“The Stew. Genesis 45:3-11, 15; Luke 6:27-38. Donald W. Dotterer, 2/24/19.
We’ve all heard the excuse that is sometimes usedwhen somebody doesn’t want to do something, or when someone has done something that they shouldn’t have done. They say, “I didn’t ask to be born.”
Well, a young man in India is not just saying that, he’s doing something about it. 27 year-old Raphael Samuel is suing his parents, who are both attorneys. Mr. Samuel is suing his parents for giving him life. That’s right. Mr. Samuel says that he was conceived without his consent; therefore his parents should pay him for his life. Now there’s some logic for you.
Mr. Samuel said, I love my parents and we have a great relationship, but they had me for their own joy and happiness. My life has been amazing, but I don’t see why people should put another life through the rigmarole of school and finding a career, especially when those children didn’t ask to exist.[i]
Talk about mixed emotions. It seems to me that this fellow ought to be saying instead, “I didn’t ask to be born, but I’m glad I was.”
I think you and I would say that too. When times are tough we may say that we didn’t ask to be born. We didn’t ask for the trouble life brings us. But at the same time we are grateful, thankful for the gift of life we that we enjoy and celebrate, the good and even the bad.
The point is that human beings are a stew; we are a mixture of feelings and emotions. We can be resentful at the same time that we are grateful. We can be both happy and sad about something that happens to us or to our loved ones. And we can both love and hate people at the same time. Human beings are a stew of emotions.
Today’s gospel reading is the second lesson in what is called “The Sermon on the Plain.” As we saw last week, this teaching is delivered not on a mountain, but on a flat plain. We are told that Jesus comes down with the people and “stood on a level place.” We saw that there is symbolic meaning in this.
First of all, Jesus is not talking down to the people. He is looking at them eye-to-eye. He is on their level. He’s not reaching to them from up high in a pulpit. He’s not using big words they can’t understand. He’s not talking over their heads in complicated formulas. He is one of them, even as he is the divine Son of God.
So Jesus has put himself on the same level as the people. And secondly, Jesus is leveling with them about what God expects of us. That is, Jesus is telling them and us the truth about God. So we need to sit up, pay attention to this, and take it seriously. Especially this lesson, where Jesus is talking about something that everybody knows about—the feelings that we all have of love and of hate.
We know what that feels like, don’t we? That is, to have mixed emotions of love and hate. This is a teaching that tears at our hearts because we know what Jesus is talking about here.
Take for example, romantic love, the subject of so much music, poetry, that love that is the stuff of novels and movies
and yes, real life. Romantic love can be so beautiful, so good, so wonderful. The romantic love that we celebrate with Valentine’s Day can be exhilarating, uplifting, joyful. It can carry us away. However, as we all know, there is another side to romantic love. We know that there is also a destructive undercurrent
in romantic love. Jealousy can be become a poisonous part of the stew. Love can so easily get mixed up with feelings of anger and hate. People who love each other dearly can end up not speaking to one another.
You know what I’m talking about. There can be strong, even uncontrollable emotions in a romantic relationship. The first century Latin poet Catullus wrote, “I hate and I love. Perhaps you ask why I do it. I don’t know.”[ii] Crimes of passion and lesser offenses are caused by this potentially deadly mixture of romantic love and hate. We hear about that all the time. The news frequently reports stories of a lover who has lashed out in rage and violence towards the one who is loved.
Jesus tells his congregation on the plain that day, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” We say, “What’s that, Jesus? Surely you don’t really mean that.” But alas, that is what Jesus says. And it is what he means.
Most people today don’t want to hear it. And the people heard Jesus say it that day didn’t want to hear it either. The Contemporary English Bible translates it this way: Jesus says, “But I say to you who are willing to hear.” See how Jesus challenges the crowd to hear, to really listen what he is saying.
“But I say to you who are willing to hear.” You have to be willing, you have to want to listen to what Jesus says, otherwise it will go right over your head. That is what faith in Jesus is all about. It’s about be willing to hear what Jesus says and do what Jesus wants us to do. And that isn’t always easy.
Not everyone can take that. Again, Jesus’ shocking words are, “Love your enemies.” We might ask, “But who does that?”
Most people know “The Great Commandment,” “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Okay, Jesus. We get that. And we can do that. We can come to church and worship and praise God. We’re doing that right now. And we can love our neighbors. Most of the time. Although it’s hard when their leaves blow into your yard or their dog barks incessantly.
We can love our families. Most of the time. We can love the people who love us. But love our enemies? That’s a different story. But Jesus says here that we have to love them too. Jesus doesn’t just tell us to listen to our enemies. He doesn’t tell us to listen to their side of things. He doesn’t say we are to hear them out. Jesus says that we are to love them!
This is not something most people want to hear. And it’s not what most people are ready to do.
This is what New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce classified as one of the “Hard Sayings of Jesus” in his classic book by that name. He has some helpful words that help us understand what it means to love our enemies. Professor Bruce says this: First of all, we’re not talking about romantic, sentimental love when it comes to our neighbors. “Love to one’s neighbor is expressed in lending him a helping hand when that is what he needs.”That is the lesson we learn from the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Good Samaritan realized that a Jew was his neighbor, and that he should stop and help him, to lend him a helping hand when he was attacked and beaten.
