Sunday, February 24, 2019

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
Genesis 45:3-11, 15
Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40
1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
Luke 6:27-38

Now don’t be grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.

One of the judge shows had a case which involved a plaintiff who ran a non-profit dedicated to her son who had been killed by gang members. The defendant was a woman who called herself a prophetess. They met to see if they could merge their ministries. Unfortunately, the meeting did not go well. The defendant posted awful things about the plaintiff and her son on social media. The plaintiff then showed up at the defendant’s church and made a scene. The defendant then called child welfare on the friend of the plaintiff. The judge was incensed at the actions of both women. How could Christian women act this way to one another? “What do you think God is thinking now?” She passed her judgment on the case, but reminded them both that they would face an even greater judgment.

The plaintiff won the case. The defendant lost her countersuit because the judge found that her losses were the consequences of her own actions. Despite losing the defendant left the courtroom with a holier-than-thou attitude and preached some word about God. We never really found out went so wrong at the first meeting, but the events that followed were less than Christian. Both were wrong, but in a court of law the judge can find in favor of one sinner over another. In God’s court, of course, we are all sinners and those who are set free are only those who trust in God. Both women reason to confess and seek God’s grace for their actions. The plaintiff seemed humble, the defendant not so much.

I thought it was interesting when the judge turned to the defendant and said something like, “You might be doing 99% good but you have done 1% evil. That’s all of us, we all sin.” She was kinder to the plaintiff, but her comments remind us all that we are sinners in need of a savior. The Gospel is our only way out of our bondage to sin and death. We might look at our neighbor and think that they are somehow worse than we are and that they deserve our wrath, but the reality is that even if we are only 0.0000001% sinner, we are still tainted and unholy. We all must remember we will face a greater judgment.

If only we could look on our enemies the way Joseph looked on his brothers. He had every right to be upset. His flesh and blood sold him off to slavery, after considering murder. They lied to their father who mourned his death. Joseph was not perfect. He was the son of his beloved wife Rachel and was given the most wonderful gifts, especially a richly ornamented robe. This love and his gifts made him a little conceited. Jacob’s other sons were jealous of the attention Jacob paid to Joseph. It is no wonder that they wanted to be rid of him.

Joseph had dreams - strange and unusual dreams that seemed to speak of his being a powerful ruler over his brothers. Another dream even put him over his mother and father. His brothers became so jealous that they schemed to rid themselves of their brother. While they were in the field grazing the sheep, Joseph went out to see if all was well. His brothers decided to throw him into a cistern and pretend a wild animal had devoured him. But Reuben convinced them to just sell him as a slave rather than kill him. Joseph ended up in Egypt. He suffered through many trials, but eventually Pharaoh put him in charge of the whole land. Pharaoh had several dreams that Joseph interpreted. They were warnings of good years of fruit from the fields followed by years of famine. With Joseph’s guidance, the Egyptians saved enough grain through the good years that they were able to help feed the world during the famine.

Joseph’s brothers traveled to Egypt to purchase food for their family. They interacted with Joseph, but the brothers did not recognize him. The dreams were fulfilled. He invited them to dinner to learn of the fate of their father. He ensured that they had plenty to eat, and he secretly restored their money. Benjamin was the youngest of all the brothers and did not go with them on the first journey to Egypt. When the brothers left with their grain, Joseph insisted that they bring Benjamin along if they were to return. Jacob did not want to let him go, the last son of his beloved Rachel. He finally agreed.

While they were in Egypt, they met again with Joseph. This time he restored their money, but also put his silver cup in Benjamin’s bag. The guards discovered the silver cup and Benjamin was held for theft. Judah pleaded with Joseph to let the boy go, to keep him instead, so that Jacob would not perish at the thought of his lost son. Joseph’s pain - his loneliness and longing to see his father - was so great that he began to weep and he revealed himself to his brothers.

