We Ought to Love WHO?

“We Ought to Love WHO?”

Luke 6:27-36 (6:35) – February 20, 2022

            Who has ever grumbled at people? Who has ever been frustrated with people? Who has ever been downright angry with people? Are these people you know, your friends? Perhaps you felt that way about your loved ones, your family? We have all had that happen, from time to time. And sometimes, more often than that. But – that is when we are angry with our friends or family. Jesus says something quite different about our enemies. What would Jesus do?

            Our Lord Jesus talks Godly behavior in our Scripture reading today from Luke 6. Here are just a couple of verses: 27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

            As we listen to Jesus’ words, we might think to ourselves, “We ought to love WHO? That’s a tall order, Lord! Pretty near impossible!”

            Let’s back up, and see where these words come from. One of my favorite commentators Karoline Lewis tells us to take the long view, to consider where Jesus is coming from in this section of the Gospel of Luke. Our Scripture reading today comes from Luke’s Sermon on the Plain. What came just before this sermon, before Luke’s version of the Beatitudes? “Jesus has just named apostles from the crowd of his disciples and these blessings and woes on the plain are his first words to the newly commissioned. ‘Whoa! Stop right there! Before we go any further, here’s what you need to know.’[1] Jesus uses some interjections, a grammatical term for the typical exclamation words “Hey!” “Whoa!” and “Watch out!”

            This reminds me of certain times when my children (now in their 20’s and 30’s) were small. They would bicker and fight back and forth, and the last thing they would want to do would be listen to me, their mother. Sometimes, one or the other would be so frustrated or angry they would burst out, “You’re not the boss of me!” Too often, we don’t like to have people boss us around, either. However, Jesus is trying to get the disciples’ attention. And, He is trying to get our attention, too. Jesus says, “Listen up, people!”

Many people think of the Gospel of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount as one of the high points of Jesus’s preaching ministry. In case you did not know, the material covered in the Sermon on the Mount is summarized in Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, in about one third of the space. Jesus did say a lot of controversial things, a lot of which got Him into serious hot water with religious leaders. But, “love your enemies” is a particularly troublesome statement. 

            Hating your enemies is only natural. Hating people who do bad things to you, who speak mean words to us – and about us! – who actively go out of their way to be mean and nasty – that would be only natural. That is, according to the wisdom of the world. Except – Jesus tells us we are not of the world any longer. In multiple places in Scripture, in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, followers of God are called to another way of living.

In this Sermon on the Plain (as well as the Sermon of the Mount), Jesus reminds us of a different way, a Godly way. A way that is God-honoring. Except, Jesus uses expressive and arresting words to get us to listen! “Whoa! Here’s what’s important, disciples of mine. Whoa! Here’s what you need to hold on to.”

When many people hate others, revenge is a natural outgrowth of that hatred. Our Lord Jesus and His teaching go in the opposite direction of hatred and revenge. ”Don’t be quick to revenge but try to find a way of reconciliation. Jesus wants to change the spirit of irritation, anger and hatred inside of us. Irritation, anger, hatred and retaliation only seem to heap gasoline on the fire of conflict. Jesus is teaching his disciples another way of dealing with revenge.” [2] Yes, and another, God-honoring way to deal with hatred, too.

That’s all very well, but how can I change how I feel inside? My toes were stepped on! My feelings were really bruised! I was badly hurt! I was injured, even abused!! What do I do with all of that?”

Let me tell you: I may not be able to change the way I feel (or you feel), deep down. But, God can. At times, it happens right away. More often, the process is gradual. The important part is to get to the point that you are willing. Willing to be willing. Willing to let God help you. Help you to be forgiving, to let go of the hurt, the pain, the desire for revenge. And, God will come alongside of you and help.

There are certain situations that are very damaging. Damaging to people’s psyche, sometimes their physical bodies, and not least, their souls. I am thinking of horrible situations of abuse, of pain and degradation. I would not demand anyone to do anything that would cause even more pain and suffering, in the case of trauma and intense hurt. I would suggest that God might gently come alongside and help begin the healing process. Little by little. And, there are reputable counselors, medical professionals, therapists and social workers who are especially  trained to help in those cases, too.

Still, Jesus’ words have great effect. We are to listen up! And, follow Jesus.

Carolyn Brown, retired Director of Children’s Ministries, has a great way to summarize this section of Luke. “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.  Pray for those who are mean to you. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Love and do good to all without expecting anything in return.” [3]

I come back to the question of the day: What Would Jesus Do? He calls us to go. Do that. And if you need help? Ask Jesus. He will help us to love everyone, and help us to follow Him.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/woes-and-whoas

[2] http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_c_loving_your_enemies_and_people_you_dont_like_GA.htm

[3] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2019/01/

Dad’s Favorite!

“Dad’s Favorite!”

Gen 37 Jacob shown bloodstained coat - Rembrandt

Genesis 37:3-4 – June 30, 2019

“It’s not fair!” Who remembers hearing brothers, sisters, or cousins say that? “He gets more!” “I don’t have any!” “He has fancy gym shoes!” or, “She takes special classes, but what do I do? Nothing!” At its worst, sibling rivalry can tear a family apart. When brothers and sisters fight among themselves, hurt feelings and disgruntled relations often result as bickering and arguments break out. These hurt feelings can fester for years, even for decades.

