Proper 17 Year A 9/3/2023
Jeremiah 15:15-21; Psalm 26:1-8; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28
Rev. Mark A. Lafler
Romans 12 has lots to say about our relationships with other people.
Last week, we heard from Romans, reminding us to have a sober self-image.
Not to think too highly of ourselves.
From our reading today we heard about how to love each other in our Christian community.
However, what I want to focus on this morning is from the last few verses and they may be summed up with this:
We should love and serve our enemies.
When we hear the word enemies we may think of enemies against our nation.
Perhaps nations that we have gone to war with…
Or nations where we have placed economic sanctions on.
That is not exactly what is in the context here.
The context is more personal…
It could be people we know that have different political perspectives than us.
Which is really big in our culture…
It may be the overarching narrative in our American culture today.
Each political side loves to paint their opponent as an enemy.
It seems the rhetoric for this is at an all-time high…
At least in my lifetime.
Social Media is no help either.
People strut their stuff like a badge of honor…
Seemingly hoping to start fights and arguments.
I have heard of people going on social media just to find an argument to enter into.
Let alone make new enemies.
But we can have other enemies too.
Disagreements between people can foster bitterness and rage…
We might not call certain people enemies, but we sure act like it.
Family members can turn into enemies…
A husband and wife can turn against each other.
Things done and left undone…
So, what do we do with enemies.
Most of us have “enemies” in some sort of way.
We should pray for them, for starters.
I found an Irish prayer this week…
May those that love us, love us;
And those that don’t love us,
May God turn their hearts;
And if He doesn’t turn their hearts,
May He turn their ankles
So we’ll know them by their limping.
I don’t know if that is the best prayer to lift up on behalf of our enemies.
But our reading does make one thing clear:
We should love and serve our enemies.
Listen once again to what our text says…
This time from the J.B. Phillips paraphrase:
Don’t pay back a bad turn by a bad turn, to anyone.
Don’t say “it doesn’t matter what people think”,
but see that your public behaviour is above criticism.
As far as your responsibility goes, live at peace with everyone.
Never take vengeance into your own hands, my dear friends:
stand back and let God punish if he will.
For it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay’.
… these are God’s words: ‘Therefore if your enemy hungers, feed him;
if he thirsts, give him a drink;
for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head’.
Don’t allow yourself to be overpowered with evil.
Take the offensive—overpower evil by good!
These are powerful words about how to treat and serve our enemies.
But they are not just St. Paul’s words,
…actually, they are found throughout the bible.
From the Torah, in Exodus it is written:
If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off,
be sure to return it.
If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there;
be sure you help them with it.
In 1 Thessalonians it is written:
Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong,
but always strive to do what is good for each other
and for everyone else.
(I Thessalonians 5.15)
St. Peter wrote:
Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult.
On the contrary, repay evil with blessing,
because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
(1 Peter 3.9)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’
But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.
If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt,
hand over your coat as well.
If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.
Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
In the flesh…
In our natural mind…
We want vengeance.
We want justice.
We want revenge.
And yet, as Christians we are to leave the desire for revenge with God…
And actually show kindness to our opponents.
So, what do we do?
First, understand who we are in Christ.
As Christians we have been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6.20)
By the precious blood of Jesus Christ on the cross.
As baptized believers we are to no longer live for ourselves being buried with Christ in baptism and raised to life anew.
In fact, Christ died for the ungodly… that includes you and me.
In fact, even though we are sinners… Christ died for us.
That would make us opponents with God.
Enemies with God.
It says in Romans:
For if, while we were God’s enemies,
we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
Thank God that he doesn’t treat his enemies like we usually treat our enemies.
If God did, there would be no hope for any of us.
Instead, we are shown mercy and grace.
Theologian R. C. Sproul said:
When I think that I am unfairly hated,
I try to remember that I am unfairly loved.
God loves us not because of how good we are…
Or think we are…
He loves us unconditionally and we can never repay the love that he has shown in Jesus Christ.
So, in Christ, we are not our own… we are God’s people.
Second, hate evil, yet love people.
We are not ever to condone evil…
Romans 12.9 says: Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
But we are not to curse the ones who do evil either.
As Romans 12.14 says: Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Now, what if the people are doing really evil things?
Can we curse them a little then?
This is one of the places that a well-known helpful Christian phrase comes together:
We are to hate the sin, but not the person.
We are to hate sin and the damage it does, but not curse the sinners.
You can see this play out in the life of Christ Jesus.
The greatest example being when Jesus was on the cross.
When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate.
He was confident that God’s justice would prevail.
And because of this he said:
Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.
Jesus never condones evil, and yet he always beckons the sinner with loving kindness.
In Romans 2.4, we find that it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.
It is not wrath, it is not coercion or manipulation,
it is not even winning a debate.
It’s not condemnation that leads sinners to repent,
It is kindness that brings all of us sinners to transformation in Jesus Christ.
That is something we would do well to remember in this world…
Kindness is what leads sinners to repentance.
We should hate evil, but love people.
Finally, serve your enemies.
We have this strange verse in our text.
…if your enemies are hungry, feed them;
if they are thirsty, give them something to drink;
for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.
At first reading, it sounds like now we are going to get them.
Burning coals on their heads, that would hurt…
Now we’re talking!
But that is not what is going on here.
The 1st century metaphor points to shame.
Through kindness, may they become ashamed of their actions and words.
I know when my wife and I have had arguments or disagreements…
And I in my stubbornness don’t want to relent to give in…
Because whatever it was… it was important… yeah right!
She has won me over with kindness.
And my heart melts…
I have become embarrassed of my foolishness.
Just because of a kind word or a kind action.
The proverb says:
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Instead of throwing barbs at our enemies with insults and hurtful gestures… let us show kindness.
Instead of racing up to that aggressive car that wants to cut us off to get over… what if we just slow down and let them in.
(I am speaking to myself here)
I love what the television character Sensei Wu said:
The best way to defeat your enemy is to make him your friend.
The way we make friends is through kindness.
May we show kindness even to our enemies by serving them.
So when it comes to our enemies:
May we know who we are in Christ. Focus on Christ!
May we hate evil, but love people.
May we serve our enemies with kindness.
Our Romans reading leaves us with this:
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
May we do just that…
Overcome evil with the goodness of God.