Paul W. Chilcote, the visiting Professor of Practicing Evangelism at Duke University tells the story of the first time he met Jürgen Moltmann, a great German theologian. Then a graduate student, Chilcote describes how, over lunch, he told Moltmann about his life as a student at the university and his studies under Frank Baker. At the name of Frank Baker, Moltmann stopped Chilcote and offered a story about Frank and his wife Nellie.
During World War II there was a prisoner of war camp for captured Germans on the northeast coast of England. Frank and Nellie Baker served a small Methodist circuit of churches in the area and felt compelled to minister to captured German soldiers, so, with permission of the prison commander, each Sunday the couple would invite a few of the German prisoners to church to “share in Word and Sacrament” and then have them to their home to share dinner. Moltmann told Chilcote that this “small thing” took place each Sunday for the duration of the war.
Completing his story, Chilcote then says, “This world-famous theologian paused, looked at me intently, and said, ‘One of those soldiers was a young man named Jürgen Moltmann. And I want you to know that the seed of hope was planted in my heart around Frank and Nellie Baker’s Sunday dinner table.’”
Jesus said, “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.” During World War II, Frank and Nellie Baker had sufficient reason to hate those German soldiers, but instead, they lived out this teaching of Jesus and changed the heart the enemy. Can we do the same? Yes. We may not always succeed, but we can most certainly try.
In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul expands on these words of Jesus. They are good words to live by:
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Our enemies may not always turn out to be great theologians like Jürgen Moltmann, but they may end up being our friends. However, we will never know unless we extend to them the hand of love. This does not mean that they won’t try and snap it off, but we are called to love.