Joseph forgave his brothers

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“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

This is the message from Sunday, February 24, 2019, based on the first reading Genesis 45:3-11, 15, (Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers) and Luke 6:27-38, the Gospel for the day when Jesus commands us to “love your enemies.” The other readings were Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40 and 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50 . An introduction to this Sunday and its texts is posted as An audacious and generous love.

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Because of my cough, I need to keep things short and concise this morning. This poses a challenge, since these texts are all so important.

Every time you hear someone talk about how the Old Testament is all about violence and wrath, you need to say simply: “Joseph forgave his brothers.”

The story of Joseph takes up the last fourteen chapters of the book of Genesis. This is the book that begins with the wondrous creation of all things and then tells how the harmony of God’s world was lost, how Cain killed Abel, how violence multiplied in the earth until God felt it necessary to wipe the slate clean and start again. Genesis tells us of Noah, of the tower of Babel, of the call of Abraham, of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, of the birth of Ishmael, of the birth of Isaac and the command to offer Isaac in sacrifice.

Genesis recounts how Abraham sends a servant to search for a wife for Isaac: his beloved Rebekah. It tells of the birth of the twins, Jacob and Esau, and how Jacob stole the birthright and the blessing. Jacob had to flee from his brother’s murderous wrath and has his dream of the stairway to the heavens with angels ascending and descending. Jacob meets Rachel and negotiates seven years of labor that she might be his bride and, on the morning after his wedding, finds Leah in his bed and realizes that he, the cheater, has been cheated. He works another seven years for Rachel and cheats his father-in-law out of the best of the flocks until he has to flee, taking his wives and possessions. Jacob is caught between an angry father-in-law behind him and a murderous brother ahead of him – and then God jumps him while he is sleeping alone at the river Jabbok. They wrestle all night. Jacob wants to know God’s name and God refuses. As dawn nears, God dislocates Jacob’s hip with a touch to force Jacob to let go, but Jacob demands that God bless him. Then there is the climactic scene when his brother Esau comes galloping towards him with 400 armed men.

All of this and so much more is in Genesis – including all those “begats” – but the book still devotes a fourth of its narrative to Joseph.

The Joseph story is critically important – and it is a story that reaches its climax with an act of unmerited forgiveness. Joseph forgives the brothers who hated him and intended to kill him.

The Old Testament is not about wrath; it is about mercy. It is about a troubled and violent world that is not the world God created, but is the world God chooses to forgive, to redeem, to save, to heal.

The forgiveness of which Jesus speaks – the forgiveness that is the heart of the Old and New Testament alike – is a real forgiveness lived in a broken world. It is not carefree young people singing “All you need is love;” it is a gritty, determined, dirt-under-your-fingernails, love.

The beatitudes we heard last week, “Blessed are you who are poor, blessed are you who are hungry, blessed are you who weep,” – these are not romantic ideas; they are real world ideas. And those exclamations about what is honorable and what is shameful in God’s sight lead immediately to this one sentence: “Love your enemies.”

“Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who abuse you.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also;
and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
Give to everyone who begs from you;
and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27-31)

Do to others as you would have them do to you.” We call it the Golden Rule but, as I have said, it is a gritty, determined, dirt-under-your-fingernails, kind of rule.

And understand why Jesus says this:

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:32-36)

We are to love our enemies because God loves God’s enemies. God is faithful to us when we are not faithful. God is generous when we are not generous. God is kind when we are not kind. God is merciful when we are not merciful.

We are to love our enemies because God loves God’s enemies. And we are not talking about generalities. They tried to kill Joseph. They did kill Jesus. They showed no mercy. They showed no generosity. They stripped him and beat him and pierced his hands with spikes and his side with a spear. They mocked him as he hung there in shame. And the soldiers, after they had had their sport of dressing him up like a king and beating and spitting upon him, demanding that he prophesy – after they had done their Abu Graib cruelties, they callously ignored him on the cross and threw dice for his few meager possessions. But there were no thunderbolts from heaven, only a sad darkness. And there were no curses from the cross, only mercy and forgiveness.

God is merciful though we are not merciful. God is kind though we are not kind. God is faithful though we are not faithful. And this merciful God summons us to follow, summons us to spread wide the net that gathers all into God’s grace.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:37-38)

Joseph forgave his brothers.

