… love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity. By its very nature, love creates and builds up. (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Taken from a two-sermon series on “loving one’s enemies,” this quote has often been paraphrased and quoted in our culture. As I reminded my congregation on Sunday, we must never forget that whatever else he was, Dr. King was most definitely a preacher of Christ. So his words come to bear not as an outside source, but from within our very own tradition.
His words are a riff on what Jesus himself said during his Sermon on the Mount: love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you. With everything that is happening in our world right now, these are words that no one wants to hear – but if they are not relevant now, then they never will be.
There are complex issues at work around us that require thoughtful, intentional, and carefully crafted solutions. We need those solutions quickly, to be sure. Let us also remember, however, that justice (in God’s mind) was never meant to be for the sake of shaming or crushing someone into dust.
Justice is a dispensation of mercy that requires all parties involved to release the enmity they have been holding onto in order that we might find a way forward – together.
This weekend, as I was teaching our officers at church about the Presbyterian Confessions, the comment came up that there are times when things that have been dubbed “political issues” are something about which the church must speak. That moment is when they are human rights issues.
Why? Because that’s precisely what Jesus cared about.
Whenever he spoke of the Kingdom of heaven, it was always in the broader context of the need to see God’s Kingdom among us now. All of his actions displayed an intentional dispensation of grace that empowered others to find full lives in this world (not just the next). His resurrection overturned the powers of death in this life, as he had done for so many others during his earthly lifetime.
Any time that people are getting hurt, suffering, being denied dignity and humanity – those are all times when Jesus spoke. Loudly. With his words and with his actions.
If we want to be Jesus’ followers, claiming that title and bearing that mantle, it means that we must tread Christ’s path. That path leads to speaking truth to power. Crying love when the world screams hate. Ensuring care and human needs are covered for all people. Standing with those who have been given a number instead of a name. Above all loving everyone – especially our enemies. Because God made them too.
Creating opportunities for justice and loving our enemies have never been mutually exclusive. Both are forms of God’s love at work. Both are necessary.
And as the wise preacher said, it is only love that can create and build up this world into what God truly intended.
So speak in love. Loudly. With words and with actions. Do it now. For if Christ’s message is not relevant today, then it never again will be.