AoP/FTE Preaching Camp Sermon #2: Who is my Enemy?
Text: “You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-45, NRSV)
I want to begin today with a story about a man that I know named Riddah, a West Bank Muslim. I don’t know Riddah well, and he and I have only had scant opportunities for conversation in the aisles of his souvenir shop in Jerusalem, but last summer I encountered Riddah in the middle of a story that I’ll never forget.
Riddah was on the phone when I walked into the shop one bright Saturday, and despite the coolness of the morning, I could see sweat beading on his forehead. He was nervous. I motioned to go but he waved me in to the shop and I made a pretext of studying some leather sandals that were much too small for my feet. And while I did my best to give Riddah what privacy I could without injuring his sense of hospitality, I couldn’t help but notice that the man was speaking English. I furrowed my brow and almost bought a silver narghile imported from Syria when he ended the conversation.
Before I could speak he was pressing a cup of tea into my hand and calling for a plate of thick, fresh, nutty hummus, but when I finally calmed him down he was willing to share bits of the story with me. He had been talking to his adopted daughter who was just finishing up a degree at Harvard. Apparently there had been a minor medical emergency, and Riddah had encountered some difficulty contacting her. Thankfully, things were settled and Riddah was again his calm and charming self, but I could still see the lines worry had traced on his brow.
Then it hit me. “Riddah,” I said. “Doesn’t your daughter know Arabic? Why were you speaking English?”
“No,” he answered simply enough. “We speak English because she doesn’t speak Arabic and I don’t speak Hebrew.”
I nearly choked on my hummus. “She’s Jewish?!”
It took the better part of an hour to piece together the whole story, and I’m still not certain if Riddah was able to make me understand all the parts, but as near as I can tell, Riddah was close to the girl’s (very) Jewish parents. They died tragically in a car accident when she was young, and Riddah thought nothing of adopting the girl as his very own daughter. If I remember correctly, she started med school last fall. And Riddah, this simple and unassuming West Bank Muslim, this man that American media had taught me should hate that little girl, understood the gospel better than I did.
And it’s not that Riddah thought this girl was an enemy and took her in in spite of himself, it’s that everything in Riddah’s culture told him that she should have been his enemy. I mean, I met another dozen other young Muslim men who told me that Jews cause all of the world’s problems. But Riddah was willing to go beyond the misconceptions and the preconceptions to befriend a young Jewish family and to extend a
great and gracious love to their daughter in her hour of need. To Riddah, it was a small thing, a normal thing, but to me, it was an enormous lesson. And not just in loving, but in learning.
You see, we live in a culture saturated with enemies. Or at least enemies that come as part and parcel of various identity labels. As a political liberal (who’s much more deeply centrist than I care to admit) political conservatives automatically become my enemy. They seek my downfall. As a Christian, some people tell me that Muslims are my enemies, that they actively seek my destruction. As an American, I am told that it is the Iraqis and the Saudis and the Iranians who want to kill me. And Riddah was told that as a West Bank Muslim, Jews hated him.
So you want to learn to love your enemies? Do what Riddah did. Reach out to the stranger and discover who your enemies aren’t. When we, like Riddah, begin to see behind the lies of society and peer for a moment into the depths of reality, we catch a glimpse of the face of God. When we begin to see the false barriers that David reminded us of yesterday, we begin to realize how few enemies we have and how many friends surround us. Who are the false enemies that culture and clique have given you?
Still, we must admit that we live in a world where there are people who actively do desire our destruction. Acts of violence and hatred, as unfortunate and unholy as they are, exist in this world. What then, do we do when faced with a very real enemy? When someone hates you and actively desires your destruction, how do you proceed? If we’re honest with ourselves, we already know.
We already know because you and I are all beneficiaries of beautiful enemy love. You see, Scripture tells that we were once enemies of the Almighty. Scripture bears witness to the fact that we cut ourselves off from and opposed the efforts of our Creator and Sustainer. And while we were yet God’s enemies, Christ showed us enemy love. While we still warred against the Most High, Christ entered our fragile human realm and actively made peace with us. He took on our form and redeemed us. He healed us and taught us and drew us into the Divine Dance that is true communion with God. He refused to look on us as enemies but saw us as friends and siblings and co-inheritors.
And this is such incredibly good news! We know how to love our enemies because we ourselves are the product of sincere and profound enemy love. And if we look around us, we see evidences of that in many places. We see men and women like Riddah learning who their enemies are not. And where there are real enemies, we see places like Rwanda and hear of the incredible reconciliation going on. We see it in Gaza and the West Bank, too. And we see it in ourselves. We who were once enemies, who were once far from God and in a far country, have been brought home. God no longer saw us as enemies, but sought for us as Riddah sought for his Jewish daughter.
Depart from this place secure in the knowledge that you are no longer God’s enemy. Depart from this desiring to know how many enemies are actually friends. And most of all depart rejoicing that God has called you to love your enemies and bring them home as brothers and sisters. Amen