Seventh Sunday after Epiphany February 24, 2019

Karin Liebster , Associate Pastor

Genesis 45:3-11, 15
Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40
1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
Luke 6:27-38

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Love your enemies. Do good, bless, pray.
Sisters and brothers, we are asked to cut loose and trust. Cut loose the weight on our shoulders and in our hearts that we carry with us in the sagas and dramas of our family histories, and in the weight we feel in the tribal, uncompromising fights of our time.

We are asked to lift our heads and eyes from the ground, cut loose hopelessness and fear, – and trust, begin to trust again. Trust in God, and trust in the positive that can happen when we cut through the cycle of hate, curse and abuse.

Who would have thought that Joseph and his brothers would ever meet again, after the vagaries of inflated egos, jealousy, intent to kill, reversal of fortunes, and years gone by. Enough reason to bear grudges against each other, blame the other for deep wounds of soul and heart, stunted emotional growth, missed opportunities in life, etc.

Joseph and his brothers come close, so close they can look each other in the eye. They cut loose trusting that God is present to heal and interpret what happened; they embrace, reconcile; transform what was visibly and tangibly into a new life. Jacob’s sons and family will survive the famine that has besieged the surrounding world.

We are asked to cut loose from what holds us back, keeps us encamped, tribal, lonely, and trust the promise of transformation with which God has broken into our world.

We may be doubtful whether that is possible. What does transformation look like? The people in Paul’s congregation in Corinth were rather doubtful about resurrection, the ultimate transformation.

Paul encourages these new Christians to embrace the hope in resurrection transformation and hold fast to the mystery that awaits us upon Christ’s return with a string of images that still have power to rekindle our own hope and faith and trust.

Can you see this, sisters and brothers? Here is an example of transformation. About three months ago we discussed in confirmation class resurrection, the same passage we read today. The students received grains of wheat which they sprouted on wet paper towels. Have you ever watched grain sprout? Or tasted it? Now the seed, the grain has died and is transformed. Just as Paul says, “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. As for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as God has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.” ( 1 Cor 15:36-38)

Paul insists that the resurrection will be bodily, physical. How, he does not say. But from perishable to imperishable, from weakness to power, from disease and dishonor to glorious. It will be transformation into something completely new, God breaking in with a new creation, not simply a continuation of what was. In baptism the transformation has begun. We confess that we died with Christ, have put on Christ and will be raised to new life in Christ.

Paul’s vivid description helps us cut loose, sisters and brothers, and become vulnerable, open for transformation, trusting that our fears need not control and guide us. He entices us to give up hopelessness and turn into human beings who care to make a difference in the world.

See, Jesus wants us to make a difference. Love your enemies. He challenges us to approach the weight on our shoulders and in our hearts from a still new angle. It is so easy to be pulled into the judging and condemning that characterizes our culture, putting people into categories of enemy and friend, good and evil, the right and the wrong. We don’t even notice how this pulls us down.

Love your enemies. What if this were not hyperbole, an exaggeration wanting to nudge us? Jesus provokes us to cut through the cycle of reciprocity, let go of transactional relationships, cut out tit for tat retribution. Jesus encourages us to outdo one another with love, compassion, kindness and mercy. Let the scale of reciprocity tip toward giving, forgiving, resisting our calculation for a dividend. It takes guts to do that, but the promise is a full, running over measure of love, compassion, kindness and mercy in return.

When we take Jesus’ call to love our enemies seriously and not brush it away right away as hyperbole, it helps to know that he speaks in the plural. Y’all love, do good, bless, pray. Y’all give and forgive, be compassionate and merciful.

Jesus speaks to the body of Christ here, he does not mean to give us individual homework that we feel good about. He does not mean to add more hurt to the victim of abuse. Jesus talks about a deep change, communal change, change of systemic retribution and injustice, a transformation of ethics built on greed and fear. An end to hate and abuse.

For such communal, transformative work, sisters and brothers, we need indeed trust. Trust in the power of the resurrection in which God comes through as deliverer.

Trust, and something else. A good measure of humility. How can we otherwise break through the lines of encampment, the cycle of reciprocity and retribution if we are not willing to give something up, make ourselves vulnerable, see that possibly we ourselves are the enemy, belong to the group of the ungrateful and wicked?

This is not just a theoretical game of mind but plays out as we speak in the United Methodist Church where our brothers and sisters to whom we are joined in full communion are taking a vote which will bring very real changes to the worldwide body of United Methodists. Many hope for a deep transformation and many fear a deep transformation.

On the table is the question of human sexuality and whether same gender marriage can be blessed and gay/lesbian pastors can serve in ordained ministry. This vote will have real consequences for congregations, pastors, bishops, and the church.

The deep, multi-year work of the Commission on the Way Forward to prepare this special session has resulted in a stance of what they call “convicted humility.” They invite all participants to overcome the encampments of “us and them,” of expecting only the other side to repent and change.

Convicted humility is defined in this way: It is “an attitude which combines honesty about the differing convictions which divide us with humility about the way in which each of our views may stand in need of corrections. It also involves humble repentance for all the ways in which we have spoken and acted as those seeking to win a fight rather than those called to discern the shape of faithfulness together.” (blog Bishop Ken Carter, Florida Conference, UMC, 2/22/2019)

“Love your enemies” is more real than we may think, sisters and brothers.

The gospel invites us to lift our heads and eyes from the ground, cut loose hopelessness and fear. Knowing about the need for humility ourselves, we pray for and with our Methodist sisters and brothers, for the unity of the Christ’s church, for trust, and for God’s love breaking in through the transformation of the resurrection.