Surrounded By Our Enemies!

We find ourselves in the sixth chapter of Luke, verses twenty-seven through thirty-one. Our reading comes from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is in Galilee, which means his popularity is high. The Master ascends to a high piece of land, not to escape the crowd, but to be heard by the crowd. From that lofty position, the Master teaches them about the Kingdom of God. He sets the bar high by giving them the Beatitudes. The word beatitude means “supreme blessedness. You remember them. Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the hungry. Blessed are those who weep, and the rest. To the secular world those seem ridiculous. To the believer those words are a great challenge. The standards are high in the Kingdom of God.

I find verse twenty-seven to be extremely challenging. Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”  There is nothing difficult about these words. They are straightforward. You do not need an advanced degree to unlock some hidden meaning. They are as clear as clear can be. Jesus expects us to love our enemies. However, those words run contrary to our society. Many find it much easier to hate. We would like to dismiss these words, but we can’t do it. Why? Because they are Jesus’s words, and we are disciples of Jesus Christ. Our goal is to be like Jesus. If Jesus said, love your enemies, we must love our enemies. We have no excuse for not trying, because Jesus loved his enemies. Let me ask you this uncomfortable question: How many enemies do you have in your world?

Who are our political enemies?  It is a good question. It is the same question the people at Statista asked Americans. Their results were released in March of 2021. America has a complex relationship with many countries around the world, but here are our top five enemies:



          North Korea



Do you agree those five countries are our enemies? Is there another country you would like to add to the list? I would like to add any country that promotes terrorist activities. Those countries are easy to hate, but this is the problem: You are a disciple of Jesus Christ and Jesus told us to love our enemies. Few Americans are praying for Vladimir Putin (born 1952) these days. Are you willing to love those countries, or do you as a disciple of Jesus Christ have some work to do? Our country has political enemies. Our community also has enemies.

Who are your community’s enemies? It is a good question. In 2017, Kristen O’Conner (born 1990) and June Schweinhart (born 1989) were friends. The two young women did not meet in school. They met in drug rehab. It may have been they had a common interest. It may have been that they were both pregnant. When rehab ended, they stayed in touch. At some point the two women got together with their newborns. Things did not go well. Before the day was done, the two were overdosing on heroine in the front seat of a car as the newborns sat in their car seats in the back. It is safe to say that rehab did not work for the women. Drugs have become such a big part of our society. Everyone seems to know someone on drugs. Everyone seems to know someone who died prematurely because of drugs. Many people believe the dark organizations who are providing the drugs are our community’s enemy. They may be right. It is easy to hate those organizations and those local drug dealers, but this is the problem: You are a disciple of Jesus Christ and Jesus told us to love our enemies. Are you willing to love those drug dealers, or do you have some work to do? Our country has political enemies. Our community has enemies. Be honest with yourself. You have personal enemies. The Bible is filled with personal enemies. Let me give you just two.

Do you remember the story of Cain and Abel? They were the sons of Adam and Eve. The boys could have had a great life, but their parents ate from the fruit of the tree. For this sin they were expelled from the Garden of Eden. Forced to work for a living, Abel became a shepherd and Cain a farmer. In time, the boys brought their offerings to the Lord. Cain, the farmer, brought some fruit. Abel, the shepherd, brought fresh meat. The Lord looked at both the fruit and meat and favored the meat. (So would I.) Cain grew jealous of his brother and killed him. It is not surprising that the first murder in the history of the world occurred within a family unit. We are expected to love our family members, but it doesn’t always happen. Do you have a family member who you hate? Do you have a family member who hates you?

Do you remember the story of Joseph, the well-built handsome young man? He knew what it was like to have enemies within his own family. He was one of twelve brothers. Can you imagine having eleven brothers? Can you imagine having eleven brothers when you are your father’s favorite? To demonstrate his favored status, Jacob, their father, gave Joseph the famous coat of many colors. That coat was more than his brothers could handle, so they came up with a plan. The brothers tell their father, Jacob, that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. The truth is, Joseph, the dreamer, was sold into slavery. In the end, it all worked out for Joseph, but for a while Joseph had some difficult days. I have always marveled at the fact that Joseph was able to forgive his brothers and mend the family’s wounds. You can ask Joseph and he will tell you it is easy to have enemies within the family.

Who are your personal enemies? Your personal enemy can be a family member. Your personal enemy can be a neighbor. Your personal enemy can be a fellow worker or classmate. Your personal enemy can be a fellow church member. It is easy to hate those people, but this is the problem: You are a disciple of Jesus Christ and Jesus told us to love our enemies. Are you willing to love that person, or do you have some work to do? Our country has political enemies. Our community has enemies. You have personal enemies. This last question is the hardest one to tackle.

Have you ever felt like your own worst enemy? What is it about yourself you hate? Everyone has something. Do you wish you were thinner? Do you wish you were taller? Do you wish you were younger? Do you wish you were smarter? Do you wish you could stop spending? Do you wish you could stop smoking or drinking? Do you wish you could stop being so negative and critical? Do you wish you could stop gossiping? Do you wish they were braver? Do you wish you have made better decisions when you were younger? Do you wish you could love your most personal enemy, yourself?  Do you like the person you are? When was the last time you prayed for yourself?

