Loving Your Enemies: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
The Episcopal Diocese of Georgia sponsored a float and a group of marchers in the Savannah Martin Luther King, Jr., Observance Day Parade. We held a service of Holy Eucharist at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church to commemorate the life, death, and witness of Martin Luther King, Jr. Below are my notes from the homily.
The Episcopal Church celebrates the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. each year in its calendar of saints. And the Gospel lesson they chose for this commemoration is Luke 6:27-36, in which Jesus famously teaches us to "Love your enemies."
Thankfully, we have many of Dr. King's sermons and writings preserved for our continued reading and benefit. I had a book on my shelf that I had never really read before, full of several of King's sermons, called A Knock at Midnight. As fate would have it, one of the sermons in this compilation is called "Loving Your Enemies." What follows are my summary of some main points from Dr. King's work, alongside some of my comments.
Dr. King's guiding question for this homily is: “How do you go about loving your enemies?” (p. 42). And he offers three basic responses.
1. “I think the first things is this: In order to love your enemies, you must begin by analyzing [your]self” (p. 42).
2. “A second thing that an individual must do in seeking to love his enemy is to discover the element of good in his enemy, and every time you begin to hate that person and think of hating that person, realize that there is some good there and look at those good points which will overbalance the bad points” (p. 45).
3. “Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it” (pp. 46-7).
1) Analyze Yourself: Loving enemies is the practice of peace. We cannot be at peace with others without recognizing our own part to play in the violence and hate in the world. We cannot be conduits of love when we carry hate in our hearts. Hate distorts the character and soul of the hater.
2) Look For the Good in Your Enemy: Remember that all are created in God’s image. No one is completely evil. All are a mix of good and bad, because all people are wonderful creations of the Most High, and tainted by sin. And remember, hating hate just produces more hate in the world. We have to combat hate with love, the remedy and the balm for the world’s ills.
3) Don't Defeat Your Enemies: You not only avoid defeating enemies, but you try to help them advance. Do good to them and benefit them.
Dr. King continues, “Love is understanding, redemptive goodwill for all men, so that you love everybody, because God loves them. You refuse to do anything that will defeat an individual, because you have agape in your soul. And here you come to the point that you love the individual who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. This is what Jesus means when he says, ‘Love your enemy.’ This is the way to do it. When the opportunity presents itself when you can defeat your enemy, you must not do it” (p. 49).
The key to loving enemies is to resist the urge toward vengeance. When we show kindness, we provide opportunities for redemption. Love has redemptive power. It has the power to transform and to change both the lover and the beloved. This is our path into the Trinitarian life. The love between the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit, and that same Spirit rests with us, giving us power to love in the face of all kinds of worldly evils.
A Concluding Prayer by Dr. King:
“Oh God, help us in our lives and in all of our attitudes to work out this controlling force of love, this controlling power that can solve every problem that we confront in all areas. Oh, we talk about politics; we talk about the problems facing our atomic civilization. Grant that all men will come together and discover that as we solve the crisis and solve these problems -- the international problems, the problems of atomic energy, the problems of nuclear energy and yes, even the race problem -- let us join together in a great fellowship of love and bow down at the feet of Jesus. Give us this strong determination. In the name and spirit of Christ, we pray. Amen.” (pp. 59-60)
Some Bonus Quotes I Didn't Include in my Homily (But To Which I Alluded)
Why should we love our enemies?
“Hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. … Somebody must have religion enough and morality enough to cut it off and inject with the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love” (p. 49).
“Hate distorts the personality of the hater. … You just begin hating somebody, and you will begin to do irrational things. You can’t see straight when you hate. You can’t walk straight when you hate. You can’t stand upright. Your vision is distorted. There is nothing more tragic than to see an individual whose heart is filled with hate. He comes to the point that he becomes a pathological case” (pp. 51-2).
“Love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals” (p. 53).
King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Loving Your Enemies.” In A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Edited by Clayborne Carson and Peter Holloran. New York: Warner Books, 1998. 41-60. [Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, 17 November 1957.]
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