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" You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,' 39 But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek,turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. 43 "You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect ." Matthew 5:38-48
The Danish flag, Dannebrog, is a beautiful flag. Possibly the most beautiful flag in the world, I am sure any Dane would agree. The Danish flag greets us every Sunday at church, flying high against the blue California sky, alongside the American Flag. These two flags signal to all of us that we are indeed a Danish Lutheran Church deeply planted and rooted in American soil.
I just read today's gospel from the Sermon of the Mount -- a sermon filled with many radical teachings and moral challenges: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
I can't help thinking about the story of how the Danes got the Danish flag. It fell from the sky, it is told, at a violent battle in Estonia, June 15, 1219. What was the mighty Danish King Valdemar and the entire Danish Army doing in Estonia back then …? They were on a Crusade. They were at war. They were trying to win the Estonians over to Christianity with swords in hand.
But Jesus said: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you!"
On that day in 1219 the Danish flag was a symbol of power, a sign there were friends and enemies. That day in 1219 on the battlefields friends gathered under the Danish flag. All the rest were enemies that needed to be defeated or killed. The flag was used to draw lines and make boundaries between them and us.
The Danish Flag is beautiful and it has a long story of victory, violence and of peace and prosperity.
The Danish flag has a warm red color, the color of love and passion, adorned with the white pure cross, that tells us about God's love for humanity through Jesus Christ. This beautiful white cross in our flag reminds us how God wants us to transform our enemies into our friends with the power of love: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you"
The pure white cross tells us that God breaks down boundaries and borders - from heaven to earth, from place to place, from time to time. God did break his own boundaries when he came to the world as Jesus Christ, and the white cross tells us the story about the never ending love of God that did break boundaries, and still does.
To love is to break boundaries, to let someone else get so close to you that you must surrender and leave behind any resistance.
Granted, it is one of the most radical teachings of the Bible, that Jesus asks us to love…. not only our friends, our families and those we like, but to love and pray for those who are our enemies, those we do not like, those we are afraid of and those we might truly despise.
Then we are back with the red warm color of the flag. It is all about our own red, beating, living heart. If I think that a certain person is my enemy, then I make my heart hard and cold towards that person. And then my heart is no longer red or warm but begins to get cold, frozen and faded. And if we think and hold one person or a group as enemies, we too become an enemy of them.
It is extremely hard for us to live by these standards, not only in our private lives, but even more in our public political and polarized world. We constantly draw lines between them and us, friends and enemies, allies, and enemies.
Even if the teachings of Christ might be difficult, they are still true; and if we want to be like God, we must love like God, and try to be perfect like God.
Out there in the real world reality waits for us. Outhere the world is full of friends and enemies, friendships and enmities, peace and war, inclusiveness, and exclusiveness.
That is exactly why Jesus urged us to love…
That is why Gandhi urged us to remember and realize that "An eye of an eye makes the whole world blind."
That is why Martin Luther King Jr. fought for justice and change to remind us about the power of love to break boundaries and breaks the evil circle of revenge end retaliation. He said "Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love. "
That is exactly why Jesus challenged us to "pray for those who persecute us…" When we pray for our enemies, we also ask God to remove the hatred and retaliation from our own hearts, so they will remain warm, red and beating. To love is to break down boundaries.
The Danish flag is indeed beautiful. Red and white. We pledge not to use it for violent crusades, but to hold it high as we break down boundaries and show what we believe in. Let us not think about the bloody battlefields of 1219; instead, let us think about the happy day, when in 1920 King Christian X rode his white horse over the borders surrounded and greeted by waving Danish Flags and beating warm united hearts.
To love is to break down boundaries. Let us think about a small happy child, celebrating a birthday with flags on her birthday cake, or let us think of The Danish Queen being greeted with a sea of red and white flags at Amalienborg Castle on her birthday. Or look at the flags in the hall today uniting us as we come from different parts of the country and even the world.
Think about the Danish flag and the joy it can bring to us -- a flag that reminds us that we live in the world God so much loved that he sent his son to break down boundaries and break down division between them and us.
Oscar Wilde once said: "Forgive our enemies; nothing irritates them more!"
And the wise Desmond Tutu said in "The book of forgiveness, "When a hurt or harm happens, we can choose to hurt back or to heal. If we choose to retaliate or pay back, the cycle of revenge and harm continues endlessly, but if we choose to forgive, we break the cycle and we can heal, renew or release the relationship."
We have sung the songs of faith. We have heard the challenges of scripture. Let us go now, continuing our sacred journey in an attitude of service and grace. Let us love our enemies and pray for those who do us harm. Let us care for those who are evil as well as for those who are good, knowing how to set boundaries. And the presence of our God goes with us. Amen. Note: The sermon was given February 19, 2017 during the visit of the Museum of Danish America board. firstname.lastname@example.org
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