Sunday, February 14, 2016

Loving Your Enemies

Excellent sermon by the youth pastor today about loving our enemies. (My eldest thinks he is learning to preach well because youth leaders have to think about their audience rather than just talk out loud to the section of the congregation most like themselves.) The strength of it was his focus on noticing the enemies close by.  Jesus's examples were very individual, of an enemy that strikes you or steals from you. Whatever Jesus thought his followers should think about the fortunes of Romans or Greeks in general He doesn't say.

The sermon did include the usual extension of feeling enmity toward ISIS, and what should follow from that.  That is what anyone who has been to seminary was immersed in, and likely still is with his peers he keeps in contact with from those days, or his new peers in the clergy. But that was not the center of the homily.  The center was those who had hurt you, those who you can hardly bear to think about, those who are or were quite near to you.

If I say "ISIS is our enemy, we should love them and pray for them," what changes in my life, really?  At most, it might change who I vote for - which, you may remember - I regard as a largely symbolic act of personal signalling. The difficulty arises from our usual use of the word enemy. Our immediate though is of a national enemy, then perhaps another group within our own borders. We don't easily remember that our real enemies are among us, at our jobs or under our roofs, or at minimum, at our weddings, reunions, and funerals. We have to be reminded by someone else. 

It sounds as if it was the same in Jesus's day, as he has to mention it specifically in Matthew 10:36, A person's enemies will from their own household.

I have given up alcohol for Lent, and use the momentary discomfort of thinking a glass of wine or a scotch-on-the-rocks might be nice to pray for an enemy in the family, who is also a friend. In most liturgical traditions, a prayer focus on another person (not cause) used to be common in Lent.  That is where those painted eggs in the Orthodox traditions come from: each was crafted for a specific person by the one who had prayed for him or her of Lent.

Note on giving up stuff:  We are physical creatures and we need to enlist our bodies in our spiritual practice, not pretend they are not there because we are too spiritual.  Another note on giving up stuff:  I have also cut way back on starches because I love them.  I find it is easier to give up two things than one, somehow.


james said...

An interesting observation. I should try that. (I decided to dedicate myself to finishing a book that's been on the back burner for years for Lent. So of course I'm writing something else...)

jaed said...

For almost all of us, ISIS is an abstraction. Loving an abstraction is very easy, and also offers us the potential satisfactions of hating those closer to hand who oppose it (we've talked about that aspect before).

Personalized love is harder, even when the person is not an enemy of one's own, specifically. Try watching the video of the Jordanian pilot being burned alive, or reading or watching some other atrocity, and then praying for the specific people who did these particular things. (Not praying that they'll change, either - praying for their good, not ours.) Loving one's annoying relatives is less hard than that, I think.

Grim said...

It is supposedly easier to learn two allied languages at once than to learn either separately, I have read in a study of such things. Rather than each new word having to be memorized on its own, disconnected and separate, you learn two words that mean the same thing but are slightly different. The mental paths binding the French word and the Spanish word to the English word in your mind are more robust, somehow. I suspect you develop a better understanding of the nuances of the languages, too, just because you have to contrast the subtle differences and keep them straight.

Perhaps the discipline of relinquishment is like that too. Or it could be simpler: it could just be a skill that, like all skills, gets better with practice. Since you're practicing it twice as often, you'll get good at it more quickly.

Texan99 said...

Nothing teaches me humility like contemplating my duty to forgive enemies--and I'm referring to people with whom I'm in intimate contact, because those are the ones who can hurt and frighten me the most, and therefore are hardest to forgive. It doesn't even help that much that I also love them, though that may be indispensable in the end. For Lent I firmly intended to pay special attention to relinquishing resentment, and I have failed abysmally every day so far. I am completely failing to let it go, and it's a knife in my heart.

jaed said...

I once gave up swearing for Lent. It was strange, because it's one of those things you do without thinking - so I didn't so much stop swearing as start noticing just how often I was doing it.

Maybe noticing what one is doing or not doing is the first step. If you're noticing it more now, and paying attention to it, I would not call that failing.

Texan99 said...

Well, it's still failing. :-) But I take your point. I knew there was no way I could go through Lent without holding on to any resentment, but it does make a difference to work every day on acknowledging that it's there and that it has such a hold on me. If nothing else, the urge all day, every day, to keep working on letting it go does help. And I resolved the quarrel that was tearing me apart, at least partly because of this focus.