Sermon August 14, 2022: Love Your Enemies And Pray For Them (Pentecost 11)

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If you prefer to worship at home at this time or simply wish to listen to the service or sermon again, please click on the link below to watch the entire worship service as a video on your home computer, tablet or smartphone:

Link to Video:

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/739293155

Screencast-o-matic: https://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/c3jI03VTcLz

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If you would prefer not to view the video, you’re welcome to use the links below to have a time of worship at home. (Just right click on the link to “open link in a new tab” to play each hymn or the sermon in a separate tab, and close that tab when finished.)

CALL TO WORSHIP:

Lord, I believe: Help my unbelief. Help me to see my world as You see it.
Lord, I obey; Help my disobedience. Focus me; guide me. Prune me.
Lord, I follow;  Help me to stay on the path. Thank you for the path, for guidance, for Providence and protection.
I humbly ask for wisdom and for knowledge in every human situation. 
Lord, help me to flourish as a part of the vine. Amen.

HYMN A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PB5XvHq8UHk

(Just right click on the link to “open link in a new tab” to play each hymn or the sermon in a separate tab, and close that tab when finished.)

A TIME OF PRAYER (Testimonies, Joys & Concerns)

Congregational Prayer − The Centering Prayer: Lord Jesus, today I am far less than the person I want to be or can be with your help. I ask today that you would be more and more the center of my life. Guide me to all that is good, cleanse me from all that is not. Teach me Your ways and form in me Your nature. Help me to serve you as I am gifted. Help me to notice my neighbor and work through me to redeem my neighborhood. I am a sinner; please be my Shepherd, my Savior and my Lord. Amen.

Please pray for yourself and your neighbors, lifting up your needs to God while giving thanks for answered prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

HYMN He Touched Me
Gaither Vocal Band – He Touched Me [Live]
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5m–ptwd_iI

(Just right click on the link to “open link in a new tab” to play each hymn or the sermon in a separate tab, and close that tab when finished.)

MOMENTS WITH THE CHILDREN – If you are blessed to have children with you, ask them what they are thankful for, and then thank God together!

GIVING OF OUR TITHES AND OFFERINGS – these can be mailed to the church office.

MESSAGE: Love Your Enemies And Pray For Them
Matthew 5:10-12, 21-26, 43-48; Luke 23:33-34; Matthew 6:9-10
Series: Praying With Jesus

Right-click, open in new tab to play … Sermon audioSermon slides as a PDF file.
Saturday Video AudioWesley Sermon Audio

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SERMON NOTES

Matthew 5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:21 “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; 26 truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Luke 23:33 And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.   – Howard Thurman

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HYMN Let There Be Peace On Earth
Vince Gill Amy Grant Chet Akins Michael McDonald Let There Be Peace on Earth 1993
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGoEJyV7Snw

(Just right click on the link to “open link in a new tab” to play each hymn or the sermon in a separate tab, and close that tab when finished.)

BENEDICTION The Prayer of St Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

If you worship at home, please let us know so we can pray for you!

TRANSCRIPT

Throughout Pentecost, we’ve been talking about how the Holy Spirit works through us. And you’ve heard me say multiple times, the way the Holy Spirit works through us is that you and I pray with the help of the Holy Spirit and God powerfully answers our prayers to touch people’s lives. And so, starting last week, this week, and in the next few weeks to come, we’re going to talk about lessons we learn by looking to Jesus as the example of how to pray, and also what Jesus taught us about how to pray.

But I want to begin by pointing out something that I find quite unique. There are many places where Jesus talks about how to pray, but when I read through the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – I can only find two places where Jesus asked us to pray for something specific. In other words, Jesus made a prayer request. Jesus said, “Pray this.”

