Sermon Ideas For Sermon Briefs: Luke 6:27-38 Part 7
Sermons on Luke 6:27-38 fall into two major categories over the last thirty years. There are those who address directly the commandment of Jesus “to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The second group is made up of those who use other portions of this text.
So what can you preach from the text “Bless those who curse you? Pray for those who abuse you.” Cyril Rodd in the July, 1992 issue of The Expository Times simply says that he does not care what Jesus said. He was not going to do it. “My trouble is that I know I am not going to do it.” Rodd goes on to try to understand exactly what Jesus is trying to do or say. Rodd gives the “interim ethic” explanation; the “poetic license” explanation; or the “ideal perfection” explanation. The sermon is a lesson on possible ways of understanding the text, and the arguments for or against each explanation. Rodd comes to the recognition that Jesus is serious in what he is saying, that we all live out of grace, not into it, and yet Rodd ends by saying that he does not believe that he will be able to do what Jesus says. “We can’t all be Mother Teresa.” In the end Rodd does not proclaim the good news, but an argument against it.
Martin B. Copenhaver, in the Library of Distinctive Sermons, volume 4, calls this The Most Difficult Prayer. This is so hard for us to do, this praying for our enemies. Copenhaver engages this text from three experiences of congregations where enemies have attacked members of the congregation: airplane hijacks and terrorist kidnapping of members. The stories make the sermon more pastoral and remove the debate for him from the abstract. Copenhaver is constantly acknowledging that this is not an easy prayer to make. Not when you have a specific enemy and loved ones are in danger. The sermon moves along the questions of why do you pray for the enemy, and if it is not easy, how do you do it. His answer is that we pray for our enemies so that we might become one with God. So we begin to share God’s point of view on the world. We pray for the enemy by receiving and sharing in God’s love for the enemy. We do not pray that God will get the enemy, but that God’s goodness will be for the enemy even as we hope God’s goodness will continue to be with us. The personal stories of Lloyd Van Vactor who was kidnapped and then asked that scholarships be set up for the people who kidnapped him made a moving conclusion to this sermon.
Robert Elder, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Salem Oregon published a sermon Love Your Enemies—Yeah, Sure…. In the March/April, 1996 issue of Pulpit Digest. Elder begins with the Christians response, “I don’t hate anybody. I don’t have any enemies.” So he turns it around and asks “Who are the people who act like enemies to you?” There are lots of people who do things contrary to what you want done. There are people who attack what you consider important and sacred. “Our world has no shortage of bloodthirsty tyrants and warlords who would not hesitate to kill our whole family to advance their cause.” And Jesus says we are supposed to pray for these mean, nasty, cruel, hateful people. Elder joins the group who acknowledges that this is not an easy instruction. Preachers aren’t supposed to worry about trying to protect Jesus from what Jesus said. Jesus does not tell us to love our friends. We already do, and we are no different from anybody else in that action. We are told to love our enemies because we are to live and love in this world the way God loves us. By loving our enemies we are in the same position to our enemies as God is to us. To pray for our enemies and to love them is to see them for a moment as God sees them.
Harold A. Bosley, one time Dean at Duke Divinity School and Preacher to the University, preached a sermon on this Lukan text, Modern Man Tries to Pray, on the National Radio Pulpit in August of 1971. Bosley shares the same wish that Jesus had not told us to do this. This sermon includes many of the different attempts to avoid facing the requirements of this commandment. Bosley reminds us that Jesus said it, and so if we are Christians we do it. It is an act of humble obedience to the following of Jesus. Then Bosley follows the string on out in the sermon of if we are to be obedient and pray for our enemies, how do we do it and what do we pray for our enemies?
The Lukan text has more in it than just this instruction to pray for our enemies. Halford Luccock, teacher at Yale University Divinity School in the late 1940’s and 50’s, looked at the end of the text and preached Maximum Living from the “Good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over.” It is a sermon about how our expectations become our objectives. The more average our dreams, the more average our achievements. Luccock begins with a capital fund campaign and the instructions never ask for a minimum, for the giver will take the minimum figure and make it his maximum. From the time we are children we begin to ask the question, “How little must I do to get by.” A student will only do the absolute required number of pages for a report. Jesus calls us always to the great joy of maximum living. He invites us to life more abundant. Too often our commitment to God is a minimum faith and not the great adventure of a maximum faith.
A.D.C. Greer, in the Expository Times of June 1990 also goes a different way. He builds his three-point sermon on the “Treat others as you would like them to treat you.” He suggests that very few people would argue with that as an ethical guide. Point two is “whatever measure you deal out to others will be dealt out to you in return.” This point is a bit more cutting. When our rules and regulations begin to cut across our behavior we often want some slack we have not been willing to grant others. Point three was “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.” Here is the generosity of grace that comes from God that makes points one and two something more than the ordinary ethics. The extravagance of God’s grace is more than sufficient.
David Neil Mosser in Biblical Preaching Journal, Winter, 1992, starts from a couple of personal situations to trace the way Jesus teaches and what Jesus hopes to have happen. Jesus’ teaching style was to push and look beyond the surface and the obvious and pushes us to ponder what do we do in difficult situations to be faithful. The issue of praying for our enemies is one of the examples. Jesus’ teaching enables the cycle of natural human retribution to be broken and thus open new possibilities.