On Loving One’s Enemies

Preached at the North Fort Hood Chapel, March 17, 2013.

Matthew 5:38ff “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Today is St. Patrick’s Day—I see you all remembered, because most of you are wearing green.

But if you think that is what St. Patrick’s Day is about, or green beer, or leprechauns with pots of gold, you are mistaken.

St. Patrick’s Day is a day to remember a man who embodied the virtues that Jesus speaks about in this passage. He loved his enemies, and he forgave those who did him wrong.

Let me tell you the story.

Patrick was Patricius, a Briton of the Roman empire, born in the year 387 AD. As a Roman citizen of a noble family, he enjoyed all the privileges of his state of life. Britain had been part of Rome for 350 years. Roman cities thrived. Artifacts are still being discovered—earlier this year they found ruins of a Roman theater in Kent that seated 12,000 people.

When Patrick was four years old Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire. His father was a deacon. But Patrick writes in his confession that he as a teenager who did not believe in God.

This was the twilight of the Roman empire, however. The local governments were weak. Rome was far away. And attacks by Scots and Saxons and Irish raiders were becoming more frequent.

When Patrick was 16, Irish raiders attacked, and carried him back to Ireland as a slave to a Druid high priest. For six years he suffered, but in that suffering came to faith.
He wrote of those years,

I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the love of God, and my fear of him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day [I said] from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number; besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time.

And then one night he had a dream. And a voice in a dream told him the time had come to make his escape. When he woke up, he fled, and made his way to the coast, where he found a boat ready to sail. He was welcomed home with a great celebration—but soon left, telling his family that he had a call from God to prepare to go back to Ireland as a misisonary. He made his way to Tours, in France, to a monastery founded by a converted Roman soldier, St. Martin. There he began his long years of preparation.

In the year 433, at the age of 46, he returned to Ireland, now a bishop, intent on proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

There are lots of stories about him. How at Easter, in 433, the high king of Tara ordered that no fires be kindled but the king’s own fire, from which all other fires would be lighted. Patrick defied him, lighting a fire in honor of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They ordered him to put it out. He refused. They tried to put it out—but could not.

There are stories he drove the snakes out of Ireland—symbolic of his eradication of paganism by evangelizing the people and converting them to faith in Christ.

There are stories that he taught them about the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, by lifting up before them a shamrock, and showing that it could be three, and yet one.

But the most important lesson I think we can take from this is that he did as Jesus taught. He loved his enemies. Those who had beaten him, and forced him to work, those he loved so much that he despised the comfort and safety of his home and endured the hardships of missionary life to bring to them the hope of eternal life.

We have a few of his writings. One is a letter to a chieftain, Coroticus, who had murdered some of the new Christians Patrick had baptized. He began with this summary of his mission:

I, Patrick, a sinner, unlearned, resident in Ireland, declare myself to be a bishop. Most assuredly I believe that what I am I have received from God. And so I live among barbarians, a stranger and exile for the love of God. He is witness that this is so. Not that I wished my mouth to utter anything so hard and harsh; but I am forced by the zeal for God; and the truth of Christ has wrung it from me, out of love for my neighbors and sons for whom I gave up my country and parents and my life to the point of death. If I be worthy, I live for my God to teach the heathen, even though some may despise me.

Think now of yourself. Who are the people who despise you? Who are those you might consider your enemies? Who are the people who mistreat you, or say false things about you? Who are the people you find it hard to forgive? To love. God says to love them. Think of those people who oppose us on the battlefield. Who would love to destroy our nation, kill your fellow soldiers, eradicate your religion. Think of these when you hear the words Jesus says:

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

It sounds so hard. It sounds so absurd. It sounds so impossible.

But Patrick shows us it can be done.

As Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”

I close now with a poem traditionally attributed to Patrick. It is called, St Patrick’s breastplate. We could call it, St. Patrick’s IOTV.

I bind to myself today
The strong name of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today
The Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
His crucifixion with His burial,
His Resurrection with His Ascension,
His coming on the Judgment Day.

I bind to myself today
The love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today
God’s Power to guide me,
God’s Might to uphold me,
God’s Wisdom to teach me,
God’s Eye to watch over me,
God’s Ear to hear me,
God’s Word to give me speech,
God’s Hand to guide me,
God’s Way to lie before me,
God’s Shield to shelter me,
God’s Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.

I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ onboard ship,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.