And today we want to look at the first one because, as we go down the path of our daily life, we will find ourselves in a place where we will need to pray. We want to follow. And Christ has made it easy to follow because there’s a path that’s provided. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a path like this before. You can see the wooden sidewalk. I want to tell you that the only place I’ve ever seen this is in South Carolina because, in South Carolina, it’s interesting, the beach is on the other side of a swamp. And that little wooden walkway, do you know what’s on the other side of that grass? Mud and water. You don’t want to get off that path. You don’t want to go on a detour from that path. That’s the best way to go. The path is the best way to go. Lord, help us to stay on the path. Thank you, Lord, for providing a path, for guiding us, by showing us which way to go, for providing for us and providing us with protection.

So here’s the prayer request. Every now and then on the path, something bad can happen. And so in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says this, “Blessed are those who are persecuted.” I don’t know if you’ve ever felt persecuted. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” not because you’ve misbehaved, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “Blessed are you,” Jesus goes on to say, “when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

In the prayer that we prayed in the call to worship, it asks the question, “How does God see the world around us?” Because if you’re like me, the worst thing that you want to hear is somebody out there is talking about you to somebody else out there and reviling you and criticizing you and taking your name in vain. Well, no, wait a minute. I don’t want to take God’s name in vain, but it’s probably normal for somebody occasionally to be upset with me or disappointed with me. But it just kind of makes you feel like there’s a target on your back. Or at least that’s the way it is with me. I don’t like this feeling of being persecuted.

But Jesus looks at me – and if you ever feel like that; Jesus looks at you – and says, “There’s something else going on here.” And the something else that’s going on is that God is keeping track of what happens to us. And here’s what Jesus would want us to see. When somebody is behaving like this, rejoice and be glad. Now, that doesn’t make any sense. Now, how can I rejoice and be glad if somebody out there is unhappy with me? Jesus says, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

I still remember a night when I was a student at Eastern Illinois University back in – I don’t know – probably 1973, 1974. I really had the blues. I really felt bad. And I don’t even remember why, but I really felt like the whole world was against me. And I was reading this verse, verse 12 in a different version, and it says, “Jump for joy.” Now, I don’t know what you do when you feel sorry for yourself. I don’t know what you do when you feel consumed with self-pity. I don’t know what you do when you just want to curl up in a little ball and hide, maybe even get under the bed. But you know what that version of the Bible said? When those things happen, it said, “Jump for joy.”

Now, I’m still just as dumb now as I was then. But back when I was an 18-year-old, I had this odd feeling that if the Bible said to do something, I should do exactly what it said. So I still remember, full of self-pity, full of depression, getting up in my dorm room in the dark, lifting up my hands to heaven, and saying, “Lord, help me.” And I started to jump up and down in the air and say, “Lord, help me.” And pretty soon, I realized just how stupid that looked, and I started laughing. I recommend it to you. Feeling stupid to where you laugh at yourself is a wonderful cure for feeling sorry for yourself. “Jump for joy.” And what do you know? I found joy because I could see myself as someone who is amusing to God. And I found that that also amused me.

What we need when we feel bad is to see things the way God sees them. And that’s quite different than the way we see them. There’s a wonderful quote that has really blessed me over the past couple of years. C. S. Lewis said it. I found out this week. “I sat with my anger long enough until she told me her real name was grief.” Now, as you’re walking down that path and you find yourself feeling angry, I would like to encourage you to sit for a little bit and just feel that anger. Because as you become more and more aware of your feelings, it’s very possible that what you will realize is that under the feelings of anger, there are feelings of grief. Now, why is that? Most of the time when you and I get angry, maybe not you, but certainly me, most of the time when I get angry, it’s because I’m disappointed. Something has happened that disappoints me. I didn’t want this. A person disappoints me, and I didn’t want this. And really, what’s at the heart of disappointment is often that we feel betrayed. We feel like a victim. But what you might not realize is we feel sad about it.

And so when we’re trying to understand ourselves, when we feel angry, when we’re trying to understand other people, when they feel angry, you can ask yourself a question, am I angry because I’m disappointed? At something that happened or with what somebody did? Because that’s grief. And grief is a different thing to deal with than anger.

