Saturday Sermon: Love your enemy but don't let them run over you
Have you ever been bullied? It happens in the workplace, in schools, at home and even in the life of the church. Threats can be subtle or blatant. They are not a pleasant part of life, but they happen.
In our civilized society, there are those who don't act very civil. How does one respond to such inappropriate and hurtful behavior? As long as you and the culture around you allow for such behaviors to continue, they will.
What keeps folks from putting a stop to it has to do with fear. People are afraid of the consequences, real or imagined, that will result. People fear what might happen to their children, to themselves, their business interests.
As long as a person stays afraid, the bully basically controls your life. But we hear in the letter of St. John, "Perfect love casts out fear." And where do you find that perfect love? Jesus Christ our Lord.
There are numerous times when we hear Jesus' encouraging and hopeful words: "Have no fear, it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom." And "Do not worry." And "Let not your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe in me."
While I believe Jesus knew we would have our fears, anxieties and worries, he was saying to us, you don't have to be afraid. You don't have to give in to those feelings that rob you of your freedom, your integrity and the joy of living.
A religious friend of mine, a person who works at putting his faith into practice, is an adolescent psychiatrist. When he counsels families, he sometimes finds himself asking the question of a person of faith, "How is it that you practice your faith? What really gives you a sense of peace? What gives you joy?"
People believe, but do they really put that faith to work every day? Sometimes, we don't. And that's part, if not the whole, problem.
The fact is that we will face conflicts in our lifetimes. We will have to deal with difficult people, one of whom happens to be a bully. Sometimes, we think of this person in terms of children and what happens on the school grounds. But adults can be just as guilty.
There are times when we may feel very alone in facing such people, but the Scriptures remind us we are not alone in the journey. In fact, when a young David faced down the Philistine Goliath, the Philistines would come to know that there is a God of Israel.
The Psalmist, when he experiences what sounds like the depth of despair in Psalm 22, comes to the realization that God was there for others who came before him, and God would be there for him in his time of need.
And what follows are the beautiful, uplifting words of Psalm 23 - "The Lord is my shepherd." and "Thou art with me." The resurrected Jesus tells the remaining disciples, who will face conflict, adversity and threats to their very lives, "I am with you always."
Dr. Mark Rosen, author of "Thank You for Being Such a Pain," observes that in our dealing with the difficult people in our lives, we learn something about ourselves, other people and God. We learn the stuff we are made of and the importance of trusting God. The words and actions of the bully are painful and destructive.
It's important for us to remember that God made us, redeemed us in the cross of Christ and loves us. And since we are of God's making, we should honor one another instead of doing the kinds of things that seek the destruction of another (as in bullying).
As people of faith, we are to love one another, pray for one another, forgive one another, put up with one another, and even to love the difficult persons in our loves - yes, love your enemy. But that doesn't mean putting up with hurtful, demeaning behavior. To allow persons to behave badly, whatever the context, actually encourages that person to sin, which therefore, destroys relationships, reputations and the person who is the object of the bully's actions.
It is important for others who surround us to speak up and to stand up to such people by saying "That's not how we behave here. That's not how we treat one another." Honor, respect and love are important words that must be put into practice in the every day.
The Rev. Herb Beyer is pastor of Tri-County Cooperative Ministries, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.