Loving Our Enemies.
Leonard Cohen died this week.
He was 82.
Cohen had a rather storied career in music and art,
And his most famous work, perhaps,
Is the deeply moving song Hallelujah,
Which he wrote in the 1980s.
Like many monumental works of art,
Hallelujah didn’t have much initial success.
Not until John Cale did a cover of it
And then Jeff Buckley,
Today it is one of the most recognizable cover songs of all time
With more than 300 renditions recorded. And many more besides…
I’m not sure if you saw Saturday Night Live last night.
In its coda to this week,
The passing of Cohen on Monday
and the Elections they’ve been satirizing coming to fruition on Tuesday,
They chose to bypass snark and shade, which they excel at
And instead they asked Kate McKinnon to sing Hallelujah.
I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.
Were going to miss Cohen.
This title, Hallelujah,
Which means “praise be to the Lord”
Evokes for us followers of Jesus holy week, and Easter.
Talk about an emotional week.
A recollection all the way back to Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem
Cloaks on the ground
Shouting Hosanna to Jesus as he rode by
Riding, maybe no one but he quite knew, to die…
Riding, maybe not even he knew, to rise again in this Easter world
Of undying hope and unyielding love.
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah…
Conventional wisdom, such as it is,
will tell you: if you know what’s good for you,
don’t talk about religion, or politics, with your neighbor.
Don’t do it.
Its far too risky.
You’re likely just to make them mad,
say something insensitive
assume something awful
and, before you know it, you turn that neighbor into an enemy.
Here we are, the Sunday after our National Elections,
and we are a nation divided.
This was also a weekend where we, as a people
paused to give thanks for the company of veterans
who risked life and limb for us
and the countless more who are doing so right now
risking their safety for a nation that has rights and privileges
which those around the world rightly aspire to.
And we are a grateful nation for the sacrifice and valor of each one.
Our political process, unwieldy and expensive
vituperous and acrimonious though it is,
is an example of those rights and privileges,
the vote being something that many Americans—
notably women and people of color
something they worked hard to achieve
and many around the world
yearn for the opportunity to have themselves.
So today I am grateful for the opportunity to live in a nation
where we can exercise a right so basic as national self-determination
and am so thankful for those who keep us safe while doing so.
What is it about national elections that causes us so much stress and anxiety?
The pundits and the election results tell us that we’re divided,
and we clearly are a nation with diverse and varied opinions
about how to handle the challenges of our day.
But what is it about our political process that ramps up the emotions
so that we start feeling enmity toward those who differ?
New York Times columnist Frank Bruni
once wrote a column entitled The Far Side of Acrimony
the Saturday before a national election,
I believe this was back in 2012.
Here’s how he started it:
“I’m going to take a pass on predicting
who will win the presidential election on Tuesday,
because I can make a safer, more confident prediction
about what will happen in its aftermath.
The embittered troops of the [parties] will claim
that their candidate didn’t get a fair shake
and will hunker down to fight…
Its what we do, God help us.
It’s who we’ve become.”
Bruni wrote that about both sides, Red or Blue
speaking to something about the divided nature of our culture.
About a month before that, Presbyterian Pastor Scott Anderson
was reflecting about the politics of his home state of Wisconsin
which Erik Gunn in the Milwaukee Magazine called
the poster child for how divided the nation is politically.
After all, Gunn says,
Wisconsin voted for Barack Obama twice
and sent the first openly lesbian candidate to the Senate
while keeping all the engines of state government
firmly in Republican control.
In Gunn’s article about Scott Anderson’s work
as executive director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches
he explores all the ways that politics is making enemies of neighbors.
Anderson predicted in his sermon in September, Gunn wrote then,
that regardless of the outcome of our election,
roughly half the voters of his state—
indeed half of us around the country—
would wake up unhappy, maybe even hurt, worried, anxious.
And if this is true of our nation as a whole,
it is true of our churches as well.
So Anderson said:
“Religious communities are one of the few settings
where there are neither red, nor blue, but purple communities…”
And in talking about the controversial nature
of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, Anderson noted:
“Many congregations outstate were split right down the middle
between pro-Walker and anti-Walker members.”
Some stopped speaking to each other.
Now, that was back in 2012.
It is so much more so, today.
Have you felt this yourself?
This polarization of our communities?
This segmentation of people into Red and Blue,
Fox and MSNBC
PRO or CON
RIGHT or WRONG
PATRIOT or TRAITOR?
Anderson’s reflections about Wisconsin communities could be replicated
all over our nation, from swing states to the darkest of reds and the
deepest of blues.
What is it about our political conversations
that threatens to turn neighbors into enemies?
