Jesus said what?!
Feb. 24 “Jesus said what?!” Genesis 45:3-11, 15 • Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40 • 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50 • Luke 6:27-38
When I went to pick up a little boy at school on Thursday to take him home, I was told by a staff member that he wasn’t there, so I drove my bus to my next school. As I was sitting there, I found out that he was indeed at school, so they sent someone else to take him home. When I picked him up on Friday, the first thing he said was “Where were you yesterday? I missed you!” His teacher looked like she was going to cry! This is the same kid who is rude to everybody, telling teachers and aids that they are fat, stupid, and mean. He likes to be obstinate just to be obstinate. They usually fight with him just to get him onto the bus, and he often doesn’t even talk to me. Neither of us was expecting him to actually say something nice, and why he said it to me instead of a teacher is a mystery. Maybe he doesn’t know me well enough to be mean to me yet! Friday is generally a good day anyway and feeling that connection with a troubled kid made it even more special. After a long week, it was very encouraging to get a jolt of hope that our future may be better than expected, that the hard work done with our kids will be worth it.
I love Biblical stories that turn darkness into light, those reversals that God is the ultimate master of creating. Some may say that snotty young Joseph got what he deserved for gloating over his dreams of rising above his brothers, and that coat of many colors was the last straw, but God used it all to save his people during a time of famine. The boy sold into slavery would grow up to be the second most powerful man in Egypt, not because he was the son of Pharoah, but because of his gifts of wisdom and discernment given to him by God. God had a plan for Joseph, one that was both terrible but crucial, which in the end spoke of God’s faithfulness and salvation. It certainly wasn’t an easy journey for Joseph, but what makes a positive difference in our world usually isn’t. We may look at kids today and think that they are a bunch of spoiled little brats like young Joseph, but we can’t give up on them, and never stop celebrating when they give us unexpected moments of joy. It is easy to look at our world and give up. Our culture is so divisive and violent, and yet we must trust in God and our kids to take us into a better future.
Joseph may have risen to a place of honor, but he knew hardships and persecution like few of us do. He knew what it was like to be falsely accused and cast into prison, forgotten and isolated. But he doesn’t seem to ever give up, and we are not given any sign that he blames God or stops believing in him. In a troubled time, he remained steady, waiting on God, and is finally recognized for his abilities and inner strength, rather than by drawing attention to himself through boasting. Today’s Psalm says:
Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security. Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.
Those of us who can remember the days before cell phones and the Internet, and even before McDonald’s and the rise of “fast food”, are hopefully still able to be patience, having lived in a slower time. Even for us though, it is hard at times to slow down and let things run their course. So many people today have no patience. We get upset when the line at the grocery store starts to backed up, or someone dares to actually drive the speed limit, which is often a dangerous thing to do on our highways. Being safe will get you run over. All that matters is that we get what we want, and get it as soon as possible. Today, we are valued only by what we possess and what we consume. Instant gratification is of higher value than the long, slow process of building character and mastery, both of ourselves and of our chosen pursuits in life.
Sometimes God works sudden miracles, but for most of us, the true miracle of growing into the person God created us to be takes a lifetime. The challenges and hardships we face chisel us into that work of art that God has in mind for us. Patience is indeed a virtue, one that is being forgotten in our world, as is relying on God instead of on ourselves, allowing him to mold us and grow us. Trusting God requires us to be patient, as we wait for his blessings at the time only he knows is best. Before he was imprisoned due to the false accusations of Potiphar’s wife, we read that
The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man and served in his Egyptian master's household. His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD made everything he did successful. (Gen 39:2-3 CEB)
With the story of Joseph, we get a reversal story from bad to good. Our Gospel lesson gives us a reversal of an entirely different nature, one that challenges us even more. Here we are 2000 years later, and yet it sounds just like our world today. Jesus says:
But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well. If someone takes your coat, don't withhold your shirt either. Give to everyone who asks and don't demand your things back from those who take them. Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you. (Luk 6:27-31 CEB)
We run into mean, inconsiderate people everywhere we go. Being nice to them only results in ingratitude. We are constantly approached by dishonest hucksters trying to scam us out of our hard-earned money. We hear so much fake news that we don’t know who to believe anymore. But Jesus tells us not to be judgmental. In dealing with others, we are required to be patient. Perhaps we even look at our world and say: “This is crazy! If we do what Jesus says, we won’t have anything!” Jesus continues:
Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.
We give up and stop listening before we get to this last verse. We only see what we will lose, we don’t see the good things we will gain. We will miss out on the fun, ego-building game of tearing people apart by being judgmental and acting superior. We will have to give up the enjoyable practice of holding grudges, even though it eats us away from the inside. If we give to the extent that Jesus tells us to do, we fear that we will have nothing left!
But is that really the case? Certainly, in our world it is, but in the Kingdom of God, it is the way to true treasures. What is this “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over?” Is it something material, something we can possess, maybe a nice balance on our savings account statement and a healthy retirement plan? Does this remind you a little about the story of Joseph, who more than once had everything taken away from him but ended up with the entire land of Egypt in his care? Unlike his fellow prisoners, he did not get it by sweet-talking or deceit, but through remaining faithful to God and using the gifts that God gave him. He didn’t set out to be in a position of influence, he patiently waited on God, and was used by God for great things.
In a culture where getting even is valued, we are to remain loving. Instead of resorting to shaming and ignoring those we don’t agree with, we are to listen and learn from them. Even those we consider to be “enemies” can help us to grow, whether it be through setting a negative example, or if we allow ourselves to hear ideas that differ from our own. Are we willing to hear those who oppose us? It is so easy now to move on, leaving behind those we have trouble with. It takes courage to stop and listen. The United Methodist Church asserts: “The people of God, who are the church made visible in the world, must convince the world of the reality of the gospel or leave it unconvinced” [2016 Book of Discipline ¶130]. How can we do this if we don’t listen, and refuse to serve those in need? Jesus says:
Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate. Don't judge, and you won't be judged. Don't condemn, and you won't be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. (Luk 6:36-38 CEB)
If we are to convince the world of the reality of the gospel, we must live as Jesus taught us: loving, forgiving, serving. Not just those who are like us, but those who are different. We can’t focus on some and ignore others, or we will most likely ignore those who need us the most.
Have you ever noticed that after a person dies, their life gets reduced to one sentence? Hopefully at our funeral folks will have lots of good things to say about us. If they don’t, that probably says more about the kind of person we were. People try not to say bad things at funerals. But over time, people stop talking like they might at funerals. What they say is more like: “Remember Uncle Fred? He sure was __________. Hey, what’s for dinner?” They usually summarize a person with one thing. When you are gone, what do you want that one thing to be?
God still works those wonderful stories of reversals, but they generally unfold over time so we don’t always notice when they are taking place, we only notice when they bear fruit in ways that we would never guess would happen. Sometimes, we just have to wait on God, trusting in his goodness. In the meantime, we trust in the example Jesus gave us, loving all people unconditionally, serving all in his name.