First Lesson: Leviticus 19: 1-2, 9-18
Responsive Reading: Psalm 119: 33-40
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 3: 10-11, 16-23
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 5: 38-48
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The Hatfields were an upper-class Confederate family from West Virginia. The Hatfields made their money in timber. The McCoys were a lower class Union family from Kentucky. The McCoys took to distributing moonshine. The origins of the feud begin with a murder of a McCoy by a Hatfield relative in the waning days of the civil war. The feud though would not get hot though until the year 1878.
Floyd Hatfield had a pig. Living on the other side of the Tug River from the Hatfields was the McCoys. The McCoys also owned hogs. One day Randolph McCoy saw Floyd Hatfield’s hog and noticed something funny. Floyd’s hog had his ears notched just like the McCoys would do to their pigs. Floyd Hatfield was immediately branded to be a pig thief by the McCoys. The case eventually ends up in court. The judge for the McCoys court case was the Honorable Anderson Hatfield. The McCoys lose the case on the testimony of one witness (Bill Stanton) who is a friend of the Hatfields. The McCoys then kill Stanton.
Around this time one of the Hatfield children (Johnson) impregnated one of the McCoy children (Rosanna). The McCoys don’t like this, so they set up Johnson Hatfield to be arrested for bootlegging. Pretty soon blood is flying on all sides. Cabins were burned down. Over a dozen lives were taken from these families. One small family feud gets so heated that the Governors of Kentucky and West Virgina eventually get involved in its mediation. A court case involving the families eventually makes its way to the United States Supreme Court. The powder keg for all this bloodshed was a hog.
Now, this all seems a little extreme for a hog. But what if there was something else involved. You see as Malcolm Gladwell writes about in his book Outliers, The Hatfields and McCoys were merely one of several famous family feuds that took place in Appalachia in these years. What made Appalachia unique was the origins of its settlers. Primarily Scottish and Irish herders. Herdsmen have to possess a different mindset than farmers. Whereas farmers are dependent on cooperating with their neighbors, herdsmen have to be on guard at all times against their livelihood being stolen. Herdsmen almost by nature need to be aggressive in defending their turf. The history of Herdsmen is why the Hatfields and McCoys explode over a pig.
Now Jesus understood the herder's mentality. Jesus audience for the Sermon on the Mount knew the mentality of shepherds. The following history is why Jesus invokes them during his ministry proclaiming himself to be the Good Shepherd. Now in our Gospel lesson for Today: Jesus needs to speak to the shepherd’s mindset.
“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. “-Matthew 5:38-39.
I came across an interesting psychology article this week entitled “Enemies enhance the meaning of life.”
The point of the article is nothing unites a group of people like having a common enemy. You might have nothing in common with a person until you both find out that you cheer against the Green Bay Packers. Enemies enhancing the meaning of our lives explains why people unfriend people on Facebook for having a different political viewpoint. Enemies bring stability to our life. If we lose our job, then blame the President. If the Vikings lose, then the Refs must be for the Packers. If we lose a relationship, we call the other person every name in the book. The article explained people often see the world as safer if they have a group of a bogeyman on which to pin its failings.
Back to the Hatfields and McCoys, The reason the feud got so heated is both families simplified their dispute it into (I’m right and they’re wrong). They need to change, but I can stay the same. While the Hatfields and McCoys might seem to be an extreme example, we live in a society that often claims its ground by shaming and boycotts. We live in a society always looking to pin the blame on cops, single mothers, miners, environmentalists, atheists, Christians, republicans, or democrats. We assume the world will be fixed as soon “they” get to be more like “us.”
What Jesus is saying Today until we consider the possibility of looking at ourselves then the world will remain as broken as its ever been.
In 2012, The History Channel aired on a miniseries on America’s greatest feud between the Hatfields and McCoys. History Channel President Nancy Dubac described the feud as thus: “One of the things that was overwhelming when I first read the script was that there wasn’t a good guy and a bad guy. The nuances are fascinating.” . The nuances of life can become a problem.
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is the very definition of fairness.
We all agree that the punishment should indeed fit the crime. The problem is pretty soon that no one will possess the eyes to be able to see anymore. What Jesus is saying here today is that there is indeed another way forward.
“Love Your Enemies” “Pray for those who persecute you.”
We might hear these words from Jesus and assume that he doesn’t understand your neighbor who lets their dog do their business wherever they well, please!
