Sunday, February 20, 2011

Living the Love of God

Uwe Holmer with Margot and Erich Honecker.

Eight times the Ministry of Education in East Germany said no to Uwe Holmer's children when they tried to enroll at the university in East Berlin. The Ministry of Education didn't usually give reasons for its rejection of applications for enrollment. But in this case the reason wasn't hard to guess. Uwe Holmer, the father of the eight applicants, was a Lutheran pastor at Lobetal, a suburb of East Berlin. For 26 years the Ministry of Education was headed by Margot Honecker, wife of East Germany's premier, Erich Honecker....

Then when the Berlin wall cracked, Honecker and his wife were unceremoniously dismissed from office. Under indictment for criminal activities the Honeckers were evicted from their luxurious palace, suddenly finding themselves friendless, without resources, and with no place to go. No one wanted to identify with them.

Enter Uwe Holmer. Remembering the words of Jesus, 'If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also,' Holmer extended an invitation to the Honeckers to stay with his family in the parsonage. His charity was not shared by the rest of the country. Hate mail poured in. Some members of his own church threatened to leave. Pastor Holmer defended his actions in a letter to the newspaper. "In Lobetal," he wrote, "there is a sculpture of Jesus inviting people to himself and crying out, 'Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' We have been commanded by our Lord Jesus to follow him and to receive all those who are weary and heavy laden, in spirit and in body, but especially the homeless. What Jesus asked his disciples to do is equally binding on us."

In this morning’s Gospel reading, in this section of what some call the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls us to what may seem an impossible task - to love our neighbours, to pray for our persecutors and, in so doing, to become more like our heavenly father.

1. Love Your Enemies. The love that God commands of us is love so great that it even embraces our enemies. When Jesus said he must have startled his audience, for he was saying something that probably had never been said so succinctly, so positively, and so forcefully before. We naturally love people or things which are beautiful. The love of which Jesus speaks here, however, and which is most spoken of in the New Testament, is agape. It is the love that seeks and works to meet another’s highest welfare. This kind of love is the love that God is and shows us, and expects of us.

God’s love sees all the hatefulness and all the wickedness of the enemy yet desires to free them from his hate, to do them the highest good, to rescue them from them sin, and save their soul. Our “enemies,” of course, do not always come in life–threatening forms. Often they are people who are simply mean, impatient, judgmental, self–righteous, spiteful. God commands us to love them. Whether a conflict is with our spouse, our children or parents, our friends or a devious business opponent or spiteful neighbour, our attitude toward them must be one of love. Others say retaliate. Jesus says reconcile. Jesus commands us to love our enemies. How can we do that when we don’t want to?

2. Pray for Your Persecutors. Charles Spurgeon said, “Prayer is the forerunner of mercy. ” When we start to pray for someone you don't get on with, God begins to answer your prayer by changing our attitude toward them. We must love them because of who they are—sinners in need of God’s forgiveness and grace, just as we were and do. We must pray for them that they will, as we have done, seek His forgiveness and grace. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor who suffered and eventually was killed in Nazi Germany, wrote of this teaching of Jesus, “This is the supreme demand. Through the medium of prayer we go to our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God. For if we pray for them, we are taking their distress and poverty, their guilt and perdition upon ourselves and pleading to God for them.” Love our enemies and pray for them. Why? Because God’s desire for us is thirdly,

3. Become Like Jesus. To love our enemies and to pray for our persecutors shows that we are children of our Father who is in heaven. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” The heart of all that Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount—in fact, the heart of all that He teaches—is contained in these words. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

God’s will is nothing less than that we become like him and love like Him. But what does that mean?

If I say I love my wife, you can see evidence that I do by the way that I support her, the way that I care for her, the way that I react to her and so on for she is worth loving!

What of our enemies though? Are they worth loving? Enemies usually stand against us, oppose us, hamper our hopes and dreams and sometimes endanger us. Yet Jesus asks us to love even these because God does.

We can only love even those we find unloveable and pray for them, when we consciously, daily, willingly, lay aside our reputation, lay aside our rights, lay aside our self-righteousness, lay aside our pride, and lay aside a version of Christian faith that is all too often so heavenly so as to be of no earthly use, and instead stand with Uwe Holmer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Martin Luther KIng jnr., Maxamillian Kolbe, Gordon Wilson, Desmond Tutu and countless others known and unknown to us, and trust Jesus Christ to give us His love and enable us to live His love for all, friend, neighbour, enemy. Amen

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