In 2017, PBS aired a ten-part series on the Vietnam War. In total, it lasted eighteen hours. They interviewed more than eighty eyewitnesses from all sides of the conflict. I was interested in the topic because I was fifteen years old when it ended. There was much I wanted to learn. In my opinion, the first episode was the best. It covered approximately 100 years of Vietnamese history – how the French colonized Vietnam and how the United States got involved in Vietnam. I wanted to watch all ten episodes, but I couldn’t do it. The topic was too heavy and sad. This is what I learned that still haunts me. In 1962, President John Kennedy (1917-1963) told an aide, it was an unwinnable war. The Vietnam War lasted ten more years.

We stayed in Vietnam for two reasons, Cold War fears and national arrogance. The war was unwinnable for a variety of reasons. One of the greatest problems in the war was that our soldiers couldn’t identify the enemy. Anyone could have been their enemy, men, and women, young and old. This next line disturbs me. Innocent people died because they couldn’t identify the true enemy. The soldiers on the ground felt like they were constantly surrounded by the enemy. They learned to hate everyone. Maybe that is one of the reasons we struggle with Jesus’s words for today? We are surrounded by our enemies, and in the end, we hate everyone. It isn’t just the story of the Vietnam War. It is how many in our world operate, but you know better.

You are a disciple of Jesus Christ. That means you are trying to be more like Jesus all the time. That means you must listen to what Jesus said and apply it to your life. Jesus said, love your enemies! It runs contrary to our world, but we must try.Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) once prayed, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love.”

Give Up Enemies!

We are in the first chapter of John. It is early in Jesus’ ministry; he is still collecting his disciples. In the story prior to our reading, Jesus welcomed Andrew and his brother, Peter. The next day, Jesus invited Philip to be one of the folds. In verse 44 we are told the original three disciples, Andrew, Peter and Philip, were from the town of Bethsaida, a town on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee. Philip told Nathanael about Jesus. At first, he is not impressed. As a matter of fact, he was quite cynical. The source of his doubts came from Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth. He assumed Jesus was like everyone else in Nazareth: a second-class citizen. Everyone at that time knew the truth about the citizens of Nazareth; they were a little less intelligent and less attractive than the average person. Rooted in this first-century prejudice, Nathanael says, “Nazareth! What good can come from there?”  It wasn’t until he met Jesus that his mind was changed. You know the truth. We have no problem understanding verse 46, because our society is filled with prejudiced behavior. Have you noticed our society is filled with racial tension? That tension is rooted in our prejudices. This is not an isolated case. Our prejudices have been damaging the church for a long time.

In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi (1869-148) wrote that during his student days, he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity. He believed that in the teachings of Jesus, he could find the solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India. So, one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church so he could talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with “his own people”. Gandhi left the church and never returned. “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.” That usher’s prejudice not only betrayed Jesus, but also turned a person away from trusting Him as Savior. That is an ugly story, but this is the truth. Every church struggles with their own prejudices. We are no exception.

Several weeks ago, our country celebrated Martin Luther King Day; a day to remember the life and spirit of the Civil Rights activist. It is a national holiday, and it has become my custom to give a little history on each one. Several years ago, I asked the congregation, “How long have we been celebrating Martin Luther King Day?” Do you remember what happened? One of the saints here yelled out, “Too long!” Some of our white faces giggled at that comment, and I was uncomfortable. Those two words, and our response to those two words, did more damage than we will ever know. Several days later, I found an opened letter on my desk. It was written by a woman who was visiting us that day. She told me she was relocating from the south and was looking for a church home. She was upset that in church of all places, someone would yell out such a thing. She was shocked that some thought “too long” was funny. She was appalled I didn’t reprimand the congregation. She may be right. It is safe to say, she will not be back. I wonder, how many Christian people she will tell about her time with us? Every church struggles with prejudices.

When I was in college, I took several sociology classes. One of the things we looked at were our prejudices. I remember, clearly, three things about our prejudices. This is what I remember: 1.) Everyone is prejudiced. 2.) Our prejudices are learned. 3.) Our prejudices reveal our fears. I don’t pretend to be an expert on prejudiced behavior. However, I will admit it is one of my great challenges in my discipleship. I live in a white world and have very little interaction with non-white people. Everyone I know is just like me, socially, economically and politically. I struggle relating to how others live and how others think. It would be easy to ignore this topic, but I won’t do it. We are disciples of Jesus Christ and the Master expects more from us. We are supposed to be a little more like Jesus every day. Jesus loved unconditionally. Let’s look at those three statements.

Everyone is Prejudiced

This is sociological fact number one: everyone is prejudiced. There is not a single person in this world that escapes. Sociologists says the reason we are all prejudiced is the numbers. Did you know, the United States Census Bureau estimates the world’s population is more than 7.8 billion? It’s impossible to know everyone. How many people do you know? In 2013, the New York Times reported that the average American knows about 600 people. That figure seems high to me. Do you think you know 600 people? Why are those numbers important? They reveal to us why everyone is prejudiced.