Amen

© David K Bonde, 2019. All rights reserved.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Afghan_girl_begging.jpg Evstafiev [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D

An audacious and generous love

File:Fog of War (18986349660).jpgWatching for the Morning of February 24, 2019

Year C

The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

Having declared that the poor, the hungry, and the grieving are honorable in God’s sight (they embrace the values of God’s reign), and calling the rich shameful for enriching themselves at the expense of others, Jesus moves immediately to Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

Our obligation as participants in the reign of God is to live the way of God: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them… But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

A new administration has come, with a new set of values. These are not the values of empire that amasses great fortunes from conquered peoples; these are the values of a God who makes the makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous,” who anointed Jesus to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

At the heart of this new administration is showing to all people the fidelity and allegiance we show to our own people. Israel knew the command to love the neighbor, but who falls inside the circle? Who is one of us? Even the Roman soldiers, says Jesus, and foreign mercenaries marching through their lands, even the tax gatherers helping Rome and Judea’s elites to plunder the people, even the sinners pushed beyond the limits of proper behavior, even the pious full of self-righteousness and judgment.

And why such audacious and generous love? Because such is the love of God. Such is the reign of the Spirit. Such is the new world born in Jesus.

So Sunday we will hear about Joseph’s extravagant grace to the brothers who sought to kill him but settled for selling him into slavery and telling their father his favorite child was dead, dousing Joseph’s special coat in blood to show a lion got him. But Joseph will see beyond their vengefulness to the bounty of God, and will provide for them all during the five years of famine to come. And Sunday we will hear the poet remind us not to “fret because of the wicked…for they will soon fade like the grass.” “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath,” for “the wicked will be no more,” “but the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.”

…In abundant prosperity. In overwhelming grace. In an audacious and generous love.

The Prayer for February 24, 2019

God of truth,
make us attentive to the teachings of your Son
that in his words we may find the path of life.

The Texts for February 24, 2019

First Reading: Genesis 45:3-11, 15
“I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.” –
Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and receives them with grace.

Psalmody: Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40
“Do not fret because of the wicked…Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more…But the meek shall inherit the land.” – the poet meditates on the destiny of the corrupt who ignore our God-given obligations to one another and promises the fulfillment of God’s promise (the land) to those who remain faithful.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
“But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised?”
Arguing against those in Corinth who deny the bodily resurrection, Paul now attempts to convey the notion that the resurrected body is different than our present existence.

Gospel: Luke 6:27-38
“Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”
After opening Jesus’ teaching about the dawning reign of God with Jesus’ declaration of those who are honored and shameful in God’s eyes, Luke immediately sets forth Jesus teaching, “Love your enemies,” for this is the pattern of God’s action in the world.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fog_of_War_(18986349660).jpg 1st Lt. Danielle Dixon [Public domain]

Rage and redemption

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Aftermath of the Tulsa Riot that destroyed the homes and businesses in the black community of Greenwood, killing more than 100.

Watching for the Morning of February 3, 2019

Year C

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

An outbreak of communal violence is an ugly thing. We shouldn’t think first of the mindless behavior of hometown fans when their team wins the final game. Nor should we think first of the violence that rocks nations when oppressed communities respond to state violence with outrage. We need to think about lynchings: the angry, outraged mobs that insist on immediate vengeance for some fundamental violation of communal norms.

And we need to think about our stories, not what’s happening in some other country.

Emmett Till was 14, visiting from Chicago, when he encountered 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant at the small country store she owned with her husband in Money, Mississippi. He may have whistled at her; he may have whistled to his friends; he may have whistled softly to himself as he had been taught in order to control his stuttering. He was taken from the home where he was staying with his great-uncle in the middle of the night by Carolyn’s husband and his half-brother. Emmett’s naked, shot, and brutally beaten body was fished from the Tallahatchie River three days later, barbed wire wrapped around his neck and attached to a weight.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice records that “more than 4400 African American men, women, and children were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950.”

What happened to Stephen in Acts 2 is this same kind of outbreak of communal violence. A mob outraged by his claim to see Jesus at the right hand of God rose up in violent revenge. It happened repeatedly to the apostle Paul – indeed Paul participated in the murder of Stephen and was dedicated to arresting followers of Jesus when the risen Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. The arrest that led to Paul’s eventual execution in Rome followed a riot begun with a rumor that he had desecrated the Jerusalem temple by bringing a gentile into the inner court.

