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Happy? Turn The Tables
February 12, 1995

LUKE 6:27-28, 31; ROMANS 12:14-21

It all started when Nathan let out the cat. "Cat", as they called him, stood at the edge of the porch, his hair bristled up on his arched back, and he hissed.

"What do you see out there, Cat?" Nathan asked.

A big man stepped from around the corner of the house and pointed a shotgun at Nathan. He shoved Nathan inside, pushing him and his wife, Louise, against the wall.

Shouting, "Donít make me kill you!" he waved the gun in their faces. The couple knew immediately that the intruder was one of the escaped prisoners they had heard about on the radio.

Louise, a 73-year-old grandmother, stood her ground. "Young man," she said, "I am a Christian lady. I donít believe in no violence. Put that gun down, and you sit down. I donít allow no violence here."

The man relaxed his grip on the shotgun. He looked at her for a moment. Then he laid his gun on the couch. "Lady," he said quietly, "Iím so hungry. I havenít had nothing to eat for three days."

"Young man, you just sit down there, and Iíll fix you breakfast. Nathan, go get this young man some dry socks." With that, Louise went to work. She fixed bacon, eggs, toast, milk and coffee. Then she got out her best napkins, and set her kitchen table.

When they sat down, she took the young man by the hand and said, "Young man, letís give thanks that you came here and that you are safe." After breakfast, they sat there, and she began to pray. She held his hand and kept patting him on the leg. He trembled all over. She said, "Young man, I love you and God loves you. God loves us all, every one of us, especially you. Jesus died for you because he loves you so much."

"You sound just like my grandmother," he said. "Sheís dead." And a tear fell down the boyís cheek.

About that time, they heard police cars coming down the road. "They gonna kill me when they get here," he said.

"No, young man, they arenít going to hurt you. You done wrong, but God loves you." Then Louise and Nathan took him by the arms, helped him up, and took him outside. The police got out of their cars. They had their guns out. Louise shouted to them, "Yíall put those guns away. I donít allow no violence here. Put them away. This young man wants to go back." The police put the handcuffs on him, and took him back to prison.

Louise may not have complete command of the English language, but she has complete command of the gospel. She knows exactly what Paul meant when he wrote,

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them...

Live in harmony with one another...

Do not repay anyone evil for evil...

Never avenge yourselves...

If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:14-21

Louise knows exactly what Jesus meant when he taught,

Love your enemies,

do good to those who hate you,

bless those who curse you,

pray for those who abuse you...

Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:27-28, 31

Iím preaching series of sermons on some of Jesusí radical teachings. Love your enemies is certainly an example of a radical teaching little understood and rarely practiced. We are taught to love our friends, and hate our enemies. Like one angry man exploded, "I hate everybody regardless of race, gender, creed, or place of national origin!" But, Jesus teaches, Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you What does he mean by loving your enemies? Sounds impractical, far-fetched, and weak? Not at all. What Jesus teaches is a dynamic strategy for dealing with conflict, a strategy that works.

What Jesus means by love is not weakness, but strength. Jesus is not telling us to acquiesce in the face of enemies or conflict. Jesus is not teaching us to withdraw and not fight. What Jesus is telling us is to fight wisely, lovingly and effectively. Jesus teaches us to turn the tables, to take the initiative and to keep the initiative. The English word meek causes misunderstanding. Someone once added graffiti to one of the beatitudes, so that it read, Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth--if itís all right with the rest of you. Meek in our time has come to mean, weak, mild, milk-toast, wimpy. That is not at all what Jesus had in mind. Jesus was far from meek as we understand it. What Jesus means by meek is illustrated by Louise. She is meek. She put concern for the escaped prisoner ahead of her concern for her own safety. She was strong, emphatic, and not afraid to pray. She loved the young man. She was truly meek.

How Louise handled the dangerous situation is a beautiful example of what Jesus means by love. Loving enemies, loving neighbors, does not mean liking them necessarily. Love is not a sentiment, or a warm, goosy feeling. Love does not mean to acquiesce, or give in. Love does not mean withdrawal. Love does not try to escape from an uncomfortable situation. Love means to take the initiative. Love means to turn the tables. Love is an action.

Louise took command of the situation. She stood up to the intruder. She turned the tables on the young convict, by taking the initiative away from him, standing up to his violence, and disarming him with her kindness, her prayers, and her witness to the God who loves. She literally illustrated Paulís teaching: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on his head. In other words, Love your enemy, it will drive him nuts!

Love is an act, a strategy of good will. Love turns the tables, not by retaliating in kind, not by taking an eye for an eye, or a tooth for a tooth. Love turns the tables by doing good, by treating people as you would like to be treated.

A private in the army was a committed Christian. He faithfully read his Bible, prayed every day, and really tried to live as Jesus taught. His conduct irritated and infuriated his tough sergeant, who assigned him extra duties as punishment. But, the young private refused to get angry or defiant, and continued to be cheerful, pleasant, and polite. One evening when everyone had a pass to go into town, the private decided to remain behind to write letters. When he finished, he read his Bible, and knelt by his bed for a time of prayer.

The sergeant stumbled in, tired and drunk, and saw the private on his knees. Angry and cursing, the sergeant pulled off his muddy boots and threw them at the young soldier, hitting him on both the head and the body. Next morning, the sergeant awoke with a throbbing headache and a mouth that felt as if it were full of fuzz. His tie had been removed, his collar loosened, and he was covered with a blanket. And there beside his bed sat his boots, cleaned and polished with the best shine they had probably ever had.

The private blessed him who cursed him, loved his enemy, took the initiative, turned the tables, and heaped burning coals on the sergeantís head. Eventually, not only did the two become friends, but the sergeant became a Christian.

Jesus gives us examples of his strategy of handling enemies and conflict. Jesus gives examples of non-violent strategy, which I will elaborate next week. What did Jesus really mean by turning the other cheek, going the second mile, and giving your coat as well as your cloak? I think you will be surprised, when you realize these are strategies on how to turn the tables, take the initiative, and keep the initiative.

Are you happy? As happy as you would like to be? When facing conflict, Love your enemies, Jesus said. Continued next week.

(Invitation: Identify an enemy you have, or a conflict situation, or someone who says untruths about you, or who has hurt you, or who always thinks the worst; someone from whom you feel estranged. Pray for him/her. Open yourself to a word from God for a course of action in love.

ã 1995 Douglas I. Norris