Mending Fences Part 1/September 10, 2017

Second Baptist Church Lincoln

Sept. 10, 2017

Mending Fences:  Part 1

Matthew 5:23-24       

23  "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,
24  leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Last spring we showed the movie “The Hiding Place”.  It is the powerful story of Corrie Ten Boom and her father Casper, sister Betsy and brother Willem.  During World War II and the German occupation of Holland, Corrie and her family harbored Jews in a hiding place in their home in Harlem in Amsterdam. Eventually, they were betrayed by a friend and the entire family was transported to a Concentration Camp, Ravensbruck.  Casper almost immediately died in another camp, and Corrie and Betsy suffered the ill-treatment of Ravensbruck,  Their faith was their strength and they encouraged other inmates to trust God through the hardships.  Eventually Betsy died. Toward the end of the war, Corrie was released from the camp by a clerical error, and nearly all the women she bunked with were sent to the gas chambers.  God had a purpose and plan for her life and she knew it.So at age 50, she began to minister to people and churches by traveling and speaking and telling her story.  She was on Bill Graham and that fame launched the Billy Graham film, The Hiding Place.

But she struggled with forgiveness.  She knew that nothing could justify the ill-treatment she experienced under the Nazi camp.  But she also felt that nothing could justify her hating those who did this to her.  She tells this story:

I was not at peace with men. Sometime ago I was in Berlin and after a meeting there came a man to me and said, “Don’t you know me?” Suddenly, I saw that man that was one of the most cruel guards of whole Ravensbruck..
My dying sister had suffered through him, but he said, “I am so happy that I can tell you I am a child of God. I have a Bible at home. I have asked Jesus to come into my heart. I have brought Him my sins. All my cruel sins that I have done and now I have prayed God: Give me the grace that I can ask one of my very victim’s forgiveness. That is why I am here. Fraulein ten Boom, I want to be forgiven.’
And he would shake hands with me and I could not. I thought of how my dying sister had suffered through his cruelties, but I knew from the Bible that Jesus had said if we do not forgive, the Heavenly Father will not forgive us our sins. I know from the Bible that hatred means murder in God’s eyes, but I also know from the Bible what to do with my murder. I said, “Oh, Father, forgive me in Jesus’ name my hatred.
Thank you, Jesus, that You have brought into my heart God’s love through the Holy Spirit which was given to me and thank you, Father, that Your love in me is stronger than my hatred.
That same moment I could shake hands with that man. And it was as if I felt God’s love stream through my arm and I said, “Brother, I forgive you everything.” You’ll never touch so the ocean of God’s love as that you love your enemies.

In today’s text, Jesus calls us to something that most of us find very difficult.  The title of the sermon is a little misleading, because I am taking a slightly different direction than I had originally planned.  Originally, several months ago when I planned this sermon, I had intended to talk about the importance of seeking our forgiveness with humankind before we can approach our heavenly Father. We have two relationships.  We have the vertical relationship with God that extends from our hearts to God’s heart.  It is nurtured through prayer and worship and genuine feelings of love. The second type of relationship is horizontal.  It is the relationship we have with people on this earth.  Our neighbor, our friends, and Jesus even extends it to our enemies.  It is a lot easier having a vertical relationship with our heavenly Father than it is to have a relationship with those around us who we see every day.  People are not always easy to love, yet God commands it.

Sadly, I’m seeing a new paradigm and pattern in our culture that I find very disturbing.  It isn’t biblical, but it is often nurtured and supported by Christians as if it is somehow biblical. Instead of doing what Corrie Ten Boom did by recognizing that we have NO RIGHT to hate those whom God loves, we instead feel justified in hating the haters.  In our culture today, we seem to have adopted a form of justified hate. We think that it is OK to loath people who embrace hatred.  We think that it is acceptable, even moral to heap coals of disrespect and hatred upon those who are racist or take a position that is deeply immoral. Straight people think it is OK to hate gay people.  Gay people think it’s ok to hate people who hate gay people.  Poor people think it’s ok to hate rich people.  Never do we receive biblical permission to hate other people. 

Only 50 years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke out against this kind of justified hate. He said, “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.” He goes on to confirm his own desire to eliminate hate from his own life.  He takes the path that Christ teaches in this passage today.  “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” In that story of Corrie Ten Boom, many people today would express that Corrie had the moral right to hate the Nazi people for what they had done to her and her family. Jesus never condones a justified hate.  He says to turn the other cheek.  He tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

There is a second thing I have noticed in our culture about “HATE”.  We have determined that hate is something someone else does.  None of us want to admit that we are people capable of hatred.  We are followers of Jesus!  How can we possibly be people of hate? I want to take just a moment to define hate as it is defined in the Miriam Webster dictionary.  “Intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury b :  extreme dislike or disgust.”  It is that hostility that wells up within us when we hear someone say something so disgusting.  So injurious to others, that it gives us a sense of disgust and anger.  Folks, I have been there.  In fact, I have been there frequently. I am so guilty of hatred toward other people that sometimes it causes me to experience anxiety. 