Communal violence is an ugly thing. The crucifixion of Jesus was a deliberate act of the governing families in Jerusalem allied with the Roman imperium. It was an act of state violence. But what happened to Jesus in Nazareth after his sermon was a more visceral outbreak of rage. We paint pictures of Jesus with children and lambs and it takes some work to understand what part of his message was so offensive his hearers rose in fury to kill him.

Jesus has laid claim to be the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel. He is the embodiment of God’s reign to rescue the poor and release the captive. But such a claim is a scandal in a culture where every

Jesus is uppity, acting out of his station in life. Jesus calls the people on their implicit rejection of his ministry – and then he dares to say that God’s reign is not for Israel but for all people. The people assert his obligation is to care for his family and village, but Jesus points to Elijah and Elisha who dispensed God’s favors to a poor widow and an afflicted leper among Israel’s enemies. This is what leads to rage, to the ugliness of communal violence. Jesus might as well have whistled at a white woman.

It is deep within us, this conviction God should care for us more than others. Donald Trump milked and manipulated it into the presidency. It took Jesus to the cross. But in the empty tomb God declared Jesus the one who speaks the truth.

So Sunday we will hear about Jeremiah’s prophetic call and God’s command he should speak fearlessly. The psalmist will declare God is his rock and his fortress. Corinthians will speak to us about the ultimate importance of love – not romantic love, but fidelity and care for all people. And then comes the abortive attempt on Jesus’ life. They will not get him this day; they will not get him in the end, for we follow one whose love is not silenced by hate.

The Prayer for February 3, 2019

Almighty God,
through your Son Jesus you revealed your gracious rule
to bind up the wounded and set free the captive.
Let us not fail to understand your will and your way,
but grant us willing hearts to receive your word and live your kingdom;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for February 3, 2019

First Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” – God calls Jeremiah to his prophetic ministry.

Psalmody: Psalm 71:1-6
“In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.”
– The psalm writer cries out to God for protection “from the hand of the wicked.”

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.” – Paul continues to teach his conflicted congregation in Corinth about the gifts of God’s Spirit and their life together as a community. All gifts serve the community and the greatest gift is love – concern for and fidelity to one another

Gospel: Luke 4:21-30
“Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”
– The message Jesus announces in Nazareth that the age to come is dawning even as Jesus speaks is met with hostility and a murderous attempt on his life.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Smoldering_ruins_of_African_American%27s_homes_following_race_riots_-_Tulsa_Okla_1921.jpg Alvin C. Krupnick Co. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The un-rending

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Watching for the Morning of February 12, 2017

The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

The Law, the Torah, God’s teaching/instructions for our life as a faithful community, stand front and center in our readings this coming Sunday. From Deuteronomy, written as a sermon by Moses to the people as they stand at the edge of the promised land setting forth again the commands and instructions of God, we will hear the challenge that before us stands a choice between life and death. Blessing will follow if we remain faithful to God and walk in God’s ways; curses will follow if we do not.

The appointed verses from Psalm 119 for Sunday is the opening strophe of the majestic acrostic hymn celebrating the gift of God’s Torah from Aleph to Taw, beginning with the affirmation: “Happy are those…who walk in the law of the Lord.”

Paul is writing about the Corinthian congregation as mere babes, still living on milk rather than solid food, bound as they are in the ways of the world around them rather than living the way of God.

And then Jesus takes up the commandments. After his stunning opening in the beatitudes and the declaration that the poor are not only honored in God’s sight but are light for the world, Jesus dramatically transforms the commandments from a safe and secure legal code (don’t kill, don’t commit adultery) to a summons to live the reign of God:

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.

We will hear the same summons in the commandments about adultery and vows (and then, in Matthews Gospel, about revenge, acts of mercy, prayer and fasting). More is expected of the human race – and of God’s people – than to refrain from killing, though even that has proven itself far beyond our willingness to obey. But the kingdom chooses to rip no tear in the fabric of the human community, to rend no relationship. Jesus is driving towards that stunning command: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

We are in the presence of the dawning of God’s reign, the lifting of every burden, the setting right of the world, the un-rending of the fabric of life. And we are summoned into its bold and daring and imperishable life.

The Prayer for February 12, 2017

Gracious God,
in love you made the world and laid its foundations,
giving your gracious order to the creation.
In love you revealed your law to a people you brought out from bondage,
showing them the path of life.
Renew in us your vision for human life
and make us faithful in our calling to live as children of your kingdom;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for February 12, 2017

First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” – Moses addresses the people as they prepare to enter the Promised Land, urging them to remain faithful to God, for their life in the land depends on following God’s commands.

