This post is part of an ongoing blog series on Pomomusings entitled “(Re)Imagining Christianity.” To read about the series, as well as get a full schedule of participants, click here.
What is one belief, practice or element of Christianity that we must hold onto and live out more fully so that Christianity can move forward and truly impact the world in the next 100 years?
We live an age that, as tempted as I may be to define as ‘like no other,’ I find I cannot. We live an age that pits antagonistic forces against one another; these forces may (or may not) be military forces; these antagonists may (or may not) be officially sanctioned forces by any particular governing body. We watch the political parties seek out weaknesses in the opposition, that they might exploit. We watch the liberals take on the conservatives, conservative base chip away at the enclaves of liberalism. We do not just watch as passive bystanders rubber-necking an auto accident; we engage the fray, whether out there on the front lines risking arrest (or worse) or from the relative safety of our keyboards, iPads, and smartphones—oh we engage, all right. An age like no other? Hardly—An age like every other is more like it.
We live in the Burger King age that says, “If you won’t give it to me my way— I know a place that will.” And if that place does not exist, I’ll create that place/space where I can have life on my terms and bring other like-minded persons to join me in creating this space. How many times this has been replicated through history? The pilgrim’s venture to live out their days under the guise of “freedom of religion” quickly turned into “freedom of my religion” as religious persecution of those who practiced something different seemed to become the law of the land. I’m skeptical that those who desire to plant an utopian community will do little other than restack the deck in their own favor.
And yet, it’s this age, through this age, into this age that the Church as the Body of Christ seeks to live faithfully. What will it mean for this body to be faithful to the calling spirit of the Christ? What is one belief, practice or element of Christianity that we must hold onto and live out more fully so that Christianity can move forward and truly impact the world in the next 100 years? The ways we can honestly, truly, fully love our enemies will determine how well, how faithfully we will live out our calling as the Body of Christ.
“You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor,’ ” and we can all remember reading countless blog posts and hearing sermons too numerous to count expounding on this question, “and who is my neighbor?” We are good at loving our neighbor, and we willingly redefine who our neighbor might be to avoid leaving out anybody we are supposed to love.
“You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love you enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ (Matthew 5:43-44).” In Luke’s gospel Jesus takes this a step further, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who persecute you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:27-28).”
Paul, in his letter to the Romans says this, “God demonstrates divine love in this way; while we were sinners (enemies, antagonistic, persecutors, haters, nay-sayers) God reconciled us to God’s-self through the Christ event (Romans 5:8).”
The Psalmist wrote of the reality he experienced of God’s love, “ye though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou art with me . . . You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies – my cup overflows (Psalm 23)”
Scripture seems replete with examples of what to do with and how to treat one’s enemies, yet we seem content to follow the world’s example, and either destroy them or insist they be transformed before we sit down to dinner with them. Amazing how willingly we will sit at table with those with whom we disagree, so long as we we’re able to pluck the slivers from their eyes (so long as we are able to transform them into something more like us).
So, how do we go about this ‘loving my enemies’ thing? A starting point may be with being willing to name who they are – who the antagonists, haters, those with whom we disagree; who are those who are disagreeable? Who are the ones who refuse to see life as we believe it should be seen? How do we view them? How do you view them? Do you see them as the world sees them, as mere throwaways, individuals you’re really better without? Or do you see the image in which they were created? And then how will we love? Why will we love? We love because God first loved us (while we were (and are) enemies) –
While this self-giving love may not change the behaviors of the individual, the target, the recipient, I do believe this self-giving love does hold the power to transform our relationship with one another, and ultimately deepen our relationship with, our reliance upon, our faith in the One who brings life through the most seemingly lifeless of possibilities. This is the power of the resurrection made known in the here and now.
Mike Foster: Mike pastors the First Presbyterian Church of Phoenix, Oregon. He graduated from San Francisco Theological Seminary in 2003. He is a husband, dad, son, uncle, brother, and child of God.