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
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
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
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—
written. It’s just that they were often blunt, sarcastic, and sometimes just
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
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.
In addition to today’s Gospel, other New Testament verses drive home
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,
as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Again, that should settle it,
Here’s a comforting interpretation of the word “perfect” as used
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
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
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
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
“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
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.
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
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,
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
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
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
[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.