Dear people, we cannot let the language of love die out. We cannot let the radical act of loving those whom we deem to be undeserving of our - or perhaps anyone’s love - die out. This is a fire that we need to feed with a holy and diligent fuel, the fuel of Christ’s call to us and Christ’s redeeming work in us that makes it possible for me to go from wanting to kick someone’s you know what to loving them no matter what.

In seeking to follow Christ as Christ’s disciples we are called to learn a new language for living. Today’s gospel lesson illustrates just what a radically different language for living this will be, with Jesus using a present participle invitation (as seen in the original Greek text) “for those who are still listening” to pay close attention. Not those who were listening or those who might someday listen, but for those who are still listening.

This is us. We’re still listening. Like the people who stay through the credits at Marvel superhero movies to see the little “extra” scenes at the end. Like people who read the postscripts in books to get “filled in” on tidbits connected to the story that they would not otherwise know. Yes, in these last weeks, we’ve overheard the stories in scripture of Jesus’ many healings, we’ve overheard the stories of Jesus declaring in the Beatitudes that God intends special blessings for people who are going through various struggles in their lives, and that those who seek to follow him will likely be brought into more times of struggle and now - now, Jesus has this something else to say and we are still listening. And hey, if you’re just tuning in today and missed the last weeks, it’s ok, because in Jesus’ story there is a desire that no one get left behind.

And what is it that Jesus wants to share with “those who are still listening?”

Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.
Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.

This is the language of love that we cannot allow to die out. This is the language of love whose flame of beauty and righteousness needs to be fed and tended and enlarged.

This is definitely not the stuff we so often see in political realms - where people try to humiliate those they disagree with, or the stuff we too often see on television or in movies or social media, where people get other people to laugh by demeaning or humiliating someone else. No, this is a radical call by Jesus to strive in living a new language for life, a language of love.

Jesus, who is helping us to frame our understanding of God’s intentions in scripture and in life in light of God’s eternal love and desire to bless us and this whole creation, to give us and this world new birth and new hope and new joy and new existence beyond all of the brokenness that we see, Jesus wants to invite us into a deeper truth, to know that God intends for us to discover a deeper means by which to travel through our earthly mind-body-heart-soul experience and existence.

Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.

Pray for those who persecute me? Oh, come on, isn’t bad enough, Jesus, that you’re asking us to love them. We’re supposed to pray for them? Yet maybe it is the prayer that will make the love possible, and vice versa.

And, probably because Jesus knows just how radical this new language for life is that he is trying to teach, Jesus goes on to point out that hey, anyone can love those who love you. Anyone can do good for those who do good for you. My gosh, even sinners will lend to other sinners, says Jesus. But I say to you love your enemies. And pray for those who persecute you.

In other words, you may have gone on the express bus before, skipping over some or most of the stops before, says Jesus, but now it is time to take the local. If you’ve never taken a bus that stops at all the local stops, well, it’s like the difference between popping a freezer meal in the microwave oven or cooking the same meal step by step from scratch, one ingredient, one stir, one oven preheating at a time. The work of loving our enemies is like this. A slow and messy process that nevertheless can bring about unexpectedly wonderful results. Maybe for them and for the world, but definitely for us.

I’ve told some of you the story of the women of Israel and Palestine who formed a group that meets to build compassion, tolerance, and understanding. They cross borders literal and figurative to build relationships with one another because they are tired of the fighting that is killing them and their families. So instead, they are doing the hard work of building relationships with each other. Can you imagine how people back home who hear what they are doing might sometimes deride and insult them? Can you imagine how much personal risk they must be taking?

The work of loving enemies is like taking the bus making the local stops, or cooking every step of a complex meal.

Some years ago, I heard a talk online by a local and fairly well-known author by the name of Elizabeth Lesser. Lesser spoke about efforts she had been making to get to know people who think differently than her. She invites them to a meal and then they just get to know one another. Elizabeth Lesser said the key technique in this interaction was to actively listen, reflecting back to that person what you heard them saying. And when they asked about your opinions, say something like, “we can get back to that, but how about that thing you were just telling me about such and such…?”

Lesser said you might not change another person’s mind with this practice of sharing a meal and deeply listening, but you’ll leave with something more important: the beginning of a relationship. And relationships are the building blocks, the bridges to ending enmity. And furthermore, Lesser said, the individuals involved in these one-on-one meals challenge each other to go and find someone else who thinks differently than them, who disagrees with them. They agree they will find someone else and meet with that person to share a meal and try to develop a relationship. Pretty remarkable, right?

I heard and hear Christ’s call to love our enemies in the words of Elizabeth Lesser. I see the work of loving enemies in those Israeli and Palestinian women. Oh, we cannot let the language of love die out! Now is the time to lean in, to stay through the credits and catch the extra scene, to ride the bus that makes all the local stops, to try something new to love those you consider enemies and build up any practices you already have to love enemies and pray for them, pray for them, pray for them. For don’t we realize that Christ who is the Author of all creation does not hate anyone? And Christ went to the cross, so that a redemption story might be written into the timeline of our lives and this world. So that the language of love might have a never-ending source and foundation in that sacrificial love of God that makes all other forms of love possible.

Dear people, we cannot let the language of love die out. And Christ, who is the source of all love and new life, can be our Rock and our Guide on this journey, even as Christ is our Savior and Redeemer. Amen.