Jacob and his family went to Goshen and Joseph took care of them, but when Jacob died, his brothers feared that he would take revenge. They pleaded with Joseph to be merciful, to remember their father and spare their lives. Joseph answered, “Am I God? All this happened for good.” The brothers had sold Joseph into slavery, attempting to rid themselves of his arrogance and perhaps gain some favor from their father. He could have sought revenge for their acts; he could have charged outrageous prices for the grain. Instead, he gave them more than they wanted for free. This merciful action showed the great love he held for his brothers, despite the evil he suffered at their hands. God did the same when He sent His Son Jesus Christ to bring forgiveness to those He loves. He gives beyond measure in love and mercy.

Can we be so gracious to those who hurt us? That’s certainly what God expects from us.

Think about your life, your work, and your neighborhoods. Even the most kind and loving people know someone that drives them crazy for one reason or another. It is a fact of life; we don’t get along with everyone. Personalities clash. Unfortunately, like those ladies on the judge show, these relationships often go beyond quiet disregard and the people become enemies. They attack one another verbally, physically or emotionally, thinking this is the only way to overcome the differences.

Being a Christian is not an easy thing. We are called into a relationship with Christ not to separate ourselves from the people we do not like in this world. Rather, in Christ we are given the strength to overcome our natural tendencies so that we can live more Christ-like in the world. When our flesh wants to hate, we are commanded to love. When our mouths want to curse, we are commanded to bless. This is a difficult thing.

It is because we are Christian that we have to stand above the crowd. It may not seem fair, but the world expects more from us, and it is in walking that extra mile and in the giving of our cloak as well as our tunic that they will really see the sacrificial nature of our love. They wonder, “What is it that makes these Christians so willing to love their neighbors?” We set the example of love for the world, and that means more than loving those who are loveable. We are to love even our enemies. If we live according to the ways of the world then there will be nothing that sets us apart and they won’t be willing to listen as we tell them about Jesus. The love of God does change our hearts, and our minds, so that the life we live is different than the world.

A great and ferocious lion who ruled over all the animals of the forest lay down after a long day of unfruitful hunting. Though he was still hungry, he fell asleep. A short time later he was disturbed from his sleep by a tiny mouse that scampered across the massive form, thinking it was a rock. The lion waited patiently and at the right moment, he caught the mouse. Just as he was about to pop the mouse into his mouth, the tiny creature begged for mercy. “Please forgive me! I did not mean to disturb you. If you let me go, I promise that I will return the favor one day.” The lion laughed at the silliness of such a small creature ever being of use to him, but agreed. The mouse ran away to safety. Some time later some hunters captured the lion and tied him to a tree. The tiny mouse appeared before the lion and began gnawing through the rope. Eventually, the mouse managed to loosen the rope enough for the lion to escape. The lion showed mercy and it was returned to him.

Mercy is about being compassionate, forgiving and kind. In the story of the lion and the mouse, the lion set the mouse free even though he was hungry. If the lion had eaten the mouse, the mouse would not have been alive to chew the ropes from the lion. We deal with much greater evils. Mercy is more difficult to understand and to express when our enemies have the power to destroy our lives.

Be merciful as your heavenly Father gives you the strength, courage and wisdom. Our Lord Jesus Christ paid the highest price possible to give us the mercy that only He can give. He died for us even when we were His enemies so that we would be forgiven and set free from our lives of sin and debt to God. Begin, as you are able, with your neighbor, friend or family member who has harmed you in some way. Do not seek revenge, but rather seek reconciliation by doing good to them. The love of God will manifest in the mercy you give, showing your life to be one as a son of God. God was kind and merciful to each of us, sinners and enemies of God, forgiving our sin for the sake of His Son.

There always seems to be some sports personality that is bent toward misconduct. They curse and swear, push and shove, hold up the game with their ranting and try to upset their rival in every way possible. Arthur Ashe dealt with this type of opponent at a tournament in Sweden in 1975. His name was ‘Nasty’ Nastase and he was well known for his behavior on the court. Just when Arthur thought he could handle no more, he said he’d had enough and he walked off the court. When the umpire told Arthur that he would default the game, Arthur responded that he’d rather lose at tennis than lose his self-respect. The next day the committee decided that Nastase’s behavior warranted discipline and he was forced to default, making Arthur the winner. Arthur Ashe knew it wasn’t worth losing control over the antics of the other players, even if it meant that he would lose the tournament. His patience won out in the end.

