Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, on Sunday, 20 February.  Readings for this Sunday:  Gen 45:3-11; Ps 36:1-12;41-42; 1 Cor 15.35-38,42-50; Lk 6:27-38

“But I say to you
that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 
28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
(Luke 6:27-28)

 These words from
today’s reading from Luke’s gospel, from the section often called “The Sermon
on the Plain”, are among the most challenging in all of
scripture.    In this part of the sermon, Jesus tells us to set
a seemingly impossible standard of radical forgiveness for how we treat those
do wrong to us.   I choose the word “radical” because this standard
of behaviour is light years beyond the norms of human society, with our
built-in antagonisms, bruised egoes, tit for tat grudges, and our desire for point
scoring at other’s expense.   Rather, Jesus urges us to be
as God is, “for [God] is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked”
(Lk 6:35).  Today I want to suggest that we urgently need to hear these
words now, at this fraught time in our country’s life.

Most of you will
agree with me that the last month has been an awful time for Canada in a
particularly awful two years.  As I write this, police in Ottawa are
clearing out the protesters that have entrenched themselves near Parliament
Hill.   It’s been hard to make sense of the protests and the
so-called Freedom Convoy, which seem to have been fuelled by rage, suspicion,
paranoia, fear, and a whole lot of shadowy money.   For a country
famous for politeness, and supposedly committed to peace, order, and good
government, it’s all been strange and embarrassing.  This week a Spanish
friend wrote to me and asked, “what’s going on with Canada?  We always
thought you were sane”.

These last few
weeks have been like the eruption of a volcano, a sudden event triggered by
forces that have been building for a long time.  Those forces include two
years of frustrations over Covid restrictions, populist suspicion of government
and science, the ability of the internet to foster conspiracy theories and paranoia,
fear of the future, fear of immigration and perceived threats to the white,
Christian majority, western alienation combined with perceived threats to
lifestyles built on carbon-based industries, and a growing influence of
hyper-partisan US-style politics and culture wars.  That is my amateur,
semi-academic, abstract opinion.

 The growing
problem is that very few of us are capable of keeping all this at the abstract,
academic level.  Fear, anger, betrayal, and hatred are all visceral
emotions that seize our guts and cloud our minds.   For me, at least,
it’s personal.   But then Jesus says “love your enemies”.

That veteran I
used to serve with, seen on camera with his medals and beret, waving a sign,
that’s personal.   It’s personal because we have different ideas of
loyalty and service and honour, and my first instinct is to shake my head and
say “Bro, I don’t know you any more”.   But then Jesus says “love
your enemies”.

That guy in the
store wearing a hoodie that says something very rude about the Prime Minister,
that’s personal.  It’s personal because I find it vulgar and disrespectful
to give the finger to democracy and to people like me who think and voted
differently.  But then Jesus says “love your enemies”.

Those protestors
chanting freedom, that’s personal.  It’s personal because for two years
I’ve dutifully worn the mask and gotten the jabs and stayed home and done my
bit because I was willing to sacrifice my freedom to protect others, and now
the demonstrators are telling me that they’re the good Canadian patriots and
I’m a fearful, deluded sheep instead of a citizen?  But then Jesus says
“love your enemies”.

In the spirit of
the confessional, I’ll confess that writing those last three paragraphs made me
a bit angry, and I wasn’t listening to Jesus as well as I should have
been.  I could feel my blood pressure rising, so I stepped away to make
some tea.   And as I made tea, I thought about how, if it’s personal
for me, then I’m sure it’s personal for you too, whatever your politics may

Canada’s your
country too.  You’ve spent the last two years under lockdown.  You
had to decide whether to get the vaccine.   You’ve experienced the
same frustrations.   And, having confessed my biases in this sermon,
I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you feel differently about all this than I
do.   But here’s the thing.  Jesus is speaking to all of us.

This section of
Luke is called “The Sermon on the Plain” because of how it begins:  Jesus
“stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great
multitude of people
(Lk 6:17).   As biblical scholar Sarah Henrich notes, this
puts all of us on “a level playing field”.    Standing with
Jesus, amid this “great multitude” that is Canada today, there are no
exceptions for partisan positions.   “Love your enemy”, says Jesus,
and we sure need to hear those words.

 How many times
recently have we heard about families divided and friendships
ended?   I’ve heard people say “I thought I knew so and so, but I was
wrong”, or “that person is now dead to me”.    I think we’re all
starting to realize Covid is going to leave us a more disunited society than at
any time in our recent history.  I don’t see any way out of this except
that we start to “love our enemy”.

To love our enemies does not mean that
we have to accept horrible statements or condone heinous positions.  
Hateful speech and horrible behaviour should be firmly and calmly
opposed.  In such cases, Jesus tells us, “don’t hate back”.  But I
don’t think that most people are hateful fascists or Nazis or racists.  As
I said above, a lot of our divisions are explained by fear.  A lot of
those divisions can be bridged by calm dialogue.  It’s hard to hate people
when they don’t hate you back. 

Finally, the best
cure to our own worst tendencies is to remember that we
all stand under
the gaze of God and under the forgiveness of the cross.   “Forgive”,
says Jesus, “and you will be forgiven” (Lk 6.37).  It’s not just the other
guy, the guy on the wrong side, who needs to be forgiven.  It’s us,
whenever we stray in angry self-righteousness and whenever we bask in the
warmth of our condemnation of the wrong-headed.   

All of us need to
be forgiven.  Jesus teaches us now, as we gather on the plain with
him.  When Jesus reminds us that God “is kind to the ungrateful and the
wicked” (Lk 6:35), he’s speaking to
all of us.   We’re all
sinners, and we pray that God will forgive us
all, as we stand before
him, under his cross.  Let us
all remember, as we struggle with our
anger and with our divisions, that God’s love is poured out on
all of
us.  May God bless and have mercy on our country.