The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

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The Bible readings I’m using

The story of Joseph. Because Joseph was favored more than his other 11 brothers, (remember the technicolor dream coat?), Joseph’s brothers threw him down a hole and left him for dead. Then they told his father he was dead. Joseph ends up in prison, but soon discovers he has a gift for dream interpretation and that gift, which begins with one of Pharaoh’s culinary staff, that gift gets all the way to Pharaoh. Pharaoh avails himself of Joseph’s imagination and rewards him by putting him in charge of Egypt. Not a bad situation after all that Joseph has been through.

Then the brothers show up. There has been famine in Israel for two years, a famine that Joseph predicted. Egypt has planned well and will not suffer like others because of their grain reserves. At first, the brothers don’t recognize their younger brother, they just know they need his help. He’s in a position to help them. When he first understands who they are its very touching. He goes by himself and weeps. Then he collects himself and that’s the scene we have this morning, the part where he reveals himself to his brothers and says it all okay.

That is the part, Brothers and Sisters, I don’t buy. He says its all good. He says that his brothers don’t need to worry. He’s not angry for what they did to him out of their jealousy. He says I’m now one of the most powerful men in Egypt and I can help our little monotheistic clan survive this famine that’s got five more years coming.

I don’t buy it because human beings don’t forget. They may forgive but they don’t forget. It’s a little like a man who beats his wife and ends up putting her in the hospital. In the hospital she gets treated by a fine looking, wealthy, and successful physician. They fall in love and get married and have a good life. The abusive husband finds the woman he put in the hospital and needs a hand. The woman who has been beaten so bad she gets hospitalized said, “Oh, ex-husband, it’s okay. I can help. I have plenty of resources now. Don’t you worry about a thing. I’ll build you a casita and you can stay with us to get you through this difficult time. God’s plan is perfect.

I’m sorry but my interpretation of the Gospel doesn’t make any of this easier, and may complicate or at least frustrate things a little more. The Gospel passage may be one of the more well-known of Jesus’ sayings, and one of the least practiced. I’ve seen it before. I think I understand what it asks of me, but I’m going to say this, the older I get and the more experiences I have, the less likely I am to practice what Jesus preaches here. I’m getting a bit tired of being compared with God and being asked to do things the way that he did when he had far more resources at his disposal than I do:  you know, like being God. He also knowing how to make more wine when people ran out or walk out on water to get the ferry because he missed getting it on shore.

Love you enemies. Okay. I’ll try. I might not make it. I might not do it perfectly, but I can see some wisdom in that. Forgive. Yes, very important. I get that if you don’t forgive, the bitterness and resentment will eat you alive. But people, someone hits me. At the very least, I am not going to stand there and say, hit me again. Maybe I defend myself, maybe I get away, but no way am I going to say, take another shot. It is completely counter-intuitive. Jesus says I’m supposed to love God with all my heart and love my neighbor as myself. Okay, there is some indication from foundational Judeo-Christian teaching that loving myself is a value. Well, if that’s the case, I’m going to love myself enough to get the hell out of dodge and get more abuse or violence or insult if I can avoid it. I understand the importance of not returning it. It will be a lot easier not to return it if I’m on the beach.

Now, here’s the next thing. I’m not happy that I don’t get credit for loving people who love me. Quite a few people love me. I try and love them back. I don’t get credit for that? That only gets me as far as a sinner? That’s ridiculous. Half the battle in life (my life anyway) is allowing others to love you, to be kind, to receive from them without paying them back. And now that’s not good enough? It’s good enough for me. I understand that I’m to love the folks that are hardest to love. I have some students that are hard to love, one called me a bad word-two bad words actually, they go together- because I took his phone. I’m trying to still be professional and help him as his teacher. It’s not just my job, it’s who I want to be as a Christian.

Here’s my last complaint this morning. In one section of the Gospel it says give without consideration for what you get. Then the next it says give and the reward you receive will be compressed, full, and yield all sorts of good stuff. I’m supposed to give without receiving and then it says I get a reward. It’s confusing. No wonder people don’t come to church. Too many mixed messages.

There’s bound to be good news in here somewhere. And here it is, I think. I don’t know who said any of this. I don’t even care. It’s attributed to Jesus and despite the considerable editing, he probably said somethings like it. I want to be more like Jesus and less like Joseph’s brothers who tossed him in the hole. I want to do the right thing not because there is something in it for me but because it is the right thing to do. I don’t want enemies, but if I have them, I am going to do the best I can to respond to them with love rather than hatred, because hatred is not how I want to live my life and not what God wants from me.

I am going to my best to protect myself and those I love but hopefully I can do that by showing love and not violence or attack or fear.

This passage would make much more sense if we were around Jesus and knew what he dealt with everyday as he resisted hatred and tried to practice love. Looking around  at what is happening here on the border, there’s plenty of activity motivated,  if not by hatred, than certainly by fear and exclusion.

This gospel passage is our guide. It is the introduction to any mission statement we undertake. Our job as those who follow Christ, who identify as Christian, is to love, no matter what that love leads us to do or not do. I can’t love fully without you. You can’t love fully without me. My sense is that we may have the opportunity to practice loving more fully as the days increase.

Beloved, let us love one another, for God is Love.

Amen