A Sermon for Peace
J. Barrett Lee
I have to admit that it was hard to read the news this week. I saw one
report that over 655,000 Iraqis have been killed since the start of the war
in 2003. I saw another one saying that more Americans have died in this war
than died on September 11, 2001. And then, to top it all off, North Korea
tested a nuclear bomb, plunging the world back into an age where we live
with the fear of annihilation.
I feel so helpless! As a Christian, how can I hold up my faith in God
against the headlines on the New York Times? How can I stand in front of
you tonight with the Bible in one hand and the New York Times in the other,
and tell you that there is hope?
It's a hard thing to do. But I think there really is hope. I don't think
we're all going to hell in a handbasket. I think there's a gift we've all
been given that has the power to change history. But this gift is so simple
and so humble, that it's easy to miss. I'm talking about the gift of God's
Jesus talked about this gift in a passage that is often heard, but seldom
practiced. "Love your enemies." Let's get honest. We've all heard this
line before. We admire Jesus for saying it, but inside we think that it
really wouldn't work in reality. So instead, we come up with excuses for
why it wouldn't work in one situation or another.
Some people make the distinction between "love" as an action and "love" as
a feeling. They say, "Oh, I love this person, but I don't like him."
People usually use this as an excuse when they talk bad about someone in
front of another person. But is it loving to talk bad about someone behind
Sometimes people say that this command doesn't count in certain situations,
like war. They claim it's okay to hate or kill another person as long as
the government told you so. Can you think of one time when Jesus killed
another human being? Then why do Christians today go on TV and say that war
is God's will? Who would Jesus bomb?
So why does Jesus tell his followers to love their enemies? In verse 45,
he says, "So that you may be children of your Father in heaven." To be a
child of God means "to act like God." In other words, we should love our
enemies because that's what God does. How does God love his enemies? God
"makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the
righteous and the unrighteous." God treats his enemies just like his
friends. That means that God treats Saddam Hussein just like he treats
George W. Bush. God gives to an addict the same honor that he gives to a
preacher. These days, I see a lot of bumper stickers that say, "God bless
America." But if we take what Jesus is saying seriously, then we should
have just as many bumper stickers that say, "God bless Iraq" or "God bless
Saying that God loves his enemies is dangerous. It's dangerous because all
of a sudden, the dividing lines that we draw between each other are rendered
meaningless. Black or white, men or women, gay or straight, rich or poor,
Christian or Muslim, Iraqi or American; any wall that we build to keep other
people out of our lives is suddenly torn down.
Imagine how Jesus' audience must have heard this! "Wait a minute Jesus,
are you saying that God loves the Romans as much as he loves the Jews?" You
see, at that time, Israel was an occupied country. It was a territory of
the Roman Empire, the biggest superpower of its day, kind of like America.
The Jewish people were waiting for a "Messiah", a military leader who would
liberate Israel and kick the Romans out! They were expecting Jesus to be
like Osama Bin Laden.
So you can imagine they must have felt pretty offended when Jesus told them
"love your enemies." In fact, we know how offended they were because they
eventually conspired to have Jesus killed. It was their way of saying "No"
to Jesus' message of God's unconditional love. You see, the power of the
world lies in its ability to hurt, to exclude, and to kill. But the power
of God lies in love. And God's love is more powerful than world's hate.
The world said "No" to Jesus and killed him, but God said "Yes" to Jesus and
raised him from the dead. All the hate and all the violence in the world
couldn't keep Jesus in the grave. They couldn't silence the message of
God's love! That's the gift that has the power to change history!
So how do we get in touch with that gift? How do we take the message of
God's unconditional love from the pages of the Bible and write it on the
pages of history? How do we take a nice idea and turn it into something
that has the power to change the world?
Well, I'll tell you how. Tonight, when you go home, or go back to your
room, take a long look in the mirror. I mean, really give yourself the up
and down. And then look yourself in the eye and say, "God loves you."
That's it. It's really that easy. I told you it was simple, didn't I? The
fact of the matter is that you are precious to God. God loves you just the
way you are. You may not even believe in God, but he still loves you.
Maybe you want to believe, but can't. That's okay. Start by looking at
yourself in the mirror and saying, "God loves you." Keep saying it. Repeat
it all day long, as often as you think of it. If you keep saying it, you'll
believe it eventually. Even if you don't, what harm could it do? Give it a
try, see what happens.
Maybe you think you're unworthy of God's love. Maybe you think God can't
love you because you're an addict, or a prostitute, or you're gay, or you
hurt someone. Let me assure you, none of those things will stop God from
loving you. At the risk of sounding redundant, let me drive this point
home: there is nothing you can ever do that will make God love you any less.
"So God loves me," you might say, "Big Deal! What does that have to do with
the war? How does that give me hope for the future of the world?"
Well, here's how: if you can look in the mirror and realize that God loves
you unconditionally, then you can look at your neighbor and realize that God
loves him or her unconditionally. If God can love your neighbor
unconditionally, then God can love a stranger unconditionally. If God loves
a stranger unconditionally, then God can love your enemy unconditionally.
And if God loves your enemies the same way he loves you, then it's really
hard to launch a missile at them, isn't it? So who would Jesus bomb?
You see, it's like a seed. It starts as something small and simple, but
quietly and slowly, it grows into something big, like a tree. It starts
with you looking in the mirror and telling yourself, "God loves you." But
it ends with the world becoming a better place. Sound stupid? Well, let me
tell you another story.
There was once a little black boy and his mother walking down the street in
racist South Africa. Suddenly, they saw a white man coming their way. Now,
it was the law in those days that black people had to get out of the way
when white people were coming. But this time, the white man stepped aside
and let the boy and his mother pass by.
"Who was that man?" the boy asked his mother.
"That man was an Anglican priest," she replied, "and furthermore he is a man
Years later, that little boy would say, "That was the day I decided I wanted
to be an Anglican priest, and furthermore a man of God." That little boy
grew up to be Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Christian minister who was
instrumental in bringing racial equality and peace to South Africa. And it
all began with one unknown priest who made one small gesture of God's love
on a street corner in South Africa.
So try our little experiment. What have you got to lose? You might just
change your life. Then again, you might just change the world.
Rescue Mission of Utica
Utica, New York
October 15, 2006