19th Sunday After Pentecost 2011

October 23, 2011

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s Gospel we heard our Lord tell us “…love your enemies, do good….and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Highest.” (Luke 6:35) When we hear this verse we often say to ourselves the Lord is placing an impossible burden on us, it is unnatural to love ones enemies, at best it is extremely difficult. Is it truly unnatural or difficult to love one’s enemies? Is this what God intends, for us go through life being in conflict with those around us?

First let us look at what we were created to be by God. God created us to grow to be like Him. God loves us. He wants us to be with Him. That is why He created us in His image and likeness as it states in Genesis. He wanted us to be with Him so much that He took on flesh so that we could grow to be more like Him. Saint Maximus the Confessor tells us, that God would have become flesh even if Adam and Eve had not sinned because He loved mankind so much that He desired to share His Life and Divinity with all of mankind. (Man and the Cosmos: The Vision of St. Maximus the Confessor)

Unfortunately, Adam and Eve did sin through the misuse of their free will; disobedience to God or placing their will and desires over God’s. We now live in the consequence of that sin. We do not live with the guilt of that sin as is so often taught in western Christianity. We only live in the consequence. The consequence of that sin is that mankind is no longer in harmony with God or His creation. We are separated from God and have become subject to corruption and death. We are inclined to exert our will over God’s. Another result is that when we interact with our fellow man we place our selves first. How often have we heard the phrase, “What’s in it for me?” This results in conflict with others because we are in reality selfish, self centered and self seeking beings. If we really look at any sin we commit we will find that the root of it is in the placing ourselves first.

Take a minute and think about these questions. When do I get angry? When do I lie? When do gossip? If I have an addiction why am I indulging in it? If I am committing adultery or thinking about it or entertaining impure thoughts, why? If we are truly honest, we will find the answers are rooted in a selfish or self seeking behavior. If we look further into our behaviors we will find that our enemies are those that get in the way of our selfish or self seeking behaviors.

The fortunate thing is that we have a way out of this way of life, by exerting our free will to be with God through His Son our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ and by the grace that He gives to us. The change that occurs through the turning our will to God along with God given grace is called repentance. Through repentance or the changing of our mind; we move from self seeking to God seeking. We are given many examples of repentance through the saints.

When we repent we go to confession and ask that sins be removed from us. In confession we acknowledge that are ready for a change to occur in our lives. We are saying that we want to live in alignment with God; to live according to His commandments as Adam and Eve did before the fall. God acknowledges our repentance and forgives us of our sins. Instead of the justice that we deserve God gives us His mercy and love. Our relationship with Him is restored. This is a great gift that is given to us through repentance.

When we deal with others we must remember that we have received this great gift of forgiveness, mercy and love from God. The question is do we want to be found like the man in the parable who was forgiven a great debt by his master and then took his fellow servant by the throat and had him imprisoned for a much smaller debt? (Matthew 18:23-35) Where was the forgiveness, mercy and love this man learned from his master? This man in the parable was eventually condemned by his master for his lack of forgiveness, mercy and love. Do we want this type of condemnation for ourselves? We are also reminded of this same principle every time we pray the Lord’s prayer “…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us…” We should keep this image in our memory so that any time anyone offends us we will see that this is an opportunity to be like God by forgiving and showing mercy and love to those that offend us.

The best way we can put into action the God like attributes of forgiveness, mercy and love in our lives is through prayer. We must pray for those that offend us, those that hate us, those that we offend. Simply put we must pray for our enemies.

When we start to pray for them, we may have malice in our hearts. We must still pray for them; even if the prayer is simply “God grant unto so and so everything he or she deserves” with all of that hateful intention we have for them. Eventually, through prayer for that person, over days and months and maybe years, our hearts will soften and we will come to realize that all we are really asking for them is that which we are asking for ourselves; God’s forgiveness, mercy and love. When we realize this we become God like because we are able to forgive, and show mercy and love to that person.

We should be thankful to God for our enemies or those difficult people in our lives because they make us see ourselves as we are. We often live in a fantasy world in which we think of ourselves as good people. We often hear people say; “Yes, I may have a few faults but after all I haven’t killed anyone.”

When we interact with others all our defects or sins come to the surface. This is an opportunity for us to see and work through the rough edges of our personality, the defects of our characters, or more simply put our sins and our sinful inclinations. We will notice this opportunity by being watchful over our souls. In being watchful we will see the benefit of these interactions because we become like rough stones put in a tumbler. When we emerge from that tumbler like the rough stones our rough edges removed. We will be smooth. We will have become more God like because we will have shed those sins and sinful intentions that block us from God and others.

Saint Nikolaj Velimirovic reminds us of the benefits of our enemies in his book Prayers by the Lake. Prayer number seventy five says the following:

“Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Enemies have driven me into Your embrace more than my friends have. Friends have bound me to the earth; enemies have loosed me from the earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world…

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world…

They scolded me, whenever I flattered myself…

Whenever I have made myself wise, the called me foolish…

Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand…

Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out…

Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me -…

…so, that I may for once be freed from self-deception,…

Enemies have taught me to know – what hardly anyone knows – that a person has no enemies in the world except himself…

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.”

Our enemies are of great value to us. They help us in so many ways; seeing our own sins and allowing us to become like God by showing forgiveness, mercy and love to them. Christ is not asking us to do anything that is unnatural or difficult when he tells us to love our enemies. He is just telling us to be what we were created to be; that is to be like God. The result of being God like is that we do good. We reduce the amount of evil in this world by doing good through the love of our enemies. By doing good we truly become sons of the Most High, as it is stated in today’s Gospel. We will move “from glory to glory” as Saint Gregory of Nyssa says as we move closer to God and grow to be more like him. We will “give glory to God for all things” as Saint John Chrysostom says through the love of our enemies.

My prayer for you my brothers and sisters in Christ is that you will learn to love and pray for your enemies more fervently each and every day so, that you may grow in the peace and serenity that comes from being God like through being forgiving, and showing mercy and love all people, especially your enemies. Amen
Delivered by protodeacon fr. Milan Medakovic at St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church, Steelton, PA on the 19th Sunday After Pentecost 2011.