An advertisement for a trip to Yellowstone National Park

 A sermon by, Howard Batson, First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Tx.

Proverbs 25:21-22

September 29, 2013

“If you enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; If he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the Lord will reward you.”

The following was purportedly posted on the Craigslist Personals:

To the Guy Who Tried to Mug Me in Downtown Savannah night before last.  Date:  5-27-2009, 1:43 a.m. EST.  I was the guy wearing the black Burberry jacket that you demanded that I hand over, shortly after you pulled the knife on me and my girlfriend, threatening our lives.  You also asked for my girlfriend’s purse and earrings.  I can only hope that you somehow come across this rather important message. 

First, I’d like to apologize for your embarrassment, I didn’t expect you to actually [wet] your pants when I drew my pistol after you took my jacket.  The evening was not that cold, and I was wearing the jacket for a reason.  My girlfriend had just bought me that Kimber Model 1911 .45 A CP pistol for my birthday, and we had picked up a shoulder holster for it that very evening.  Obviously you agree that it is a very intimidating weapon when pointed at your head….isn’t it!  I know it probably wasn’t fun walking back to wherever you had come from…I’m sure it was even worse walking barefooted since I made you leave your shoes, cell phone, and wallet with me.  (That prevented you from calling or running to your buddies to come help mug us again.)

After I called your mother, or “Momma” as you had her listed in your cell, I explained the entire episode of what you’d done.  Then I went and filled up my gas tank as well as four other people’s in the gas station on your credit card.  The guy with the big motor home took 150 gallons and was extremely grateful!  I gave your shoes to a homeless guy outside Vinnie Van Go Go’s, along with all the cash in your wallet.  (That made his day!)  I then threw your wallet [with ID] into the big pink “pimp mobile” that was parked at the curb…after I broke the windshield and side window and keyed the entire driver’s side of the car. 

…[On your cell phone] I managed to get in two threatening phone calls to the DA’s office and one to the FBI, while mentioning the president as a possible target.  The FBI guy seemed really intense, and we had a nice long chat (I guess he was tracing your number).  I feel this type of retribution was an appropriate punishment for your intended crime.  I wish you well as you try to sort through some of these rather immediate pressing issues and can only hope that you have the opportunity reflect upon, and perhaps reconsider, the career path you’ve chosen to pursue in life. 

Remember, next time you might not be so lucky.  Have a good day!

Thoughtfully yours,

Alex

Now that you’ve vicariously enjoyed revenge, payback, and retribution for a moment, let’s look at the words of the Proverbial Sage.

If you enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;

If he is thirsty, give him water to drink.

We continue our study in the book of Proverbs, and we will look at a parallel passage from our New Testament reading in Matthew 5.  The spirit, the sentiment of Solomon, is carried over by our Lord in His most famed sermon, the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 5:43-47: “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, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward to you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”

These words of Jesus, like those of Solomon, are the most difficult words of all.  Of all that Jesus asks, He asks no harder thing.  There is no greater challenge from the lips of our Lord than that of loving our enemies.  Through the ages of interpreters, it has been said these words, too challenging to achieve, show Jesus to be an idealist, not a pragmatist – one who always saw the heights of heaven but could never quite come down to earth. 

Responding to this passage, bumper stick philosophizers have had their own say.  One bumper sticker reads “Love your enemies…but keep your gun oiled.”  Another one says, “Love your enemies…nothing annoys them more.”  But perhaps the only bumper sticker philosopher to get the real meaning of the words of Jesus was “Love your enemies…though it might get you killed.”

It certainly got Jesus killed – loving His enemies, that is.

You understand what Jesus is saying.  Those who follow Him must live by a completely different paradigm than the pattern of the world.  If God’s people act like Gentiles, then what’s the point?

Everybody can love the one who loves him back.  There is nothing special about that.  But it is only the one who has imbibed the love of God who can possibly love his enemy.

