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O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
your Son battled with the powers of darkness,
and grew closer to you in the desert:
help us to use these days
to grow in wisdom and prayer
that we may witness to your saving love
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Blessed are those whose way is pure,
who walk in the law of the Lord.
Blessed are those who keep his testimonies
and seek him with their whole heart,
Those who do no wickedness,
but walk in his ways.
You, O Lord, have charged
that we should diligently keep your commandments.
O that my ways were made so direct
that I might keep your statutes.
Then should I not be put to shame,
because I have regard for all your commandments.
I will thank you with an unfeigned heart,
when I have learned your righteous judgements.
I will keep your statutes;
O forsake me not utterly.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, 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. 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 and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’
Over the last two days we have reflected upon how our relationships with those around us, and with ourselves, impact upon our relationship with God. We have considered the challenge of Jesus’ instruction to do to others as you would have them do to you, and we have explored the meaning of reconciliation as a precursor to meaningful worship. Today we are confronted with the biggest challenge of all: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
The fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, is the point where Jesus lays out a new way of living, a way that overturns much that feels instinctive, in order that we might share in the intimacy of his own relationship with God. The heart of today’s reading follows on from the counter-cultural Beatitudes and the readings of the last two days. The difference between those earlier words of scripture and the one we have today lies in the explicitly sacrificial nature of Jesus’ words.
Today, Jesus makes it clear that we should not be joining the religious leaders of his day in twisting his words to suit our own purposes. We should not be doing nice things to other people in the expectation of their doing nice things to us. The true Christian way is to love and pray for those who are our enemies and our persecutors.
Every day the Church prays for peace in this world and that the leaders of all nations might govern with wisdom and in a spirit of Christian love and service. Sadly, these prayers continue to be essential as nations and races continue to persecute one another. Sadly, those whose decisions affect the lives of others continue to base their decisions on greed, anger, pride and irrational hatred. Sadly, this is true in every country and not just in those under-developed and deprived parts of the world we can so easily look down upon. Sadly, this is true in local communities and families as well.
It is not easy to love and pray for our enemies. Feelings of hurt and resentment become embedded in our hearts. Whole generations allow past hurts to poison their view of life, and they pass that poison on to their descendants. Eventually we hear words of alienation and enmity coming from the mouths of those who have no idea of their origin, other than they heard them uttered by parents and grandparents.
Jesus’ saving message to humanity is one of forgiveness and love. We are all called to forgive and to love in his name. We are all called (that means those on both sides of any dispute) to pray for the grace to make our own contribution to achieving the world peace we pray for every day.
We are all called to do to others as we would have them do to us. We are all called to first be reconciled with those who are our brothers and sisters in the eyes of God. And, we are all called to love and pray for those who have not yet found Jesus’ way, those we so often cast as our enemies.
Prayers of intercession
Let us pray, in love for God our only strength, and for all his people.
Strengthen your Church, established on the firm foundation of Christ. Make her holy in all her works, seeking always the way of righteousness.
Arouse your divine compassion in the hearts of all people. Inspire in us generosity to the poor and neglected, reconciliation and trust between enemies.
Make us loving towards our neighbours, finding in each the image of Christ. Forgive us our thoughts of hostility and failures of love, and make us eager to forgive others.
Come and relieve those who suffer through the anger of the unforgiving; those who are in want through the greed of the selfish; those who are held in the power of their own bitterness.
Grant rest to the souls who in this life made Christ their one foundation. Hold them in the peace of wrongs forgiven and enmities overcome.
Through him on whom all our hope is founded, Christ the support and strength of the faithful, we offer our prayers.
Prayer for the week
Most merciful God and Father,
give us true repentance for our sins.
Open our eyes to recognize the truth about ourselves;
so that acknowledging our faults,
our weakness and our failures,
we may receive your forgiveness
and find in your love the encouragement
to make a new beginning;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.