And not only that, I also found out this week that there’s another version of this parable. You could call it part two, which is the reality that the only reason you feel grief is because you love someone. Grief is the price you pay for loving someone, because sooner or later, everyone is going to disappoint you. Sooner or later, you’re going to go through the line at McDonald’s, and they’re going to give you a hamburger with mustard on it, no matter how often you tell them that’s not how you like it. Sooner or later, we’re all disappointed. But the reason we’re disappointed is because we love those Quarter Pounders with Cheese, especially if they’re made the way we like it. And we love people if they don’t disappoint us or hurt our feelings.

And so these things go together. When I’m walking down that path and I feel like I’m persecuted and I feel like I’m a victim, my first emotional response may be to get angry. And here’s the problem. Some people get stuck in anger because to move on, it helps to realize the reason you’re angry may be because you’re sad. You didn’t want what happened. And sometimes you can be stuck in sadness. But one of the things that helps me when I’m sad is to realize the reason I feel sad is that there’s something I love. And I still have a chance to feel those feelings of love for a person. I still have a chance to feel those feelings of love for a thing like a sandwich. I still have a chance to jump for joy and not get stuck in feeling like a victim because it’s very easy for us to get stuck.

So a little bit further on, Jesus says this, “You have heard that it was said you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” And you see, when you run into trouble along the path, that’s what happens. Somebody pops up and they start acting like an enemy. “You have heard that it was said,” Jesus says, “you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” verse 44. But I say to you, Jesus raises the bar. “But I say to you,” Jesus says, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Pray for those who take advantage of you, pray for those that attack you for no reason. Because quite often what’s underneath our anger, supporting it, is a feeling of injustice. And Jesus suggests here when you feel that, the best thing to do is to pray for those who persecute you.

Now you can do this. Here, pray along with me: “Lord, smite them.” That’s praying for them, but I don’t think exactly that’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Love your enemies.” But sometimes we start with angry prayers. And we can move on to semi-angry prayers, “Lord, please explain to them how wrong they are.” Hopefully, we can move to more loving prayers and pray prayers like, “Lord, please help them to see both sides. Please help them to become more fair. Please help the better part of that person guide them.”

And then Jesus makes an interesting point: when you and I love our enemies, when you and I pray for the well-being and the health of people who attack us and persecute us, Jesus says, verse 45, “This is so that you and I may be children of our heavenly Father.” You and I can be like God. Because think what it’s like to be God and be disappointed in human beings. When I think what it’s like to be God, and when God is disappointed in me, it touches my heart. “And this is what it means to be like God,” Jesus says. For He, God, makes his sun rise on the evil and the good. He sends rain on the just and on the unjust. God is kind to all people. And Jesus concludes that section by saying this, verse 48, “You, therefore, must be perfect, kind and merciful to all people. You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” And perfection is seen in this kind of mercy.

And where do we see perfection most? When Jesus is on the cross. And I guarantee you, if somebody nails me to a cross and I suffer the way Jesus has, I’m quite concerned that I would be praying those smite them prayers. But the first words out of Jesus’s mouth, as his suffering begins, is this, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” and when you think about it, and you’re on the path, and you’re dealing with people who are unfair, unjust, attacking you, and persecuting and criticizing you, you can admit it. I’ll admit it with you: They don’t know what they’re doing. They’re always totally focused only on their own selfish wishes and desires, just as when Jesus says these words, the men who nailed him to the cross don’t even hear them because they’re busy dividing his clothes, because, see, they get to keep them, make a little money off of the suffering of the man on the cross. “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”

And when you and I go down our path, if we deal with people who are upset with us, angry with us, who hurt our feelings, we can remember what Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” because this is what perfect looks like. This is what perfect looks like.

Jesus goes on to say back in Matthew, chapter five, “You’ve heard that it was said to the men of old, you shall not kill, you shall not do murder.” This is one of the Ten Commandments. “And whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.” But Jesus raises the bar a little higher. And he says, “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.” Some interpreters say that when you and I lose ourselves in anger, it is a wish to kill and to harm. “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment. Whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council. And whoever says, ‘You fool’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.”

