Last Sunday we gathered here with a large number of people from other faiths and cultures. Many of these groups have, in the past and for some, the not so distant past, been at war with each other, committing great atrocities.
They were enemies.
Yet they came together in this place to affirm their commitment, not just to the Statement of the Heart, but to peace with each other. Todays Gospel, is a big expansive reading at first glance. It talks about enemies, those who stand against your autonomy and self-interest. When we read this the temptation is to move quickly across it, as much of it appears to be way outside our experience. We have not been involved in wars on this land where others want to take what we have and deny us our rights. We may have been connected to the story of war and the atrocities done by others through family members involved in the Two World Wars of the 20th century, yet that was remote and far off.
Modern society needs enemies to fuel the economy. That is the meaning of the word competition. We need to compete against another and to win that competition even if it means destroying an individual, a business, a corporation, economy or country and people. It is how we make money. Every war is fought to drive the economy, someone famous has said.
We need enemies and is we don’t have them we invent them, personally, corporately and democratically. Enemies are what we are not, what we are against, what we don’t believe. Enemies define us. We get our identity because of what we are not, not what we are for we are rarely what we say we are.
Many of the category’s that Jesus talks about is now covered by the modern eye for an eye, tooth for tooth laws of justice under our democratic court system. Do the crime, do the time is the underlying rule and we may think about allowing you to come back into society sometime in the distant future.
Who is our enemy? How do we define the term and we do we, personally find such a creature?
I suggest the enemy is any one who gets in the way of us living and achieving our perceived rights and entitlements. And we find them in 3 different scenarios:
In The world:
These are the big enemies. People who have the capacity to destroy our culture, take what is ours and subjugate us to their reign. Over the year’s the world has provided many such enemies – Germany, Japan, Russia, North Korea and now China. This was the underpinning thought of the White Australia policy and the Yellow Peril.
Closer to home it is any one who is different and whom we do not understand – Muslims, African Youth, homeless, those addicted to various substances and corporations who use us simply to meet the bottom line.
In Our Neighbourhood and Community:
Here we have any one who frustrates our purposes, fails us, treats unkindly or simply looks unfriendly. These enemies are in our families, live next door, in the Ashburton precinct and here in this church – maybe they go to the 8 o’clock or the 10 o’clock service, are on parish council, sit next to you or is the Vicar. These are people we have placed in a position of fear and whom, because of that fear, are able to have some control over us.
Finally, the enemy is often so close we cannot see it. It is ourselves and the stories we tell about others and ourselves. It is our own self-talk, the story line that explains to us why life is the way it is. I am not achieving what I want to achieve because ……… and we make up a number of enemies – spouse, children, bosses, economic conditions, parishioners, vicars, traditions, laws and more – and place all our guilt, shame and anger on them. We, in this scenario, are the enemy for it is our thoughts and values, our sense of entitlement and rights that is the enemy.
The challenge is what do we do about it?
- We need to reflect on what we think and what we do and why? And be honest about it. Why do we hold a grudge, want to change things, want to argue with others? Why are they perceived as our enemy?
- We need to do the hard-work. Like much of Jesus’ exhortations this passage is incredibly radical and difficult. You have to step outside your self made fortress in which you protect yourself from feelings and become vulnerable and open. Most of us struggle to do that because we remember painful memories more than non-painful ones.
- We are to remain with this process of change for as long as it takes, noticing where we create our enemies and why; and how to resolve, firstly within yourself the disconnect and then to act out of that in your relationships with others. It’s a long and painful process because the further you go, the more you uncover about how you create and use enemies, often subtly and previously well hidden but now obvious and needing to be resolved.
On Sunday the Hindu representative commented that if we cannot see God in the other, we cannot see God.; if we don’t love God in the other, we do not love God.
We can nod and say how wise is that or we can commit ourselves to doing it.
Shortly, we will have a chance to do this when we move out of the safety of tis place into the marketplace and begin to make the word of God fully know in Ashburton. How do we do that? By seeing God in the person you are talking to and making peace with those who are or have the potential to be your enemy.
And make peace with the enemy within.