Psalmody: Psalm 119:1-8
“Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.” – In a magisterial acrostic psalm setting forth the wonder of God’s law/teaching, the poet expresses the wondrous ordering reality God brings to life.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”
– Speaking to his divided congregation, Paul says they are yet babes in Christ who must be fed with milk, having failed to learn the basic truth of how they are to live in Christ.

Gospel: Matthew 5:21-37
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times… But I say to you…” – Jesus takes up the commandments about murder, adultery and swearing oaths, revealing the depth of their meaning in bringing human life under the governance of God’s Spirit.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWTC_Julia_DSCF1149.JPG By J. Lane (Wikipedia Takes Coventry participant) (Uploaded from Wikipedia Takes Coventry) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Lynching: A hometown response to Jesus

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Watching for the Morning of January 31, 2016

Year C

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Luke 4:21-30

28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.

Jesus has dared to suggest that the grace and mercy of God are not the possession of God’s people but are God’s gift to all. It nearly gets him killed. We take our religion pretty seriously. We want to hear that God is on our side, that God’s wants us to be happy, healthy and wise, that God will protect us in the day of famine or disease and not someone from our hated enemies.

Jesus’ problem is twofold. First, he acts like a prophet when he is just a construction worker. He’s too big for his britches. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” is just a snarky way to say “Who does he think he is?!” and to begin the process of cutting him down to size. This is what leads to the second accusation: “What does he think he’s doing spreading God’s gifts around! Charity begins at home. He should be doing his healing here among his own people, not wasting them on people from other towns and villages.” And so we are into the argument and Jesus is confronting them with reminders about Elijah and the widow of Zarephath and Elisha healing Namaan the Syrian.

Jesus seems pretty rude in this exchange. But he is exposing the poison in their hearts. He is lancing the boil. He is provoking them to reveal their hardness of heart. And they oblige – wanting to throw him from the brow of the hill.

This story at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry foreshadows the end – the cross and resurrection. For they will indeed kill Jesus, but he will “pass through their midst.”

So Sunday we hear of corrupt religion and the violence it can engender. And we hear that God’s work is not stopped by it. And we will hear of Jeremiah’s call to preach God’s message – for which he will be afflicted, but God’s word will do its work. And we hear the psalmist cry out for protection against enemies. And in the background of all this embattled preaching is Paul singing about faith, hope and love enduring forever – and the greatest of these is love. This is the life to which these followers of Christ have been brought. Here we are invited into the dawning of that new age that Jesus has told us is fulfilled in himself.

The Prayer for January 31, 2016

Almighty God,
through your Son Jesus you revealed your gracious rule
to bind up the wounded and set free the captive.
Let us not fail to understand your will and your way,
but grant us willing hearts to receive your word and live your kingdom;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for January 31, 2016

First Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” – God calls Jeremiah to his prophetic ministry.

Psalmody: Psalm 71:1-6
“In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.”
– The psalm writer cries out to God for protection “from the hand of the wicked.”

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.” – Paul continues to teach his conflicted congregation in Corinth about the gifts of God’s Spirit and their life together as a community. All gifts serve the community and the greatest gift is love – concern for and fidelity to one another

Gospel: Luke 4:21-30
“Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”
– The message Jesus announces in Nazareth that the age to come is dawning even as Jesus speaks is met with hostility and a murderous attempt on his life.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Angry_mob_of_four.jpg by Robert Couse-Baker (Flickr: angry mob) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Drinking the cup

Saturday

Mark 10:32-45

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/archive/5/56/20140424150355%21Ignatius_of_Antiochie%2C_poss._by_Johann_Apakass_%2817th_c.%2C_Pushkin_museum%29.jpg39Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

Today is the feast day of St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch and Martyr of the Church. He was from the first generation after Jesus, born near the time of Jesus’ death and dying at the beginning of the 2nd century. As he was taken to Rome to be fed to the lions in the Coliseum, he wrote letters to the churches in the region through which he passed. Seven survive.

The word ‘bishop’ has gathered a lot of extra weight traveling through the centuries. Ignatius would have been the head of the household of faith – spiritual leader, teacher, symbolic representative of the whole community – but also a link to the beginnings. He had been formed in the faith by John the Evangelist.

