The Right Rev. Eugene T. Sutton
Tell us what we need to hear, O God, and show us what we need to do to become disciples of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus said, “Love your enemies; bless and pray for your enemies.” Well, we don’t think so! But, thank you very much, Jesus, for those wonderful words. I’m sure they sounded well and work fine back there in Galilee, but we don’t live in Galilee. Many of us live in the nation’s capital, and that just doesn’t work here.
Love your enemies? No, we must outwit our enemies, fight our enemies, outmaneuver our enemies, and suppress our enemies, because they want to do us harm. We need to be strong in this world. And so, Jesus, you said, “Love your enemies, and the meek shall inherit the earth.” We hate to pull the calendar out on you, Jesus, but it’s 2,000 years later, and, let’s just put that on as a long-term goal.
But let us return to our business meetings where we oversee our strategic objectives on how to vanquish the enemy and win. We know that we need to be bigger, stronger, have more bullets, more guns, more bombs–stronger than our enemies.
You said, Jesus, in the Golden Rule, “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.” We have a new Golden Rule, “Do unto others before they do unto you.” And if we can do that with a smile on our face, and if that passes for love, that’s just the way we’ll have to leave it.
“Love your enemies?” What can that mean? Is he for real? What would it mean to love?
I’m reminded of what a psychology professor said some years ago. He had no children of his own, but he would frequently reprove a neighbor scolding a child saying, “No, no, you should love the boy, not punish him.” Well, one hot summer day, the professor was repairing his concrete driveway. And after a full day’s work he was very tired, and he dropped his trowel, wiped the sweat off his brow, and went into the house to have a nice big cold one. That’s lemonade, you know! But before he entered the house he looked out of the corner of his eye, and there was one of those neighborhood street urchins, a neighbor boy who was about to put his foot into that freshly laid cement. Rushing to him, the professor picked up the boy and was getting ready to spank him when a neighbor leaned out the window and said, “Ah, professor, remember you should love the child.” And he said, “I do love this child in the abstract, but not in the concrete.”
This is perhaps why so many of us have so much trouble with love. We try to do it only in the abstract. We think of it in the abstract, not in the concrete. We love in general, not in particular. We love in theory, not in practice. And love can’t be relegated to the ethereal, spiritual, sweet bye-and-bye in the sky. Love has to operate in the nasty now-and-now, terra firma, the real earth, at the office, at the firm, at the school. Love isn’t something you say you do. Love is something you actually do.
And there’s a lot of talk about love these days. There always has been. The word love has the highest reference frequency of any word listed in Bartlett’s Book of Familiar Quotations. “What the world needs now is love, sweet love; it’s the only thing there’s just too little of.” Ah yes, I love the world, like Nancy said in the comic strip Peanuts, “I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.”
But Jesus and the Golden Rule did not say, “feel about others as you would feel about yourself.” Rather, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s not so much about feeling or sentiment–”Oh I just love your apple pie, Aunt Mary.” It’s not about feeling. It’s a verb of action. It’s about doing, involving conscious effort, rather than natural inclination. Love is behavior that is geared for the benefit of the other. How can we do that to our enemies?
I want to suggest two concrete ways in which today you may love, or come to love, your enemies. My first concrete suggestion is to love yourself. Well, what does that have to do with it? Well, we all know that we have enemies, but what we seldom realize is that each of us carries within ourselves an inner enemy. As John Sanford, an Episcopal priest and Jungian psychotherapist wrote so well a generation ago, this inner adversary is the person who, within us, who contradicts the outer self. This is the one who thinks the thoughts that we do not want to acknowledge as being our own, who has feelings and urges that we dare not openly express. Because to do so would throw into jeopardy the whole role and imagine that we have assumed for ourselves. This inner enemy is the one we try, usually unsuccessfully, to hide from others, out of fear that they will reject us. If only they knew who I really am, what I’m really thinking, what I’m really feeling. Or because we think we could not stand to face him or her. This is the Mr. Hyde to our Dr. Jekell. The one who manages to get us in a bit of trouble, or sometimes in a lot of trouble. And who manages to bring about some wrong doing in spite of our pretensions to be virtuous. Or more passively, the one who stands between us and our lofty goals and ideals and prevents us from achieving them. The more we wear the mask of an idealized self, and we are identified with that mask, the more the unconscious will set up an opposing viewpoint in the form of an inner enemy, the shadow to the light that we project.
So Jesus said, “Love your enemy. Bless and pray for your enemy.” Isn’t this the way of wholeness, not only for ourselves individually, but for this city, our nation and our world? For the outer enemies that we create of those who oppose us, are but projections of the un-faced self within us. So scary, so mysterious so repressed, that we must make him or her out to be our enemy. If we could but learn to love and see and accept ourselves as God loves and sees and accepts us. If we can embrace the shadow, then we are free to see and love and accept others, even our enemies.
My second concrete suggestion is to love God, the author of all life, the creator of the world and the spark of life and love that is within you. And who is God? Love, says the Christian Scriptures. That is to say that spark of life and love is presented to us in the Scriptures as a loving parent, our Heavenly Father, our Loving Mother, whose outstretched arms are always beckoning, calling, as Jesus’ arms were outstretched on the Cross, inviting the world even his enemies to come and enter into that divine light of love and grace and mercy, as well as justice and righteousness.
I realize that many of us this morning here do not believe in God. You are visiting. Or maybe are skeptical that God even exists. My advice this morning is to love God anyway. Because, isn’t it true that love so frequently precedes belief? My wife, for instance, believes in me. And as of this morning when I left the house, she still loves me. But she believes in me because she loves me. She decided some time ago to be for me, and by her actions demonstrating that she is for me, and she is for anything that benefits me–and that’s called love. Because of doing that, she has come more and more to believe in me, her husband, the one she loves.
If you do not believe in God, love anyway, and see if belief follows. When Jesus encountered those whom he healed and cured and ministered with in this earthly life, many of them did not believe in him, did not believe that he was the Messiah. But they loved him because of what he did. And through that love, belief fostered.
And so there you have it. Love yourself. Love God, so that you may love your enemies. It’s rather like the summary of the law, isn’t it? Midway through his earthly ministry people asked Jesus, What is it all about? What are you trying to teach us? And Jesus gave a summary of his teaching and of the teaching of the Scriptures. And that summary was, “Love God with everything you’ve got, with all your heart, your soul and your might.” “That’s the first and great commandment,” he said, and the second is like it, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus defined neighbor frequently as the one you can’t stand.
There you have it: Love of God. Love your neighbor as yourself. A circle of love, or a trilogy of love. And it makes no difference where you begin that process. If you cannot love your enemies, then love yourself. If you cannot love yourself, love God. If you cannot love God, reach out to your neighbor. Wherever you begin in the process of love the spirit will take you through the holy trilogy. It’s the opening up of the heart to the divine life, which is love.
I’ll leave you with a concrete example of this love in action in the words of one who preached a sermon, Martin Luther King, Jr., one year before he preached one of his final sermons in this pulpit. At the height if the Civil Rights Movement, at the height of the violence in his community, he preached at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, these words:
“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. But we shall still love you. Send your livid perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour, and beat us and leave us half-dead, but we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our love and our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win our freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process. And thus our victory will be a double victory.”
Jesus said, “Love your enemies. Pray for and bless your enemies.”
That sounds like a good idea. It is about time that we made it concrete.
In the name of the One God, Creator, Redeemer and Giver of Life, Amen.