Who would Jesus bomb? A Sermon for Peace
 
J. Barrett Lee
 
Micah 4:1-5
Psalm 85:7-13
Ephesians 2:13-18
Matthew 5:43-48

 
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 unconditional love.
 
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 their back?
 
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 North Korea."
 
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 of God."
 
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.
 
Amen.
 
Rescue Mission of Utica
Utica, New York
October 15, 2006

 
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