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On Being Gracious
Luke 6:32-36, Genesis 50:15, 19-20
In Luke we get the sermon on the plane. In Matthew it’s the sermon on the mount because Matthew wants Jesus to look like a new Moses as he was writing to Jews living up North and so Jesus almost had to appear as a new Moses, bringing the law from on high down to earth.
But in Luke, Jesus is on a plane as he gathers people around him and says if you love people who love you big deal, if you do good to those who do good to you tit for tat anyone can do that.
So are we to love and do good and lend to people who will give no thanks, no gift in return, no positive response back, no kindness in return? Why? Jesus says because that’s the way God is, that is what God does. So to be a follower of Jesus meant that their lives were not to simply reflect the culture of the people around them. Will the people who reject you determine your life? Or will those who accept you determine your life? Will friends, define your character? The people who love you, the people who hate you, do they create your character? Well sure, some.
But your character is created by the character of God. Now what is the character of God? God is kind to the ungrateful and to the selfish. After all we see it every day, where selfish people seem to get through life just fine. God is kind to everyone. You are to be children of God.
Now this New Testament was written in Greek and with that expression what credit is given three times. The word translated “credit” is the word which everywhere else is translated “grace.” What grace is that? If you love those who love you, where is the grace? Well this may sound simple - be gracious as God is gracious - but it’s not easy. It’s hard when you’ve had a difficult day to remember to hold the door for the person carrying boxes.
The final word in anyone’s life is to make a person gracious. There’s a story of a guy from Arizona who also walked to the well each day for water. His Dad told him that he could throw a stone down the well and sense by the sound if there was water enough to drink, and wash dishes or if it went kerplunk also take a bath.
But only if it made that kerplunk sound. When I hear these words of Jesus I hear a kerplunk sound, a deep sound - lots of water.
You can’t be gracious because relationships are hard and complex and painful and awkward and some people just need a whole lot of attention. And some folks are so high maintenance you can’t simply be gracious. It’s hard when you give a compliment and get nothing, but a stare in return.
But Jesus said; if you love those who love you back, where’s the grace? Everyone can look like that. We have the privilege of looking not like everyone else, but rather to look like God.
Acts of graciousness demonstrate in a clear way that we are valuable and dependent folk who have no better resource than each other. Being gracious is most envied.
People sometimes say that what we envy in others is success, money or fame, but more than not it is kindness and graciousness that is most envied. Why, because it is the strongest indicator of a person’s wellbeing, their pleasure in existence.
Some of you may remember that old Testament story of Joseph. We remember how Joseph was somewhat favored. His Dad made him that coat of many colors, which only made his other brothers more jealous.
Some families find it hard to get everything equaled out, all the time. These brothers did it to the extreme and ended up hating Joseph. The story goes that his brothers were out tending sheep one day, they saw Joseph coming from a distance and said let’s kill him. One brother brought some sense into the conversation and made the suggestion that they just throw him into a well.
Many years later Joseph was a star in Egypt while Israel went through a drought with no food. So years later because of famine in Israel these brothers and their father come down to Egypt to survive. There they meet their brother Joseph, but don’t recognize him at first and then later when they do they grow afraid of him.
No doubt they think he will hold the pit stop he made in the dessert against them. Joseph now had the upper hand. He could refuse them help and send them away hungry. So here Joseph takes a hard look at his life.
Is he willing to host the hidden inscrutable purposes of God, especially now that he knows much of this is beyond his control?
The question hanging in midair is, will he trust that there is a deeper purpose being acted out through him and will he sense that this is his true life.
So to honor that meant to somehow let his anger dissolve out from him. When he announces his name to them he tells them that he will not kill them. He is not going to continue the vicious cycle of fear and hate and violence that they had begun.
He is able to break this cycle because now he trusts a purpose for his life that is larger than his own horizon. He says God sent me before you to preserve life for a remnant. It was not you that sent me, but God.
God sent me, he says, and with that he gives his brothers food, he welcomes their father, gives them land and permits them to begin a new life under his protection.
This a deep reversal from where he began. He brothers wondered why are you acting with such grace. Joseph might have said, I use to think that too, but then I became aware of a larger purpose at work in my life, a purpose that transcended these petty quarrels, a purpose that looked far into the future.
I became aware that my life was more than the sum of my little fears, my little hates and my little loves. My life is larger than I imagined and I decided to embrace that largeness that is God’s gift for my life. I acted differently because I acted in ways befitting God’s way in the world.
So Jesus is suggesting that there is more to life than our little moral categories, of black and white, yes and no. For there is this force at work in you. A force that gets you to open up, a force that makes you more loving, and listening. Act in the character of that God, and you’ll find yourself walking into a larger purpose.
This beckoning into a new way in the world is the way God’s holiness enters the world - through being gracious. Do not lose heart. God has not quit and will not until our life is joyously reflective of God’s own life. Such are the possibilities for you and me. Such was Wesley’s imperative to walk on toward, a wholeness or perfect life or a larger life or purpose.
Sunday, September 25, 2016