February 20, 2022
Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
There may be no other portion of scripture that we ignore more than this one. Whenever we go around the circle to name the people we want to bless or who need our prayers, we list family, friends, those who are sick or hurting. No one ever names the people who drive them crazy (although wouldn’t it be so much more interesting if we did); who have profoundly disturbing beliefs; those who are threatening what’s good in the world; or who have stabbed us with words or insults or abuse so deep that we can’t think of the person without a rush of anger or sadness.
Recently someone stole an Amazon package of soap from our front porch. It didn’t occur to me to put out a box of soap on the front porch, with a big sign, saying, “Free Soap” for the next time they come.
Politicians regularly declare who is the enemy. And most of us shake our heads in affirmation because we’re afraid. We experience the forces that are threatening us. It is so tempting, and so natural to some reptilian part of our brain, to divide the world between those who are a threat and those who are safe. I read yesterday that people are moving to states or counties where the political opinion match their own, deepening the red and blue in America.
How do we break this death-dealing cycle? I don’t know. Even these words of Jesus seem sketchy. Talk of forgiveness and love too often gets twisted. It’s the vulnerable or oppressed that are told to forgive and let it go. This passage in Luke was used to instruct slaves to forgive their abusive and evil masters. Women have been told to just forget about sexual violence.
Clearly, that’s not what Jesus intended.
In the Netflix series, “Midnight Mass,” a girl confronts the drunk who fired a gun that severed her spine. In the preceding episode, she had apparently been healed by the priest offering her the “body of Christ” during Mass. When she confronts the drunk, she says, “I hate you and I have to be honest about that,” and expresses her rage at having so much of her life stolen away, her satisfaction that his life has been miserable since the shooting. She says, “I want you to hurt.” And then she goes on, “All of that is true. All of that is still in here but I’ve come to say that I forgive you. I forgive you and see you now, I see you and I’m still angry with you, but it’s different, even now as I say it, it’s different. Do you want to know why it’s different? Because the only thing standing in the way of you and better life is you. The only thing standing in my way was hate. God can forgive you. All over scripture it says that God can. I can forgive you, and if I can forgive you, then anyone can.
As the sob catches in his throat, we know that for both, the trajectory of their lives has changed.
There’s no map for loving the enemy. Forgiveness can’t be prescriptive. We can’t tell people they need to forgive. We can only tell the stories of those who have tried, listen to their experience, and then figure out how we do it ourselves with our own fears and wounds.
Joseph who feeds his brothers instead of meting out the justice they deserved. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu who guided the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. There are many stories told by The Forgiveness Project. https://www.theforgivenessproject.com/stories. A Sudanese fighter who says, “”I had to forgive myself or else I couldn’t get rid of my militaristic mindset.” The wife of a murdered businessman in Belarus says, “”If I think about them too much I start to dream of revenge so then I have to stop myself because I know revenge will destroy me. I cannot allow myself to bleed and die inside.” A young man, who killed another man by punching him, encouraged by the victim’s parents says, “”It’s extraordinary to think that the people I harmed the most were the people to judge me the least.”
Jesus from the cross says, “Forgive them because they don’t know what they’re doing.” He chooses to place violence and death, even his own, inside a larger story of God’s love moving in the world. His death on the cross sets into motion a new path of evolutionary growth, another stirring in our collective limbic system, now not just fight or flight, but fight, flight, or forgive.
Martin Luther King says in “Strength to Love, “Probably no admonition of Jesus has been more difficult to follow than the command to “love your enemies.” Upheaval after upheaval has reminded us that modern [person] is traveling along a road called hate, in a journey that will bring us to destruction and damnation. Far from being the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer, the command to love one’s enemy is an absolute necessity for our survival.”
“The measure you give will be the measure you get back.” This is not so much a threat about final or hellfire judgment but is a practice offered for the living and the redemption of these days. What we put into life, how we respond, where we stand will flow back to us. When love is the source, Jesus promises that we will receive it in return and it will deepen and widen for others. This is, after all, the very nature of who God is. And, in fact, this is how God responds to even our worst impulses. When we destroy, God loves. When we wound, God loves. When we divide, God loves. When we hate and love, forgive and don’t forgive, God loves.
So if God has done it, and others have done it, so can we.
 Netflix, “Midnight Mass,” Episode 1:3, “Proverbs.”
 All Stories from The Forgiveness Project, https://www.theforgivenessproject.com/stories/.
 Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963), 47-48.