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Loving our enemies is not only possible — it’s what Jesus requires of us


The Rev. Dr. Luther E. Smith Jr. delivers a compelling sermon to the PC(USA)’s national staff

May 28, 2024

Photo by Jamez Picard via Unsplash

Fittingly, a recent chapel service put on by Presbyterian Publishing Corporation staff featured a thoughtful and challenging sermon by an author published in November by Westminster John Knox Press.

The Rev. Dr. Luther E. Smith Jr., Professor Emeritus of Church and Community at the Candler School of Theology, wrote “Hope is Here!: Spiritual Practices for Pursuing Justice and Beloved Community.

Smith based his sermon, “Loving Our Enemies,” on Luke 6:27–36.

When they were told by Jesus to love their enemies, “What do you imagine the disciples thought and felt upon hearing this? What do we think and feel?” Smith asked. “I suspect the disciples are confused and perhaps dismissive.”

As for those of us who have lived most of our lifetime with this teaching — what is our response? “Do we believe it? I’m not asking, do we believe Jesus believed it? Do we believe it?” Smith asked. “Are our lives being lived as an example of this teaching?”

Hate is, he stressed, “a poison. It not only causes our enemies to suffer and be destroyed, it causes us to suffer and to break God’s heart. … Jesus’ teaching to love your enemies is a fundamental teaching for his disciples. This is not an elective. Neither is it just an aspirational command for some distant future.”

He asked those gathered for worship: How do you choose to relate to your enemies?

“You have them. All of us do,” Smith said. Some people can’t stand us because of what we believe, what we’re accomplished, what we have or don’t have, who we love — or “we just look like someone they can’t stand,” Smith said. “We all have enemies. It’s been my conviction that if you believe you don’t have enemies, you don’t know enough people.”

The Rev. Dr. Luther E. Smith, Jr.

More than 60 years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had this to say about loving our enemies: “Far from being the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer, this command is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. Yes, it is love that will save our world and our civilization, love even for enemies.”

But how do we do it? Jesus instructs the disciples — and us — to pray for those who mistreat you, Smith pointed out. Starting today, Smith suggested that his hearers “struggle with it, persist with it and bring [our enemies] into the moments that we offer our hearts to God in prayer.” He suggested not praying like some of the psalmists who ask the Almighty to wipe out their enemies, but rather to pray for enemies. “Do we know how to do this?” Smith asked. “Even if we don’t, are we willing to try and to begin, both personally and in worship, collectively, gathered before God?”

“It is my prayer,” Smith said, “that we might be guided in understanding not only how to love our enemies, but to give our lives to loving our enemies — for the sake of our own faithful discipleship, for the sake of the world, for God’s sake. Amen.”

In his benediction, Smith asked God to shower blessing on those present that “renew us, enliven us, and provide for us what we need as we make every step in this Lenten journey toward Jerusalem to be who God has called us to be for all the places, for all the people, friends, and enemies that we encounter. We follow the One who instructs us. We follow the One who inspires us. We follow the One who knows us. We follow the One who is for us.”

The Rev. Marissa Galván-Valle, Dr. Sunkyoo Park and Jessica Miller Kelley, all of the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, assisted in putting on the chapel service.

 Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Rev. Dr. Luther E. Smith Jr. delivers a compelling sermon to the PC(USA)’s national staff

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Sherri Hunter, Program Assistant, Ecumenical Relations, Office of the General Assembly 
Demetria Hurnton, Business Administrator, Benefits, Board of Pensions   

Let us pray

Lord our God, we thank you for calling us to be your people, and we pray that we may in gratitude extend your love to the many who still need your touch. We ask that you reveal your will for us daily and grant us the grace to yield to the prompting of your Spirit and to walk in your will. Amen.