Friends, I have to be honest with you. I go through Facebook every day. And every time I find myself wanting to shout at the screen, you fool, this verse comes to mind. This comes to mind because when I get angry, I want to behave in this way. And Jesus warns us it’s dangerous.

And so Jesus says this, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there, remember that your brother has something against you” – look at verse 24 – “leave your gift there before the altar and go. First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

Friends, I would like to suggest to you that this is one verse that I would prefer that you not take literally because if I took this verse literally, whenever I stood up to preach, I would need to leave to make things right with somebody out there. And I might never make it through a whole service of worship. Now, you are all probably better, smarter, kinder people than me, but if all of you took this verse literally, we probably all would have to leave.

And what Jesus is trying to say here is that, yes, God loves it when we worship God. But one of the most beautiful ways to worship God is to go out there where somebody’s upset with us and pray for them and try to make peace. But if we took this literally all the churches would be empty except for people who are so self-centered that they think they’re perfect.

The second thing, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that you do not have something against someone else, well, you and I can feel a little bit proud of that, Lord. I don’t have anything against anybody … but that’s not what it says. If there’s anybody out there that has a complaint, Jesus says, that’s a very high priority for God. And I guarantee you, even if you have made peace with how you feel about everybody, there are still people who are upset with you. Jesus says that’s important.

Now, thank God – when I get up in the morning and I walk down that pathway through my day, I thank God I do not meet everyone in the world who’s upset with me on the same day! I don’t think I can deal with it. But anyone I do meet, I would wish to pray like Jesus prayed: Father, forgive them. I would wish that I could pray for their hurt to be made well. I could wish for them to live a happier life and be better people. Because to God, this is a priority.

So here it is, 3 o’clock in the morning. Friends, I’m 67 years old. I don’t think this happened to me when I was 12. I don’t think it happened to me when I was 18. But as you get older, it’s been my experience, you wake up in the middle of the night and your brain says, hey, let’s solve every problem that you’ve ever had before you go back to sleep. Has that ever happened to you?

And the truly peculiar thing is as your mind decides to go for a walk through your memories, your brain wants to solve the problems from 30 years ago that nobody can do anything about. And I find myself, in the middle of the night, unable to go back to sleep, having arguments with people who aren’t there, because I’m practicing. It’s as if I’m going to be in a big courtroom and get to argue with everyone who’s ever been unfair to me and I start practicing what I would say. What a colossal waste of time. And I’ll be honest with you, it happened last night, it happened a couple of nights ago, and I keep saying to myself, “Lord, the right path at 3:00 AM, is for me to go back to sleep, not to be worried and arguing!”

And see, this is the worst form for me. I don’t know if you’re like this. I make contingency plans. If the next person who’s upset with me has the gun, I’ll do this, but if they have a steak knife, I’ll do this, but if they have a bazooka, I’ll do this. But you will never be done making contingency plans for things that will never happen.

The French philosopher Voltaire coined the phrase to understand all is to forgive all. And I think one of the reasons my brain does this is because I don’t understand. I don’t understand why people do what they do. And I’ll be honest too, friends, I don’t understand why I do what I do. If I could understand everything, then I’d probably be able to forgive everyone who’s upset with me or harmed me. If I could understand everything about myself, I’d probably be able to forgive myself. And friends, you’re smart, I’m smart. But we’re not that smart. We are living, as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13, we see in a glass darkly, we don’t see things clearly. All we can do is our best.

So sometimes we have to forgive when we don’t understand why people do what they do. Just like Jesus on the cross: we forgive because that’s what God wants. I saw a quote on Facebook this week. It said something like when you love someone, you love the whole person – notice the next phrase – just as he or she is and not as you would like them to be. And I had to reply to that comment and I said this is true that children need to be loved just as they are. But they also need to be loved in a way so that they grow … otherwise you have a child that never learns how to tie their shoes. You have a child that never learns how to have good manners – if they’re always told the way you are is the way you ought to be.

