Midweek Fellowship

February 22, 2017

 

Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos

 

In the gospel reading in Matthew 5:43-47, The Message Translation says, “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.”    When somebody gives you a hard time or persecutes you, respond with the energies of prayer.  This is your true self.  I have defined hypocrisy, and being your true self, it is “If you don’t pray for your enemies and bless them, you will be a hypocrite.”  If you respond with the energies of prayer and bless and love your enemies, then, you would be working out of your true selves and your God-created selves. 

 

From this standpoint, the word enemy how now been a misnomer.  The term loved ones now takes a whole new meaning.   There is this blessing that says, “The blessing of God Almighty Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be with you and those you love.”  Who are those you love?  Choice people? Select few? Your families? Your friends or classmates who are good to you?  Does this include your classmate or acquaintances who don’t necessarily like you and who give you a hard time? 

 

Loved ones should not mean a select few.  We used to think that we had enemies and we quoted Scriptures on this.  We say, “The Psalmist said, ‘Lord, protect me from my enemies.”  Enemies are Biblical.  In fact, Christians in the New Testament, in the New Millennium, when seeing people who are their enemies, pray imprecatory prayers against them. Imprecatory prayers are those praying for your enemies to be destroyed because you think you are the chosen people and your enemies are not and you are predestined to heaven, and they are not.  I know of people who thought that.  I know of somebody who just considered her mother her enemy. 

 

St. Paul reminds us, “Do not wrestle with flesh and blood.”  Our enemy is not flesh and blood, but that which destroys the good creation, the good humanity made of flesh and blood that which destroys God’s creation.  St. Paul also said that the last enemy is death because it destroys the creation of God. Sickness is our enemy. 

 

I remember this incident where two mega Churches were defending their leaders during a Senate hearing.  Their supporters were both singing and praising out loud.  I wondered to whom God will listen to.  Who are His friends and His enemies?  Both professed that they are born-again; both professed that Jesus is their Lord.  Who will God side with? 

 

In a basketball game, who do you think God will side with?  Is one team more of God’s children than the other team?  More beloved or disciples than the other?  What do you think God would do?  What if you have two children playing basketball on different teams and both of them would say, “Dad, cheer for me?”  In war, do you think God wants one party dead and the other victorious?  Does God play favorites? 

 

In the second inaugural address of Abraham Lincoln, it was a time when he was faced with the issue of the emancipation of slaves.  One side said slavery is justified and the other said that slavery is oppressive and it should be stopped.  Both sides believed in God and that Jesus is Lord and they were fighting.  Abraham Lincoln said, “Who is God going to listen to?”  God may decide on an issue, but He will not decide who He will side with as far as people are concerned.

 

Let us renew our minds.  Did you think that Jesus hated the Pharisees?  He loved the Pharisees, which is why He corrected them.  He would discipline and point out their sin and He would say, “You are like whitewash tombs,” and He would tell them how to correct and restore them: to clean out the inside first, and then, the outside will be cleaned.  Jesus is not a punisher, but a disciplinarian.  God does not play favorites.  He makes the sun shine on all; He makes the rain to fall on all.  

 

This is the perfect love and it is for everyone.  Perfect love casts out fear because fear involves punishment as 1John says.  The sinners in Jesus’ time fought because they were taught that God hated them and they were enemies of God.  They felt this because the religious leaders constantly condemned them and put them on a guilt trip.  When Jesus came, they realized that God loved them, which is why they were drawn to Jesus because He represented the true heart of God. 

 

Perfect love casts out fear and, but punishment makes people afraid.  A song entitled “Love Hurts,” has these lyrics, “Love hurts, love scars, love wounds and marks. Any heart not tough or strong enough to take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain… Love is like a flame it burns you when it's hot…Some fools think of happiness, blissfulness, togetherness; some fools fool themselves, I guess they're not foolin' me. I know it isn't true. I know it isn't true. Love is just a lie made too many blue.”   They don’t understand perfect love because they think love is pain and it hurts.  Why is there fear when God’s love is perfect?  The problem is not on His side, but on our side – our reception of it, our misunderstanding of His perfect love.

 

God disciplines, not punishes because there is a big difference between discipline and punishment.  Discipline is restorative. Punishment is destructive, vindictive and a heartless sense of justice.  In Tagalog, “Discipline para tuwirin.  Punishment para pagbayarin.”  Many times, parents as imperfect, human beings tend to punish not discipline.  They inflict pain not for restorative purposes, but so as not to have their peace disturbed.  God’s perfect love disciplines because He wants us restored. There is the consequence of sin. We think that because God’s mercy is new every morning, and so we might as well use it up and just go on sinning.

