Grace to you and peace from God Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Pastor Alan Watt

Yesterday, Feb. 18th, was the anniversary of the death of our namesake, Martin Luther. It was on that date in 1546 that he died. Since this year is

the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation—marked by the posting of his Ninety-Five Theses—I will, from time to time use some

of his sermons and writings as a resource for my own preaching. And since we commemorate him today as a renewer of the Church,

it would befitting to see what he had to say about part of this morning’s Gospel, i.e., loving our enemies. And as some of you may know, he had plenty of them.

 

For example, in an article entitled, “Martin Luther’s Early Years: A Gallery of Friends and Enemies.” Well, out of a total of 10 of them listed, 3 are friends

and 7 are enemies. And even though the intensity of those early years lessened, the number of his malefactors, if anything, actually grew. Because he became

such a target of others in the medieval church, he could not do much to avoid others who wished him ill.

 

Besides, it wasn’t all their fault. If he had had better diplomatic skills, he would not have had so many enemies. Not that he didn’t had a way words—

spoken and written. It’s just that they were often blunt, sarcastic, and sometimes just plain mean.

E.g., in regard to one major opponent—Johann Eck, a theological professor at another university. In 1519 they met at a public debate to argue about the use

of indulgences. The acrimony and distrust were so strong that the local “town council provided Eck with a bodyguard of 76 men,

while Luther…arrived…with 200 students armed with battle axes.”  Luther later referred to him as “that man of lies…,errors, heresy, that monster…”

No love lost between them![i]

 

And yet, in spite of his harsh assessment of others, L. actually had much to say about loving one’s enemies. And so as we ourselves struggle on how to love those

who have harmed us in some way—or may wish to—we will have opportunity to see what he has to say about this issue.

s.

In addition to today’s Gospel, other New Testament verses drive home the command to love one’s enemies.

·        Romans 12:14, 17, 20a: 

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them….Do not repay anyone evil for evil…No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink…’”

·        1 Corinthians 13:6:

Love “does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.”

·        And Acts 7:60 on the stoning of Stephen by the priestly council in J:

“Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.”

 

So that settles it. As Christians, we all love our enemies, right?...Right?  Today’s Gospel ends with this verse: “Be perfect, therefore,

as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Again, that should settle it, yes?...No?

 

Here’s a comforting interpretation of the word “perfect” as used here in Matthew 5:48—from Karoline Lewis, Professor of Preaching at Luther

Seminary: “…meanings that better capture its essence are ‘completion, intended goal, determined end.’ In other words, Jesus is not asking us to be

perfect, but to persist in the goal Jesus has for us.”[ii]

That’s comforting, isn’t it? What’s really important is that we persevere in our goal of loving our enemies. So that settles it—that is,

unless we still don’t feel motivated, still don’t want to try to loving our enemies.

 

As mentioned in last week’s message that one is not only not to literally kill, but not even to become angry with another takes a lot of prayer,

a lot of subduing of one’s emotions with one’s mind and heart.  It takes a lot of learning on how to act rather than react to hurtful words

and deeds inflicted on us.

 

And in the passage before us this morning the main action we are to take in such circumstances is to love rather than hate and/or seek revenge.

 

Jesus had a special way of approaching this problem. When asked by another about the greatest commandment and answering that there are two—

to love God and one’s neighbor—he defined the neighbor not only as a person in one’s own extended family or other such persons

or in one’s community, but also those outside it in any shape or form.

And that can include one’s enemy, as so wonderfully told in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Anyone in need, including an enemy, also happens to be

one’s neighbor.[iii]

 

Can you think of someone who fits into that category? Even if the only need he or she has at the moment is a face-to-face example of someone like you

who seeks not to overcome evil with evil, but rather with good?  Think of somehow who is or who has been an enemy of sorts. In prayer,

can you lay aside the fear or dislike or maybe even hatred you feel toward that him or her? Maybe it’s not even an individual you know personally,

but some public figure, maybe a politician. Maybe it’s an entire group of people, and sometimes they may be enemies only because we imagine them so.

Sad, but true, for Luther it was as it’s been for many, many others in that he felt great enmity toward Jewish people.[iv]

 

When we can still regard such persons as neighbors—as defined by our Lord Jesus —then we have a mandate to love them, because as Christians that’s part

of who we are. That’s part of our identity. As the title of a song goes: “They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love.”[v]

 

At this point Luther can be a great help. In the Commandments having to do with our neighbors, we remember that they are essentially negative:

“You shall not do this or that or the other thing.” In explaining each of them, he turns them into positive rules:

·        “You shall not murder….we [are] neither [to] endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.”

