Deuteronomy 10:17—21; Matthew 5:43—48

In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the One God. Amen.

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

On Wednesday this nation will be celebrating its independence. Hopefully may of you who live in the Washington area will be coming to the National Cathedral at 11 am to hear Maestros Erik William Suter and Scott Hanoian play their last service and recital as Cathedral organists. The 4th of July is a day of patriotic hymns and marches, a day in which we give thanks for the freedom and liberty that we have. It is a day when families and friends gather in backyards for cook outs and on the Mall for firework extravaganzas. It is a day, like Thanksgiving, that this nation celebrates.

And celebrate we should. For the vision that our founders had is that we would be a nation where all people could experience religious freedom, that all people, or at least all men, would enjoy the rights and privileges to vote, that liberty and justice were for all people. For many decades this nation was the moral and ethical compass for the world. It was a world in which the idealism and hope of America was the envy of most people. When the United States participated in a war, it was always for a moral cause, be it to throw off the shackles of British tyranny, to unite a nation divided by slavery, to free Europe from the yoke of Fascism, or to stop the insanity of Hitler. By opening our arms to welcome immigrants from around the world this nation became known as a melting pot of all nations. It became known as one of the greatest experiments in democratic principles. Without a doubt God has blessed this nation and the people of this land, or as the 4th of July Collect in our Prayer Book prays, “Grant that we and all the peoples of this land may have the grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace.”

The readings that have been appointed for this Evensong challenge us in this country, and might I suggest, challenges the people in every country in this global community.

From Deuteronomy in the sixth century the people of Israel were challenged to live in the vision of God—God “who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger.”

In the Gospel for this afternoon, Jesus gives a new understanding of the law. Jesus, recalling Leviticus which states, “You shall love your neighbor,” reinterprets that Levitical code and says, “Love your neighbor and pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus then gives two incredible examples of what he means. Jesus asks, do not even the tax collectors love those who love them? Jesus asks, do not even the Gentiles love those who love them? In today’s Gospel Jesus calls upon his people to love the Gentiles. Jesus calls upon his people to love the tax collector. Jesus calls upon us to love those whom we call enemies.

Today, in this nation and in many nations around the world, enemies are created. We seem to need to create enemies. As we well know, many nations see us as the enemy. It seems that the only way in which we are able to create an identity for our nationhood is by having an enemy, be it Russia during the time of the Cold War or Iran today. I would want to argue this is in direct contradiction to the teaching of Jesus when he says “love your enemies.”

We create enemies and fear in the most subtle ways today. Last Friday evening I was in the Jacksonville Airport waiting for a flight back to Washington. I was thinking a great deal about this sermon and what I was going to say on this Sunday before the 4th of July.

One of the “Breaking News” items on the CNN Airport News station was the discovery in London earlier in the day of explosives in two cars that obviously could have killed and maimed scores, if not hundreds, of people had it been detonated. Had the terrorists been successful much human suffering and agony would have been perpetrated on innocent people. It would have been a heinous act. Full stop.

While the CNN reporter who was reading the news reported that no one had claimed responsibility and that the police did not know the person or the group who was responsible, the film clip that accompanied those words was of an Arab man wearing a keffiyeh, an Arab red checkered headdress. While no one claimed responsibility and no arrests had been made, the not so subtle assumption CNN made was that it was an Arab. By that photograph an enemy was being created—and why not, anyone who would have perpetrated such a crime certainly would have been an enemy. The problem is, we do not know who was responsible.

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”

But Jesus also says something else. The words of the CNN reporter should have spoken for themselves, but CNN used an old film clip of a man wearing a keffiyeh. Why is it so important for us to create an enemy? Why it is so important to create an enemy through propaganda that has no bearing to the story being read by the reporter?

The scripture holds us to a higher standard, that we are not partial, that we do not prejudice the case before we have evidence, that we take no bribes, that we execute justice for the orphan and widow, that we love the stranger and that we provide them with food and clothing.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been reading an insightful book by Ray Takeyh entitled Hidden Iran. In the book, Takeyh quite successfully shows how the United States and Iran have been playing off of each other’s fears and have been using unhelpful rhetoric to create each nation as an enemy. Takeyh pointed out that phrases like “axis of evil” only rally Iranian support around its government which then creates more hatred towards this nation, while phrases like “the Great Satan” only create fear and more support in this nation for possible military action for a “regime change” in Iran.

I will never forget immediately after 9-11 I was invited to preach that Sunday at Christ Church, Lausanne, Switzerland at a special service of remembrance.

The Friday following that tragic Tuesday I received a Special Report from Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams from Wales, now the Archbishop of Canterbury. Archbishop Rowan was in New York that Tuesday morning when the planes crashed into the Twin Towers. He was at Trinity Church, Wall Street, preparing to do a video taping when the first jet crashed into the World Trade Tower. Archbishop Rowan wrote in his Special Report his reflections as he “had to face the real possibility of a sudden and violent death as buildings collapsed and the streets filled with choking dust, fumes and falling debris.”

In his Special Report, Archbishop Rowan reminded me that God speaks a different language, not a language of revenge and retaliation, but a common language “by God sharing with us the experience of terror and death. And when we speak to God the language of hatred and rejection, nails and spears, nail-bombs and a airstrikes, terror attacks and the bleeding bodies of children in Ireland, Baghdad, Jerusalem or New York, God refuses to answer in that language.” But then Archbishop Rowan says, “how hard for us really to believe we are free to speak God’s language!”

I believe we as a Church, we as Christians, are called upon to speak God’s language. In the society in which we live, God’s language is not a popular language. But God’s language can not be reserved only for the National Cathedral, for St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, or St. John’s Cathedral in Hong Kong. It is not a popular language, but to quote Archbishop Rowan again, the “unspeakable tragedy of thousands of innocent dead can not be made ‘better’ by more deaths. It may be humanly as unforgivable as it gets; but that is not the same as saying that revenge (as opposed to just punishment) is what is needed.”

As people of faith, we recognize evil for what it is. While others will choose the weapons of war and destruction in the pursuit of reprisal and revenge, we know that it is in the Cross that we find strength to stand firm, to keep vigilant in prayer, and to turn the hearts and minds of men and women to the ways of God’s justice and righteousness.

I truly believe that Jesus calls us today to a different standard. Jesus calls us to love our enemies. Yesterday noon I had lunch with a friend. He told me a true story I would like to share with you. A priest was beginning a huge fundraising campaign in his parish, but he would not call or go to visit the wealthiest person in the parish because “she hated him.” My friend insisted that the priest call the woman, but the priest refused by insisting that she would never speak to him.

Finally my friend prevailed and the priest called. Instead of being “shut out by her,” she welcomed him to her home. After three such meetings the woman invited the priest and his family to her home for dinner to break bread with together.

It is tough to love our enemies, but if we act like that priest and refuse to call that woman because I perceive that she “hates me,” we will never move beyond our own prejudices and fears, we will never be given a chance to be a friend.

For us, for our nation and for the world, the only thing that makes sense is God’s language. I bet we would be surprised to see who would want to speak to us if only a chance were given.

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

In the Name of God. Amen.