“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” Jesus (Gospel St. Matthew 5:38-48)
As we have journeyed through the Sermon on the Mount these few weeks, we could conclude that Jesus is very demanding. Today, we are encouraged not to be driven by fear but to love our enemies and build friendships and trust. But we are challenged to ask our self what we stand for as Christians.
A child returned from Sunday school and told his parents that the teacher said we must love our neighbors and even our enemies. So, he said, “I love all the dragons and monsters.” His dad said, “Just start by loving your sister.”
On June 17, 2015, nine members of Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina were shot to death in the basement of their church. The shooter, a self-proclaimed white supremacist, wandered into the room wearing jeans and a sweatshirt; and instead of telling him to leave they invited him to join them. There they were in prayer and study, and as they bowed their heads in prayer, he shot them. Can you imagine the anguish the families of those nine good people felt? I cannot. And that is what makes the rest of this so stunning. Only three days later, when invited to share a statement as the shooter was arraigned in court, several of the family members turned to the shooter and through their tears, said, “I forgive you.”
Today’s readings come right into our hearts and invite us to do some “house cleaning.” There’s a lot of attack and counter attack in our lives today, and here we are being told to hold no grudges, seek no revenge, and let go and let God. When we pray for someone who has hurt us, the gift is to ourselves. When Jesus rose from the dead and entered the room of the disciples where the door was locked, he simply said: “Peace be with you.” And he showed them his hands and his side. At the sight of the Lord, the disciples rejoiced? He said it again. “Peace be with you.” And then he breathed on them. “Receive the Holy Spirit… If you forgive each other’s sins they are forgiven. But if you hold them bound, they will hold you bound.” Jesus knew that the most powerful weapon in the world, if not the universe, is simply love and mercy.
As a priest over the years, I have received many broken souls who come in to confess their anger toward someone who has genuinely hurt them. They don’t see how they give control to their persecutor. I simply ask them, “Have you prayed for this person? Do you love this person unconditionally like God loves them?” You would be surprised how often the answer is, “No.” Jesus only gives us commandments that will help us. But all commandments must eventually be done out of love rather than rules or obedience.
St. Paul tells us: Bless your persecutors; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Have the same attitude toward all. Put away ambitious thoughts and associate with those who are lowly. This could restore peace and joy and gentleness in our lives.
Father Jeff bought this poster you see on the video boards at the Holocaust museum. We reflect on what we stand for as we celebrate our thirty years as a parish.
What do we stand for? We as a community hope to integrate what we stand for in our vision. We are cultivating and fertilizing our community organically with:
Courage, friendship, wisdom, justice, faithfulness, honesty, tolerance, imagination, equality, fairness, citizenship, self-discipline, integrity, responsibility, creativity, assertiveness, caring, confidence, honor, empathy, accountability, respect, kindness, restraint, conservation, purpose, sincerity, sharing, loyalty, forgiveness, truthfulness, loyalty, cooperation, giving compassion, humor…
Queen of Peace is celebrating 30 years and will have a round-table discussion this Wednesday to look at where the community wants to stand for in the next five years and beyond.
Father Rene (top photo first from the right) was murdered less than a year after my 25th, and we are devastated, but we forgive the person as Jesus teaches us.