What Jesus is saying here is not only are we to lend our friends, family members and neighbor a helping hand, we need to do the same with our enemies. What Jesus is saying is that your feelings towards him or her are not the important thing.
That’s right. Our feelings are beside the point when it comes to helping a person in need. So that’s what we’re dealing with here. And it is so contrary to our human nature. We need to find a way to relate to and help persons who make life difficult for us.
We’ve all had people like that in our lives. Persons who for whatever reason, or for no reason, persons who just do not like us and work against us, people who seem to want to make life difficult for us, people who undermine us and want us to fail, people who have hurt us. We may say, “I didn’t ask for this.” “I don’t deserve to be treated like that.”And then there is this. What we don’t want to admit is that we have done things that have made people hate us. Maybe we are the ones who have made life difficult for somebody else. We like to think of ourselves as the good people, the ones who have been offended and hurt. But that’s not always the case.
Denise Anderson says that is the problem with these teachings. We don’t always know who we are in them. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. We could be the one who is slapped. Or, perhaps, we could be the one who slapped somebody else.[iii] We need to think about that.
But let’s assume that we are the one who have been hurt. Jesus is saying here that somehow, some way we are to find a way to love that enemy, which is to treat them with respect and lend them a helping hand if needed.
So what are we to do? There is one thing people of faith know that those who lack faith do not understand. And that is that humans cannot save themselves from the stew of our thoughts and feelings.[iv]
It may not be humanly possible to love our enemies. But, as St. Paul says, with God, all things are possible.
There is a way to love our enemies. And the answer is found right here in this teaching. Jesus says, “Pray.” “Pray for those who abuse you.”
Eugene Peterson has an interesting paraphrase of this verse: “When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person.”
Wow! I like that, don’t you? Respond with the energies of prayer for that person. Have you ever thought of prayer that way? As energy?
What is “energy,” anyway? One definitions of energy is the “the capacity or power to do work, such as the capacity to move an object by the application of force.” Physicists, who study force, motion and energy, say that energy is the ability to do work, and work is moving something against a force, like gravity. There are a lot of different kinds of energy in the universe, and that energy can do different things.[v]
Have you ever thought of prayer that way? Have you thought of prayer as God’s energy working on us when to move us in directions we really don’t want to go? Well, think about it. Most people who haven’t really thought much about prayer think that prayer is asking God to give them what they want. But a more biblically grounded understanding of prayer is opening ourselves to the energy of God that can move us in the direction that God wants us to go.
F. F. Bruce in his book The Hard Sayings of Jesus uses this example. Alexander Whyte quotes from an old diary the confessions of a man who had to share the same house with a person whom he could not stand to be around. Some of us know what that is like. But he man decided to pray about it until this happened. He wrote the next morning, “I found it easy to be civil and even benevolent to my neighbour. And I felt at the Lord’s Table today as if I would yet live to love that man. I feel sure I will”[vi] We can overcome our negative feelings towards others.But we cannot do it on our own. We need the help of the Spirit of God that comes to us through the energy of prayer.
Our Old Testament lesson this morning is a good example of how that can happen. This story is the grand finale of that great first book of the Bible, Genesis. You know the story. I encourage you to go home and read that story again today. Joseph is the favorite son of his father Jacob. Jacob favors his son by giving him that famous coat of many colors. Jacob’s favoritism turns Joseph into an arrogant little brat. Joseph unwisely tells his brothers that he has had a dream in which his ten brothers all bow down to him.Big mistake. The brothers now hate their little brother Joseph. They hate them so much that they conspire to kill him.
However, one of the brothers, Reuben, thinks better of it. He convinces his other brothers to instead sell Joseph to some traders who were on their way to Egypt.
In Egypt Joseph finds that God is with him. He rises in position and power to the level of being second in command to the pharaoh himself. Joseph is like a viceroy in the British colonies. He has control over the food supply in time of famine. Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to buy food for the family in this time of famine. Joseph is now a grown man of course and he is dressed as an Egyptian. But he plays a game with the brothers who hate him and does not reveal his identity.
When Joseph finally reveals who he is to his brothers, this is what happens. We read, Joseph “kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.”
Friends, here is an example of how God pours his healing medicine of grace into human lives that have been broken apart by hate. Here we see how God’s love happens, how tears of joy can fall when God dwells among human beings.
We can love those who have been our enemies. We don’t know how it happens. But we know it when we see it. This is the grace of God acting in our lives.
May God be with us as we make our way through a world that is full of difficult people.
Thanks be to God for his love and for his grace.
Amen and amen.
[i] The Print 1/30/2019
[ii]The Living Church, 2/24/19, p.26
[iii] The Christian Century, 1/30/19, p. 18.
[iv] The Living Church, 2/24/19, p.26.
[vi] F. F. Bruce, The Hard Sayings of Jesus, p.73.