“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…bless and pray for your enemies.”
Luke 6:27

Well, we don’t think so. Those are wonderful words you spoke
back then, Jesus, and they may have worked well back there in Galilee,
but we live in the real world in a very dangerous 21st century. Love
your enemies? No, we must fight our enemies, outwit and outmaneuver our
enemies, destroy and kill our enemies before they destroy and kill us.
What you said 2,000 years ago will just have to put into our “Long
Term Goals” file.

Jesus, you said in the gospel lesson what we call the Golden Rule:
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Well, we’ve had to
update that rule, to “Do unto others before they do unto you.” Security
is our basic need now, so “love” will have to come much later in our
hierarchy of needs.

And yet, Martin Luther King Jr., whom we commemorate today, had this to say about these words of Jesus:

Jesus has become the practical realist…Far from being
the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer, the command [to love others]
is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. Yes, it
is love that will save our world and our civilization, love even for

– November 17, 1957

Gerald May, the Christian psychotherapist and spiritual guide at the
Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation here in the Washington area,
once recounted this story: “It was in 1976, and I had just received my
first-level belt in the gentle Japanese martial art of Aikido: the
practice (do) of the harmony (ai) of the universal energy (ki). A
visiting master called me to the front of the room and asked me to
attack him. He stood quietly as I charged at him, then turned his head
slightly away. My speed increased as I felt powerfully drawn toward
him. Then he bowed his head slightly and looked back at me, and I found
myself lying comfortably on the floor. We had not even touched…

“He explained that he had aligned himself with my attacking energy,
joined it from his own centered stillness, and gently guided it back
around me to towards the ground. From my perspective, it seemed I had
inexplicably decided to lie down and rest.”

What was that force, that power? Power, in human terms, is the
ability and use of force to accomplish one’s will over persons and
situations. But dunamis, the word for “power” which occurs over 120
times in the New Testament, is a creative, dynamic power that is very
different from the “power over” aspects of human force or control. It
is spiritual power; the power that can only come from God.

As for human, or worldly, power, the United States is unquestionably the
most powerful nation the world has ever known. We have unparalleled
economic power, so much so that it is said when the US economy sneezes,
the rest of the world catches a cold. We have immense technological
power that enables American influence and culture to be felt to the
farthest reaches of the earth – even into the universe. We have
unmatched military power, with capabilities of destroying targets with
pinpoint accuracy from thousands of miles away.

And yet, with all the power that is possible to acquire on this
earth, still the United States of America is not able to force the rest
of the world to act in accordance with our will, or to further our own
national goals wherever and whenever we desire. Despite our massive
power in human terms, we frequently find ourselves powerless to get
persons or situations under our control. We find that we cannot force
others to do what they do not want to do. The ability to do that has
little to do with power per se, but everything to do with what we might
call authority.

Hear how one military reservist describes the difference between
power and authority in Navy officers:

The difference can be
subtle, almost indistinguishable. You have to sit with a group of
officers for a while before you realize that rank tells only part of the
story. Rank confers power. But some who have rank also have authority,
and some don’t. Authority has to do with being listened to, being
respected as a person, not as a source of pain or gain. Authority has
to do with both knowledge and wisdom, being able to see inside
situations, being able to vision, to see the whole, to look beyond the
moment’s agenda. Authority has to do with knowing when to listen.
Authority has to do with leadership in its finest sense, not martinets
demanding obedience, small people making loud noises, pretentious people
scheming to get perks, privileges, pomp and big desks.

Authority, unlike human power, is never grabbed for or assumed. It
can only be given. Your authority is granted by others whom you serve,
to the extent that you are deemed trustworthy and deserving of it.

We can readily see the difference between power and authority in the
Scriptures. In Jesus’ day, his detractors—the scribes and the
Pharisees—had all the power that the theocracy of Israel could bestow
upon individuals: ecclesiastical, financial and political power. Yet
they had little authority! The more they used the power of their office
to coerce others to conform to their practice of the faith, the more the
ordinary people dismissed these so-called leaders from exercising their
so-called power over them.