 

In Mark 12, there was this portion where Jesus ended what He was saying to the religious leaders who wanted choices seats in the market places and devour widows in the market places by saying, “These will receive greater condemnation.”  We think, “I thought there is no more condemnation.”  They will receive condemnation, not from God, but as a result of their actions.   In Isaiah 54:15, it says, “If anyone fiercely assails you, it will not come from Me.”  God does not punish, but many times, we blame God for the consequences of our own actions.  God said to Adam, “Don’t eat of that fruit because it will kill you.”  Sin will kill Adam. He did not say that He will kill Adam. “If you disobey and sin, it will kill you.” 

 

In Matthew 23, Jesus said, 37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. 38 Behold, your house is being left to you desolate.”  In Luke 19, Jesus said, “42 If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace!”  In Romans 14, “Pursue the things which make for peace and the building of each other.”  If we disobey this, Luke 19:43-44 says, “43 For the days will come upon you]when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, 44 and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”

 

Why is there suffering?  It is not God’s fault in many cases, if not in all cases. Therefore, we cannot abuse God’s forgiveness to say, “We are forgiven anyway, so might as well drink of ourselves dead and then drive home.”  What do you think will likely happen?  An accident may happen and it may kill you.  If you are a young woman and you are promiscuous, what do you think might happen to you?  If you get pregnant, you then ask God, “Why are You so cruel to me?”  There are consequences to our actions. 

 

I emphasize to you that God does not punish, but restores. He may discipline for the purpose of restoration, but He does not punish.  Isaiah 55 is a chapter that is very much misinterpreted, and in verse 8, it says, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.” Many Christians think of this when something bad or violent happens and say, “God caused this. God did this.”  This is wrong.  God’s ways are higher than our ways is not about cruelty or violence, but it is all about the unfathomable mercy and compassion of God.  

 

To love your enemies is unfathomable.  You have heard from of old, “An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth, but Jesus says to you, ‘Don’t make them pay; forgive.”  To forgive was unfathomable to them especially at that time and the Pharisees could not receive this because their minds were blown by this.  Even in the Medieval times, years after Jesus, it was unfathomable for the people to forgive and to restore every human soul.

 

In the Old Testament, the Jewish mind could not understand the law of retaliation. The Pharisaic mind could not take this.  Even the modern pre-destination mind could not understand this.  To them, if they did something, they should pay. They don’t understand that they have to love their enemies.   If a woman is caught in adultery, she is stoned; but Jesus says, “I say to you, ‘Forgive. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.”  Jesus said that He did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfil it.”  The Law talked about Jesus, not one’s legal interpretation, but who God is as seen in Jesus. 

 

Jesus said, “Forgive and not demand payment.”  In fact, He said to give more. If they take your underwear, give your outerwear.  If they slap you on one side of your face, offer the other.”  The God Who says to love your enemies, loved His enemies.  We have this tendency to put the Bible in a box to put God in, as a certain theologian says, instead of an arrow pointing to the living, active presence of the One to Whom all things exist, Who communicates through creation, through each other, and through His Spirit which is how we got the written Bible.  This is Who we should look to.

 

Isaiah 55:7 says, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him,
and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”  This is the higher way – loving  your enemies and forgiving them.  “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.  10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; 11 So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire.”  We have the teaching before that the Word of God came down from heaven to water the earth and to make it bring forth fruit.”  This is Jesus Christ, and what is He all about?  God’s forgiveness!  This is the higher way. It is not violence, but God’s compassion and forgiveness.

 

Mercy means not getting what you deserve; forgiveness means you do not have to pay.  Saying, “I forgive your debt,” means you don’t have to pay.  God is not counting sin and does not keep a record of wrongs.  

 

There was this season finale of a TV series and in that episode, a man named Nick Stokes was kidnapped and buried alive not to be killed but to be tortured.   It was done by a father of a daughter who was falsely accused and was imprisoned.  The father concocted this plan of revenge on the CSI and he got Nick Stokes to go through the horrific ordeal to a point of killing himself as he was provided with a gun while buried.   He was rescued and hospitalized. In the last scene, he went to the daughter who was imprisoned and he told her, “In a few years when you get out of here, don’t take it with you.  Don’t keep the revenge in your heart.  It will destroy you. Learn to forgive.  Learn to let go. Don’t carry it around.”

 

As children of God, we should have this Divine nature; the perfection of learning not to demand payment and not to keep score. This is our God-created self – the compassionate, merciful, giving God who created self.

