Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous… Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’
(From St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 5)
The summer solstice was a rather wet and windy affair this morning, and quite unlike
those normally marked by druids, revellers and those who simply want to see the
spectacle of the sunrise on the longest day of the year in the iconic setting of Stonehenge.
Yet ITV has suggested that, rather than the several thousand people who typically turn up for the event, this year some 3 million people around the world participated – from the comfort of their sofas, or bedrooms.
Marking the longest day of the year has long been culturally significant. The mystery of the sun rising and setting bore, for ancient peoples, a mystical connection with the gods, and with ideas of death and rebirth.
In the Bible the setting and rising of the sun marked the limit – or rather limitlessness – of God; a provocative claim in a world where each kingdom and people claimed their own gods. Our God, said the psalmists and the prophets of the Old Testament is God wherever the sun touches.
The idea that there is one true God has continued to be provocative, and sometimes deadly, in a world of many religions. Provocative and deadly as it was when St Paul wrote the words from our first reading in his first Letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 8v1-6). He lived in a world of persecution, and as both Jews and Christian his story is the story of many Jews and Christians down through the centuries.
And to their shame some people, in the name of the Church, have enacted their own persecutions against people of other faiths, claiming it is done in the name of God.
But out gospel reading reminds us of Jesus’ words, ‘Love your enemies, and pray for
those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.’
That’s a tall order!
It’s not always easy even to love those dearest to us, or at least to sustain that love in the face of irritations, arguments or misunderstandings.
But Jesus’ words take us far beyond our comfort zone. We have to learn what it means to love our enemies. Not condone their acts, not acquiesce to their demands, not even necessarily like them, but to love, as God our Father loves both us and them.
For it is in our heavenly Father that all true living is rooted. It was the Father’s vision which created the heavens, the Father’s beauty which dressed the landscape, the Father’s power which runs through all life, the Father’s love which fuelled his determination to redeem us and the Father’s call which inspires us to be more than we yet are.
Be perfect, says Jesus, as your heavenly Father is perfect. I don’t know whether that is possible for us this side of heaven, though I’ve seen some few lives which have come close.
What I do believe with all my heart is that Christ walked that path of perfection in human being, and so describes for us a better way, rooted in limitless love for our neighbour whoever they may be, and utter confidence in our Father, who is above all and in all and through all; from the rising of the sun, to its setting.