Epiphany 7C (OT 7)
312: February 24, 2019
United Methodist Special Session of General Conference will be in session, and the text for the day is “Love your enemies” and “golden rule.”
The Golden Rule and LGBT inclusion: If someone were to tell me that they loved me, that they valued me as a Christian, and as a human, but then were to tell me that the most important, life-giving, soul-grounding relationship I have goes against God’s will for my life, I would not feel very loved. I want others to treat me as if my life and my most important relationships are sacred. By following Jesus’ command here, I should treat others in the same way.
Second part of the “Sermon on the Level Ground”
Jesus is on physical level ground, but again, this is a theological statement as well. “Level Ground” implies more than physical topography.
There is a part 3, but it gets skipped in lectionary. Next week we move to Transfiguration. You may want to read verses 39-49 because there is more good stuff there and could be used to wrap up Jesus’ overall message.
The whole passage begins with a “but,” which means you must read it through the lens of the blessings and woes AND read the blessings and woes through the lens of this passage.
Blessings and Woes were a reshuffling of “honor and shame”
For those claiming v 24-26 “How terrible for you rich…” as a call to social rebellion, class war, or violent upheaval, Jesus follows with “love your enemies.”
Verses 27 and 28 can be the whole sermon. To put only this into practice can transform lives, families, workplaces, churches, nations.
Verses 27-31 Love of enemies
This is the major theme of the passage. The phrase appears at the beginning and is repeated later.
Those that live in the Kingdom do not:
Retaliate - This is how the world operates, and it gets you no where but more violence and oppression.
Play the victim - This is not a ‘slow play’ to victory, but non violence is the Way to lean on God instead of our own power, might, wealth, and influence.
Verses 32-37 What does love look like?
“Christian behavior and relationships are prompted by the God we worship who does not react but acts in love and grace toward all. This is what it means to be children of God” (Fred Craddock, Interpretation: Luke, p. 90)
Verses 32-33, Robb Version: “It is easy to love the people you like. It is much harder to love the jerks, but I’m telling you to love the jerks.” (and then I may throw in a call back to exodus “Because there was a time you were a jerk and someone loved you”)
Consider shifting the paragraph break to between 35 and 36 instead of after 36. Read it “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.”
“The passage on not judging is an extension of love. We are reminded that the demands are addressed to all who would hear, and that the demands are not met by those who do not bear good fruit and simply say. ‘Lord, Lord’” (Raymond Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 240)
Balance justice and mercy
God’s justice is not the same as human retribution.
Forgiveness and mercy feel like they are in tension with justice - especially the ‘woes’ part of the sermon.
“Mercy and justice are, and always have been, in tension. And justice is an appropriate topic among Jesus’ followers… Without justice and fairness, grace degenerates into permissiveness, just as justice without grace hardens into cruelty. After teaching about kindness and mercy, Jesus now talks of fairness, of measure for measure, of reward and punishment. But even here, the balanced fairness… is broken by the image of abundant generosity.
Anyone who bakes can understand the metaphor of the ‘packed down’ measure. Bakers know that when you measure flour, you cannot pack it down, for it will be an inaccurate measure (as opposed to brown sugar, which is often packed). This abundance is (once again) absurd. It is an amount that goes against what would usually be understood to be sufficient.
The balance of fairness and justice is further tipped later in the gospel by stories of a son who wastes everything, a Samaritan who goes above and beyond, and 5000 who are miraculously fed.
Thoughts and Questions
This is a reminder to love people even as your work for justice. Instead of “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” maybe we can try “Love all people, hate injustice.” Do not let your work for justice harden your heart against those who are perpetrators and oppressors. Compassion is the only way to soften hearts.
This sermon, on the whole, is a resounding repudiation of the Prosperity Gospel. This falls right into line with the Magnificat, Jesus’ reading in Nazareth, and other places in Luke where Jesus warns against the dangers of wealth. But verse 38 is there for the plucking for those that like to take Scripture out of context and change it to “Give (to me) and it will be given to you… The portion you give (to this church or pastor or ministry) will determine the portion you receive in return.” Depending on your context, this sort of prosperity understanding of the text could be strong. Speak against it!
Eric was wrong- there is one more week in 1 Corinthians - I was rushing Lent :( - Paige Blair pointed this out
Read vv. 39-41 - they flesh out (pun intended) Paul’s argument
Paul’s main point: What does the bodily resurrection look like?
1 - There is a bodily resurrection
2 - This is not the resuscitation of a decayed(ing) corpse
A plant is not a seed.
A seed dies to give life to the plant (cf. John 12:24)
3 - The resurrected body is different
3a - we know about different kinds of bodies: animals, birds, fish
Common thinking in Corinth was the soul was made of the same stuff as the celestial (or heavenly) bodies: the sun, moon and stars. When someone died they would return to the stars
Like the Lion King (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzhphX1I0KA)
See also Daniel 12:2-3
Paul did not believe this, but uses this common thought to support the idea of the continuity of the soul in a “different body”
5 - Back to the seed
You cannot know what the plant will look like from the shape and form of the seed
Dishonor into glory; perishable into imperishable; weakness into power
Physical and Spiritual Bodies -BE CAREFUL
This is often lost in translation- literally - best translation is the Jerusalem Bible: “When it is sown it embodies the soul, when it is raised it embodies the spirit. If the soul has its own embodiment, so does the spirit have its own embodiment.” Hays, Interpretation: First Corinthians.
