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Love Your Enemies

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; Psalm 119:137-144; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12;Luke 19:1-10

Bigfork Community United Methodist Church

November 3, 2019 –ALL SAINTS SUNDAY

We come to All Saints Sunday again. It is time for us to remember those who have gone on before us this year. They have made the fruits we enjoy possible, maybe even inevitable. We need to pause and give thanks for their love that has spilled over into our lives.

So we kindly remember Larry Athorn, Edith Wylie, and Mary Ann Crismore this morning. Our scriptures give us the place to start.

Our reading from Daniel recounts Daniel’s dream about four bests who rise out of the great sea as the four winds are whipping it up. I am sure there were times of anxiety for all of the saints we honor today, but their assurance lies in the promise of God in this dream.

The powers and principalities of our day or our age will not prevail. Instead, “the holy ones of the Most High will receive the kingship. They will hold the kingship securely forever and always.” Goodness will always triumph.

As the great hymn sings it: “Though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God has willed his truth to triumph through us.”

In each of the lives we remember today, the story could have taken another turn. It could have turned out differently, but there was a light that they saw and followed.

Edith amazed everyone who knew her with her age these last few years. But the first time I met her she asked me to help her with her cell phone. That was way back when she was only 103. She was from then, but she was very ‘now.’

Every day was an adventure and when I asked her…more than once …what the secret of her longevity was, she always had the same answer: I don’t know.

Larry was always a calming presence. He, too, had seen a lot of life in his 92 years. He had suggestions for me from time to time but they were nudges, not homework corrections. And they were offered., always, in good will.

I never met Mary Ann Crismore, but she and John had a good, long life together, living in many places, traveling to new place and seeing the world in new ways, but always involved with her church somehow.

She played piano for a long time before she learned to play the organ, but once she took that extra step it was not long before she was playing for church services.

All of them had a connection with their church that made their lives richer and steadier. They offered their gifts of service and those gifts were returned with interest.

Edith got a bulletin and manuscript of the sermon every Sunday, thanks to the faithfulness of her friends Don and Donna Fraley. I would always print a second copy of the sermon and Don would come up after the service to get it from me… and they both assured me that she read every one of them.

Consistency, curiosity, wonder and joy all gave these people an inner peace and joy at life and in life.

As Paul puts it today, they were “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit because they believed in Christ. The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our inheritance, which is applied toward our redemption as God’s own people, resulting in the honor of God’s glory.”

We read so many great stories, our lives are opened to so many rich insights as we work through the Christian year, taking in the readings assigned by the Revised Common Lectionary.

We are near the end of our readings for this year and a new year will start the first Sunday of next month, and we will start the entire three year cycle again with year A. We will begin at the beginning with the creation story and read through the story of Joseph in Egypt in our Hebrew Bible readings.

The second year we will read of Moses and the years in the wilderness, and the third year, which we are finishing now, we read of the downfall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and we are immersed in the writings of the prophets.

We will see the arc of history and the hand of God…the triumph of goodness…in it all.

So we get to review the history of God’s chosen people and we come to understand that life is not an assembly line where everything happens in a certain order that can be anticipated day after day. It is a mystery that continues to surprise us and challenge us and bless us.

Perhaps it was the greatest gift my church has ever given to me when the first woman pastor at the church I came out of in Billings Heights, Hope United Methodist Church, offered a Disciple Bible Study course.

It was the first time I had a chance to read through the Bible and discuss it in an intentional way. We took two years to finish the first year’s curriculum.

By the time we were done, we did the next in the series because the Good Book had opened up and taken us in. We saw friends, teachers, loved ones, and ourselves in those stories.

We weren’t reading some old story about ancient days and things that happened to a bunch of other people long, long ago. We knew people in our own lives who had had the same kinds of experiences and whose lives had been transformed in new ways.

The intimacy of a small group and the universality of the Bible stories were an exciting combination and we walked together, just as Larry and Mary Ann and Edith walked with us.

Some people touch us with the wisdom of their many years. Some people touch us with a kindness they have learned to share with the world. Others touch us with the quiet ways they serve with a helpful deed or a valuable insight.