The value of such an historical link has not always been recognized in American society. Yet we often will convey the chain of custody for some eyewitness account. “Bill heard it from Mary who heard it from Jean who saw it happen.” And though we have all played the telephone game and know how messages can get distorted, the first generation wasn’t playing the telephone game. They were sitting at a teacher’s feet, learning the stories, learning their significance, reading the letters of Paul and – by the generation of Ignatius – writing down the narratives as Gospels.

Ignatius was a witness carefully taught by the witnesses. And that chain of teaching continues through the centuries. But authority in the church is not from that chain of succession alone. It is a balance between the tradition handed down through the office of the elder, the text of the Scriptural witness, and the living work of the Spirit.

Ignatius had all three.

It is hard to imagine the violence of a society that makes sport out of feeding people to the lions, watching people die in innumerable creative ways. Crucified upside down. Dressed as enemies and cut down by gladiators. Buried up to the neck in the track of the chariot race. Limbs chained to each of four horses set running in opposite directions. Dipped in pitch and set alight as torches.

It evokes the image of lynching when towns came out to vent their hate as if it were a Sunday picnic – and went away with souvenir pieces of the body.

Into this world came a teacher who yielded himself to violence in the name of peace. John heard him. And Ignatius sat at John’s feet. And we sit at their feet, a people learning to be faithful to the one who taught us to love all people – even, and especially, in the face of hate.

 

Image: Ignatius of Antioch By Иоанн Апакасс (?) (File source Official museum page) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons  Page: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ignatius_of_Antiochie,_poss._by_Johann_Apakass_%2817th_c.,_Pushkin_museum%29.jpg

Around a single table

Lutheran Altar

Altar at the Castle Church in Torgau

Sunday Evening

Mark 4:35-41

38 They woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

I don’t know whether it was the mood of the whole worshipping assembly today or just mine, but the tragedy in South Carolina seemed to hang over worship. It rattled around in the sermon about Jesus stilling the storm. Perhaps I should have spoken directly about the violence that invaded Emanuel Church where nine laid down their lives – or had them stolen away – but I was not ready.   Nevertheless, it was there when we talked about the power of God’s word that brought order, beauty and goodness out of the chaos of the primeval waters – a word that Jesus had authority to speak. It was there when I talked about the storm at sea through which God obstructed Jonah’s flight from God’s command to bring God’s word to the hated Ninevites. Jonah would rather perish than carry to Assyria a message that might save Israel’s enemy. It’s a comical story with a profound message – a message Jesus takes up when he declares:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45)

We don’t really want to hear that God loves everyone. And, like Jonah, there is a part of us that runs from that assignment. Who wants to bear witness to skinheads and white supremacists? Who wants to challenge bigoted and prejudicial speech? The safety of our like-minded churches is much to be preferred. Or, at least, what we thought was safety.

All hate is linked. We need to get this through our heads and hearts and souls. All hate is linked. We cannot disseminate vitriolic emails about Muslims, Obama, Democrats or Republicans, or climate change supporters or deniers, without adding to the level of hate and intolerance in the country. We cannot oppose the building of a mosque without adding to the desecration of all religious traditions. We may enjoy the snarky remarks, exaggerations and falsehoods on the news channel of our choice, but we are adding to the spiritual pollution of our time.

All hate is linked. And it is linked over time. We are not far in time from lynching as a public festival, with children in their Sunday best watching a body in flames. We are not far in time from segregated schools and segregated buses and segregated workforces. We are not far in time when persons of color died because a white hospital would not treat them. We are not far in time when a white woman’s word sealed the fate of a black man, any black man. We are not far in time when white sheriffs picked up black men for ‘vagrancy’ and ‘hired’ them out to work in the orange groves. We are not far in time when a black child with a toy gun is shot on sight.

All hate is linked. And it is linked over time. We have hated “Commies”. We have hated the Japanese before them. Interestingly, we tended to hate Nazi’s rather than Germans, but made no such distinction about imperialist Japan. We have hated the native peoples who occupied this land. We have hated the Irish when they first came to this land and, at various times, Italians and Jews and most other migrant groups in their time. We have allowed our hates to morph and shift rather than choose the path that Jesus’ proposed – well, actually, commanded.