Frederick Buechner, in The Magnificent Defeat, says that “The love for equals is a human thing – of friend for friend, brother for brother.  It is to love what is loving and lovely.  The world smiles.  The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing – the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely.  That is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world.  The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing – to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich…. The world is always bewildered by its saints.  And then there is the love for the enemy – love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain.  The tortured’s love for the torturer.  That is God’s love.  It conquers the world.”

Sir Walter Scott tells a story of walking down a road one day and being followed by a stray dog.  He became annoyed at the dog and picked up a rock, not in tending to harm the dog, but just to scare him off.  But his aim was more accurate than he had anticipated and he threw it harder than he thought.  He hit the leg of the dog and, perhaps, even broke it.  He expected the dog to retaliate and snarl at him.  But the dog wagged its tail and slowly limped up to Sir Walter Scott and licked his hand in stead of biting it. 

Jesus is God’s example of what it means to love your enemies.  On the cross, He uttered, “Father, forgive them.  They do not know what they do.”

In life, there are going to be those who don’t like you.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in a sermon preached in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1957, said something along these lines:

    …some people will not like you, not because of something you have done to them, but they just won’t like you.  I’m quite aware of that.  Some people aren’t going to like the way you walk.  Some people aren’t going to like the way you talk.  Some people aren’t going to like you because you can do your job better than they can do theirs.  Some people aren’t going to like you because other people like you, and because you’re popular and because you’re well-liked, they aren’t going to like you.  Some people aren’t going to like you because your hair is a little shorter than theirs or your hair is a little longer than theirs.  Some people aren’t going to like you because your skin is a little brighter than theirs, and others aren’t going to like you because your skin is a little darker than theirs.  So that some people aren’t going to like you.  They are going to dislike you, not because of something that you’ve done to them, but because of various jealous reactions and other reactions that are so prevalent in human nature.

     …[it is also a fact that someone] might dislike us because of something that we’ve done deep down in the past, or some personality attribute that we possess.

We all have our enemies – those who don’t like us and those whom we do not like.

Why would Jesus say such a thing?  Why are we, indeed, to love our enemies?  To be different than the world?

I want to propose some reasons.

I.  We need to love our enemies because of what hatred can do to us.

How ruinous, how injurious is hate to the one who hates.  You begin disliking someone, hating somebody.  Then you begin to do irrational things.  You can’t see straight when you hate.  You can’t think straight when you hate.  Someone driven by hate becomes a pathological case.  To the hater, 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.  (“Loving Your Enemies,” Martin Luther King, Jr.)

 That’s what hate does.  It eats you alive.  It destroys you from the inside out. 

 George Washington Carver once said, “I will never let another man ruin my life by making me hate him.”  When you hate a man, you’ve given that man the ability to destroy your life, your relationship to creation, and your relationship with Creator.

II.  We need to love our enemies to transform them.

If you hate your enemies, you cannot change them.  But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption.  You just keep loving people, keep loving people – even though they are mistreating you.  A neighbor continually wrongs you – just keep loving her, just keep loving him.  They may even hate you more at first, but you keep loving them 

A story circulates that when Abraham Lincoln was running for president of the United States, there was a man, Edwin M. Stanton, who ran all around the country talking about Lincoln.  He said a lot of bad things about Lincoln, a lot of unkind things.  Sometimes he would even get to the point where he would talk about his looks, saying, “You don’t want a tall, lanky, ignorant man like this as president of the United States.”  He went on and on – went around with that type of attitude, wrote about it and spoke about it. 

Finally one day, Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States, and he had to choose a cabinet.  The time came for him to choose a Secretary of War.  He looked across the nation and decided to choose Edwin M. Stanton.  When Abraham Lincoln mentioned this, his advisors said, “Mr. Lincoln, are you a fool?  Do you know what Mr. Stanton has been saying about you?  Do you know what he has done, what he has tried to do to you?  Do you know that he’s tried to defeat you on every hand?  Do you know that, Mr. Lincoln?  Did you read all those derogatory statements he made about you?”  Abraham Lincoln stood before the advisors around him and said, “Oh yes, I know about it.  I read about it.  I’ve heard him myself.  But after looking over the country, I find that he is the best man for the job.”