I’m not sure I have a good answer for that.
But I do know that the scriptures have a lot to say about
conflict within the Christian community
and about the way Christ encourages us to love one another.
Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth is in many ways
his major work on the subject,
written to a community he founded
that he loved.
The Corinthian church was fractured by a number of movements
as people wavered and wandered
after Paul departed from there to do work elsewhere.
–Some were challenging Paul’s authority.
–Some were encouraging the people to revert to their more-Jewish ways.
–Some were pushing the people to be more libertine, more free, less legalistic
–Some were arguing for more rigid denial
of the body and of human pleasures.
When you read First Corinthians, these various factions are often referenced
by naming the person associated with a particular position:
Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas. Take your pick.
The Corinthians were a fractious people.
Acrimony is a good word to describe what they were feeling.
And Paul writes them and reminds them
that life in Christ meant something different.
“For all things are yours” Paul says.
“whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world
or life or death or the present or the future—
all belong to you,
and you belong to Christ,
and Christ belongs to God.”
In Christ, Paul argues, our divisions melt away. They have to.
In Christ, we commit more to God’s politics than to our own.
In Christ, we no longer identify ourselves mainly by what views we hold
or which faction we align with.
But, Paul says, all of us, in life or in death, belong to Christ
and Christ belongs to God.
We are all, Paul says, children of one God.
A unity which, to the outside world, is foolish.
Paul goes so far as to say “Let no one boast about human leaders”
For, those of us who claim the name of Christ,
have no cause to boast in our division.
Let us boast in our unity, says Paul.
Let us boast in our love for one another…
And the rest of Paul’s letter is a tribute to that love
And note carefully,
A love where those who are hurting and vulnerable
Receive special care:
—serve the weaker conscience
—let those with strong views set them aside for the sake of concord
—let faith, hope, and love abide, the greatest of which is love
—do all things for the common good….
And then we have these verses that I read
from perhaps the three most famous chapters
of all of Christ’s teaching,
what we call the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus starts with the blessings of the beatitudes…
–Blessed are the poor in spirit…
–Blessed are those who mourn…
–Blessed are the meek…
You are blessed, despised and hurting children of God!
And then Jesus talks about how his followers
are called to be salt to the world
light for dark times.
And Jesus teaches how the heart tempers and impacts
how we apply the ethical mandates of the law.
Not one letter is abolished!
Not only should we not murder,
but not even be ANGRY with one another!
(did the campaigns get that memo?)
Not only should we not commit adultery,
but don’t even have lustful hearts!
Ok, hard enough.
But then we get to some really difficult ideals:
Eye for an Eye and tooth for a tooth! No!
Don’t resist an evildoer.
If they strike you, turn your cheek.
If they ask for your coat, give your cloak too.
One mile? Give them two.
And, maybe the hardest of them all: don’t just love your neighbor.
Love your enemy too.
Pray for those who persecute you.
The God who makes the sun to rise,
does so for the righteous and the unrighteous both.
What distinguishes you from the Gentiles, Jesus says,
if all you do is greet your brothers and your sisters?
No: love your antagonists too.
I don’t always start my sermons well before the Sunday I preach them,
but I did this week.
All of this sermon, except for the open and a bit of the close,
was written on Monday.
I wanted my reflections to not be too impacted by the Elections
and my own reaction to them.
Often I wait to put pen to paper,
because I am often listening for what God is doing in our world
and sometimes current events bring unique questions to the text of the day.
But this week was the US Presidential Election, and a host of other contests.
And like many others,
I was engaged in the political season,
its debates and its advertisements
I watched the pundits and considered the choices.
I consumed the news reports of Tuesday night
and Wednesday morning.
A presidential election is the finishing line
of so much energy and enthusiasm.
Billions spent on advertising
in the presidential race alone,
not to mention the down ticket contests.
Countless hours of volunteers on the phone and in neighborhoods
knocking on doors. Lots of energy and momentum.
And finally, votes are cast and counted.
A winner declared, a loser concedes,
confetti dropped and swept away
and the country assesses its future anew.
On this side of the election, we are now aware
of what the outcome turned out to be.
But the questions that I brought to bear on the Word for today
were shaped by observations
that more and more voices seem to be raising about our society:
What is it about our political campaigns that turn neighbors into enemies?
For we see acrimony all around us:
at work, on our city streets, on the television, in our church life.
And unfortunately its not just the political cycle that does it,
because we are in an era of constant battle, it seems:
And this year, it felt that things got turned up even higher,
That people who live for demonizing other people felt license to do so.
Don’t talk politics or religion. Its just not good for you.