All of the people we celebrate today – Larry, Edith and Mary – were here before me and gave their talents, their prayers and their alms so that this priceless jewel of our civilization…the church…could be here for one more generation… grounding us…beckoning us onward…telling us to apply one more lesson to our daily lives… and then…just see what happens.

One of the more transformative lessons is the Gospel lesson for this day: Love your enemies. Loving God is an easy lesson to accept, and loving your neighbor makes a lot of sense, too, but loving your enemies is a little more complicated.

They are trying to make our lives more difficult. They hurt our feelings. Sometimes they hurt us. But here it is again, in the Beatitudes of Luke: Happy are you when you are poor, when you hunger and when you weep.

We already see the counterintuitive nature of Christ’s teaching, but he explains these mysteries in the same sentence he speaks them. The poor receive the kingdom of God, the hungry will eat and those who mourn will look up one day and see the sun over their heads and smile.

But love your enemies is a harder lesson. Treat them the way you want them to treat you. Model good behavior to them and wonderful things can happen.

Working in the cloakroom of the United States Senate in Washington, D.C. in 1974, I got to schedule the Democratic half of the presiding officers for the day. Democrats did one hour, Republicans the next, and so on.

Then, one day my Democrat late in the afternoon decided to take the train home and left me in the lurch with half an hour’s notice. “You can’t do this to me,” I told his scheduler. “He’s already left,” she replied.

I started calling the offices of the other 57 Democrats. Five minutes into the Democratic hour, my boss’s counterpart from the Republican cloakroom, Howard Green, came in and pointed out that his guy was still in the chair. I told him I was calling everyone after a last-minute cancellation.

Five minutes later he was in again, pretty steamed at me and talking to me while I was getting turned down by the 30th Senator. I showed him where I was on the list and he didn’t care: “Get my guy out of the chair!”

Five minutes later he came back and stood on his tiptoes to make sure I knew there were going to be consequences. I got my 57th No before I went out on the floor and told Senator Mansfield what had happened.

I had called everyone. They all said No. The Majority Leader got one of those mysterious little smirks on his face, said ‘okay’ and went up and relieved the Republican who had been in the chair for 15 Democratic minutes.

Howard came in to tell me it couldn’t happen again and I said okay…just like I could make that happen. Two weeks later the same thing happened…to them. Howard came in to apologize. I told him to keep calling. I understood. I told my Democrat what was happening and he was okay with it…sort of.

Five minutes later Howard was back, distressed and apologizing abjectly. I thanked him, wished him luck and told him to put Hugh Scott, the Minority Leader in the chair.

He looked at me like I had just spoken fighting words and turned to stomp out of the cloakroom. “Howard! Howard!” I told him, “Don’t get me wrong. When the same thing happened to us a couple of weeks ago, I finally asked Senator Mansfield and everyone else suddenly wanted to preside. It worked for us and I bet it will work for you.”

He heard that, went out and talked to Hugh Scott, and viola…within the minute another Senator had relieved him. Howard was back in our cloakroom within a minute of that happening to thank me sincerely for my suggestion, and we never had another cross word the rest of the year…in fact, we knew we were both trying to solve the same problems and we worked together more and more.

Separate the people from the problem. Solve the problem. Ask the people to help. Lose an enemy and gain a friend. As Lincoln put it, “Do I not destroy my enemy when I make a friend of him?”

All of the lives we give thanks for today made it possible for us to have a beautiful place for a vital worship service in the midst of a dying world.

They all understood how important it was to them… and how valuable it could be for everyone…even their enemy. They knew their life was as full of solutions as it was of problems.

They gained joy in each day…and year upon year…with the joy that they found…not in suffering problems…but in working through them with friends…and enemies… and strangers. They learned to love into hard times and love learned to love them back.

They did not want to destroy their enemies…they wanted to transform them…as Christ himself had done. They remind us with their lives…and impress us with the holy insight that comes from making a habit of trying to do no harm, trying to do good, and staying in love with God.

Maybe there is something to that ‘love your enemies’ idea after all…

O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us… through me…this day? Amen.