I am not as strong as Arthur Ashe. I tend to get pretty upset about so many things. I have yelled at my kids. I get frustrated when things don’t go the way I would like them to go. I worry about too many things, particularly when it seems like evil will triumph over goodness and mercy. I get upset with my neighbors when I perceive they have acted against me. I want to fight, to battle against those things that bring harm. I want to vent my anger and prove my rightness. Yet, it rarely does any good. It is a commonly held belief that it is best to let out those feelings, but studies have found that the opposite is true. Telling someone off does not enhance the relationship, but rather puts it at risk, causing more anger, hurt and worry. Most happily married couples never raise their voices at each other.

The psalmist wrote, “Trust in Yahweh, and do good. Dwell in the land, and enjoy safe pasture. Also delight yourself in Yahweh, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to Yahweh. Trust also in him, and he will do this: he will make your righteousness go out as the light, and your justice as the noon day sun. Rest in Yahweh, and wait patiently for him. Don’t fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who makes wicked plots happen.” Arthur Ashe showed us how to be patient; he set the example to walk away rather than become angry and fretful. Though I don’t desire harm to come to my adversaries, I know that God will bless the patience of His children who manifest mercy and grace above anger and wrath.

It’s a scary world out there sometimes. Natural disaster threatens our well being. We fear for our children, with drugs and gangs abundant in cities and rural areas. We fear poverty, hunger, sickness and death. We fear accusation from the enemy. Yet, we should not fear because God is always faithful. “But the salvation of the righteous is from Yahweh. He is their stronghold in the time of trouble. Yahweh helps them, and rescues them. He rescues them from the wicked, and saves them, because they have taken refuge in him.”

Today as you face those things about this world that bring fear, concern, worry, anger, doubt or pain, always remember that you are a beloved child of the Most High God. Though the things you fear may touch your life, the Lord God Almighty will be your refuge and your strength. He is the only One to fear, and that fear is one of reverence and awe for what He is able to accomplish. Just as we prepare for the severe storms that come our way, by establishing an emergency plan, so too do we have a plan when we face the spiritual storms that threaten our peace. In the name and by the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord, we are in the hands of God and trust in His faithfulness to see us through. It’s a scary world, but we live in another and can know true peace, hope and joy.

Those women on the judge show know that they are strangers in a foreign land, Christians living in a fallen world. They know that they have been saved by the grace of Jesus Christ, but their story played more like a reality show. They did not live as God has called them to live, loving their enemies and treating all their neighbors with mercy. Unfortunately, the judge was correct when she said that they’d face a greater judgment in that day. The question that all of us need to ask is whether or not we really trust in God’s salvation. Have we been transformed by His mercy? Are we living forgiven, recognizing our own sinfulness? Are we willing to forgive; are we willing to see our neighbors including our enemies through the eyes of Jesus?

It is natural for us to wonder what it will be like when we die. We who live in Christ know that we have eternal life and in that day we will see His face and live with Him forever, but we do not have a complete understanding of the life we will have in heaven. Throughout history artists and writers have tried to imagine and describe in words or pictures, but it is impossible for human means to fully portray the things of God. The glory of God cannot be put on paper or in words. Someone once explained that heaven would be like taking the best of everything in this world and magnifying it a thousand times. The love we have for our spouses and children will be magnified well beyond our human capability, because we will be living in the presence of Love Himself. The beauty of a field full of wildflowers pales in comparison to what we will see in that day. Food will taste a hundred times better than a meal created by a master chef.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that they had to die to live. He said, “The body is sown perishable; it is raised imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body and there is also a spiritual body.” In this life we might suffer through intense work as God makes us new for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. Eventually we will die in the flesh, but that is not our end. We will be raised with Christ into something new, to live forever in His presence and praise Him throughout eternity. We do not have to wait, however, for that day when we will dwell with Christ because we dwell with Him today. So let’s live like Joseph, loving even our enemies even if they have done us harm because God has a plan and can use the worst of times for His purpose. He has created and redeemed us to glorify Him in this world and He is faithful to all His promises.

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