The sin lies in all of us. And repentance doesn’t mean feeling guilt. It means changing our allegiance, changing our path, changing our loyalty from self-interest to the well being of our neighbor. It means changing from the spirit of our age to the Spirit of God. It means truth telling about our story and listening with care to the stories others tell. It means restraining our greed and considering well the welfare of the whole community. It means restraining our speech. As St. James records:

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.” (1:26)

It means taking to heart what James declares when he says that the tongue is

a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh. (3:8-12)

All hate is linked. But the eternal source of life, who commanded the sea to be still and brought forth the world of beauty and goodness, has come among us in this Nazarene. And he gathers us still, week after week, around a single table to remind us of his promise to gather all nations into the banquet of perfect peace. And he has made us his witnesses that our lost humanity can be restored.

Jonah

Saturday

Jonah 3

File:Prophet Jonas in Augsburg Cathedral.jpg

Prophet Jonas in Augsburg Cathedral, stained glass window, early 12th century

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2“Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”

It was incomprehensible to Jonah that God could pardon Nineveh. Nineveh was the city at the heart of the Assyrian Empire. Nineveh was the city that sent its armies to smash the northern kingdom of Israel and subject Judah. Nineveh was the city whose policy was the extermination of subject peoples: the people of Israel were scattered across the empire and others brought in to take their place. It is because of Nineveh that there are ten lost tribes of Israel, lost to history, lost among the nations. Nineveh was renowned in the ancient world for their cruelty and brutality – rare fame in a cruel and brutal era.

It was unthinkable that they could be forgiven. And yet Jonah knew God would – if they repented, if they turned and changed. It’s why Jonah would rather leave his home and people and flee to the furthest most end of the earth than deliver God’s warning to Nineveh. And it is why Jonah would rather be tossed into the sea than go back to deliver God’s message.

But God, in this beloved and delightful tale, does his fish trick and three days later Jonah is vomited onto the land. Three days and life is given, again. Jesus will talk about the sign of Jonah. But there, in the muck on the shore, “the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.” God is determined.

When Jesus talks about loving our enemies, it’s not a new thought in the Biblical tradition. It’s not like hate and violence were okay and then God changed his mind. God reasoned with Cain before he murdered his brother – and God guarded Cain’s life from the threat of revenge after his fearful deed. Vengeance was not permitted to Israel – it was God’s to avenge. Tubal-cain, the father of modern weapons, is not a hero of the text. The prophet speaks of swords beaten into plowshares because we were not created for swords. David is forbidden to build the temple because he was a man of blood – necessary blood, the blood of those who sought to destroy Israel – but still blood. Before Israel entered into its struggle against the corrupt cities of Canaan, every man had to make an offering, a sacrifice. Even though they were on a divinely authorized mission – they needed to atone for the violence they were to commit. It was not until Noah that God even conceded to humanity the right to kill animals for food – but with that concession, he still required that humans not eat the blood, the life. They must pour it on the ground, a gesture to acknowledge that only God has the right to take life – even when he permits it of us.

Jonah is afraid that God will show love to the Ninevites. And he is right. What he fears comes to pass: the unforgiveable enemy turns and is forgiven.

We are not far from Jonah. We all have enemies we will not forgive. It is why God says through the prophet “My ways are not your ways.” God will do what we will not. For God’s work in the world is the redemption of the human community, not the defense of ‘his people’. ‘His people’ are the voice like the prophet, instruments to bear witness to God’s redemption of the earth. We are Jonah.

And we are like Jonah. The teacher who hurt us, the boss who ruined us, the friend who violated us, the spouse who betrayed us, the enemy from forgotten wars, the terrorist with a bomb, there are plenty of people we have good reason to hate. But God does not share our passions. His passion, his suffering, is for all, to be reunited with all, to reclaim his lost planet hurtling through hate and greed towards destruction. We made a bomb by splitting the atom, for heaven’s sake, a bomb that poisons the sea and air and land, and twists the genes in those who survive to kill them later. Whether it was necessary is not the point; the existence of such weapons of unspeakable violence points to the dark reality of the human heart.

But, truthfully, we don’t want the god made in our own image, the god Jonah wants, the god who fights on our side. We need the God who loves the whole world – even those we must fight, even those we don’t and ought not trust. We need the God who loves them all, because otherwise we have only endless war: us and our god against you and your god. To this there is no happy end. It is the world of Tubal-cain who exults: “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, I am avenged seventy-seven fold.”

Jonah cannot stand the thought that God would do anything but destroy Nineveh. We have all prayed those prayers. Thankfully, God does not answer them they way we desire.