Physical Body (as it is often translated) is actually the σῶμα ψυχικόν (soma psychikon). The root is psyche or the soul - not the physical, fleshy body (σάρξ, sarx). The body (not flesh) which houses the soul.
Spiritual body - σῶμα πνευματικόν. The root is pneuma or spirit. The body (not flesh) that houses the Spirit (πνευμα)
6 - Adam and Resurrection
The first Adam became a living “psyche” or soul; the last Adam became a life-giving “pnuema”
7 - There is a transformation from the natural/dust/soul to the spiritual.
8 - Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God - we have moved away from soma (a body/container for the spirit and soul) to sarx (flesh) and aima (blood)
Humans are not simply their fleshy bodies (1 Cor 15:1)
Humans are also not only spiritual beings
What we do with our bodies affects our souls (see 1 Cor. 6)
There is not dualism between the physical and the spiritual- the two are inextricably linked
Rejection of the Neoplatonic dualism of the time
The Mystery (1 Cr 15:50) of incarnation is not only in Christ but in all of us
Thoughts and Questions
A lot of platonic dualism (the spirit = good and body=evil) persists today. This is a good chance to challenge that notion
Note the dust language and begin planting seeds for Ash Wednesday - what does it mean to be from the dust and to return to the dust. According to Paul this is not a declaration of depravity or worthlessness but rather one of glory
Paul uses organic language: sowing, dust, growing. What does it mean to be a growing child of God? Not static in our belief but embracing the gift of our living soul while being transformed into a life-giving spirit?
Some good connections can be made between the circle of life and perhaps the circle of the spirit
Way to skip to the end of the story, lectionary.
Cannot assume people know the story. If you left Joseph off in the pit, it makes no sense to have him in a powerful position in Egypt now. What can you do?
John Wesley sees this story as analogous to a sinner coming to Christ. Joseph is put into God’s place, joyful for the reunion despite the misdeeds of the brothers.
“These were tears of tenderness and strong affection, and with these he threw off that austerity, with which he had hitherto carried himself towards his brethren; for he could bear it no longer. This represents the Divine compassion towards returning penitents, as much as that of the father of the prodigal” (Wesley’s Notes on the Bible)
“Now Joseph having forgiven them all, lays this obligation upon them, not to upbraid one another. This charge our Lord Jesus has given to us, that we love one another, that we live in peace, that whatever occurs, or whatever former occurrences are remembered, we fall not out. For,
We are brethren, we have all one father.
We are his brethren; and we shame, our relation to him, who is our peace, if we fall out.
We are all guilty, verily guilty, and instead of quarreling with one another, have a great deal of reason to fall out with ourselves.
We are forgiven of God, whom we have all offended, and therefore should be ready to forgive one another.
We are by the way, a way that lies through the land of Egypt, where we have many eyes upon us, that seek occasion and advantage against us; a way that leads to Canaan, where we hope to be forever in perfect peace.” (Wesley’s Notes on the Bible)
We are to follow the lead of Joseph, and forgive others because we were first forgiven.
Story of forgiveness is powerful, but might gloss over a troubling aspect of the story, that is - Human trafficking was used by God as a means to justify an end.
God’s use of slavery in the story has been used to justify real slave trafficking in history - and still.
“The claim of verse 8, ‘it was not you who sent me here but God’ should perhaps be understood in this story as Joseph's perception of his circumstances and not as a broader religious sanction of slavery, human trafficking or any other social ill over which an individual triumphs. Joseph does what so many people do, which is try to make sense out of what he has experienced by drawing on his own limited understanding of God.” (Wil Gafney, Working Preacher).
It would be very troubling, indeed, to claim that God wills the trafficking of humanity for some kind of universal good.
It is Joseph who comes to an understanding of what has befallen him, not God telling Joseph that it was God’s will for Joseph to be in slavery.
The story is good news for Joseph and his brothers, but not particularly good news for those still trapped in the horrifying institution of slavery, nor for the other prisoners who were summarily executed at the whim of the Pharaoh.
In fact, Pharaoh is portrayed somewhat favorably, despite being a despot, because there is a happy ending.
The Suffering of God, by Terrence Freitheim
“The grief of God is as constant as the people’s sin. This divine grief manifests itself in a variety of ways in the life of the people, as God in many and various ways seeks to bring the wayward sons and daughters back home again.” (p. 111).
God suffers through human frailty, but still works through the frailty. God is not omnipotent - controlling and willing all action. God’s love is omnipresent - working, yearning, compelling people to orient themselves toward God, toward love.
Thoughts and Questions
Don’t skip ahead to the happy ending. There are troubling things that are happening here. Simply skipping ahead to the merry reunion seems to do a disservice to reality.
God’s will. What is the difference between God working through sinful people and sinful events, and God using sinful events to achieve a good? Is it too subtle of a difference? Is there anything redeemable about a God that will allow slavery so that a family can have a happy ending? What about a God that can work even through something as awful as slavery to bring about forgiveness, reconciliation, and grace.
Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (psalmimmersion.com,@pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Misirlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”,"Real Ride"and“Summertime”) and Bryan Odeen for our closing music.