From Fear to Forgiveness and More
March 22, 2018, 3:55 PM

If you were here on Sunday the 18th, or if you have read or listened to the sermon on our website, you will remember that I asked you to think about the ways in which we can move from feelings of fear, deceit, and hatred to feelings of forgiveness, trust, and love.

I hope you’ve been giving this question some thought!  (If you weren’t here, you can read the sermon on our website at

Howard Thurman’s answer, like Jesus’, is I.  Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus also told his followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  And he never said it would be easy!  We know what happened to him, after all, and how the world, his people, and the Romans responded to his teachings.  He was ridiculed, defamed, persecuted, and killed.

But here’s the kicker – that was not the end of the story.  The end of the story was quite different than anyone expected, much as the life of the actual Messiah was different than anyone really expected. 

When we are told to love our enemies, we might feel incredulous, even offended.  How can you ask me to love [fill in the one(s) you can’t stand here]?  Thurman describes three types of enemies to help us think this hard thing through.  First, are the enemies within our intimate circle – family, close friends.  We might have an argument, or a disagreement, or harsh words, or even an outright betrayal of trust that shatters the relationship. Think of Judas, or of Peter, who denied Jesus three times!  In one case, Judas placed himself beyond the possibility of reconciliation and forgiveness by taking his own life in despair; in the other, we don’t know how it happened, but Peter and Jesus were so reconciled that Peter became the first head of the post-resurrection church.

Second, enemies may be within our larger circle – in a club or church community, in our school or other group – these are people who have betrayed the group norms and aligned themselves to those outside the group at the expense, and to the hurt, of those within it.  For the Judeans, that would describe the tax collectors for Rome, who were of the children of Abraham, but used their knowledge in and of the Jewish community to not only tax the people, but also get rich at their expense.

Third, enemies might be outside our circle altogether; obvious parties to oppression of one sort or another, with no obvious ties to ourselves or our community or group.  Now we’re thinking of Rome, and the Roman rulers and soldiers who had no regard for the Judeans at all, and did not hesitate to quash anyone who objected to their presence and their authority.

I am sure we can all think of enemies in each of these categories – people we would much rather not have to deal with, or see, or even hear about.  People about whom our friends would completely understand our antipathy and bitterness and anger.

But Jesus does not let us off so easily – which certainly does not mean that he doesn’t understand our feelings! 

He is, I think, tackling these feelings on a deeper level – and asking us to let go, let go, let go, let go … let go of the anger and the bitterness and the hate – or, in Thurman’s construct, the fear, the deceit, and the hate that divide us.  Jesus reminds us that all human beings are children of God, and God invites all people to come to the living water and drink our fill and beyond of joy and grace and mercy.  And we all – ourselves, our families, our communities, and our enemies are included in that invitation.

Jesus knows the cost, make no mistake.  But in his view, the cost is irrelevant, because the prize is beyond price, beyond wonder, beyond our hopes and dreams – it is salvation; it is joy; it is love.

God’s grace is all.