But, what if the whispers and even shouts of “It’s not fair!” happen because a parent plays favorites, elevating one sibling over all the rest? Hurt feelings can become downright animosity, which can fester, simmer, and flare up repeatedly in a lifetime. This animosity can be a devastating family-destroyer.

This very sad topic is what we see, taking a closer look at Genesis 37. Jacob plays favorites with his favorite son, Joseph.

In Sunday school, children often learn about young Joseph and his coat of many colors. Or, as lyricist Tim Rice and composer Andrew Lloyd Weber referred to it in their classic musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Children get all excited by the many-colored coat. This bible story from Genesis is a great opportunity for making something colorful and memorable for a children’s craft. Often, children do learn about Joseph being his father’s favorite, but not as much about how Joseph tattled on his older brothers, and brought the tales back to his father Jacob. Being a rat like that would not help relations between siblings, either.

But, what was this coat that Jacob gave to Joseph? One of my favorite commentators, Carolyn Brown, wonders about this, too. “Depending on the translation, it was a fancy coat, a beautifully decorated coat, a coat with long sleeves (for one who does not have to work), or a coat of many colors. The Bible was written in another language centuries ago and no one knows exactly what kind of coat it was.” [1] Whatever kind of coat it was, it certainly caused trouble. 

Jacob did not have a simple marriage like those we are familiar with—like we do, in the United States today. No, Jacob had two wives, Rachel and Leah. Plus, Rachel and Leah each had a maidservant, Bilhah and Zilpah. According to the customs of several thousand years ago, Rachel—being a legitimate wife of Jacob—could claim any sons her maid bore if Jacob slept with her. The same went for Leah, being a legitimate wife of Jacob. So, Jacob ended up having four wives, essentially. And, lots of sons. That was where Jacob’s twelve sons came from: from Jacob sleeping with Rachel, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah.

We might also be familiar with a big pack of kids, cousins, brothers and sisters, kids on the block or the playground. This was what Joseph and his brothers were—a really large family. Plus, little brother Joseph was a little big for his britches. He boasted a lot. You know the type.

After Joseph got the fancy coat from his dad, Jacob, he had a dream. “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.” His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.”

Even his father Jacob and mother Rachel got sick and tired of Joseph and his arrogant boasting. Here is Joseph’s second dream: “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.” That is, Jacob remembered the boasting dreams that Joseph had. What is more, these dreams would work out to be true in an unimaginable way. But, we are jumping years ahead to the end of the story, already.

If we take a closer look at Jacob, the dad of these twelve brothers, Jacob was no ideal father figure. He not only played favorites with one particular son, but he chose one favorite above the others among his wives and concubines. Rachel was his cherished, favorite wife, and Joseph was her older son. Benjamin was Rachel’s younger son—Jacob’s youngest son, and Rachel died of complications from his birth.

Yes, there was tumult, tragedy and trauma in the whole extended family, going all the way back to the time Jacob was working for Leah’s and Rachel’s, the two sisters’ dad—Laban. Father-in-law Laban was no prize winner where his ethics were concerned. He hoodwinked Jacob into marrying the more unattractive older sister Leah in addition to the beautiful younger sister Rachel. This whole family was messed up, from way back. So, are we surprised if sibling rivalry, hurt feelings and even outright animosity affect all twelve brothers?    

In many ways, a lot of us sympathize with the other brothers. Joseph was a boastful, arrogant pain in the backside. Plus, the brothers had a legitimate complaint against their father who was playing favorites. So many have heard this sadly familiar refrain over and over again. “It wasn’t fair that Joseph got the fancy coat and they had their old clothes. It wasn’t fair that the youngest brother was not required to work with the others and was actually sent to check up on them. Where the brothers got into trouble was when they used an unfair strategy (selling their defenseless brother [as a slave]) to get what seemed only fair for themselves.” [2]

When family members plot and plan against other members of their own family, that is definitely a sign that something is really wrong and really dysfunctional. Perhaps we have been so angry at one of our family members—or a good friend—that we might even have wanted to do something mean or hurtful to them. This seems like something a person who is far from God might want to do—complete with rubbing the hands together and an evil laugh.

Our New Testament reading today is from Romans 2. The apostle Paul lets the believers in Rome know that God judges all people the same—Jews and Gentiles alike. God does not play favorites—unlike Jacob in our sermon passage from Genesis 37.

We know how Jesus responded to people who were unkind to Him, even hated Him. He loved them—all of them. How do you think God wants us to respond when people are unkind to us, or when we don’t like other people? Would God want us to be mean and nasty, and turn our backs on them? Or, would God want us to be kind and loving, even if others are mean and bad? Remember that next time you—we—are tempted to get angry, curse, or fly off the handle.

Face it, this can be really difficult to do, say or think things that are pleasing to God while anger is twisting and roiling deep inside of each one of us.

Going all the way to the end of the story of Joseph, we know he did forgive his brothers for selling him into slavery. In retrospect, Joseph realized that God’s purposes were accomplished, and he reconciled with his brothers,

God can help us reconcile all kinds of families, and friends and acquaintances, too. God can help bring peace and repair relations. God can even bring reconciliation and love back to what some might view as hopeless situations.

Praise God, we indeed have a wonder-working God! Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/07/year-proper-14-19th-sunday-in-ordinary.html

Worshiping with Children, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!