Jesus, on the other hand, had little power in the world’s terms. He
had no money, no social status, no armies and no political parties
behind him, and yet he apparently enjoyed tremendous authority that the
masses of people gave him. In Matthew 7:29, we read that the crowds
were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them not as the scribes
and Pharisees did, but “as one having authority.” This authority of
Jesus extends to today, all over the world, even among those who do not
call themselves Christians, for this carpenter from Nazareth is
universally perceived to be a person who is from God and for the people,
not as one who uses the name of God to feed his own needs for power.
Jesus, in the words of an ancient hymn describing his humility that we
find in the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, “though he was in the
form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be
exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born
in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and
became obedient to the point of death…therefore God also highly exalted
him…” (Phil. 2:6-9), to the end that “all authority in heaven and earth
will be given [him].” (Matthew 28:18)

Martin Luther King, Jr., whom we commemorate today, called this kind
of power “soul force,” which is the title of the Cathedral’s day of
reflections tomorrow on youth nonviolence, peace, and the human cost of
the current war in Iraq. King learned the principles of soul force from
his reading of the ethics of Jesus, and from Gandhi’s use of the phrase
to describe his methods of nonviolent resistance.

Soul Force is the power of an idea: freedom. If our great nation
has any real power at all, it is in the abundance of freedom that we
enjoy here and our willingness to share this power with the world. It
is the only export we have that has power over others – not money, not
bombs, not self-interest, but freedom. Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South
Africa once said, “When a people decide they want to be free, then
nothing can stop them.” They can even stare down the barrel of a gun –
and they will prevail.

This soul force is not only the power to change human lives, but it
is the most effective force that is available to humans to change whole
societies toward the vision of God for the world. In the book “A Force
More Powerful,” written by Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall in 2000, the
authors carefully document over 15 movements of mass social change that
have resisted systems of injustice on every continent of the world.
They have concluded that the 20th century should known as the century
that has demonstrated the triumph of nonviolent action as the most
powerful force toward freedom in the world. This massive and
well-documented book (also turned into a film by PBS), reminds us that…

…it wasn’t physical force that drove the mighty British empire from
colonial India in 1947, it was soul force.

…it wasn’t physical
force that successfully resisted the Nazis in Denmark and saved many

…it wasn’t physical force that brought down the dictator
General Martinez in El Salvador in 1944…

…it wasn’t physical
force that brought down segregation in the American South in 50’s &

…it wasn’t physical force that restored democracy to the
Philippines in 1986…

…it wasn’t physical force that moved Lech
Walesa and Solidarity into power in Poland…

…it wasn’t physical
force that brought down totalitarian regimes in the USSR and Eastern

…it wasn’t physical force that dismantled apartheid and
racist government in South Africa…

In each case, it was soul force.

If the above representative list seems new or shocking to you, it is
because we have done a poor job in this country of teaching any of the
principles of nonviolent action as a way of solving conflicts. Many
fear that our culture will never do this, because we have become
intoxicated with violence as the only effective means to achieve our
personal and national aspirations. We have worshiped for too long at
the altar of the gun to solve our problems. This has lead to what can
be called The Mythology of Violence; namely, the widely held myth that
violence works, and that nonviolence is a pipe dream for idealists who
do not know how the world really operates

I want to emphasize here that there is a time-honored tradition in
Christianity of sometimes having to resort to a “just war” in certain
extraordinary circumstances, and we are very dependent upon our brave
men and women in the armed forces who are sometimes called upon to fight
and put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf. We are grateful for
their service; we pray for them and for our leaders to make wise
decisions before sending them into armed conflict. But one need not be
a pacifist like Jesus, Gandhi or King in order to learn any of the
almost 200 methods of nonviolent action that have been proven to be
effective in removing unjust institutions and governments, and in
restoring peace and freedom. As Christians, as followers of Christ, we
are called upon to teach peace as well as to practice peace, which means
we have to continually re-learn the ways of peace in a culture that’s
awash in violence. We must repent, both individually and collectively,
for believing that violence and killing is the only way towards

Perhaps Martin Luther King can teach us once again how to “live
together as [family] or die together as fools.” In a sermon given at
the height of the civil rights struggle, he said:

To our most bitter opponents we say: “We shall match your capacity to
inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet
your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we
shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your
unjust laws, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral
obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall
still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our
communities at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead,
and. we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you
down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not
only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that
we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double

That is the power of love, even for one’s enemies. That is soul
…the way of Jesus. Amen.