February 24, 2019

Pastor Tammy Sharp

Genesis 45:3-11, 15 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50 Luke 6:27-38

After looking at this text throughout the week and thinking about what it really means to love someone, I got away from the actual substance of the text and just thought about love. Young love, strong-weathered with time love, true love, and of course, puppy love. Oh, the love nearly everyone feels when they have a puppy curl up in your arms and lick your nose is sort of that. But I mean that love that very young children have as they begin school. Kids in preschool will come home and10 say “so and so is my boyfriend” or “one day me and insert name” are going to get married”. Then came a picture of my 3rd grade glass on Facebook. People were asking about who was who. It scary but I knew almost everyone. There was on in particular that a lot of folks may not remember because he moved away shortly after this picture. At least that is when I think he moved. Phil was a boy in my class. I went to his house after school to play sometimes until my mom got off work. He lived really close to the school. We were in like 2nd grade; maybe even 1st. I “Liked” Phil. We played and played. And one day, we were playing like we were doggies. We were crawling around on the floor and got nose to nose and kissed. My first ever kiss from a boy not in my family. (At least as far as I can remember). Then he moved away…  so sad. 10 years later I met his current best friend when I went on a ski trip with my church and a church from Iowa City. They went to school together and so we connected to say hi. Fast forward another 5 years or so. I was at a Presbyterian camp in Omaha, Nebraska and who pulled up coming to camp as we were leaving…. You guessed it. Phil Whitmarsh! We remain friends on Facebook to this day. Ahhhh Young, Puppy love. How wonderful it is.
There is an issue with this “First love” or “Puppy Love”. It sets us up for a lifetime of misunderstanding and misrepresenting love. From the moment we first have a feeling of enjoying the company of another person, we attach a “feeling warm and fuzzy inside” characteristic to what it means to love someone that clouds our relationships for the rest of our lives. What we are called to in the gospel this morning has little, actually nothing to do with feeling warm and fuzzy. It has nothing to do with liking a person. It has nothing to do with what I feel like at all. What Jesus calls us to today has nothing to do with feelings and everything to do with responding to a love that God has already given us. The love Jesus calls us to is not for sissies. This love has everything to do with self-sacrifice and nothing to do with self-gratification.
Lets start with the first lesson. The story before the text is that Joseph was the OBVIOUS favorite son of the father. He was one of at least 12 brothers. His father, Jacob, gave his a coat of many colors, showing this great love and a bit of favoritism. Then Joseph had dreams that showed he would be a ruler over all of them. This didn’t help with the anger over his favoritism. The brother’s planned to have him fall in a pit and die. But, instead they sold him to slavery where Joseph continued to have dreams. The king and a great famine were the subject of these dreams which nearly got him in trouble again, but instead Joseph was placed over the plans to store up food to be ready for a very long famine that was coming. When the famine comes, all the people in the surrounding communities have to come to Joseph to get grain because there is none elsewhere. This is where the text comes in. These brothers wanted to have Joseph killed but settled for selling him into slavery. In their minds, his life was over. They would never see him again, and, they probably had a little twinge of happiness at the thought of Joseph suffering. Yet, God had a plan and Joseph is in fact, ruling over them. He could have had them taken away and given them nothing. But Joseph sees that God has worked through the evil that his brother’s did and he has compassion. He cares for them and provides for them. He loved them.
That isn’t just and ancient Biblical story that we read about. This is the example of what love truly is. It isn’t gushy feelings, or the idea that something about a person will make you feel better or look better, or have more status. This is about doing what is needed for a person no matter what they have done or who they are. It is unconditional and it is certainly not easy. And…. It does happen today.
I am sure that most of you know who Nelson Mandela is. He was a man who lead the fight against Apartheid in South Africa. An African Country that was colonized and became a source for the slave trade that provided slaves for America. It seems unbelievable that an African country could become a place where segregation and discrimination favored the white people who had colonized it. But, that is what happened. Nelson Mandela fought against this and was imprisoned for 27 years for speaking against the government. When Apartheid was ended in 1994, Nelson Mandela was released and became President. At this point, he could have had his captors imprisoned or even killed. Instead, He invited them to dinner. He set aside his own anger and suffering. It is a great example, like Joseph, of God making something great come from suffering. It is a great example of loving those who persecute you. It is something most if not all of us will never face. Yet, We are called to do this very thing.
