalism, greed, or a whole host of issues circling our political and church arenas.  As the popular saying goes “hate the sin, but love the sinner.”  It seems to be an easy fix.  But we realize that behind all those things are faces, real people, with whom we must interact. Jesus uses metaphors in many situations, but I’m not sure this particular qualifies.

We have to be careful with Jesus words, hear, lest we perpetuate a harmful relationship[1]. We could blindly love our enemies as to excuse the harm and pain they’ve caused.  Jesus does not direct us toward justifying harmful behavior and indeed calls out different people at different times when their behavior is not loving toward God and other. Loving one’s enemies does not mean to remain in an abusive relationship or to tolerate exploitation.  Martin Luther King, Jr. modeled this all too well. In his sermon on this same passage, he said that one could non-violently resist based on the ethic of love[2], which is exactly what Jesus advocated for in this passage. Loving enemies doesn’t mean becoming rolled over by them.

All enemies are born out of some kind of conflict.  The Romans could not have realized that they were considered to be the enemies.  The Judeans were probably not allowed the privilege of telling the Romans that they were the enemies. I’m sure many of us have seen enemies or have been enemies without even realizing it.  In a former workplace of mine, some people on the staff were not as open toward women as pastors. One staff member, we’ll call Bob, heard that I wanted to be a pastor. (Now, I didn’t necessarily proclaim that fact from the halls, but he had overheard a conversation I had with someone who welcomed women in ministry.)  One day, when I was working, Bob came to my workspace.  After making small chat, he asked how I could be a minister when there was biblical evidence to limit women’s role in the church. He asked my plans after I graduated, and how could I still plan that after knowing women’s roles in the church.

Now I got along with Bob, and we did have many other conversations before and after this one. Bob and I had a congenial relationship.  But that day, I couldn’t help to think of Bob as the enemy.

Enemies come from all walks of life. It could be a neighborly dispute.  It could be a family drama. It could be a difference of theological perspective.  These conflicts can stem from 200 years ago to 2 decades ago.  Most of Baptist history is rife with conflict, and part of CBF’s heritage is born out of conflict. While, in CBF’s case, conflict allows new life to grow, it may create enemies along the way. It seems inevitable. As a woman, how to I attempt to love someone who won’t hear my voice?  Jesus words seem impossible and futile.

But perhaps we have a limited perspective or view.  Maybe, as Martin Luther King suggests, we need to look at this passage from God’s point of reference. Maybe we should put on our “God glasses” and imagine how God might view the world.  After all, God created every human being in God’s image, from Osama Bin Laden to Gandhi to homeless man on the overpass to the three year old in Sunday school class. God’s house, as Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, stretches from one corner of the universe to the other, encompassing all of creation[3].  When we put God’s glasses on, we see a beautiful diversity of all peoples.  We realize that to love our enemies is work toward realizing the reign of God.  When we put God’s glasses on, we see God in partnership with humanity to bring about the full reign of God.  When we put God’s glasses on, we unite with God in turning the world, as my preaching professor Mike Graves says, right-side up.

Part of turning the world right-side up could be looking at this passage with a new set of eyes.  It could be redefining who the enemy is and how we are to respond.  Justo Gonzalez, a Cuban-born theologian, realized that he was looking at this passage from the wrong position. He asks the question “What if I’m the enemy?”  What if I’m the persecutor?  What if I’m the unrighteous?[4]

From Gonzalez’s perspective, to be in the position of the enemy is easier than one realizes. He asks “What do peoples around the world think of our overuse of resources while millions are starving?  Could we be the enemy?”  He questions “What about future generations who suffer in a polluted climate?  Will they see us as the enemy?”[5]

It hits closer to home for us, too.  Pastor Kathy Pickett was telling me of her conversation with Toni Buffalo, a Lakota woman who partners with Together for Hope, a CBF initiative.  Toni told her of her initial difficulties in coming to church and embracing the Christian lifestyle.  For years, the church had been a hindrance instead of a help, forcing the Lakotas to conform to a language and way of worship that had harmed Lakota traditions and spirituality.  These churches were often associated either explicitly or passively, with the U.S. policies that limited the voice and the freedom of the Lakotas and other Native American peoples.

We could have enemies.  But we could also be the enemy.

What would it be like to imagine a world turned right-side up, where we as people of God love our enemies?  In a world turned right side up, how could we imagine asking forgiveness of those whom we have hurt?  What then would the reign of God look like? We know God’s reign might not be fully realized in our day, but our goal as God’s children and Christ’s siblings is to give to give glimpses of the kingdom by loving those who seem to hate us—regardless of nationality or Baptist brand—but by also giving an ear to those whom we may have hurt.  We picture what Jesus had in mind what the reign of God might look like—a community where there is mutual sharing of love, listening, and reconciliation. A world where reciprocity thrives.  And even if some people don’t want to participate in what the reign of God might look like, we can still love them, for in God’s eyes, they are our dear sisters and brothers.

Turning the world right side up might look like the response efforts of the tornado in Joplin, only a couple hours away from where I live, where many camps of Baptists, other denominations, and non-profits work side by side along with Joplin residents to clean up homes and help heal hearts. Since, as the text says, bad times fall on all peoples, we are to love and care for all peoples when they are hurting.

Turning the world right-side up might look like listening to stories and accounts of people whom we have hurt through our actions and inactions.  I think that Together for Hope, CBF’s rural poverty initiative, does well in listening to the stories of persons trapped in poverty, often by economic or political structures that have made it impossible for them to escape.  Turning the world right side up may mean asking forgiveness on behalf of the church universal for its abuses or neglect.

While CBF may have been born from conflict, we don’t need to stay there—and we aren’t.  I’m thankful in the many and various ways that CBFers are partnering with God from Ethiopia to the Texas border, from Miami to Slovakia, from Thailand to Kentucky.  As a CBF Baptist, I look forward to joining with you, with Christ Jesus as our guide, to help turn the world right side up. 



[1] Matthew Myer Bolton, ed., Matthew 5:38-48, Homiletical Perspective”, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, vol. 2 of Feasting on the Word: Year A (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 385.

[2] Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies,” Creighton University Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration, http://www.creighton.edu/events/mlk/speeches/lovingyourenemies/index.php (accessed June 20, 2011).

[3] Barbara Brown Taylor, Altar in the World: A Geography in Faith, (New York: HarperCollins 2009), 13.

[4] Justo Gonzalez, “Loving the Enemy I Can't Forgive,” Living Pulpit 1, no. 3 (1992): 20-21.

[5] Ibid.

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Tags: Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Enemies, Kate Hanch, Love, Sermons