For those of you I haven’t had the pleasure to personally meet; My name is Kate Walsh. My husband, Mike, and I are fairly, new members of the Federated family and we are so grateful to call this church home.
Thank you, Susi, for asking me to share my Faith Witness. It is an intimidating privilege to stand here before all of you.
Susi clued me in that today’s worship focus was about loving our enemies. So, with that in mind, I have a deeply personal story from my faith journey that I’d like to share with all of you.
If I were to ask you, who is your enemy, does any name quickly come to mind? Take just a moment and think; is there a person in your life that qualifies as your enemy? For those of you who are drawing a blank, welcome to my world. My wonderful pastor, Susi, has offered me the humbling opportunity to witness to loving our enemies and I can’t think of anyone in my life that I would call my enemy. No one comes to mind. So I did just a little bit of investigation into our cultural views about enemies and this is what I found; enemies are not just the opposing army on the battlefield and enemies are not just those with whom we have severe personal differences.
Enemies are also; those who try to bring harm to us, to our families and friends or to our community. Our enemy is someone who expresses hostility toward those things we deeply care about; our beliefs, our values, our principals, our ethics. Our enemy is someone who persecutes us because of what we stand for. Our enemies prevent us from living our lives in the wholeness that God intends and most of all, our enemies instill fear in us. Our enemies are those other people who are different from us. It was then, that I remembered the story of my struggle, to love my enemies.
LONG, LONG ago in a land, FAR, FAR away, I served as pastor of a medium size congregation, numbering about 300. I loved my work and the people I was called to serve. But, there came a time when I found my beliefs and values at odds with a small but mighty force of the congregation. The details of our differences and the struggle that ensued are no longer important, but the story is.
As the hostility escalated I sought the support of my denominational judicatory who pledged to stand with me and the other members of the church who were being persecuted. I fought the persecutors as best I could, but, in the end, the denomination betrayed us. The church members who stood for the same principals as I did, left the church and founded a house church of their own and I resigned as pastor. Through this experience, I learned to hate my enemies and that hate was destroying me and those that I loved.
These were the darkest days of my life. I fell into depression. I feared for the spiritual and emotional well-being of my family and my sisters and brothers in faith. I seldom slept, waking so often during the night, ruminating on the disturbing events that occurred. My health deteriorated as I questioned all that I believed in and stood for. I felt a deep shame for having failed God and my church and seldom ventured from my home. Our friends came around less often, tired of hearing me tell the story and uncomfortable with the hateful person I had become. I couldn’t enter a church without reliving my experience and feeling the heavy weight of shame on my shoulders. I thought I would never be happy and whole again. Ten years passed before I was emotionally or spiritually able to step inside a church again. But here I am today, able to witness to God’s Love and Grace in our lives and the wisdom of Jesus when he declared that we must love our enemies.
Jesus knew that hate would harm us more than it would ever harm our enemies. Jesus knew that without sharing our love and compassion for those who persecute us, we also become the enemy, the other. Jesus knew that within each of us, our enemies included, is a child of God who longs for the same wholeness of life that we long for. Jesus knew that the only path to wholeness of life is the path of love, especially love for our enemies.
During my struggle, the Holy Spirit surrounded me with love and compassion through my husband, fellow pastors, and a few dedicated friends who prayed with me and for me, who gave me wise council, and who stood by me over those many long years. In the end, the Holy Spirit led Mike and I here, to Federated Church, where I once again found the love of Christ and the Christian community I was searching for. Although my work often keeps me away, more than here, on Sunday mornings, I feel supported and strong in my faith once again.
Since November 9th, I’ve been living with a new sense of fear. Fear of an enemy that threatens many of the beliefs and values that I hold so dear. But thru my own story, I am reminded that I am called by Christ to love my enemy. I am called to reach out with a compassionate heart and see the child of God within them longing for wholeness, just as I long for wholeness. I am called to respond to that child with the unconditional love of Christ.
In hindsight, I wish I could have brought more of Christ and less of me to that congregation I once loved and served. Today, as I continue my faith journey thru the political landscape before us, I have many opportunities to practice bringing more of Christ and less of me to the process of loving my enemies as I am reminded to see the child of God within every human heart.
No doubt, loving our enemies is challenging, but I am so grateful that Federated is supporting a new Social Justice Advocacy Ministry that will offer us opportunities to stand up for what we believe, without compromising Jesus’ command to love our enemies. Thank you, Susi, and thank you Church, for allowing me to share my Faith Witness with you.