There is a dynamic that comes with wearing a collar or simply the fact that people know you are a pastor. I think that is true across the board. There are things people expect when they hear that and, I have to say I often don’t fit that image. I am a woman. That is weird to some. I am a person who enjoys a good margarita or a glass of wine. Also weird for many except Lutherans and Catholics. I have been known to have a potty mouth from time to time. Surprise. But all of those things seem to open this door for people to share their feelings about pastors and Christians in general. You might be surprised to know that for many, it isn’t pretty. The image that many people have of Christians is that we are narrow minded and judgmental. We are more than happy to throw out words from Leviticus or even Paul to prove how wrong and horrible someone else is. WE love to talk about what Jesus did on the cross which allows us to be proud that we are saved. But we are so very quiet when it comes to living out the very things Jesus himself told us to do. We find, or maybe even create, stipulations for following this text we read in the gospel.
“Love your enemies”… But only when you are certain that they can’t hurt you or it won’t cost you anything. “bless those who curse you”…. but only when you know they have changed their way of thinking. “Pray for those who abuse you”…. but be sure they are held accountable and you get justice. “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also”….. But really, make sure people know you are bigger and stronger so they don’t strike you in the first place. “from anyone who takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt also”…. But really, we can’t let people steal stuff so find all your used and even worn out and ratty clothes and give them to people so they won’t need to steal. Then, if they take something from you, be sure to catch them and make them pay”.
“Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” “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.” But really, we have to tell people what they are doing wrong or they might be destined to go to hell. We are not judging, we are showing our Christian love. And you cannot forgive someone who is sorry for what they have done.
JESUS WORDS TO US DO NOT HAVE STIPULATION. We do not need to add to what Jesus tells us to do. WE don’t have to have all the answers about how that works out in the end. We are called to love and to give and to open our hearts and our lives to people who are different than us, even to those who talk bad about us. Not because we are great people, but because we are saved and loved children of God and God asks that of us.
Those who tell you that if you give $1000, you will get $10,000 back are wrong. Not only will you not get $10,000 back, you may not even get your $1000. Bad business. Yes, but God calls us to give generously. Those who say you cannot forgive if someone isn’t repentant are wrong. Forgiveness is what you do. Forgiveness is letting go of the anger and bitterness and the need to get even. It is not easy. As a matter of fact, it is incredibly hard especially when what they have done is huge, like taking the life of someone you love, or hurting you in some way, or taking what you have worked hard for. Forgiveness is horribly hard. And while I can share some amazing stories about how the parent of a murdered child went into a prison to talk to his killer and the life of that prisoner was changed forever; there are countless stories of people who would not even sit at a table to give you the opportunity to forgive, or who have been offered forgiveness but have never changed. Your forgiveness opens a door to that person, but it doesn’t guarantee that they will change. What will change is you.
WE like our stuff and giving to people who don’t deserve it is just wrong. People need to pay for their crimes and I am going to be sure that happens. We have to take care of ourselves and those other folks need to do the same. These are the reality of our society. It is how we think and what we are raised to live by. But they are not words of Jesus. In so many ways, What Jesus calls us to is so contrary to what our society values that we begin to justify our selfishness and our hard hearts and our judgment on other people. But there are no stipulation in Jesus’ words. There are not promises that living the way that Jesus calls us to live will profit you in this life. There are not garuentees that you won’t be taken advantage of. But Jesus still calls. God is still in charge. The Holy Spirit is still responsible for stirring the hearts of all people, including us.
We do have to be good stewards of our resources and consider how we can best help people with our time and money. People do need to be held accountable for the things they do, and it is never easy to balance accountability and forgiveness. There are people out there swindling people and we do have to be careful. But when we are faced with circumstances that we find ourselves wrestling with what to do, we must always air on the side of love. Not that puppy love that makes us feel gushy inside. Love that is action. Love that goes beyond what people expect. Love that considers and does for others above all else.
Take some time this week to consider ways you have loved when it was very difficult. Write them down if it helps. It is good to see how our faith has given us this ability. But then do the hard part and really consider they ways that you have put stipulations on the love, and forgiveness that you have been willing to give to others. And then, spend time in prayer, asking God to give you fresh eyes to see the times you are to offer love even though it is hard.
AMEN