TEXT: Luke 6:27-38; Romans 12:9-21

By yesterday they had published an English translation of the Arabic letter now connected with three of the four hijacked flights. It's a letter of instruction for how the hijackers should prepare themselves spiritually and how they should carry out their duties. It is a sobering letter. It's sobering not just because of the terrible deeds about to be done, but because the letter is, from beginning to end, a religious letter. It is filled with faith in God and, were many passages read in another context, all of us even as Christians would nod our heads and say, "Yes, yes, that's how it is in life with God."

It has been said many times during the attack that the actions of the terrorists do not represent the true teachings of Islam, and that is true. I think that fact is the true terror of our day. I have always lived with the knowledge that there are people in the world who for one reason or other, slip over the edge. At any time some deranged soul could blow up the building I am in or slip into my house and cut my throat. But the terror of September 11 is different, because these men were not deranged. They were not mentally ill. They were not, psychologically, criminals. They were men of faith who had been led to believe that their actions were in line with the will of God.

Such perversion of faith happened this time in Islam, but they don't have a corner on that market. Christians have done it throughout the Crusades, in the Inquisition, in the killing of abortion doctors. Jews have done it to Palestinians. We take our faith, not as a whole, but in the pieces that we prefer to hear, and string them together to suit our own purposes...even when those purposes go against the core of the faith itself.

I am terrified by the perversion of Islam because Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all have shared Scripture and history. Only Christianity sees Jesus as divine, but all three religions revere Jesus as a great teacher and prophet. All of us look to Genesis and to Abraham for our beginnings, and all of us find the nature of God in Moses acting to liberate Israel from Egypt. And all of us have done brutal, despicable things in the name of the God of love.

I stand up here terrified to preach, but not because I'm afraid of speaking in public. I'm not. I am terrified to preach because it is impossible to preach all of Scripture in every sermon. Every week I get up here and give you just a tiny piece of the whole, knowing that unless you go home to a developed system of Bible reading and study, that one little piece is all you get. Every Sunday I ask myself...will this little passage from today cause harm? Will someone use it to justify evil? When I read passages on wrath will someone take it as license to kill? When I read passages on meekness and love, will someone take it as a mandate to be killed and to stay in a dangerous relationship? Sometimes I wonder if I should just stay silent and leave well-enough alone.

But I can't. I am in love with my God, and I cannot sit still when someone takes the name of my God and smears it in blood across the world. What happened on September 11 was not the will of Allah. It was not the will of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and it was not the will of the God of Jesus Christ. I must say that or lose my soul. And so I lift up, with fear and trembling, these verses from Luke and from Romans...knowing how some of these verses are eerie echoes of the words that inspired the terrorists to persevere in their task, but trusting that God's Word will somehow overcome even the evil done in its name.

I chose the Romans passage because it has threads that pull together both love of the enemy and the wrath of God. Individual churches and denominations often focus on either one or the other. I believe we need both. I think the most important verse in this section is verse 19, "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,' says the Lord." In a nutshell, I think wrath is God's job and loving is our job. Not because God is wrathful and we are loving, but rather the opposite.

God is pure love and therefore is the only one truly able to perfectly combine justice and mercy. God's acts of wrath are always intended for healing. Ours are intended for punishment. God's wrath is tempered by love. Our wrath is incited by hate. We cannot act in wrath without needing punishment ourselves. Therefore we need to leave the wrath part to God and instead work on love.

We need to learn to love, and the time we are most like God is when we can manage to love the enemy. This is a time to welcome and affirm and love the Arab and Muslim people. May I never hear that anyone who has set foot inside these doors has defaced a mosque, or in any way assaulted or harmed someone with Arab blood. Now is the chance to show what real Christian faith is all about. Love. Don't just refrain from harm, but seek to do good.

"But the person I welcome might be a terrorist!" In that case, you have become Christ for them. Remember that Judas Iscariot was one of Jesus' chosen twelve disciples. He reached out and welcomed not only the stranger, but the enemy. I'm not saying you disregard all precaution, and I'm not advocating a cult of martyrs. I'm saying that we haven't stopped being friendly to white Christians because Timothy McVeigh was a terrorist, and we shouldn't use the race or religion of these terrorists as an excuse for bigotry. Welcome the Arab and the Muslim among you. Love them. And if they should prove to be an enemy, love them still. And if they should kill you, let your dying word be a word of blessing. "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."

That is the Christian part...our part. We are to love. I believe we are able to do that precisely because we have faith in a God of justice. Our love of the enemy is not saying that their actions are right and good. It isn't saying that what happened didn't matter. It is simply trusting God to bring out truth and justice in the end. It's trusting God to work justice, with love. It is excusing ourselves from the jury because we have a conflict of interest. We are too caught up in our own pain and emotions to be fair...let another decide the case. The "other" is God.

God's instruction for us to love, even our enemies, and to "do unto others as we would have them do unto us" might seem like God sending us to our deaths. In fact, however, it is a command for our own protection. The most critical passage in this segment of Luke 6 is not, I think, "Love your enemies," but rather the last part of verse 38..."for the measure you give will be the measure you get back." One of the way God combines mercy and justice is to let us determine our own measure. The way we are judged by God will be the way we have judged others. The punishments we receive will be the punishments we gave out. The mercy we receive will be in balance with the mercy we have shown to others.

So for God to command us to do to others what we would like done to us, is helping us when our own time of judgment before God comes up and God does to us as we have done to others. If we've been acting according to the Golden Rule, we'll be in pretty good shape.

These are the days to ask yourself what your faith really means. These are the days to find real relationship with God, if you haven't thus far. These are the days that if you get on an airplane and discover that there is an Arab man in the seat behind you, you should get up and go sit with him, stick out your hand and say, "Hi! I'm so glad you're sharing this flight with me!" These are the days to love your enemy and to leave room for the wrath of God.


Sermon (c) 2003, Anne Robertson

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