Mr. Stanton did become Secretary of War.  And a few months later, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.  And if you go to Washington, you will discover that one of the greatest words or statements ever made about Abraham Lincoln was made by this man Stanton.  As Abraham Lincoln came to the end of his life, Stanton stood up and said, “Now he belongs to the ages.”  He made a beautiful statement concerning the character and the stature of this man.  If Lincoln had hated Stanton, if Abraham Lincoln had answered everything Stanton said, Lincoln could not and 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. (“Loving Your Enemies,” Martin Luther King, Jr.)

III.  We need to love our enemies because we are to be like God. 

Matthew 5:45 and 5:48: “I say to you, love your enemies…so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous…. Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Luke 6:35-36 says if you love your enemies, “…you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.”

Maybe you like this one, Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  This section of Romans deals with us being enemies of God.

When you choose not to love your enemy, you remember that God loved you when you were His enemy.  He died for you when you were a sinner, rebelling against Him.

IV.  Another reason to love our enemies is because we don’t want to be like sinners. 

Even the Gentiles love those who love them (Matthew 5:46-47).  Luke 6:32-33 says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners love those who love them.  If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners do the same.”

How are we to love our enemies? 

A.  We are to bless them. 

Matthew 5:44, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  We are to bless them – we are to pray for them.  Have you ever tried to pray for somebody you hate, somebody you despise – to take his or her name before the throne of glory and ask God to bless them with the riches of heaven?  It will change your feelings toward him or her.  To bless them, to speak well of them before God and man.

Romans 12:14 says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”

1 Peter 3:9 says, “Do not return evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.

Just because a man speaks evil of you doesn’t mean you need to speak evil of him.  You’re to speak good of him before God and before man.

A story circulates that General Robert E. Lee was asked what he thought of a fellow officer in the Confederate Army who had made some derogatory remarks about him.  Lee rated him as being very satisfactory, indeed.  The person who asked the question seemed perplexed.  He said, “General, I guess you don’t know what he’s been saying about you?” 

“Oh, I know,” answered Lee.  “But I was asked my opinion of him, not his opinion of me.”

B.  We are to love our enemies by doing good to them. 

This idea goes all the way back to the Book of Exodus, back to the words of Moses – from Moses through Solomon to Jesus.

Exodus 23:4-5: “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him.  If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him.”

Proverbs 25:21: “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.”

An old story circulates regarding General George Washington. The story was told in a book entitled The Light and the Glory by Peter Marshall and David Manuel. 

 A turncoat collaborator named Michael Wittman was captured, and at his trial it was proven that he had given the British invaluable information on numerous occasions.  He was found guilty of spying and sentenced to death by hanging.  On the evening before the execution, an old man with white hair asked to see Washington, giving his name as Peter Miller.  Because of Peter Miller’s great reputation, he was ushered in to see General Washington without delay.  Yes, he had done many favors for Washington, and now he had a favor to ask of the General.

“I’ve come to ask you to pardon Michael Wittman,” said Miller.

Washington was taken aback.  “Impossible!  Wittman has done all in his power to betray us, even offering to join the British to help destroy us.”  He shook his head.  “In these times we cannot be lenient with traitors; and for that reason I cannot pardon your friend.”

“Friend!  Friend!” said Peter Miller.  “He’s not my friend.  He’s my bitterest enemy.  He has persecuted me for years.  He has even beaten me and spit in my face, knowing full well that my religion would not allow me to strike back.  Michael Wittman is no friend of mine!”

 Washington was puzzled.  “And you still wish me to pardon your enemy?”

“I do.  I ask it of you as a great personal favor.” 

“Why?  Why?” demanded Washington

“I ask it because Jesus did the same for me.”

Washington turned away and walked into the next room.  He returned with a paper on which he had written, “Pardon Michael Wittman.”  “My dear friend,” he said, placing the paper in the old man’s hand, “I thank you for this.”  (The Light and the Glory, pp 323-324)

We are to love our enemies by doing good to them.

