Sermon for Year A, The Seventh Sunday After the Epiphany
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
February 23, 2014
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Today I would like to ask everyone here to participate in helping to make the sermon.
I want to ask us all to participate by putting something onto this fresh, white, blank canvas.
Now, when we leave here today, the canvas will still technically be white and blank.
But in our minds, we will all have made something; there will be a product;
It will be a little different for everyone, but the same general idea;
And my request is that each of us take this something home
And hang it up, in our minds, in a place where we will be able to see it each and every day.
Now, I’m not giving us wide permission to make just anything we want today.
This is not free-play time.
I want us, instead, to be very specific about this work.
And to help with that, I’m going to switch in my use of language.
I’m going to stop saying “we” and “us,” and I’m going to start saying “you.”
I’m going to speak to you.
We need to understand that in any faith community,
There are individual tasks with collective implications.
The “you” is you -- one person -- but You are also part of a whole -- the Church.
I promise you, if God’s Spirit come among as surely She shall,
Then this will make sense later on.
Here’s what I’m after -- and it could be pretty hard to do,
So thank you, in advance, for being brave, and not squishy:
I want to ask that you make on this canvas as clear a picture as you can ...
Of your Enemy.
For some people, it may be an easy hop to specifics.
Perhaps already you have a face and a name to go with that word, Enemy.
And if that’s the case, no judgment.
But hold off a minute or two, and listen a bit more, before you start mentally drawing or painting.
There’s some further instruction.
Because in a way, enemies come in all forms, shapes, and sizes,
And at least in my case, I have found that often
It’s a little too easy to be general about enemies, and not specific enough.
For example, with me, if you made me sit down
And draw up an Enemies List (like we know President Nixon did),
My list would be about ideas, causes, and movements I don’t like
More than it would be about specific people.
My list would talk about the forces that I feel have worked
To keep humans from progressing the way we need to:
The Ku Klux Klan --
Pedophiles. Rapists. Pimps --
The drivers of slave ships --
Serial killers. Mass murderers --
Mind-controlling cult leaders --
The obvious. The painful.
Names from history would naturally arise on my list,
Even though they are gone and inaccessible --
Stalin, Hitler, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Ivan the Terrible, Mao Zedong, Genghis Kahn, Attila the Hun.
People responsible for the deaths of hundreds of millions of people -- no exaggeration!
Then the “whoevers” of this life would show up on my list:
Whoever figured out they could get rich by putting meth or crack out on the streets
And who cares what happens after the money comes in --
Whoever arranges for people to go on the so-called “sex-tours” of Asia,
Where tiny people can be taken advantage of at a low price
Only because they are powerless to help themselves --
Whoever put pencil to paper and figured out how to turn trafficking humans into making profits.
They’re on the list, too.
Then the nameless “people” of this life I don’t come into daily contact with:
People actively plotting to overthrow the government --
People trying to twist the Christian faith into something it’s not and never was --
People turning the noble idea of public service into corruption and graft --
People willingly enslaving others to street drugs and legal drugs and over-the-counter drugs
And sugar and nicotine and alcohol --
People who sell sex in the media because it’s cheap and easy and effective.
Oh, they’re all going on my list.
And -- and --
Do you see? The ego looks around for more self-righteous indignation from which to draw!
The list just gets longer. It never stops. It just becomes one endless sermon ...
These are, doubtless, all terrible things.
And I don’t believe Jesus excludes any of those
From those things we should consider as being opposed to the will of God;
BUT when he says to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”
I think he means for us to be alarmingly specific, concrete, and tangible.
In middle school, I was bullied by a complicated young man named Paul.
He was bigger, stronger, and faster than any of us; and he preyed on the weak, the lonely.
I wanted him to die. I had revenge fantasies. He was my enemy.
Then very late one night he got gassed and walked out onto the highway and laid down.
He died. That was it ...
And I guess what Jesus is asking is, Can I find the strength to pray for Paul?
Can I, and more importantly will I, earnestly and searchingly turn to God
And commend the soul of a troubled young man to God’s care and keeping?
It is hard, because he hurt me, and I never did anything to him.
Honestly, it’s been years and I still don’t want to.
But it’s what mature Christians are expected to do.
Could I paint Paul’s picture on this canvas in my mind? Of course.
But -- instead of painting him as bullying, sneering, swinging his fists, hurting people,
Could I paint him laughing, or singing, or being in love?
Could I paint him in a better circumstance than I even have for myself?
Because I sincerely believe that that in itself would constitute a prayer.
To hold him in a space of forgiveness and light, and to want good things for him.
To want to paint him as being held within the scarred bosom of Jesus Christ.
None of this means I forget the lessons I learned through that experience.
None of this means I ever let anything like what happened to me happen to anyone else.
None of this means I let go of the idea that justice really is needed because it’s a formof love.
None of this means I ever run back into the arms of an oppressor.
None of this means I let the poison of violence run free in my own veins,
Or suspend my God-given common sense, give up my rights as a person,
Or be party to anyone hurting me for any reason, in any way,
Because Jesus said to lean back and take the pain.
Jesus never said that; he never intended for us to take it that way;
And he would not have it be used to justify staying in toxic or abusive relationships of any sort.
What he said was, Love your enemies; pray for your persecutors.
Your love is the paint on the canvas; your prayer is the brush.
No lie: This may be the hardest thing Christians are commanded to do.
To be this unselfish. To be this inconvenienced by someone else.
But if we are following Christ, not doing it isn’t an option.
So who would you paint?
Who specifically from your life, living or dead, past or present, would go on that blank canvas?
You may not know. But what if you did know?
If you could bring yourself to pray for your enemy today --
Just imagine that you could --
If you could it, who would you pray for today?
Whose shape would your mental and spiritual paint assume?
Whose frame and face would go on the canvas?
What better life would you pray for, for that person? How would you love?
I belive that at some logical point, once the initial balm is worn away,
Grudges and wounds will fester and become deeply infected
If they are not exposed to some level of light and air.
And I’m not asking you to paint your dirty laundry;
I’m just offering you a blank canvas upon which to throw your troubles
And commend them to God.
Jesus challenges us today to do things for our enemies
That normally we might only reserve for the people who are closest to us.
It means extending the privileges we save for our precious few
To the very same people who challenge and repulse us the most.
He gives us a good law today --
The law of the grace and favor of the Lord --
And I’d like for us to fulfill it now.
So, please: take the next few moments
To paint your enemy, and then pray for him or her.
I’ll give us a bit of time right now for that, and I’ll close with a prayer.
But take your artwork home, and let it grow and build.
This is our witness today.
Almighty and Merciful God, thank you for forgiving us our sins.
Help us to forgive those who sin against us. In Christ’s holy name. Amen.