And the story of Jonah, delightfully and teasingly told, now haunts us with the truth that we are the called and sent messengers of the God who loves all, the God who would forgive all.

Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.”

 

By Hans Bernhard (Schnobby) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Mosul

Saturday

Jonah 3

File:Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn - The Prophet Jonah before the Walls of Nineveh, c. 1655 - Google Art Project.jpg

Rembrandt, The Prophet Jonah before the Walls of Nineveh, c. 1655

10When God saw what [the people of Nineveh] did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it. 4:1But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.

The ruins of the ancient city of Nineveh lie across the river from Mosul. Situated on the Tigris, it is one of the most ancient cities in the world, in the heart of the Fertile Crescent where humans first domesticated crops and created cities and empires. It was the greatest city in the world for 50 years before it was weakened by civil war and fell in 612 BCE to the rebel forces from which emerged the Babylonian empire.

At its height, the Assyrian Empire stretched from Egypt to Central Turkey to the Persian Gulf. We recognize the names of Assyrian kings like Shalmaneser, Tiglath-Pileser, Sargon, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Ashurbanipal though we seldom know where or when to locate those names.

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Lamassu (Human-headed winged bull) heading left. Relief from king Sargon II’s palace at Dur Sharrukin in Assyria (now Khorsabad in Iraq), ca. 713–716 BC

This was also the empire that destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and subjugated Judah.

While Jonah would have gladly declared God’s judgment on the city, he refused to go lest the people repent. He feared that God would forgive them if they did so.

And he was right.

At least, that is the story told in this little short story of Jonah.

Jonah wanted the city to pay for its sins; God wanted the city to come back to himself. Between these two desires is the central religious struggle. Do we really want the God of the whole earth, or just a god for ourselves. Do we really want a God of mercy, or a god who will take our side.

Few of us weep at the destruction being wrought in Mosul. Perhaps few of us even recognize that this city has been hit recently by French and U.S. airstrikes. It’s just part of that mess. Most of us celebrated when Sadam was found in his spider hole and when Bin Laden was killed and dumped into the sea. We generally share Jonah’s conviction that God should come down against our enemies.

The great mercy of God is that he does not let Jonah run away from his mission. And even when Jonah pouts, God seeks to stir Jonah’s heart to understand the true compassion of God: if Jonah can care for a mere plant, should God not care for all the inhabitants of this great city?

Just as God wanted Nineveh to repent, so he wanted Jonah to repent. He wanted Jonah to share his compassion.

And what God wants of Jonah, God wants of us.

From the fig tree

Wednesday

Acts 1

File:Fig Tree (5967272441).jpg7 “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”

But it doesn’t stop us from thinking we can know.

This is one of those things I find most interesting about the human creature – that those who believe in God – and believe in Jesus – and believe in God’s word – even those who believe in the inerrancy of God’s word – can take a clear, indisputable verse like this one and turn it inside out. We claim to know what Jesus says we can’t know.

How many great tragedies go back to this simple reality – that we claim to know what we do not know, can’t know, never will know. Still, we play God.

Judge not lest ye be judged,” but we judge anyway – and think ourselves righteous in our judgment. “Love your enemies,” but we gladly hate and make war and think ourselves righteous. “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me,” but we turn and give them the evil eye when they make noise during worship. “Love you neighbor as yourself,” “Give to anyone who has need,” “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult,” “Vengeance is mine saith the LORD” but we are adept at it. Righteous in it.

Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church,” “Keep your lives free from the love of money,” “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations.” All clear commands we ignore or reverse: “husbands rule your wives,” “God will make you rich,” and, well, when was the last time you made a disciple? We worry more about getting our children into college than into the kingdom.

We do not know and will not know and cannot know the days or seasons. The lesson of the fig tree is to bear fruit, to understand the consequences of not recognizing the time when God comes to me seeking fruit. Everyone wants to imagine that this is the time when God’s kingdom will come in its fullness – and God’s answer is simply that this is the time to be God’s kingdom. Every time is the time to be God’s kingdom. Every time is the time to bear Christ into the world. Every time is the time to heal and forgive. Every time is the time serve and love. Every time is the time to let light shine.

We stand looking up into heaven and God points us to our neighbor. There is work to be done. There is mercy to share. There is compassion to do. There are prayers to be offered, strangers to be welcomed. There are hymns and spiritual songs to be sung. There is bread to be broken.

“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

No. But this is the time when the kingdom of God will come to all if we live it.