I want to close with two stories that challenge us.  The first one concerns Chick-Fil-A’s chief operating officer, Dan Cathy.  You remember all the brouhaha about Chick-Fil-A and the COO’s stance on traditional marriage, how gay and lesbian activists boycotted the Chick-Fil-A stores.  It all erupted over Cathy’s refusal to support gay marriage.  So many retreated into pre-existing trenches.  Everybody had to decide whether they would ever eat a Chick-Fil-A sandwich again or not.  Everybody did what they were good at – marching with signs and opposing their enemies. 

Something happened after that.  Not many people know about.  I did not, until this week.

 Cathy slipped unnoticed into potentially hostile territory.  Not for a counter-attack.  Not for reasons of profit or politics.  But he made friends with Campus Pride director, gay activist, and openly gay man, Shane Windmeyer.  And you know what, Windmeyer had a second “coming out” in his life.  This time, the man who had organized the boycotts against the Chick-Fil-A restaurants actually “came out” as Dan Cathy’s friend.  I saw a picture of the two sitting at the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.  

Chick-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy initiated the relationship.  Of course, at first, Shane Windmeyer was completely suspicious.  But he said, “Dan Cathy got to know me, visited me personally.  Learned about my family.  I learned about his wife and his kids.  I gained an appreciation for him and his beliefs.  Dan Cathy offered me no apology for his genuine beliefs about marriage, nor did I offer him any apology about mine.  He never asked me to end the boycotts.  We both began to see that we didn’t have to agree with our ‘enemy’ in order to be able to love them.”

Christianity does not give us permission to dishonor or disregard those whom we perceive as our enemies.  “By getting to know me, Dan Cathy expanded his world without abandoning it, and I did mine as well.” In fact, Windmeyer admitted he was sorry he’d spent so much time being angry and deeply distrustful of a man he didn’t know, a man he just considered his enemy.  Both men put their reputations on the line, sitting side by side at the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in the hope of closing the gap between them.  Might we do the same with our enemies?  Maybe over some waffle fries.  (“Chick-Fil-A’s Lesson on Loving Your Enemies,” www.christianitytoday.com)

 Last story, bless those who persecute you.

A courtroom in South Africa.  A frail black woman stands slowly to her feet.  She is more than 70 years old.  Facing her from across the room are several white security police officers.  One of them, a Mr. van der Broek, has just been tried and found guilty in the murders of the woman’s son and husband.  He had come to the woman’s home, taken her son, shot him at point-blank range, then burned the young man’s body while he and his officers had a party.

Eight years later, van der Broek and his cohorts returned to the same house and seized the boy’s father.  She was forced to watch as they bound her husband on a woodpile.  The last words she heard form his lips as van der Broek and his fellow officers poured gasoline over his body were, “Father, forgive them….”  And they set him aflame.

When the woman stood in the courtroom and listened to the confession of van der Broek, a member of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission turned to her and asked, “So, what do you want?  How should justice be done to this man who has so brutally destroyed your family?”

“I want three things,” began the old woman calmly, but confidently.  “I want first to be taken to the place where my husband’s body was burned so that I can gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial.”  She paused, then continued, “My husband and son were my only family.  I want, secondly, therefore, for Mr. van der Broek to become my son.  I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can pour out on him whatever love I still have remaining in me.

“Finally,” she said, “I would like Mr. van der Broek to know that I offer him my forgiveness because Jesus Christ died to forgive.  This was also the wish of my husband.  So, I would kindly ask some one to come to my side and lead me across the courtroom so that I can take Mr. van der Broek in my arms, embrace him and let him know – by me at least – that he is truly forgiven.”

As the court assistants came to lead the elderly woman across the room, van der Broek fainted, overwhelmed by what he had heard.  As he struggled for consciousness, those in the courtroom – family, friends, neighbors – all victims of decades of oppression and injustice – began to sing softly but assuredly, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”  (Philip Yancey, Rumors of Another World)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say unto you, ‘Love your enemy as well.’”

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