The Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge
Christ Chapel, Seminary of the Southwest
March 9, 2020
I have been thinking about why the coronavirus is so upsetting. And there’s no use in saying “don’t be upset,” when you are upset. (Believe me, I have read every single update in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.)
It’s upsetting because we don’t have control. That stinks. We don’t really know.
Our customary defenses don’t work. We can’t distance ourselves by saying that it’s somewhere else. We can’t blame an enemy (although some have tried.)
We have to change our daily life. South by Southwest is cancelled. That stinks.
Even our intimate rituals of faith are altered. The Peace. The Cup.
You or those whom you love may die. FEAR.
We are all connected on grand scale through trade, communication, travel, and on an intimate scale through air, breathing, and person to person touch.
As crises do, it focuses the mind. Who are we? What is our role as this community of faith? What solace or strategy or spiritual attitude do we have to offer in time of panic?
Today the lectionary gives us Jesus’ words from the sermon on the plain:
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
The fact that the “golden rule” has parallels in the Analects of Confucius and in the writings of Rabbi Hillel does not minimize the fact that the moral imperative is at the center of Jesus’ teaching. And its radical essence:
Love your Enemies.
Now it’s good to go to commentaries to interpret the meaning of obtuse passages in the gospels and letters, but sometimes the meaning of Jesus’ words is, alas, all too clear.
Love your Enemies.
NT scholar, Warren Carter, following Hans Dieter Betz, points out that the form is commandment plus elaboration- do this and then an example of what it looks like.
All the examples have to do with an exercise of power, a superordinate person seeking their own benefit at the expense of another. One person is seeking own benefit at the expense of another
— hating, cursing, abusing, striking the cheek, taking the coat….
Carter and Betz explain how the responses of turning the other cheek, giving the coat, “refuse the intended humiliating effect, and respond to the act of power or force with an act of gift.”
“They invite similar interaction. They pose questions to and about self-benefiting behavior in terms of its impact on others.”
The disciples are obliged to imitate God’s indiscriminate mercy for all. When they imitate God’s merciful for enemies, even the ungrateful and the wicked, in their own merciful actions, their present practices express that they are children of God.
Do we really have to do this? Love our Enemies?
Let’s start with loving our enemies on the individual level: My friend and friend of the seminary, Curtis Almquist reminds us of the truth about our perceived “enemies.”
“Rather, we love our enemies because our enemies can be our teachers, sometimes our best teachers. Our enemies can get us in touch with “our own stuff,” and like no one else can. Those outbursts or eruptions or emotional reactions that rise up in us. Where do they come from? And why are they sometimes so disproportional to the “offense” we have experienced from this other person? Our enemies expose us. They can be extraordinary agents for our own conversion.”
Seminary is a good place to practice love your enemies.
And loving your enemies on the level of community:
I think love of enemies is reflected in the seminary’s core value of – Respect
- Respect: cultivating the virtues of patience, justice, and charity, so as to affirm the dignity of every member of the community.
This is a discipline of how we are to be together – in discussion, in class, in conversation.
It should shape how we speak. If there may be a Jew, a Muslim, an Evangelical in that room with you, would your words be demonstrating respect?
What if there were be a white man, or a transgendered person, or a
veteran, or an army chaplain,
or a person who isn’t wearing it, but who owns a “Make American Great Again” red cap.
In a time of epidemic and panic and inconvenience and fear, how will we treat each other?
Love your Enemies. Begin by showing Respect.
This past Friday afternoon I attended the Emergency Preparedness Training session. That was really good for me. And hard too.
One of the presenters enumerated human responses to stress (maybe it was the lizard, but it was human too). “Flee” “Flight” “Freeze”
Ok true enough.
But compare those options with the response to stress Response to by a Christian saint, by a disciple: “Love” “Do Good” “Bless” “Pray”
Wow… We need a lot of practice for that. A lot of training. A lot of help from our friends.
That takes formation in Christian community over a lifetime or longer.
If and when the epidemic gets more widespread, we are going to have a role as a community of faith. We are going to organize, to share, not hoard, to care for the sick, to mourn, and to bury the dead.
Our solace, our strategy, our spiritual attitude?
Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who abuse you.
 Warren Carter, “Love Your Enemies,” Word and World, Volume 28, Number 1, Winter 2008.
 https://www.ssje.org/2019/03/16/our enemies-our-invitations-br-curtis-almquist/
 Seminary of the Southwest Core Values.