7th Sunday after Epiphany
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, friends in Christ, Imagine that you’re walking with a guide in a dark building. You’re walking down a hallway and at the end of this hallway is a room that’s full of pictures. The pictures are ugly- covered with tears, dirt, and blood. On every picture is a person. Standing there in front of every picture is a person. The two are enemies. In this room everyone is given the opportunity to act out against that picture in front of them. Each is driven by either hate or love. As you’re walking through this room you come to a certain picture, you stop, you recognize the person… it’s your enemy.
It’s that person in your life who has hurt you time and again with their words- maybe even physically. It’s that person who cares nothing about you, hates you, hates the way you look, the way you act, hates everything about you. It’s the person who takes and never gives. Every time you see this person, every time you think of this person you’re filled with an amazing amount of hurt and an amazing amount of hate. It’s this person who has made your life a living hell.
There in front of this person’s picture you find a box filled with darts. You pick one up- it feels so good, so wonderful. Your mind fills with thoughts about hurling those darts at the picture in front of you. Your guide is standing next to you and your guide says, “Turn the other cheek.” What?? Turn the cheek? You look around and see that most everyone in the room is hurling their darts at the pictures. Every time a dart strikes a picture the whole room shakes and begins to crumble. Your head fills with all the hurt and pain that this person caused you, you take that dart and hurl it as hard as you can at the picture of your enemy. A piece of the picture tears away and the whole room shakes.
Your guide, clearly saddened, says, “Even though your enemy has caused you so much hurt, don’t give into getting even.” Hatred makes your blood boil as you look at the picture. You pick up another dart and hurl it at the picture, “Surely I’m going to get back what’s mine,” you think. But strangely, it just doesn’t seem to satisfy, the revenge doesn’t make the hurt get any less. The dart tears another piece of the picture away and something shiny lies underneath.
Your guide is still standing at your side and says, “Please do the right thing, even though this person doesn’t deserve it.” You stare into the eyes of the picture of your enemy- you’re just galled at their arrogance, you’re angered by the pain they’ve caused you, enraged by all the ways they’ve made you miserable. “They deserve to feel the pain they’ve caused me.” You pick up another dart and hurl it and it hits the person right between the eyes, the picture tears away and there’s something shiny underneath.
It’s a mirror. There in the hall of enemy pictures, you stand right in front of the worst enemy of all- you! As you stare at the mirror, you see off to your side, the guide you were ignoring. It’s God. He was trying to help you but you were so blinded by your intense desire to be right, to get even, to get revenge, that being kind to your enemy sounded absolutely ridiculous. But all the while you never realized what you were becoming in God’s eyes- what you are: His enemy! So focused on your enemy you never realized what picture was forming before God- a picture of you – you’re now in the hall of enemies.
God places his hand on your shoulder. He says, “You saw your enemy in this picture, this is how you treated him. But now as I look at that same picture, I see you. What would you have me do?” You suddenly realize that because of your hate, your desire for revenge, to get even the only thing that you deserve is for God to take every dart he has and hurl them right at you. “What have I done?? Why didn’t I listen?” No matter what you do, you can’t undo the damage.
But right at that moment, God moves you out of the way and steps into your place in front of the mirror. “What are you doing?” You say. With absolute determination, with tears in his eyes, he takes a dart and hurls it at himself, smashing the mirror. The whole room violently shakes. What did God do for you? What did he do for his enemy? He loved you and took the dart that you deserved.
You see, when Jesus’ enemies came to arrest Him, He didn’t run and hide. When His enemies beat Him and mocked Him and made fun of Him, He didn’t retaliate or get revenge. When His enemies led Him out to a cross, when they nailed His hands and feet, he prayed for those who persecuted Him, he prayed for you and me, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” And God did exactly that. He made Himself His own worst enemy so that you could be brought out of that room. He threw the dart that killed His own Son so that you would never, ever know what a dart from God’s hand would feel like. And when He did, the door out of the hall of enemies opened.
God explains to you, “The room is this world. It’s a place full of hatred, malice, anger, getting even, and revenge. The day is coming when this world will come to end. On that day, everyone who doesn’t have their picture in my palace will be destroyed and they will feel my darts of judgment forever. I don’t want this for them. I don’t want this for you. I had to carry out my punishment over sin because I am just. And you’ve seen what I did for you because I don’t want this for you. Now follow me, I want to show something to you.” God then took your picture, put it under his arm- he washed all the dirt and blood off it in the water of your Baptism. He carried it out of the room of enemies into the realms of heaven. Then He hung it in your room that He’s preparing for you. And He said to you, “See, now no one can touch you. This is where you belong. But for now I want you to go back into that room- not to throw darts at your enemies, but to love them- you see I want you to show them the same love that I showed you so that they too might be brought to me.”
But you say, “No! I want to stay here!” And God responds, “My son, my daughter, you’ll be here for all eternity. This is your home. To reassure you of that fact, I will give you peaks into your room here in heaven. Every time you taste my body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, I’m giving you a taste of the eternal feast that awaits you in heaven. Every time you are reminded of my love in my Word, you will see a beautiful preview of the heaven that awaits you. But now you have work to do- be perfect because in my eyes, that’s exactly what I’ve made you to be. Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you so that they too might be here.
Suddenly you find yourself back in the hall of enemies- in the real world and it’s time to get to work.
There was a news story some time ago about a lady named Jennifer Thompson. She was a 22 year old college student in North Carolina- good student, daughter, homecoming queen. But one night her entire life was changed when a stranger broke into her home, held a knife to her throat and took away her innocence. She was determined to remember every detail about this assailant so that if she survived she could make sure her enemy would spend his life in prison. She helped the police develop a drawing and she picked a man out of the line-up, Ronald Cotton. Although he insisted on his innocence it was her eyewitness testimony that put him away for life. She never had a doubt.
A year after his conviction, Ronald Cotton met another inmate in prison named Bobby Poole. He look eerily similar to Cotton and was in prison for similar crimes. Apparently, Bobby had bragged that Ronald Cotton was serving time for a crime that he had committed. Another trial was opened for Ronald Cotton. This time the jury saw both men, but again Jennifer identified Ronald as the assailant and again Ronald Cotton was sentenced to serve out his life sentence.
11 years went by and technology improved. Jennifer had gone on with her life, married, children and prayed every day that Ronald Cotton would die. But then a police investigator came to her house and said, “Jennifer, you were wrong.” DNA testing proved that Bobby Poole was her assailant, not Ronald Cotton. Jennifer was destroyed. She had stolen 11 years from another man’s life. She went from being the victim of the enemy to being the enemy. She was devastated.
She had to meet him, tell him how sorry she was. They met at a church. Jennifer could barely stand and said, “If I spent every minute of every hour of every day for the rest of my life, I couldn’t begin to express how sorry I am.” Calmly, quietly Ronald responded, “I’m not mad at you. I forgive you. I just want you to be happy and move on with your life.” Jennifer later said, “It was as if I was staring in the face of grace and mercy.” A few days later, she met her real assailant, and you know what she did? She forgave him. Not only did God’s forgiveness move Ronald to forgive his false accuser, but Ronald’s forgiveness led Jennifer to forgive her real assailant. She said, “I wanted the same peace that Ronald had, I didn’t want to live in hate and anger any longer.”
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”
Your picture hangs in the paradise of heaven. You’re perfect because Jesus loved you and me- nothing can separate you from His love. Now show that powerful, life-transforming love to everyone. Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect because he has made you perfect with his own Son’s blood and rescued you from this world. Do what he did for you – love your enemies! Amen.