 

In 1Corinthians 3, St. Paul talks about building and the only one foundation is Christ, which is the perfect love and the symbol of God’s forgiveness. First, it all starts with forgiveness; and then proceeds with acceptance of brothers as we are all children of God.  No man is an island.  Each man is our brother; each one is our friend.  Then, we can go into ministry.  When ministering, we ask ourselves, “Why are we doing what we are doing?  What is our motive?  Are we performing or ministering?”  We are not doing an administrative job, but ministering.  We are leading people to their seats, but ushering them to the presence of God.  We are not giving an advice, but giving God’s hope to people.  We are not reading a piece of literature, but imparting words of eternal life.   The Presider prays for the Deacon before he reads the gospel saying, “Bless the lips of Your servant, O Lord, that he may speak to us words of eternal life.”  He is not there to deliver an oratory piece from two thousand years ago, but to impart words of eternal life.

 

Back then, one time at a devotion time for clergy and ministers, I asked, “Who are today’s proclaimers?” They pointed to the Deacons who were assigned to read the Word.  I said, “Wrong. All of you are proclaimers.  When you swing that banner you are proclaiming something.  When you read, you are proclaiming something.  When you preach, you are proclaiming something.  When you minister at the altar, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again.  When you are dancing, you are not just showing your moves, but proclaiming gospel truth, hope, the love of God.”  Why do we do what we do?  This is because we proclaim God’s love and forgiveness as ambassadors of His reconciliation.

 

One time, an American tourist was in Calcutta, India.  He was watching Mother Teresa wash the wounds of somebody as she was down on her knees.  To him, it was so disgusting that he retorted something which was just an earshot of Mother Teresa, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.”  Mother Teresa looked up from what she was doing and addressed the American tourist, “I wouldn’t do this for a million dollars even.”  Why do we do what we do?  Is it for gain?   Is it for fame, for glory, for praises of men?  It is to proclaim the glory of God because we are all proclaimers and we build on the foundation of the very person, the very attribute, the very character that we proclaim – Jesus.  There is only one foundation that has been laid.  We lay on this foundation and we build on it. 

 

The theme of the year is: building up of itself in love. We don’t build any other way. It is only in love because any other way will just go out in flames and burn.  We were a big Church and we became a small Church.  I would like to see people come to our Church.  I would like to build our numbers.  In fact, I anticipate and believe this.  I believe that God will bring people, especially when we move to our new building and introduce ourselves to the neighbourhood and see that there is a new Church.  But if as a leader, if I am not able to build numbers or restart ministries like a drug rehab or have a charity project, or not make it to Metro Manila’s who’s who in religion, but I leave a legacy of loving your enemies, praying for those who persecute you, and I am remembered for this, then, I will die a happy man.   If I can do all these things I mentioned and create a mega-Church out of what we are right now, but do not have love, St. Paul says that I will just be like a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.  One day, my motives will be revealed, and it is not worth it.

 

We are to shine as lights. We are to be lights in a crooked and perverse generation who doesn’t understand the justice, the mercy, the love, and the forgiveness of God.  Mary did not condemn Peter when they were in the Upper Room to say, “Why did you run away when they arrested my Son.”  Stephen’s widow and orphaned children did not ask Paul, “Why did you have our father killed? How dare you preach in our church!  How dare you write Epistles!”  They did not keep score, but they forgave.

 

There is this thinking that certain people need to die for this world to be a better place. If the children of Stephen said that of Saul, then, they would have a misunderstanding of God’s love.  It is as if Saul should die so that the persecution of Christians would end, but it did end without him dying. It is wrong to think that somebody has to cease to exist so that it would be better for us – Saul should die; Jews must die; certain people with defects must die so that we could create a better world with good genes; terrorists must die and this is why capital punishment is justified. Abortionist must die; the infidels must die for the world to be a better place.

 

Restorative justice is about healing, not killing. One already died for all.  No other death is necessary.  There is no other payment that is necessary.  We don’t have to pay because it has been paid. Jesus’ death is enough for all.  He already died once for all to die no more, therefore, no other death is necessary to make this world a better place.  One death is enough for all and this started the ball rolling toward the restoration of all things and in making of all things new.

 

We have heard from of old and this is why we have our opinions, positions, and ideologies. Jesus, whom we have to have a relationship with says to us, “Love your enemies.  Pray for those who persecute you.  Don’t hate them. Pray for them. Love them because I, the Word of God, the Way, the Truth and the Life, say to you, ‘Love,’”  because this is the way it is in the kingdom of  our God. 

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