To understand the nature of our Gospel lesson. You need to understand the context of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ life took place in Palestine during a time when hated godless Roman oppressors possessed it. The Gospels were published into a world where Christians were blamed for setting fire to Rome. Don’t say Jesus doesn’t understand your situation because his situation was probably more extreme than your own. Jesus in our lesson is encouraging prayer for his enemies who ended up putting him to death.
Anyone can love people who are nice to you or people that can improve your life whether it be personally or financially. What Jesus calls on his followers to do though is to extend love beyond just these people. Jesus calls on Hatfields to love McCoys. What Jesus is saying today is that neither your neighbor’s nor your own brokenness is beyond God’s redemption.
Once upon a time, there were two brothers who shared adjoining farms no different than the Hatfields and McCoys. These brothers worked side by side for over forty years, helping and supporting each other whenever possible. One day a rift between the brothers started. At first, the rift was minor, it was just a simple misunderstanding with no hogs even involved. The rift kept growing though until the brothers were no longer speaking to each other.
One day a man shows up looking for work. He approaches the older brother Pete carrying a carpenter’s toolbox. He asks if there are any jobs that need to be done.
Pete thought for a moment. Anger had consumed Pete's day with his brother Phil. Pete finally decides that he’s tired of looking at Phil’s farm. So he suggests that the laborer goes down by the creek and build a giant fence, so he doesn’t have to look at Phil’s farm anymore. The laborer goes down by the creek to get to work. Pete leaves the laborer for the day to go to a cattle auction. Pete returns to the check the fence’s progress. What Pete sees is shocking!
There is no fence down by the creek. The laborer had instead built a bridge across the creek. On the other side of the bridge was Phil. Phil walks across the bridge to Pete where they both confess their sins to each other before the brothers finally embrace. Both Pete and Phil offer to keep the Laborer on because of their gratitude. The Laborer refuses to stay as he wasn’t about building projects but rather building bridges. How would both the world and the church look if we adopted a similar mindset?
I came across a quote this week that summed up the Christian Church quite well given by Gordon McDonald.
“The world can do almost anything as well or better than the church. You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick. There is only one thing the world cannot do. It cannot offer grace.”
Grace has the potential to change the whole wide world. Grace can eventually heal even the most bitter of feuds.
Back to the story of the Hatfields and McCoys. In 1976, the last two survivors of the original families Jim McCoy and Willis Hatfield gathered at a monument for those originally slain in the feud. Both men put an end to this feud by formally shaking hands on this day. Jim McCoy would die at the age of 99 in 1984. Jim McCoy was buried by Hatfield Funeral Home in Toler, Kentucky.
My point for this morning is this. You will have people in this life who you might consider to be enemies. You will have people who wrong you, disappoint you, and you might wish for nothing more for the day that you lash out with your revenge. This mindset though is how a dispute about a pig can lead to the death of over a dozen people. What Jesus is saying Today is this. “There can be another way.” A way of humility. A way of prayer. A way of grace. A way of hope. A way of healing. Do not let your enemies define you. See your enemies gather at a cross right along with you. Amen
 “Hatfield-McCoy Feud”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 14.Feb.2017. Web. Feb.14.2017.
 More background on this feud from Archer, Clint. “To Cut a Long Story Short: Preaching Obadiah.” The Cripple Gate. 04.Aug.2014. Web. Feb.14.2017.
 Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. Little, Brown and Company. New York. 2008. Print. P.166-167.
 Heflick, Nathan. A. “Enemies Enhance the Meaning of Life.” Physcology Today. 15.Oct..2011. Web. Feb.13.2017
 NM. “Can You Guys Keep It Down Out There? I Can Barely Hear My Self-Condemnation.” MBIRD (Mockingbird Ministries). 20.Oct.2011. Web. Feb.13.2017
 Pierce, Mark. “Hatfields&McCoys: 5 Beliefs That Make Me One Too.” Pastors.com. 31. May.2012. Web. Feb.14.2017.
 Works, Carla. “Commentary on Matthew 5:38-48.” Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 23.Feb.2014. Web. Feb.14.2017.
 Matthew 5:44
 Matthew 5:44.
Source Unknown. “Building Bridges.” Stories for Preaching. Web. Retrieved on Feb.13.2017. I slightly revised the story to give the other brother a name in Phil.
 Source Unknown. “Building Bridges.”
 Source Unknown. “Building Bridges.”
 Source Unknown. “Building Bridges.”
 Molin, Steve. “He Hit Me First!” Sermon Writer. 2006. Web. Feb.14.2017.
 Reynolds, R. David. “The Deadly Sin of Anger.” Sermon Central. 5.Mar.2008. Web. Feb.14.2017.