Feb. 20, 2022

Prayer of the Day

O Lord Jesus, make us instruments of your peace, that where there is hatred, we may sow love, where there is injury, pardon, and where there is despair, hope. Grant, O divine master, that we may seek to console, to understand, and to love in your name, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Genesis 45:3-11, 15

3Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.
  4Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ ” 15And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40

1Do not be provoked by | evildoers;
  do not be jealous of those | who do wrong.
2For they shall soon wither | like the grass,
  and like the green grass | fade away.
3Put your trust in the Lord| and do good;
  dwell in the land and | find safe pasture.
4Take delight | in the Lord,
  who shall give you your | heart’s desire. 
5Commit your way to the Lord; put your trust | in the Lord,
  and see what | God will do.
6The Lord will make your vindication as clear | as the light
  and the justice of your case like the | noonday sun.
7Be still before the Lord and wait | patiently.
  Do not be provoked by the one who prospers, the one who succeeds in | evil schemes.
8Refrain from anger, leave | rage alone;
  do not be provoked; it leads on- | ly to evil. 
9For evildoers shall | be cut off,
  but those who hope in the Lord shall pos- | sess the land.
10In a little while the wicked shall | be no more;
  even if you search out their place, they will | not be there.
11But the lowly shall pos- | sess the land;
  they will delight in abun- | dance of peace.
39But the deliverance of the righteous comes from | you, O Lord;
  you are their stronghold in | time of trouble.
40You, O Lord, will help them and | rescue them;
  you will rescue them from the wicked and deliver them, because in you | they seek refuge. 

1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50

35But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37And 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. 38But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.
  42So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. 45Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. 47The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.
  50What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

Luke 6:27-38

[Jesus said:] 27“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.
  32“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If 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. 35But 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. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
  37“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38give, 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.”

Prayers for Reconciliation (after WW II Bombings) – Reconciliation Church, Dresden, Germany

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Today’s gospel text from Luke has often been misused in the past, especially by the church. It became a word preached to slaves in order to keep them in their place. This same scripture has been preached or quoted to others in abusive relationships, convincing abused spouses to stay in their homes rather than flee. Jesus never intended his words to be applied against the oppressed. 

The other background to this text in our moment in history, is the great resignation we are currently witnessing. The reasons people are quitting their jobs are probably as unique as each individual. You all probably know someone who retired early, has contemplated quitting, has taken a break, or has switched jobs or careers. One thread is that wages are not keeping up with the costs of living, particularly when it comes to housing. Employees also want more flexibility, more time with their families, a better quality of life. Many people are saying goodbye to companies who seem to prioritize profits over people. I don’t know where the great resignation will lead us as a country, but I think it’s a stirred up a conversation worth having.

And I would hate for someone considering leaving a job where they are not valued to say to himself, “well I can’t afford rent but maybe I shouldn’t advocate for myself because in Luke chapter 6 Jesus tells me to turn to other cheek and to give both my coat and shirt away.” That may be an extreme reading of this text, but biblical interpretation can be a slippery slope and it’s good to beware of where people could slide in reading this often misinterpreted text.

So, if Jesus never intended his words to applied against the oppressed, what is the goal of his words? What are we supposed to do with such a text? One scholar summed up Jesus’ words this way, “You know the system this world runs on? It is all based on keeping score. If anyone injures you, you retaliate and injure him. And what about the positive relationships in your lives? There, too, it’s all about keeping score. Someone gives you a gift, you give one in return. Someone invites you to his house for dinner, you reciprocate. But what credit is there in that for you?” Jesus asks.

Three times Jesus asks, “What credit is it to you if you love someone who loves you, if you do good to someone who does good to you, if you lend to someone who will later lend something to you?” The Greek word translated as “credit” is charis, which most often is translated as “grace.” So, we could paraphrase these verses to ask, “What grace is that of ours to love just those who love us, or do good to those who do good to us, or lend to those who can lend us something back in return?”

What Jesus calls on his disciples to do is “keep score no more.” To trust the God who pulled a paradigm shift on the cross, settling a whole world’s “old scores” then and there, and then tearing up the ledger.

Jesus is continuing to paint a picture of his promised future—painting a picture of what the world could look like if some norms were completely overturned. But he does more than paint a picture of the promised future. Jesus envisions, desires, wants, wishes, and wills it into his current context. The promised future is breaking into the present.

Jesus’ alternative is not sheer possibility but aggressive actions to undermine hostility and violence. He taught a new response to hostility. Jesus’ teachings to his disciples call for imaginative, aggressive, but non-violent responses to the problems that have born such bitter fruit in our own time.

It’s true that this is hard teaching, as is much of the gospel itself. Still, we believe that through Christ, transformation is possible. We just keep asking ourselves and one another, how do we live our lives responding with grace, forgiveness, and nonviolence, instead of reacting with words or actions that seek to answer hurt with more hurt? Instead of keeping score.

Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison in South Africa. His life after prison could have been one of vengeance or retribution. He had the ultimate score to settle, if he wanted to. Instead, he created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was hard painful work done that did not ignore past injustices but did help his country move forward.

I think Mandela’s experience and transformation must have threads of similarity to Joseph, the character in our reading from the book of Genesis. Joseph was born to Jacob and Rachel. He was his father’s eleventh son.  As a boy, Joseph received an elegant coat from his father. He also dreamed that the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed down before him, which indicated that someday Joseph’s family members would bow down before him. His brothers became jealous, sold the boy into slavery in Egypt, and placed blood on his elegant coat to deceive their father into thinking that Joseph was dead.  

In Egypt Joseph rose to a position of influence, but he was imprisoned on false charges of making advances on the wife of Potiphar, his master. We do not know how long he was in prison. After interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams which portended famine, he was released and given responsibility for Egypt’s food stores. When famine struck, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt for food. Joseph disguised his identity, held one of his brothers hostage in prison, and demanded that the rest of them bring their youngest brother Benjamin to Egypt. Joseph also put his brothers’ money back in their sacks of grain. When they returned Joseph revealed his identity, our passage today, and brought his father Jacob to live in Egypt. 

As I said earlier, part of why these are hard texts is that we know they have been used, both Jesus’ words and Joseph’s story, to silence the victimized so that others are not inconvenienced by their difficult stories. The words of scripture have been used to actively encourage vulnerable people to stay in abusive environments and relationships. Those are, to put it clearly, abuses of scripture and the name of Christ. 

I think one way that the Joseph story can help us read scripture more faithfully, is by simply paying attention to who is doing the speaking. Can you imagine if the words had come out of one of the brother’s mouths? What if Joseph had simply revealed himself and then his brother Simeon had said, “Yes. God’s plan was for us to sell you into slavery so that you could save our family today.” Or what if Mandala’s original enemies had said, “See, 27 years in prison was for good, to prepare you to lead when you finally got out.” Or what if a CEO says to someone, “If we had always paid you a living wage, instead of protecting my bonuses and stocks, you never would have left and found a different career.” 

Instead, it is the victim, Joseph, who gets to make the claims about God working through all of this activity. Joseph is ready, after so many years, to forgive, to keep score no more. Joseph is the one who is able to say that God has been with him and his brothers and now it is time to reconcile and move forward. There is forgiveness and grace. 

We can never tell someone who has suffered a great evil at the hands of others that God is bringing good out of the tragedy. If it is going to happen at all, the victims must discover for themselves that God has somehow created something new out of their suffering, that out of their survival God’s grace can even provide food to save someone else from famine.

What is essential to both Mandela and Joseph’s stories is that they remembered who they were or, more accurately, they remembered whose they were. When the teachings of the Sermon on the Plain are not grounded in our identity as God’s children, they become an onerous list of ethical demands that do not further justice and wholeness. When the disciple, then and now, understands her actions as flowing out of God’s abundance, to which she belongs, and which belongs to her, turning the other cheek becomes an act of resistance to evil that has the power to transform others and the world. 

Faith in Jesus Christ is far more than giving cognitive assent to doctrines. The Creed, the prayers, the words in the hymns we sing are all important. They all are helpful tools in understanding this long narrative of which we are a part. But in the end, this faith is a way of life, a way that is contrary to our own inclinations. To answer hurt with forgiveness is plausible only because the resurrected Christ is our strength.

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

The prayers are prepared locally for each occasion. The following examples may be adapted or used as appropriate.

The Spirit of the Lord is poured out upon us in abundance; so we are bold to pray for the church, the world, and all that God has made.

A brief silence.

You teach us to love our neighbors and enemies alike. Encourage your church to follow the leading of your love, especially when it is risky or difficult. Help us to show mercy just as we have first received mercy. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Nurture fields that lie dormant, resting until it is time to bloom again. Bless farmers and all who cultivate fields and urban gardens. Give favorable weather for planting. Bring forth from buried seed an abundant harvest, and guard against famine and disease. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Look upon our world with mercy, that we delight in an abundance of peace. Protect all whose lives are marred by war and civil unrest. Release political prisoners and amplify the voices that challenge us to seek forgiveness and pursue nonviolence. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Your people cry out for mercy. Console hearts that long for forgiveness. Mend broken relationships. Heal bodies that suffer chronic pain or illness. Strengthen and deliver all whose spirits are troubled (especially). God of grace,

hear our prayer.

You bind us together into one family. Teach us to forgive one another and to resolve conflicts with humility and patience. Bless families of all shapes and sizes, and show love to those who are lonely or grieving. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

We praise you for the saints who have inherited the fullness of your kingdom (especially). As you have raised them to imperishable and eternal life, sustain us in faith by the promise of resurrection. God of grace,

hear our prayer.

Since we have such great hope in your promises, O God, we lift these and all of our prayers to you in confidence and faith; through Jesus Christ our Savior.

Amen.

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