Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
One night there was a weary Truck Driver, who after hours on the road decided to pull his rig into an all-night truck stop to grab a bite to eat. As soon as the waitress brings his food, in through the door came three tough looking motorcyclists (Hell’s Angels). The Hell’s Angels began to start harassing the Truck Driver. They started swearing at him. Then one of the Hell’s Angels grabbed the Truck Driver’s hamburger off his plate and threw it on the floor. Another one of the Hell’s Angels grabbed the Truck Driver’s French fries and started eating them. Then the third Hell’s Angel spit in the Truck Driver’s coffee.
The truck driver in response just calmly got up; he grabbed his check, walked to the cash register, settled his bill with the Waitress, and walked out the door. The Waitress while opening the till saw the big rig drive off into the night. The Hell’s Angels sat around the Diner proud of themselves for the grief that they caused this poor Truck Driver.
When the Waitress eventually came over to see the Hell’s Angels, one of them piped up, “What’s that Truck Driver’s deal? He’s not much of a man”.
To which the Waitress replied, “I don’t know about that, but he sure isn’t much of a Truck Driver, on his way out of the parking lot, he ran over three motorcycles.”
This is a good story. We like it when the obnoxious, I’ll use the church appropriate term, “jerks” get what they deserved. Yet is this the best way to handle such situations?
Today’s Gospel Lesson comes to us from the 5th Chapter of Matthew. Today’s lesson brings us to our fourth and final sermon on the Sermon on the Mount.
To understand today’s lesson it’s important to remember that a Christian’s existence is going to be occupied with the never-ending tension between spiritual pride and spiritual despair. Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount by speaking to those in spiritual despair: the mourning, the meek, and the poor in spirit. Jesus assured them that the natures of the Kingdom of God’s blessings are often in direct contrast to the blessings this world has to offer.
Jesus then sought to let the spiritual despair crowd know that their faith can not be wishy-washy because their faith does not belong to them. How Christians by the virtue of being made “salt” and “light” have a totally different outlook on life and their neighbor because of the extent of the Gospel’s promises.
Last week’s lesson spoke to those who have fallen into spiritual pride in the people who hold anger at their neighbors, the people who try to rationalize their sins of anger and lust against their neighbor’s sins. Jesus sought to remind these people that what makes the Gospel truly free to receive is we are not the ones to draw the line between our neighbors and ourselves. The line for our salvation was rather drawn on a cross.
Today’s lesson deals with one of the strongest words of the English language “hate”. Hate is the ultimate outpouring of spiritual pride. Hate is the ultimate expression of our worthiness compared to others that God couldn’t possibly dare to save as not to offend our delicate presence.
Our lesson contains the famous words of Jesus:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”- Matthew 5:43-44
Now there are a lot of ways we hear these words from Jesus. Some of you will dismiss Jesus as a pie in the sky, hipper dreamer who was ignorant of berating bosses, abusive spouses, swindling relatives, murderers, sex offenders, and just outright, inconsiderate jerks.
I know personally how hard it is to love one’s enemies. Kids can be cruel when you grow up with a speech impediment. I remember in high school playing Basketball at opposing schools being taunted about my weight and wanting nothing more than to lash out verbally and physically at the one’s doing the taunting. These words of Jesus to love our enemies are maybe the most impossible command that he gives us.
So we like to make excuses. We might be saying but Jesus surely wasn’t thinking about so and so. But the thing is Jesus knew exactly what he was saying. Jesus believed loving one’s enemies was not only necessary for the church he would eventually establish, but also the survival of society.
Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount to a large audience of 1st century Jews. Perhaps the most interesting verse of Today’s Gospel is verse 41, which says:
“And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”
The explanation of this passage is in Jesus’ day, Roman soldiers had the right to demand that citizens subject to Roman rule carry their military gear for up to one mile. This practice outraged the citizens of Judea as not only had the Romans taken their land, not only had the Romans exploited their resources, not only had the Romans taxed them to sustain their unwanted military presence, the Roman soldiers had the right when they wanted a rest to demand the citizens of Judea carry their equipment for one mile. The victims of this practice hated it. They would complain, moan, and grumble the whole way without being able to retaliate. Jesus knew how fervently the Jews hated the Romans and that they probably had valid reasons for doing so. So Jesus’ command to his Disciples in verse 41 to carry the Roman military gear an extra mile shows that Jesus knew very well the types of people we’re often going encounter that we’re called to love.
Why did Jesus think this was such a necessary point to make?
One of my favorite Dale Carnegie sayings are “You can't win an argument. You can't because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it.” Carnegie understood that even if you get your way, you damage your relationship with others, thereby winning nothing in the long run.
One of Martin Luther King’s greatest sermons was based on this passage from Matthew 5 on why it’s important to love one’s enemies. I’ve read and heard more sermons in my lifetime then I care to admit. Martin Luther King’s sermon on loving your enemies is one of the few that as soon as I got done reading was speechless and awe-struck by its content.
