Epiphany 7C – February 20, 2022
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Bellingham – Epiphany 7C – February 20, 2022
The Rev. Rachel Endicott
May the words of my mouth and the mediations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
It’s funny those things we remember from our childhood. Not only the special things, unique vacations or unusual events, but also the day-to-day things. Most of us probably remember things that our parents had a habit of saying to us, particularly in situations that needed finesse, parental craftiness, or a strongly worded response.
There are things I remember my mother saying. When I was young, I had an irrational – and not actually real – perceived dislike of cheese. And my mother, never one to be thwarted by a really not-so-picky picky eater, simply came up with a game plan. Instead of “cheese” in things, we simply had pasta au gratin or casserole con queso. She could spin a language if need be.
And sometimes children are told off in languages of their parents. Although going to French school when they were little, my kids had friends their same age whose mother always scolded them in Italian. Even now, occasionally I want to say to people “Basta!” which in both Italian and Spanish means “Enough”, applicable to all sorts of children’s shenanigans.
But the word I remember growing up and regularly use by both my mother and father was Oye, which for many, many years I thought was a made up word. By the time I was elementary age, I knew what it basically meant – Hey you, pay attention! Oye, get off the top of that wall. Oye, get back here and clear off your dinner dishes. Oye, stop arguing with your sister.
It was only years later that I found out that ¡Oye! Actually comes from Spanish verb meaning to hear and this form means, per my current Spanish dictionary, “Listen! Excuse me! Look here!”1
And that’s what Jesus is saying to us today. In the midst of his continued conversation with those gathered on the plain, he says “Listen (¡Oye!), Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
And this hard-to-hear command is at the center of his message to those gathered AND to us. It’s not enough that we love those who love us, that we like those who are our family and friends. It’s not enough that we do things for those who can help us in return. Rather, we are to be kind to those who are least able to do anything in return, those who we don’t particularly like. And that’s hard in practice.
I’m guessing that we often do things because we think it can get us somewhere or that it will help us as others repay us, perhaps even in some cosmic way. I know that several times I’ve taken lifeguard shifts for other people, not so much out of kindness, but with the thought in the back of my head that when I need help to fill a shift that they can “pay me back and take mine”. Have you ever found yourself doing something for just that reason?
And praying for our enemies. Ouch. Difficult. We don’t have to go far to find a challenge here. In these current times with extreme polarization of Covid beliefs and domestic political scene, this might touch close to home. I’m guessing most of us – whatever side we’re on concerning most issues or with whatever groups we align ourselves – we find it hard to pray for those we perceive as our enemies, those holding opposing views.
One of the reasons I’m eager to read Apeirogon, one of the bishop’s Lenten suggested reading books, is because it is a book about loving and understanding your enemy. It is a novel rooted in a real-life friendship between two men who have experienced immense loss. In the book, Bassam Aramin is a Palestinian and Rami Elhanan is an Israeli. Ten-year-old Abir is shot and thirteen-year-old Smadar is the victim of a suicide bomber. Yet as each man learns of the other’s grief, they move from being enemies to being shared workers to bring about peace.
Closer to home, during Epiphany you’ve probably noticed that we’ve used a different set of Prayers of the People. While many, many people have found them helpful and moving, I have been asked why we have to prayer for human traffickers amongst those people who have power over workers. We do so both because they – like the others listed in the prayers – hold sway over people’s working lives and even as they perhaps fall into that category of enemies.
And we might not have to look far afield to find those with whom we have conflict, with whom we might – if not put in the category of enemies – certainly not like. The church itself is not immune from discord. H. King Oehmig writes the following, “That the Church has become one of the most grudge-filled, resentment-infested places on earth is scandalous… Following Jesus means to lay down grudges. The desire for “rightness” has to be superseded by our desire to take in God and God’s righteousness if we want to follow Jesus “on the Way.””2
Could Oehmig be writing about our own St. Paul’s? Could he be writing about you and me? Are we carrying grudges? Are there places where old resentments stop us from fully following Jesus and doing his work?
On the Camino Frances, the pilgrim trail in Northern Spain, “There is a tradition on the camino to bring a stone from home and rub all your fears, hurts and sorrows into the stone which you can place at the base of the Cruz de Ferro.”3, the Iron Cross, a cross about 240 km shy of Santiago. I’m wondering – if each of us were to find ourselves there, stone in hand, what fears, hurts, anger, false-righteousness, enmity, and sorrows, grudges and resentments we might leave there? Even what antipathy towards our enemies?
And all this comes full circle back to the fact that Jesus reminds us that we are to love our enemies. We are to expect nothing in return. And we are to go one step forward even from prayer. We are to do good and be merciful! We are to soften our hearts, actively engage with our prayers, and take action, even towards those who we might call our enemies.
Friends, the way of discipleship may be hard. But it IS the way we are called to follow.
1 Merriam-Webster’s Spanish-English Dictionary, Springfield, MA: Merriam Webster, p. 196.
2 H. King Oehmig, Synthesis, Epiphany 7 – Tradition, 2/24/2019, p. 2.