Someone asked me one time in a discussion over the death penalty.  They asked me, “Could you pull the switch or be the person who administers the fatal drug?” I very quickly responded, “Yes, I could”.  A monster who takes a child and sexually abuses that child then tortures and kills them.  Yes, I could pull the switch.”   And then it scared me.  That’s anger.  That’s why Jesus compares anger to murder in this passage that was read today.  I am capable of that kind of anger, that kind of murder.   Yet we deny that we have hatred in our lives.  I remember when President Obama was president and some people hanged an effigy of the president from a tree.   That’s hatred.  A couple months ago, a controversial comedian thought she was being funny when she held up an effigy of a decapitated head of the president.  She was driven by her hatred and fear, she thought it was actually funny.   Wow, we do need to take a look at ourselves.

We go as far as to defend our feelings of hatred by calling it something else.  “I don’t hate people who are from the other political party,  I just resent everything they stand for.”   We disguise our deep feelings of resentment and pretend it is something else.   What about disagreement?  Public discourse?  What we have forgotten in our culture is how to disagree with someone without hating them.  We become so engaged with our feelings or our sense of being “right”, that we carry deep resentment (which by the way, is hate).

Yet the Bible is clear that we can disagree with others without hating them.  I hardly think the writers of the Gospels or the apostles like Paul and John who wrote about love, agreed with their government.  I doubt they supported the Roman government by agreeing with their position on human rights, religious liberty or public service.  After all, the Roman government didn’t have any human rights, religious liberty or public service.  I’m sure these early Christians disagreed with the government, but the message was one of LOVE.  We don’t hear them railing against the government.  Somehow, they recognized that God’s love could not be compared or contrasted with government rule.  The kingdom of God and the kingdom of man were not the same and could not be compared.   SHOULD not be compared.

 The rules that Jesus proposed were rules of love.  In Matthew 5:43-44 (which is later in this same text we read today), Jesus changes the whole definition of murder.  “Matthew 5:43-44 (NIV) 43  "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, That is so hard for us to do.  Pray for those who persecute us.  Pray for those who disagree with us.  Pray for those who have called us names.  Pray for those who have unfairly categorized us.   Jesus demonstrated this as he wentto the cross toward the end of the gospels.  He was captured and tried as a political enemy of the state.  But this wasn’t true.  He wasn’t a political enemy.  He was falsely accused.  Not only did the Roman government co-op in his death, but the religious leaders accused him of blasphemy, which would have been true if he were merely a mortal man.  He did claim to be God .But the Prophet Isaiah prophesied that he would be like a lamb led to the slaughter, he would not open his mouth.  He didn’t wage a protest.  He didn’t strike those who injured him.  In fact, when Peter defended him and cut off the ear of the guard, Jesus reprimanded Peter, not the arresting guards.

There is much that can be said about hatred, but it has really struck me how much of a problem this has become in our culture.  Hatred has always existed and it was much stronger in times of national crisis like when the German people turned against the Jews during the time of Hitler.

And hatred isn’t going to go away by me preaching this sermon.  I’m not going to stop hating and you aren’t likely to stop hating. But there is something we need to understand.  If you take nothing else away from this message, remember this.  When Jesus talked about hate, he directed it at the listener.  If you read my Midweek article this week, you saw that I wrote something similar.  You can see that it has been on my mind a lot lately…

See, we have a problem today in that we define “hate” as that horrible thing that other people do.  Those white supremacists, that Westboro Baptist Church down in Topeka.  Look at those Antifa protesters.  Look at those people, so full of hate. Yet when Jesus addresses hate, he addresses the hearer, the reader, the audience.  He addresses you in the first person singular.  We can’t dodge his reprimand, his direct word that he speaks.  It is for us. No matter how you feel about Confederate monuments staying in place or being torn down, the issue of hate is not about a monument, it is about you and me.  When we read about racist graffiti being written on a wall of a synagogue or a mosque, we are busy trying to figure out who might have done such a terrible thing – when in reality, we should be reflecting on our own attitudes and resentments.  Jesus is not addressing a group of people, he is addressing me.  Am I ready to listen?   AMEN