But Christ urges us to take the risky and foolish road,
and to take brave and risky steps
to help turn ENEMIES into NEIGHBORS.
What does he ask us to do?
–To pray for one another,
particularly for those who see things differently than us.
–To be patient in what we sense to be our suffering
and to give an extra cloak or to go an extra mile to do so
–To develop EMPATHY for those who differ from us.
–To LIVE IN WAYS that seek reconciliation and grace
rather than division and divisiveness.
To see that God loves all of God’s children
and wants us to do the same.
This kind of living isn’t easy, really.
It wasn’t easy when Christ preached it on the mountain top
and it is no easier today with cable news and robo calls
and the Apollos and the Cephas’ of our day
encouraging us to see THE OTHER
to see those who disagree with us as our ENEMIES
rather than as our neighbors.
But it’s the kind of living
that we are constantly encouraged by our Lord Jesus Christ to live.
The Rev. Jan Edmiston
is the Associate Executive Presbyter in Chicago Presbytery
and the Co-Moderator of the General Assembly.
She writes one of my favorite blogs on Christianity and faithful living
called A Church for Starving Artists.
She’s once wrote about one time as a church pastor when:
“A friend invited me to go to her Prayer Group back in the 90’s
and I soon realized that everybody was a lesbian but me.
It was fine.
Actually, it BECAME fine,
but I have to admit feeling strange at first
because I’d never been the only non-lesbian in a group before.
I learned that we had more things in common than not.
Recently I was talking with a friend who told me
about her daughter’s school in Chicago.
My friend is a single mom
who lives in an apartment in a part of town
that’s often in the news because of shootings.
Her daughter’s Spanish teacher
doesn’t speak Spanish
so she is trying to save some extra money
to have her daughter take a real Spanish class
in a community college.
I consider this friend ‘like me’ because she’s a mom
and we often talk about our kids together.
But her life is VERY different from my own.
I’m already pondering New Year’s Resolutions… and—
especially in light of the recent election—
I would like to suggest a global resolution.
WHAT IF WE COMMIT TO GETTING TOGETHER SOCIALLY
WITH SOMEONE WHO IS NOT LIKE US AT LEAST ONE TIME—
Not to “convert” the person or to judge the person
or to congratulate ourselves
about doing one small act of reaching out.
but to simply reach out.
To engage someone who is not like us.
Not only is our church, our nation, our world doomed
if we don’t get to know people Not Like Us,
but we cannot follow Jesus if we don’t do this.
We will find that:
+Not all lesbians love KD Lang (though, honestly, they should)
+Not all Republicans are insensitive to the poor
+Not all Democrats are financially irresponsible
+Not all immigrants cause crime to rise
+Not all African Americans live in the inner city
+Not all Mormons are white
+Not all sexually active young [people] are promiscuous
+Not all men love sports and cars
+Not all poor people are lazy
+Not all rich people are hardhearted
+Not all Muslims are terrorists.
+Not all Christians believe homosexuality is a sin.
What if we started [the new year] with an eye on hanging out with someone
so different from ourselves
that a just-like-us friend might wonder
“What is she doing talking to that person?”
I admit, this word of Jesus challenges me.
It is so much easier to hunker down with people who see the world as I do.
But Jesus tells us that we are to make neighbors not enemies.
That we are to love one another, and Jesus lived a life that showed us how.
–He dined with tax collectors
–He told stories about Samarians and prodigal children
–He told us all people are invited to God’s banquet
–And he taught us to open our hearts and our minds
to the love God has for all creation.
We need to be clear about this:
This is the SAME JESUS who called his adversaries
BROOD of VIPERS and SNAKES and HYPOCRITES
When he saw them doing HARM to others
Refusing to feed the hungry on the Sabbath
Ready to stone a vulnerable woman in punishment.
This is the SAME JESUS who turned the tables in the temple
When ordinary people sought nothing but a connection to God
Redemption and restoration and peace
And people were taking advantage of them.
Don’t mistake love for enemies with passivity in the face of injustice.
It means staying connected with one another
Working together for the sort of realm of justice and hope and righteousness
That Jesus said is comin, and its coming soon…
My brothers and sisters,
as we survey the landscape of our common community this day
may we be in the business of tearing down walls of enmity
and instead work on the task of loving one another
spending time with those different from us
considering how God is working in them and through them
for the common good.
Let us love our enemies.
Let us have nothing on our tongue but Hallelujah…
Let us open our hearts to the work God is doing
in trying to reconcile all people to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.
May it be so.
Image Credit: found at http://www.scottwilsonleadership.com/how-to-love-your-enemies/