February 20th, 2022

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Luke 6:31

At our book group on Wednesday, we were talking about how we often do not know the whole story.  We blame someone or get angry at someone when we only know a part of the story.  Zophar and the other two friends that came to see Job after the tragedies that he experienced assumed that he must have done something wrong to earn that suffering.  He warns Job of all the bad things that happen to wicked people, and is concerned that Job may be among that population if he does not repent of his sin.  Job, however, is convinced that he has done nothing wrong.  As the reader of Job, we do know the full story, because it has been explained to us in the beginning.  Satan wanted to prove to God that Job would break his faith if he was not blessed as he was.  God believed that his faith was strong enough that he would not break.  One of the major themes of this book is that it is unveiled that you do not necessarily have to have done something wrong if you are suffering.  There is a very good possibility that you actually do not deserve it.  Before you start making assumptions about someone else, perhaps you need to recognize that you do not know the full story.  You do not understand what caused the circumstance that you are agitated about.

In Zophar’s case, he was agitated that Job would not take his advice and repent.  He was agitated because he cared for Job; he did not want Job to be seen as a wicked person.  But he as well as the other friends did not understand that he may actually not have done anything wrong at all.  I am sure that you have made assumptions about people before knowing all the information too.  You are a teacher or professor.  The student fails to hand in their assignment, and you get upset with them.  You assume that they do not value their education.  What you do not know is what had happened to that student over the past week.  You do not know about the crisis in her family, or the friend who needed help, or perhaps even how the student was having to deal with many adult responsibilities beyond her age.  Perhaps you are a pet owner.  Your pet gets into something they are not supposed to, and you get mad.  I was trying to think of some of thing things I could get mad at my cats for, but it is difficult to keep me mad for very long at all.  I could get upset over the cats scratching me; but there is always a reason for it: “You picked me up and I didn’t want that.  I’m sorry, I was scared of something – like the vacuum cleaner – and I was trying to escape.”  They had no intent to actually harm me.  They know that I am the one who feeds them.  I have to forgive them.  My first challenge for you is this: Is there anyone who you have not forgiven yet?  If so, do you think you know the whole story?  Ephesians 4:26-27 tells us to “not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”  Letting the sun go down on your anger does give opportunity to the devil to discourage your path with God.  Seek first the path of forgiveness.  Seek first to understand the full story.  A lot of times, that will involve a lot of listening.  But as per the golden rule – do unto others as you would have others do unto you – would you not want another to forgive you?  (Luke 6:31)  Would you not want another to listen to your perspective to understand what you mean?  It is better to take the time and listen to understand than to remain angry or agitated or judgmental.

Another reason that we need to forgive is because our eternity depends on it.  Jesus told us that we will be forgiven so long as we forgive our brothers and sisters (Luke 6:37).  If we choose not to forgive because we want to be right, or because we just are afraid to approach someone, we are risking the very forgiveness of Jesus.  I reiterate the challenge: If you have someone who you need to forgive, what can you do to either forgive or learn more about their situation, or both?

It is important to note that forgiving someone does not excuse the harm that has been done to you.  The first order of business is not to ignore them or shut them out, but to share how you feel to de-escalate the situation.  Once they admit that what they did wronged you, the path is completely open for forgiving them.  But if you do not try to come to an understanding, it is just the same as refusing to forgive.  Remember, forgiving someone never means forgetting what they did and holding them accountable.  But it allows you to move forward with your life without it bothering you so much; it gives you a sense of peace and it gives them a chance to start anew.

A third reason that we need to forgive is to remove the anger and malice from our heart.  Holding on to anger and malice only hold us back from developing into who God wants us to be.  When you hold onto anger, you are allowing the person you are angry with to control you without even trying.  Your biggest victory over them will actually be forgiving them, because they will no longer be able to hold you back emotionally.  Further, anger and malice are vices; if your heart is filled with these, there is less room for experiencing the positive attributes that God has in store for each one of us.  We are heading into the Lent season soon, which is about growing closer to God.  We grow closer to God by removing vices and making more room for the attributes of God.  First, we forgive because we would want others to do the same for us.  Second, our eternity depends on our willingness to forgive.  Third, choosing not to forgive only separates us from our goal of becoming more and more like Christ.

