7 Epiphany 2022

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

When we talk about stewardship in the church you can see people’s eyes sort of glaze over.  They pat their wallet to make sure it is safe and secure, and they begin to look at their watches to see how quickly they can escape.

Today’s gospel is a continuation of Luke’s Sermon on the Plain and it is a discussion of stewardship far beyond anything one will encounter in an October Pledge campaign, but it can also be life changing in a most miraculous way.

“Love your enemies.”  Not love your neighbor. Not love one another as I have loved you.  Both of which are incredibly difficult, but love the person that abuses you: the person who violates commandments 4 to 10 with you as the victim.  Love the person who dishonors your family.  Love the person who abuses you physically, the person that kills your hopes and dreams, the person who kills someone or something that you love.  Love the person who steals from you, who cheats you. Love the person who tells lies about you not just at court, but the one who gossips about you behind your back.  Love the person who seduces and steals your lover, who destroys your family.  Love the person who belittles your talents, your accomplishments, and your good fortune out of jealously.  If loving our neighbor that we like is hard, how in the world to we do this.

First, love is not a feeling.  Love is an act of the will.  Love is wishing the best for a person whether they deserve it or not.  Love is willing to make sacrifices to better the life of someone else.  Love is not setting yourself up for abuse, but love is not retaliating when abuse happens.  Love is realizing that nothing that we have is ours, it all belongs to God.  This is where that Stewardship word comes in. God has made us stewards of our own lives and the lives of those around us When someone injures us  or someone near us they are injuring God. We are called to be caretakers not judges.  We have to trust God to deal with that person.

In Romans 12: 18-20 Paul elaborates, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for is it written “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Deut. 32:35) “No, if they are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink…do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

How to we love our enemies? By offering them the same care and respect we offer to those who are easy to love. Sometimes, we will even alter the behavior of someone else by treating them with respect and dignity they may be unaccustomed to receiving.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is it to you?” No brownie points for hanging out with the people you like and doing nice things for them.  Jesus says anyone can do that.  Jesus calls us to a higher ethic.  We are called to be generous without expecting anything in return.   Jesus points out that God is kind even to the ungrateful and the wicked.

“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.”

This is not the “Prosperity Gospel” though this is where that theology comes from.  Jesus is not talking about some magic formula that you can track good deed done, benefit received.   Jesus is talking about conforming our wills to the nature and will of God and then trusting God to be managing the forest, even if all we can see is the one little tree we are clinging to tightly.  This takes discipline.

One of the things I have learned from studying music is a little bit about brain science.  When you are learning music, you start out slow and simple.  If you find there are passages you have trouble playing you play them even slower over and over again because your brain is remembering both what you get right and the mistakes you make.  The more times you get it right, the greater the odds are that you will play it correctly as you increase your speed and when you are in stressful circumstances like a performance.  The better you get at the simple pieces, the easier it is to play the harder pieces. Before you know it, pieces that seemed impossible for you to play are possible.

The same holds true for other areas of our lives.  Socrates said, “an unexamined life is not worth living.” Self-examination, while it can be painful, is like taking a pencil to your piece of music and circling all the places you hit a wrong note, played the wrong dynamic, or got the rhythm incorrect.  It is important because it allows us to focus on the places where we need more practice.   Self-examination is not intended to be a time to beat yourself up and say bad things about yourself to yourself.  If that is all you do, then I would suggest your are better off skipping it.  Self-examination is designed to help you correct the things that are not going well for you because of your own behavior. 

For example:

I dislike dealing with auto-reply messages when I have a customer service issue.  In the past, by the time I would get to the live person I was so angry that I was likely to speak harshly to that person and even after the call I would let the conversation run through my head for hours afterwards, increasing my stress and making it hard to concentrate on anything else.   My granddaughter called me on it one day and I had to examine my behavior in that situation.  The next time I got the computer who couldn’t understand what I wanted, and I could feel myself getting angry, I made a mental note of it, and promised myself that no matter how frustrated I was I would not speak harshly to the real person when I got them on the phone.  I tackled one piece of the problem that I could control.   The first few times it took a lot of effort and control, but the more I practiced controlling my response the less frustrated I actually got.  I still don’t like auto-reply messages, but with practice I no longer let it ruin my day or the day of the customer service rep.

Spiritual disciplines – prayer, Bible study, fasting, confession, service to others, just to name a few are like playing scales. They are not intended for public performances though you may enjoy them more if you do them with a group.  They are intended to build muscle memory in your spirit so when you are called upon to be at your best, it comes easily and naturally.  They actually change you into a better version of yourself.  My Cub Scouts hear their motto “Do your best” every week.  It is a reminder to them that it is not perfection, but being the best version of themselves that is important. When any of us practice doing our best, we find our best becomes better over time.

Lent will be upon us in a week and a half.  I would encourage you to take time during Lent for some gentle but honest self-examination and then consider putting together a Rule of Life – a spiritual exercise program to help you make the most of your strengths and to work on your trouble spots.  If you want help, I will be glad to speak with you on how to do that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: