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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Epiphany 7 – Year A

Did you see “60 Minutes” this past Sunday? It was fascinating. One of the major segments of the show was Harry Smith interviewing Wael Ghonim (Wa-eel Go-neem). Ghonim is the young marketing manager for Google who had a major roll in setting off the Egyptian revolution. In no small way the revolution came about because Ghonim created a Facebook page in response to the killing of a young Egyptian who was beaten to death by police. Hundreds of thousands of other Egyptians connected with one another through this page and as a result the protests began in Tahrir Square that led to the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. I want to read you this morning a part of Harry Smith’s interview with Wael Ghonim.
“Three days after the protests began in Tahrir Square, Ghonim disappeared. His friends and family feared he’d been kidnapped or even killed. Egyptian authorities had arrested him for 12 days. He was blindfolded, handcuffed and constantly interrogated.
Smith: Did they hit you?
Ghonim: Yeah, but it was not systematic. Like, it was individual based, and it was not from the officers. It was actually from the soldiers. And I forgive them, I have to say. I forgive them, because one thing is that they were convinced that I was harming the country. These are simple people, not educated. I cannot carry a conversation with them. So, you know, for him, I’m sort of like a traitor. I’m de-stabilizing the country. So when he hits me, he doesn’t hit me because, you know, he’s a bad guy. He’s hitting me because he thinks he’s a good guy. I’ll tell you a funny story: At the end of the last day, you know, I removed my…blindfold. And I said, ‘Hi,’ and kissed every one of them. All of the soldiers. And, you know, it was good. I was sending them a message.” It seems to me this young Muslim technology expert makes a pretty good Christian! Jesus would be proud.
“If someone strikes you on the right cheek,” Jesus tells his disciples, “turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. … Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Like last Sunday, this morning Jesus once again blasts us with difficult words. I am reminded of what Mark Twain once said about the Bible: “I have no problem with those parts of the Bible I don’t understand. It’s those parts of the Bible I do understand that gives me fits.” There are no tricks here, no hidden messages, no secret meanings. Jesus speaks plainly to his followers telling them what he expects of them. Not only are they to do their duty as good citizens, but as followers of Jesus they are to do more than their duty. They are to offer everyone, especially their enemies, an extravagant love that goes well beyond what anyone else might expect.
In a sermon written from a Georgia jail and preached just after the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, Martin Luther King, Jr. said this about loving your enemies,
“Of course this is not practical; life is a matter of getting even, of hitting back, of dog eat dog… My friends, we have followed the so-called practical way for too long a time now, and it has led inexorably to deeper confusion and chaos. Time is cluttered with the wreckage of communities which surrendered to hatred and violence. For the salvation of our nation and the salvation of mankind, we must follow another way. This does not mean that we abandon our righteous efforts. With every ounce of our energy we must continue to rid this nation of the incubus of segregation. But we shall not in the process relinquish our privilege and our obligation to love. While abhorring segregation, we shall love the segregationist. This is the only way to create the beloved community.”
Too many people equate the Christian ideal of radical love for all people, including one’s enemies, as a kind of weakness – you turn the other cheek because you are not strong enough to fight back. How often in art is Jesus depicted as a weak looking, frail man with kind eyes who isn’t strong enough to hurt a fly? But Jesus wasn’t weak and there is nothing weak about being one of his followers. In fact while it is quite easy to say you are a Christian, I think it is one of the most difficult things to actually be a Christian. What Jesus knew and what Gandhi and King learned, is that violence only begets violence and to defeat hatred you must stand up to it, but you must stand up to it with love.
Are we, the baptized members of this Christian community, being as good a Christian as our young Muslim friend Mr. Ghonim? Do we even pray for our enemies much less embrace them, understand them, and forgive them? How many grudges are you holding onto? How many people in your life remain un-forgiven for something they did to you? When was the last time you went the extra mile for another person without the expectation of getting something in return for your extra effort? When your spouse, your teenager, your friend, or your neighbor shouts at you, dumps their anger on you, are you strong enough to take it without returning your anger for their anger? Can you love someone when it isn’t convenient, inviting, or easy to do so? Make no mistake about it, if you claim the title Christian then our Lord holds you to a higher standard. It is not the world’s standard but love’s standard. A love that is stronger than any repressive government or system. A love that is even stronger than death.
In closing, let me share with you an ancient Jewish fable. One day a great rabbi asked his students, “In the early morning how can one tell when the dawn comes? How can one tell the light from the darkness?” One student replied, “When I can tell a goat from a donkey?” “No”, answered the rabbi. Another said, “When I can tell a palm tree from a fig?” “No,” answered the rabbi again. “Well, then what is the answer?” his students pressed him. “The dawn comes only when you look into the face of every man and every woman and see your brother and your sister,” said the rabbi. “Only then have you seen the light. All else is still darkness.”

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