Love is the Sweetest Revenge

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday After Epiphany + February 20, 2011

  • Have you been wronged, mistreated, annoyed or ignored?
  • Is someone tormenting you beyond what you can bare?                                   
  • Are you ready for some PAYBACK?!

Then welcome to Revenge Unlimited a business in Sacramento California established by Nori Carlson who believes that there are people in desperate need of a good dose of humility, and her business model is to help you treat others as they have treated you,  a selfish revision of the Golden Rule. 

Revenge Unlimited offers free revenge ideas via the web and locally delivered wilted flowers wrapped in old dirty newspaper, deflated balloons and year-old party favors to the people in your life who have wronged you. The business sells revenge as Carlson proudly says “we’re about getting even.” And isn’t that where our thoughts go when another causes us deep pain. Our sinful human nature resonates with revenge and we often want the people who cause us pain to also feel the intensity of that pain.

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Love your neighbor we hear from Leviticus this day. The world view of the time, was that people saw outsiders as their enemy and that they were to be hated. But the law says, do not try to get even and do not hold anything against one another. Instead, love your neighbor as you love yourself. We do this because the law calls us to be holy, because God is holy and is our Lord. These laws (a preview of the Ten Commandments) tell the people of Israel what God expects and how they are to live together.

Jesus this week again says to the crowd gathered to understand the meaning of the Law of Moses that God expects us to go beyond the requirements of the Ten Commandments. He says not to get even with a person who has done something to you, but turn the other cheek. Love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you, to be holy like God our Creator. Jesus teaches that God provides for everyone, the good and yes even the bad ones who cause us pain.

God knows there are people we don’t get along with, people who we dislike, don’t talk to, ignore, and some we might see as adversaries. For those who upset us, wrong us, and cause us pain, our response to these enemies is often retaliation. But Jesus calls his disciples and you and me to a different way of relating to enemies. Jesus calls us to turn the other cheek, love and pray for them.

So how do we who hear these words today, in a world full of selfishness, unrest and injustice embrace and live out Jesus’ words? Our sinful nature is to base love on the desirability of the object of our love… people who are attractive, activities that are enjoyable, a beautiful house, shiny new car, or trendy clothing. Jesus says we are to not live selfish lives, rather give to everyone, and love your enemy. So what then distinguishes who and what you love and your lifestyle, from that of unbelievers?

Many of you have read Harper Lee’s epic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, or perhaps seen the movie. In the story Bob Ewell who is one of the antagonists spits in the face of Atticus Finch, the white lawyer defending a black man in racist Alabama during the 1930’s. While Atticus could have chosen to respond in anger, either hitting Bob or threatening to have him locked up for assault, the defense lawyer simply takes out his handkerchief, and wipes off his face. He wryly comments later on the incident, saying he wished Bob didn’t chew tobacco.

This fictional turning of the cheek, was replicated during the civil rights movement as American’s using non-violent means faced the snarling dogs and fire hoses of racism turned on in hatred and fear. Brave individuals sat-in, boycotted busses and walked across the south living out the bold and dangerous invitation to love Jesus gives to his followers.

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Another example happened in Europe. Erich Honecker was the Communist premier of East Germany when the Berlin Wall came down. He was the Central Committee secretary for security matters and in charge of the building of the wall in 1961. A decade later he initiated a power struggle that led, with Soviet support, to his becoming the premier in 1971.

During his tenure, his wife Margot served as head of the Ministry of Education for 26 years. It was during her tenure that eight times the Ministry said no eight times to one family’s children when they applied to the university in East Berlin.  The Ministry didn’t officially give reasons for rejecting applicants, but in atheist East Germany, reasons weren’t hard to guess. The father of those children was Pastor Holmer, who served a Lutheran congregation in suburban East Berlin. 

When the wall came down, Honecker and his wife were dismissed from office. Under indictment for criminal activities they were evicted from their luxurious palace and suddenly found themselves enemies of the people they had oppressed. Friendless, without resources, and no place to go, Pastor Holmer invited them to stay in the church parsonage and they accepted.

Pastor Holmer’s turned cheek, generosity and love of enemy was not shared by the rest of the country. Hate mail poured in and members of the congregation he served threatened to leave and reduced giving. The pastor defended his actions in a letter to the newspaper, saying: “What Jesus asked his disciples to do is equally binding on us.”

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And just this year, a group of students at American University in Washington, D.C., offered love, a turned cheek, poetry and hot chocolate to the hate-filled members of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church when they came to their campus in January. The small church in Topeka, Kansas is known for picketing military funerals and college campuses with signs like “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” They picketed the United Methodist-related institution because as their press release screamed: “American University is fag-infested and pervert-run.”

The protest was used as an opportunity to display love and inclusiveness to the campus community and to the protest group. In offering cookies and hot chocolate to all that gathered on that chilly afternoon and engaging “God Loves Poetry,” a national campaign that takes the hate-filled press releases sent out by Westboro and changes them into poems, American University turned the other cheek in love. By marking out many of the angry words in Westboro’s press release, it became a love letter from God: “American University will see truth, the face of God. Your God shall be in thine heart. Teach thy children that simple commandment: God is love.”

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 Loving ones enemy has had many champions throughout history…

 Mark Twain said:

Love your enemy, it will scare the hell out of them. When they show you hate, show them kindness. When they loathe you, adore them. And when they detest your presence, welcome them into your home. They will ponder as to how in the hell you can love them so, when they clearly don’t deserve it.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:

The only way to overcome your enemy is by loving them.” Bonhoeffer contended that the point of non-resistance is to exhaust evil. Love prevails over evil because of its endurance.

Mahatma Gandhi said something Jesus apparently would have agreed with:

An eye for an eye, and we all go blind.” Gandhi’s understanding of the Sermon on the Mount and his practices and leadership profoundly shaped Martin Luther King, Jr. who developed the practice of non-violence as a means of effective protest. 

Many have as Gandhi and King did, taken Jesus words to heart, turning cheeks and retaliating to evil with love. Through Christ-like non-violent acts of love, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and scores of others have through engaging in loving non-violent resistance, made enemies and systems look as they truly are, oppressive and evil.

Jesus tell us in Matthew today, not how great and deserving are we of God’s love, but how humble, loving and giving we should be. His blunt words to be perfect… love as perfectly and freely as God does, were meant to be a wake-up call. God wants all of us as people of God’s love and promises, to do what God created and pursues us to do, to be an example of humility, loving unconditionally and giving of ourselves abundantly for all of God’s beloved creation.

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