Have any of your brothers sold you into slavery before?  Most likely not, although sadly it still may happen occasionally in some countries.  If this were to happen, you would be justifiably angry with these brothers.  I am sure that Joseph was angry when his brothers threw him into a well and sold him.  When he next saw his brothers, the first thing he said to them was, “I am Joseph.  Is my father still alive?” (Genesis 45:3).  He does not avoid them.  He does not criticize them.  He does not gloat about his high position in Egypt and his ultimate power over them.  He cuts right to family matters; something that they both care deeply about.  He makes an emotional connection.  His brothers did not say a word because they were distressed – they were shocked – and probably full of shame, thinking that their only hope for food is lost because of what they had done to Joseph.  Surely he would not forgive them for what they did.  Surely he would cast them out hungry.  But that is not what Joseph did.  He forgave them, paid no attention to their previous deed except to tell them not to worry about it, and promised to provide for the whole family.  After that, his brothers were able to get some words out.  They talked lovingly, not in anger.  They even kissed and wept together; they reconciled with each other.  The brothers were surely blessed by the forgiveness that they received; even though they had wronged Joseph, they were forgiven.  Can you give that gift to someone who deserves your resentment?  This is an opportunity to share the mercy that God graces us with.  If God gives you this grace, what is stopping you from passing it forward?

Psalm 37 is a poem of adoration of the Lord.  Most notably, in relation to forgiveness, the author tells us to “refrain from anger, and forsake wrath … The Lord rescues [his children] from the wicked, and saves them, because they take refuge in him” (Psalm 37:8, 40).  The question here is, do you take refuge in the Lord, and trust in everything the Lord provides, or do you take refuge in your anger?  Do you feel protected against someone’s ill will when you hold anger against them?  I find that the comfort in God’s mercy is much stronger than guarding against any one individual who has hurt us.  Jesus commanded us as we have heard in Luke 6: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).  When we give mercy, we are also given mercy from God.  Never seek to aid in division; seek out paths for reconciliation.

Some of you have someone – a friend or a family member – who have really hurt you.  It is not just a scratch from a cat, a missed assignment from a student, or a misunderstanding.  How can you be kind to someone who has done you harm?  Here are three helpful tips.  First, pre-decide to choose kindness.  Make your decision now that you are going to act like Christ with whomever you meet.  If you wait until you decide in the moment, your emotions at that time will govern your response.  Second, picture yourself being kind and patient.  Picture yourself answering a toddler’s question for the thirtieth time that day, showing kindness in all your words, tone, and actions.  And third, act kindly and patiently wherever you go.  Say hello to the stranger at the store.  Reach out to people on the phone or in person.  Let people know that you love them.  When you practice expressing kindness to others, it will come more naturally when facing those where anger may be an obstacle.  Decide to be kind.  Picture being kind.  And actually be kind.

Go ahead.  Think of that one person who you need to forgive.  Know that it is possible by living a kindness attitude, making kindness natural to just about anybody.  How will you create a kindness attitude today?  How will you refrain from retorting back to the comment that puts you down?

Very often, I have been told that I am too young, too incapable, too inexperienced.  I could offer many retorts to that.  But what would be gained?  My response could justify their assessment of their capabilities.  Or it could show them that I have pre-decided to be kind, as Jesus did.  It could show them that I believe in God’s mercy, and that I portray God’s mercy.  May God bless you by removing every obstacle to finding hope in God’s goodness, including the obstacle that is a lack of forgiveness, that is harboring anger.  May God’s mercy abound among us!  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Genesis 45:3-11, 15
45:3 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.
45:4 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.
45:5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.
45:6 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.
45:7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.
45:8 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.
45:9 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.
45:10 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.
45:11 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.’
45:15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40
37:1 Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers,
37:2 for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.
37:3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
37:4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
37:5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.
37:6 He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.
37:7 Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices.
37:8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret–it leads only to evil.
37:9 For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.
37:10 Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there.
37:11 But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.
37:39 The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; he is their refuge in the time of trouble.
37:40 The LORD helps them and rescues them; he rescues them from the wicked, and saves them, because they take refuge in him.

Luke 6:27-38
6:27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
6:28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
6:29 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.
6:30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.
6:31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
6:32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
6:33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
6:34 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.
6:35 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.
6:36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
6:37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven;
6:38 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.”

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