Martin Luther King had experienced hatred and ignorance first hand in his life. He was told he couldn’t go to certain schools, he was told he couldn’t eat in certain restaurants, be treated in certain hospitals, or have the same rights to public transportation.
Martin Luther King had every reason under the sun to want to fight anger with anger yet he knew this was going to solve nothing other than creating further hard feelings. So Dr. King in a 1957 sermon given at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama gave three reasons why loving one’s enemies are so important.
The first reason is hatred only begets more hatred.
King told the story of one night driving with brother AD to Chattanooga, TN. On this night, every car they encountered on the road would fail to dim their bright lights meeting King’s car. King’s brother AD had a solution. AD was going to get his point across and get it across good. AD promised the next car that refused to dim their lights, AD was going to do the same in return. AD wanted to give the other drivers a taste of their own medicine.
Upon hearing AD’s suggestion, Dr.King turned and said the following. “Oh no, don’t do that. There’s be too much light on this highway, and it will end up in mutual destruction for all. Somebody got to have some sense on this highway.”
King related this highway tale to the history of world civilization as a whole. How civilizations have risen and fallen based on their failure to dim the lights and all the blood shed that follows.
King points out:
“Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love.”
The second reason King gave why it is important to love your enemies is because hatred distorts us. Hatred causes us to act in irrational, destructive ways.
King rightly points out:
“For the person who hates, the beautiful becomes ugly and the ugly becomes beautiful. For the person who hates, the good becomes bad and the bad becomes good. For the person who hates, the true becomes false and the false becomes true. That’s what hate does.”
The final reason King gives to love one’s enemies is because:
“It is this: that love had within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. That’s why Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ Because if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and to transform your enemies, but if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption.”
King gives a great historical example of these principles in Abraham Lincoln. The one thing to note about Abraham Lincoln is he had plenty of enemies. One of these men traveled all over the country denouncing Lincoln left and right. He made fun of Lincoln for being too tall, for being too skinny, and for being too stupid.
So after Lincoln gets elected President in 1860, a short while later as the Civil War was raging on, Lincoln needed a new Secretary of War. Lincoln wanted to nominate a man named Edwin Stanton. Lincoln’s whole Cabinet was in shock that Lincoln would want to nominate the man who had been traveling around the country insulting Lincoln. His whole Cabinet thought Lincoln to be a fool. They asked Lincoln if he had read all the statements that Stanton had made about him. If Lincoln really knew the depths that Edwin Stanton went to try to defeat him at every turn. Yet Abraham Lincoln knew all this, yet he didn’t care. Lincoln admired Stanton’s tenacity and ability for military strategy.
If Abraham Lincoln had responded to Edwin Stanton like nearly every other person would have, looking back 150 years later, we would have a much different view of Lincoln’s Presidency and the Civil War perhaps might have turned out different.
Yet when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, Edwin Stanton had been changed so much by Lincoln’s actions that he uttered these words:
“Now he (Lincoln) belongs to the ages”, “There lies the most perfect ruler of men the world has ever seen.”
For as Martin Luther King pointed out:
“If Abraham Lincoln had hated Stanton, if Abraham Lincoln had answered everything Stanton said, Abraham Lincoln would not have transformed and redeemed Stanton. Stanton would have gone to his grave hating Lincoln, and Lincoln would have gone to his grave hating Stanton. But through the power of love Abraham Lincoln was able to redeem Stanton.
In the words of Dr.King, “There is a power in love that our world has not discovered yet.”
Some might confuse this sermon this morning with calling on people to be door mats to just allow people to walk over you. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dr. King was thrown in jail on many on occasions over his beliefs. For Dr.King’s goals weren’t to get his way through violence, but to change hearts and minds in the process.
Dr.King cites as a great example of this the French Emperor Napoleon who one day reflected that many men had built great world empires (Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne), but these empires were only sustained by force. As soon these leaders fell out of power not a single person would die for them. Where as Jesus Christ built an empire on love and even today millions of people will die for his Gospel.
As Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount, he stood face to face with people who had experienced the power of the Roman Military might. Jesus was speaking first hand with people who had experienced oppression. Yet Jesus’ response was different, Jesus only response was I will not use their methods. Neither will I speak hatred towards the Roman Empire when everyone wants me to. Because of this conviction the followers of Jesus have risen from a group of twelve men to the world’s largest religion today.
For without Jesus loving those who wronged him on a cross, there would be no Christianity. This is why Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount to set the stage for the rest of his earthly ministry. Jesus gave this sermon to speak to the broad range of human emotions: mourning, despair, acceptance, lust, anger, and hatred. Jesus gave this sermon to proclaim the reason that he came into this messed up world is to one day ultimately redeem it.
 Matthew 5:43-44
 Matthew 5:41
 A quote from How to Win Friends and Influence People.
 A full text of this sermon can be found at http://www.ipoet.com/ARCHIVE/BEYOND/King-Jr/Loving-Your-Enemies.html
 King, Martin Luther. “Loving Your Enemies”. Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, AL. 17. Nov.1957.Sermon
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