Sermon
April 2, 2000
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
Write to Rev. Hamilton

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Scripture Reading

Luke 6:27-38

27 "But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 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. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do 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. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 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. 35 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. 36 Be 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; 38 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." (NRSV)

Genesis 45:3-15

3 Joseph 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.

4 Then 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. 5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For 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. 7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So 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. 9 Hurry 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. 10 You 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. 11 I 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.'

15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him. (NRSV)

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Sermon:  What measure are you using?

This mornings scripture passages are deep and filled with grace. They are the essence of the gospel message. So I will begin with the gospel lesson.

"The Golden Rule"… "do to others as you would have them do to you." Is there anyone here that didn’t here that from their parents when they were young? It is found in literature way older than the new testament, from nearly every culture and religion. It is the basic recipe for living in community. And it seems like it would be common sense, until you look at our natural instincts which lead us down a different path. Survival of the fittest – preserve yourself - Retaliate. Look at what our natural instinct of self preservation has given us… life is a contest – If you possibly can, win – manipulate the world to make it go your way – be successful - get rich - power is the end goal, because that is what will insure your life. That is the way the world works – and we all know that. We are the winners in that game- Ct. has the highest per capita income in the USA, and the USA has the greatest percentage of resources for the world - We have won.

We have mastered the game – we won’t be voted out of the tribe – or will we.

As far as natural instincts go, as far as the way the world works, we are the winners.

As far as the gospel goes, the way the kingdom (Jesus) works it looks like we are the losers…

Now that makes me squirm – I still want to be a winner –

So the question we will investigate this morning is this –

Does our affluence preclude living in the Kingdom of God?

We will probably never be able to fully appreciate this passage the way Jesus intended it. It was preached to the disciples – who certainly weren’t winners in the game of life. They were the ones who at that time were out of a job because they chose to follow Jesus – they were Israelites who were controlled by the Romans. They were the peasant class. The followers of Jesus considered themselves victims of society – and so did Jesus. They were the "have-nots" – in a society of "haves".

Jesus is telling them that power and domination are not God’s idea of the Kingdom. No one has the right to Lord it over another with titles or by shaming – or with violence. And what we need to understand is that their community of faith depended on them finding a new way to live together. the world outside their religious community might be filled with power and domination, but if Christianity was to survive, if they were to survive, it would only happen by being united. There could be no hierarchy within their community… or they would end up fragmenting themselves and ultimately destroying their community and the faith.

Jesus says imitate God, love everyone – even those who are unlovable, even those who hate you – even those you don’t like. Don’t make any distinction between people.. always be merciful and forgiving…

Cultural difference provide us with another stumbling block to understanding this passage… Jesus may say "turn the other cheek, and give away your shirt also" but Jesus doesn’t say "be a victim." Even though that is how this passage has been read for years. When we put it into cultural context we see that he means quite the opposite. If one was going to insult you they would strike you on the cheek with the back of their left hand – the one that was never used for eating, only other bodily functions. That means they could only strike you on your left cheek - if you turned the other cheek to them – they are forced to reach out with their right hand – which was a sign of equality. When Jesus says if someone takes away your coat give them your shirt also, which means that they would be responsible for you being naked – for having shamed you.

Jesus says don’t put yourself in the position of becoming a victim. Don’t let domination win, show them a different way – love.

Treat others the way you want to be treated. Love everyone, friend or enemy.

But this is not so easy – it is a challenging order…

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in one of his sermons said…

"Let’s be practical and ask the question – How do we love our enemies? First we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. Forgiveness means that the evil act is no longer a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst for creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning. It is the lifting of a burden or the canceling of a debt. It means reconciliation, a coming together again. "

so love our enemies comes out of forgiveness – its easy to forgive when our enemies apologize – but what if that doesn’t happen – then how do we find our way to forgiveness - ?

Forgiveness can only be accomplished when we remember that in each of us there is both good and evil – we struggle between listening to the angel speaking in one ear and the devil in the other… none of us is totally good or completely evil. We have the potential to share in the evil of the enemy. When we discover this it becomes easier to forgive that which grows out of our shared human condition.

Forgiveness comes when we seek the friendship and understanding of the one who has done evil. It is a constant challenge… it requires much practice and determination. But it can transform. Lincoln said "do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends" Hate destroys, love builds up.

Forgiveness comes when we find a way to understand that God has been with us all along. We look back on our lives and find that God has brought good out of the evil – a revelation that brings us to the point of loving our enemies.

Our story of Joseph is a perfect example of this - Forgiveness is the struggle that Joseph faced – You remember the story of the beautiful coat that his father gave him? He had been sold into slavery by his brothers – out of their jealousy and hatred they sell him and watch him as he is taken to live in Egypt. Now Joseph wasn’t a saint either – he had been a spoiled favorite son, who milked the system for all that he could. Years later, when he discovered that his brothers needed his help – a famine was threatening his family – he sets them up to be arrested, which brings them back to the royal court of the pharaoh. At that point he has a decision to make – does he punish them – get even for what they did to him – treat them as he had been treated or does he forgive them… love them, treat them as friends…

And we see what happens – Joseph confesses his identity – and watches their terror – and at that point he says Don’t be distressed because you sold me here – for "God sent me before you to preserve life. Joseph could see at last – in hindsight – that God had been present with him all along, that God brought good out of the evil that his brothers intended.

In that moment his life and his brothers was transformed… that revelation of God’s action - bringing goodness out of evil – brought him to a place of forgiveness – at last nothing separated the brothers – there were no stumbling blocks… He kissed his brothers and wept upon them – and they talked. All barriers to the relationship were removed.

Jesus – this morning- gives us the recipe for life – not just any life, the life of a real winner –,a life filled with blessings. But in order to follow this recipe you have to use the right measuring cup – you can’t use the cup that the world offers for it will be filled with all the wrong things – with hatred and violence and fear and anger. It will be filled with enemies and retaliation.

The measure that you want to use is filled with compassion, understanding, mercy and forgiveness and you will find yourself a real winner – the measure you give will be the measure you get back. That measure will be filled with God’s love, pressed down – shaken together and running over. Amen.

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