Sunday, June 26, 2016

Grace Pt. 9. Grace for Enemies

One morning as I was mowing my lawn, a young mockingbird began to repeatedly dive-bomb at my head. Naturally, my initial reaction was to find an old badminton racket to scare off the birdie. It was to no avail.

Mockingbirds are thugs. They often make me wish they weren’t the State bird of Texas so I could take one out to teach the others a lesson. But that morning as I was swinging into the air, and no doubt giving my neighbors a good laugh, words of Jesus began to come to mind.

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. … 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. … But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” – Luke 6:27-28, 32-33, 35

Could these values work with a thuggish mockingbird? It was worth a shot.

I went inside and got some pieces of bread. With the lawnmower not running, I went over where he was perched, whistled, dropped a couple large crumbs and went back to mowing. The young mockingbird never went for the breadcrumbs, but it immediately stopped dive-bombing at me.

Over the last month or so, that mockingbird has become quite friendly. I can recognize it by a particular set of markings on its chest. It comes out every time I mow, and will often perch just a foot or two away from me. The little guy once flew over and stood on the handle of my lawnmower while it was shut off and I was right beside it looking at something on the ground. We shared a moment together as it just hung out there for about a minute.

The early Christians didn’t view the command to love our enemies as hyperbole, they understood it as an imperative and one of the most effective methods of evangelism.

They comfort their oppressors and make them their friends. They do good to their enemies. … They follow the commandments of their Christ with much care, living justly and seriously, just as the Lord their God commanded them. – Aristides 125CE, Volume 1, p. 443-444 [CD-ROM]

Now we pray for our enemies and try to win those who hate us unjustly so that they too may live in accordance with Christ’s wonderful teachings, that they too may enter into the expectation, that they too may receive the same good things that we will receive from God, the ruler of the universe. – Justin Martyr 160CE (cited in Eberhard Arnold, The Early Christians in Their Own Words, fourth edition, p. 106.) 

I realize how difficult those words are to swallow. I really do. I’m a Texan, and Texans scoff at the idea of loving enemies. Texans don’t really do the whole turn the other cheek thing. If you slap a Texan on the right cheek, you may get fired upon, and it’ll probably be legal. That is the culture I’ve always lived in.

The way of Jesus, however, calls us to not regard anyone from a worldly point of view.

Instead of seeing enemies as threats to security and safety, we are called to view them as potential friends and family. And the more I've pondered Jesus’ sacrifice for all of humanity and the early Christians’ passion to see all people embrace Christ as Lord, the more my beliefs have changed.

I’m not against gun ownership, but I am for all human life. In all situations. From the womb to the tomb. For, as Jesus has demonstrated to us on the cross, the only way to stop cycles of violence is to absorb it. Not only does that method have the power to stop cycles of violence, it can turn mass-murderers into missionaries. 

Once again, though, I won’t pretend like loving and blessing enemies is an easy task. It’s usually an excruciating endeavor. But when it is done with sincerity, the power of the gospel is unleashed.

There was once a woman at a previous church I worked at who spread a vicious rumor about me designed to destroy my ministry and marriage. Eventually, she was found out, and admitted to what she did. I tried hard to keep it from affecting me, but to tell the truth, I was bitter toward her for a couple of years and we did not exactly get along.

Later on after I became the interim pastor of that church, the same lady began to feel overwhelmed by difficulties within her family. One Sunday as I was walking through the parking lot, I saw her weeping beside her car. I passed her by, but then was reprimanded by the Holy Spirit to go back and pray with her.

I had a brief argument with God, but then by grace submitted to His promptings and went outside. I told her I knew things were rough for her and her loved ones, and I was sorry. I put my arm around her shoulder and asked if I could pray for her. She said yes.

From that day forward, things were different between us. We didn’t instantly become best friends, but it wasn’t cold like before. She would give me give me hugs when we said hello. The power of the gospel was growing like a mustard seed.

It’s easy to love those who love us; that’s why Jesus says there’s no credit in it. Interestingly, the word ‘credit’ in Luke6:32 is charis. Grace. Real grace is unleashed when we depend on and imitate Jesus by loving our enemies. And Jesus promises real rewards for those who do. 

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