·        “You shall not steal….we [are] neither [to] our neighbors’ money or property nor cheat them…, but instead help them to improve

and protect their property and income.”         “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor….we [are] not

[to] tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations.

Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.”[vi]

 

Now, regarding this last one, Luther indeed did not lie about others, but as we talked about earlier, neighbors who were also enemies

he certainly did not speak well of. In that sense, he often enough ignored his own advice.

 

Luther was a man of many words, but not only that. He too was a person of action. In other words—as the cliché goes—he not only talked the talk,

but also walked the walk. And here is a story that illustrates that side of him.

 

As mentioned at the beginning, as a result of a debate that he attended, he and another teacher of theology became bitter adversaries. Accompanying L.

at that event was a man by the name of Karlstadt. Not only were they colleagues at Wittenberg, but they also had become fast friends. Within a few, short years,

however, that all changed. The first incident happened while Luther was under protection at the Wartburg Castle. Back at the school,

Karlstadt became overly enthusiastic about the break with the pope and other church leaders. He had the images of saints removed

from the local church, no longer wore vestments when leading worship, and made other changes the people were perhaps not ready for,

while others felt so emboldened as to begin taking some matters into their own hands.

 

Eventually, Luther and Karlstadt not only wrote works upholding different views, but also verbally began attacking each other. Luther claimed he was a “Judas,”

and in turn was called a “cousin of [the] Antichrist.”

 

Local officials banned Karlstadt from Wittenberg, who then fell in with others who believed the Gospel called them to support an armed rebellion

by some of the common people.  As the princes’ soldiers made quick work of the peasants—slaughtering them for the most part—Karlstadt managed

to escape. Not knowing where else to go, he secretly made his way back to Wittenberg. One evening, in the year 1525,“on Luther’s wedding night,

at 11:00 o’clock when all the…guests had [left], [he] showed up at his door…, asking for shelter [and] Luther took him in.” Unknown by the local prince,

Karlstadt stayed there for 8 weeks—until arrangements could be made for him to take up legal residence elsewhere.[vii]

 

A dear friend who has become a bitter enemy is sometimes the worst to deal with because of a sense of betrayal. Why, then, did Luther give Karlstadt

refuge when he needed it? For old time’s sake? Doubtful.

 

Luther knew that loving one’s enemies did not necessarily mean he had to like them.  But forgiving others for the wrongs they had done was important to him.

He say it in the Lord’s Prayer. And not only there, but also in the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion he knew that God forgives the sinner.

And last, in the words of Jesus on the cross, when suffering at the hands of the religious authorities, Pontius Pilate, the Roman soldiers,

and the jeering crowd:  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”[viii]

 

Luther knew all of this and so persevered in practicing it, although imperfectly.  So also, then, do we. As we read in the First Letter of John: “We love because

he first loved us.”[ix] And that includes not only loving our sisters and brothers in Christ, but also our enemies.


[i] Quoted in Paul Thigpen, “Martin Luther’s Early Years: A Gallery of Friends and Enemies,” Christian History, Issue 34, 1992. For a detailed account of the Leipzig Debate, see Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: His Road to the Reformation, 1483-1521, trans. James L. Schaaf (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985): 299-348.

 

[ii] Karoline Lewis, “Be Perfect,” in Craft of Peaching: Dear Working Preacher, 12 February 2017.

 

[iii] Luke 10:25-37.

 

[iv] See, for example, On the Jews and Their Lies, in Luther’s Works, Vol. 47: The Christian in Society IV, trans. Martin H. Bertram, ed. Franklin Sherman, gen. ed. Helmut T. Lehmann (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971): 121-306.

 

[v] Peter Scholtes, F.E.L. Church Publications, Ltd. (copyright 1966).

 

[vi]A Contemporary Translation of Luther’s Small Catechism (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1996): 16-17.

 

[vii] Thigpen, “Martin Luther’s Early Years.” For a detailed account, see Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation, 1521-1532, trans. James L. Schaaf (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990): 157-71.

 

[viii] Luke 23:34.

 

[ix] 1 John 4:19.