7 Epiphany c 2 24 9
I got fired once by a guy named Fink. He wanted to make room at the place where I worked for a pal who had big ideas. Sadly, I guess, those ideas were not connected to reality. But I was pretty angry. I couldn't believe Fink believed in this new guy. But I was out.
Someone told me that one day I would thank Mr. Fink. I have not yet done so. But every time I think of today's Hebrew Bible story I wonder: did Joseph thank his brothers?
I don't think so. A close reading of today's lesson doesn't indicate any thanks. Forgiveness, yes. Not thanks. God is given credit for turning the evil intentions of the brothers into something good. Something really, really good.
I love that. I love the way Joseph, the foreigner, turned things around for Egypt. I love the way he was so desperate to make himself known to his brothers after all they'd done to him. It's more than a reminder that holding onto pain and resentment hurts us more than it hurts the other party. It points out that we can't stop those things we consider misfortunes from being redeemed by life, by God.
I was told of a family that healed in many ways when they learned that one of the older members was fatally sick. It's an interesting thing to think about. If you were in that situation would you rather continue to stew, for all the good that's been doing you, or get over it and move on as a family?
I trust your answer is get over it.
Let's look at our collect for this morning:
O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we
do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our
hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace
and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted
dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son
Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen
I am especially drawn to the opening line in the Rite I form:
O Lord, who hast taught us that all our doings without
charity are nothing worth.
I don't know if it's my Anglican heritage or my appreciation of Monty Python, but I have a kind of fun yet visceral reaction to the notion, "Our doings without charity are nothing worth." Maybe I'm just channeling for Yoda from Star Wars. But it reminds me of the famous reading from the Letter to the Romans a few weeks ago in which the power of love was spelled out. That's very much part of my belief system.
Now how we deal with those who hurt us or who do what we consider wrong is a challenging notion. We are very familiar here with "Love God and love your neighbor." We can't live into that without being willing to love the wrong-doer.
Our Psalm makes that abundantly clear:
1 Do not fret yourself because of evildoers; *
do not be jealous of those who do wrong.
2 For they shall soon wither like the grass, *
and like the green grass fade away.
3 Put your trust in the Lord and do good; *
dwell in the land and feed on its riches.
4 Take delight in the Lord, *
and he shall give you your heart's desire.
This notion of just not letting ourselves get worked up by the actions and decisions of others is a really powerful idea.
I once rather glibly (or so I thought) declared to someone at our church in Miami that I understood why bad things happen to good people, but I didn't understand why good things happen to bad people. He located a Prayer Book and read to me the opening of this morning's psalm.
We can observe that such actions or decisions do not comport well with our understanding of how the world ought to work, but we do not need to lose sleep over it. Likewise, in general, we can observe with total confidence that the world's population often or perhaps usually does not behave as we think it ought.
Then we get to remember that no one died and left us in charge. We are not God. God decided to endow humanity with human will and this is what we got. To dispute it, to challenge it, to bemoan it is, at least in some measure, to argue with God's plan for the world. We can address individual actions and decisions we consider wrong for one reason or another, but God endowed the actors and decision makers with human will just like we were so endowed. Rather than fret ourselves, as the psalm says, we can deny ourselves permission to get all worked up.
Jesus in our Gospel this morning zeroes in on the same issues and makes it almost painfully clear what he considers proper treatment of those we might otherwise dispute, dismiss or disregard. I made a list of all the clear admonitions that today's lesson contained and found they total 17.
Love your enemies,
Do good to those who hate you,
Bless those who curse you,
Pray for those who abuse you.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also;
From anyone who takes away your coat, do not withhold even your shirt.
Give to everyone who begs from you
If anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Love your enemies,
Lend, expecting nothing in return.
Do not judge.
Do not condemn.
That's quite a list. Also in this lesson Jesus points out how we are to treat others the way God treats us. Then refer back to the list. The ultimate effect he cites:"the measure you give will be the measure you get back."
This reading is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke, picking up where we left off last week. Just previous to that Jesus had chosen the 12 disciples, so this is Luke's version of the early instruction to his followers.
He started by spelling out the ways in which God reverses the misfortunes of those who struggle and suffer. He then laid down some warnings for those who were comfortable and uncharitable. That was last week's reading from the Gospel of Luke.
This week Jesus is saying that to be distracted by all that is wrong is a mistake; we need to focus on the good, concentrate on doing our part to reveal God's goodness in the world. Again and again --again and again, 17 times--Jesus tells us which path to take when we are feeling wronged, disadvantaged, violated or deceived. There is no room for doubt left in our minds, is there?
Let me return to the story of Joseph and his brothers and my unhappy experience with Mr. Fink. I confess I have not thanked the man who fired me, ignored my hard work and upset rather drastically the good work of an agency I cared about deeply. I have, however, noted that my life since then has been an unending cascade of blessings and surprises and gifts (mostly) that make that unhappy time only a faint memory.
It may be easier for me than for most to give credit to God, since for the last 30 years my life in the church has grown and absorbed me and changed me in ways my friends and family and I find quite wonderful.
So I guess this is more of a testimonial than I intended when I set out to write this sermon. When Molly found me one summer Saturday afternoon in Miami 20 years ago in the living room reading the Bible she asked, "Are you the man I married?" I answered her, "No."
God's plan for us as laid out by Jesus offers us more than we can ask or imagine. Jesus closed today's Gospel lesson with, "the measure you give will be the measure you get back."
I might argue that God gives many times what we give because that, I think, is my experience. Regardless, we are blessed by the clarity of these lessons and the no-nonsense language Jesus uses to show us the way. His way. Amen