Sociologists tell us everyone is prejudiced because there are so many people we do not know. With so many unknown people, we gather in groups together to gain some sense of control. It is impossible to know every individual; it’s much easier to know the stereotypes of various groups. Look at the text with me. Nathanael did not know Jesus personally, but he did have some preconceived opinions about Nazarenes. The stereotype broke down once he met Jesus. Just admit it, you are prejudiced! You will always hold a certain amount of prejudice, because it’s impossible to know everyone. Our prejudices fool us into believing that we have some control.

Our Prejudices are Learned

This is sociological fact number two: our prejudices are learned. Last Saturday morning, I had a private baptism. I enjoyed the baptism because I officiated at the baby’s parent’s wedding several years ago. It is nice when I can maintain a relationship with a couple beyond the wedding. Baptisms are important for two reasons. The first reason is spiritual. We deal with the original sin, inherited from Adam and Eve. The second reason is practical. The parents are promising that they will raise the child within the Christian faith. That promise is important because no one has a greater influence on the baby than their parents. If the parents make that promise with a sincere heart, then it will be life altering for the child. If the promise is made lightly, then it will have very little influence on the baby. The greatest role model in a child’s life is the child’s parents. Have you ever stopped to consider how much you learned from your parents?

Parents are not just biological parents; parents are role models. So, whatever you want your child to be or do, then you must be or do it. If you want your child to be hard working, then you must be hard working. If you want your child to be kind and compassionate, then you must be kind and compassionate. If you want your child to vote, then you must vote. If you want your child to drink milk, then you must drink milk. If you want your child to be a Christian, then you must be a Christian. Being a good role model in life is so important. Our children can learn so many good things from us. The problem is, sometimes they learn negative things from us, like our negative prejudices. If you want your child to not be a prejudiced person, then you must not be a prejudiced person. Nathanael did not enter this world instinctively knowing there was something wrong with the citizens of Nazareth. It was something he learned along the way. It may or may not have been his parents. Regardless, our prejudices are learned. Would you like our world to be a better place? Then answer this question: What prejudices are you passing on to the next generation?

Our Prejudices Reveal Our Fears

This is sociological fact number three: our prejudices reveal our fears. Sociologists say the group you dislike the most, frightens you the most. I know that is true because I have seen it countless times. I have lived it. Years ago, I was out at the mall with Vlad. It was Vlad’s first trip to America. You know Vlad, he was the first Russian orphan we brought to America to get prosthetic legs. He lost his legs in a Moscow rail yard jumping trains. Vlad was in his wheelchair; I sat on a bench watching people pass. Everyone looked at Vlad because they noticed his stumps. Everyone looked, but only one talked to us. The only one who talked to him was young black man, wearing a baseball cap that hung to the side. He had one gold tooth in his mouth and a gold bracelet around his neck. His oversized leather coat promoted his favorite NFL team, the Oakland Raiders. His old jeans were faded and riding low. When he started walking our way, I tried to ignore him, but it was impossible. When he started talking, his dictation was poor; I could hardly make out his words. I will admit it, I was intimidated. I thought he was going to ask me for money, so I grew defensive. I couldn’t believe what he was saying. He didn’t ask me for money. Instead, he wanted to know about Vlad. He wanted to know what doctor was helping him. I could not have been more surprised. He pulled out a business card and handed it to me. He said, “This is my doctor; he is the best.” Then, he pulled up the legs of his faded jeans and exposed his prosthetic legs. As he walked away, he said, “If you need any help, call me, my number is on the back of the card.” I have never been more ashamed of myself. I had to admit it, I am a prejudiced person. That is one of the things we have in common.

Years ago, I was sitting at Hospice House next to a man who was near the end. The disease was winning. When I arrived, I was surprised to find him alone. I was shocked that his mind was so clear. He was one of the finest men I had ever known. I knew his end was near, so I gave him ample time. We talked about many things, his family, his work, his childhood. As he laid in that bed and reviewed his life, he told me things that he had held secret for years. He told me about visiting his grandparents as a boy. Out of the blue he said, “Russ, did you know my grandparents were members of the Ku Klux Klan?” I said, “Seriously?” He said, “Yes! The group would meet at their house because they owned several acres. I remember everyone was nice to me, but I had to leave once the ceremony started.” He added, “They stored their hoods and robes in my grandparent’s basement. There was a safe in that basement which held the group’s treasury and a list of all the names of all the members.” He was being so honest, I had to ask him the next question, “Did you ever join?” He said, “No!” I said, “Why not?” He said, “I was too young; I was just a boy.” I said, “No, later. Why didn’t you join when you became an adult?” He ended by saying, “Russ, by then, we all knew better.” Can I ask you this question?

Do you know better, or are you holding tight to your prejudices? You may think you are making that other group look bad, but in truth, you are only damaging yourself. How foolish have you made yourself look lately?  Jesus once said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By doing this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”