We need two kinds of love. We need love that accepts us, but we also need love that inspires us to be better people. We need love that inspires us to love other people in a wiser, better way. We need love that inspires us to grow up to be more like God who loves everybody. We need love that inspires us to do better and be better. Because even though you and I should love unconditionally, love needs to teach so that people can live a better life than the life that they have now.

We need to grow up and go on to perfection. And that’s a very Methodist term. God loves us just as we are, but we’re not supposed to stay just as we are. We’re supposed to learn and grow and be better. One of the things we learned when we took the trip up to Babyfold, Lori Bultemeier was talking to us about how they helped parents who were abused as children learn how to love their own children. Because she said the child that’s abused, when they’re grown up, there’s like big holes in their memory to where they don’t know how to love. And so what she does is she loves the parent in a way that teaches the parent how to love the child. But she said something to us that day. Say something like you can’t give someone what you don’t have. You can’t understand someone when you don’t have that understanding. But even when you can’t, when I can’t, it’s good for us to remember that God can. Therefore, as you and I listen to God, sometimes we’ll find ourselves praying something that makes no sense to us, but God is guiding us now.

Now, something I always need to say in any sermon where we talk about loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you, even though we should forgive people who harm us, forgiveness does not mean allowing someone to harm you again. We can give someone forgiveness, but we don’t want to ever volunteer to be someone’s victim. Why? Because it teaches that other person to victimize people. Abusers are drawn to people who are victims. You know why? They can get them to do stuff for them. And here’s the problem, if you and I are like this, people who are victims are quite often people who are drawn to hope because they hope that this time it will be different. This time I can give my car keys to that person and they won’t wreck my car. I can give my house keys to that person and they won’t steal from me. But friends, you don’t have to give your keys to anybody. And you don’t love someone by encouraging them to continue to behave in ways that are harmful to other people.

So we should not volunteer to be victims. You can love your enemy and pray for them. But with some people, you should pray for them when they’re way over there – Love them at a distance. Because whenever they get this close, there’s trouble. Sometimes we need to love our enemies by praying for them, but nothing more than prayer, because God needs to do what needs to be done in their lives. It’s something that you and I can’t do. It’s beyond us. But we can always pray.

And so I want to encourage you. In the middle of the night, if you find yourself in the situation that I do occasionally– how do we pray when we do not understand? We ask God to forgive and heal and help and make amends when we can’t. And so when I’m on that path in the middle of the night reminding myself, you need to go to sleep (because that’s God’s will for this time of day!) I frequently find myself praying something like:

“Lord, I forgive everyone who’s ever done me wrong, even all the people I’ve forgotten. I pray, Lord, that you would forgive me for everyone whom I’ve ever harmed. And Lord, I pray that you would make it better for them, that for any harm that I’ve done, that you would heal and help, and that you would make it right in that person’s life and do what you want to do to fill their life with love and joy and peace. And Lord, I pray the same for me.” Lord Jesus, help us to pray those kinds of prayers when we feel angry, when we feel persecuted, when we feel we are treated unjustly. And we ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Let’s have a conversation! Please reflect upon the questions below as you consider the material presented above. In a comment, share your thoughts and additional questions. What would you like to know?

What grabbed your attention?
What is the human need or problem?
What questions do you have about any quotes provided?
Does the Bible say anything about this?
What solutions do you see for the problem?
What specifically could we begin to do to make a change?

Additional Resources

Kinmundy United Methodist Church is located at 308 E. Third Street, Kinmundy, IL 62854. Worship begins at 9 am Sundays. The building is handicap accessible.
Wesley United Methodist Church is located at 3381 Kinoka Road, Patoka, IL 62875 in the country between Kinmundy and Patoka. Worship begins at 10.45 am Sundays.
VISION: We are a functional family of God, where Jesus is Lord and people grow.
MISSION: Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional. (¶126 of the 2016 Book of Discipline)
Paradigm: There are two kinds of people in this world: people who need to become disciples and disciples who need to become disciple makers.

(If you wish, you can listen to the Prayer of St. Francis being sung:
Sarah McLachlan – Prayer of St. Francis
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agPnMxp5Occ )
 

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