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Sermon for February 20, 2022 — 7th Sunday after Epiphany

Speaking Of Life 4013 | The Boy from the Well

It is often said that there’s nothing sweeter than revenge. But, in Joseph’s story, we see the power of grace when reconciliation is chosen over revenge.

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 4013 | The Boy from the Well
Greg Williams

Have you ever felt completely powerless? Have you been in the unenviable place of having no recourse—no action you can take that will change your situation? Imagine being stuck in the bottom of a well.

You likely recall the story. Joseph was the favorite of 12 sons, whose father had given him a coat of many colors. Joseph’s brothers—jealous of his gifts and favor with their father—threw him down a well in a fit of rage. At the bottom of the well—perhaps this one or one like it, he lay helpless, unable to scale the walls, completely dependent upon others to release him. Of course, we know this was just the beginning of his journey of helplessness, which included slavery, imprisonment, and mistreatment.

But we also know that years later, after being released from prison, Joseph became the 2nd highest authority in the land of Egypt. And during this time, he and his brothers met.

The land was in the midst of famine and Joseph’s brothers had traveled to Egypt to ask to buy food for their family. They were now totally dependent upon others. They had no idea the Egyptian official in front of them was their brother Joseph the boy they had thrown into a well so many years before.

At first, Joseph wasn’t sure about revealing himself to them and seemed to toy with the idea of revenge—even seeming to threaten their youngest brother. But mercy wins out. He can’t keep up the ruse anymore, he blurts out his name. But they don’t get it at first.

[Look Down]

And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.
Genesis 45:3-4 (ESV)

They are so shocked to see him he had to repeat himself. You can only imagine what is going on in their minds. The power dynamic has completely reversed. Now it is them at the bottom of the well as he stands over them. They are trapped in famine and under the mercy of Egypt. He has the upper hand by any measure.  But rather than take the upper hand, he informs them of his plan to take care of the most vulnerable member of their family, their aging father.

This is grace. Grace can mean walking away from our rightful revenge, holding back when we want to restore our human version of “balance” to the world.

Grace tells us that God doesn’t work by our weights and measures. In Joseph’s world, the abusing brothers are forgiven and taken in. In God’s world, the weak become the strong; in God’s world, the sinner is given the place of honor. In God’s world, the boy from the well becomes the man on the throne; the boy stripped off his robe provides for his family.

I am Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40 ∙ Genesis 45:3-11, 15 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50 Luke 6:27-38

The theme this seventh Sunday after Epiphany is living by God’s generosity. Our call to worship Psalm recites God’s generosity for those who wait on his timing and provision. Genesis 45 is the story of Joseph’s God-fueled generosity to his abusive brothers. 1 Corinthians 15 talks about the quantum generosity at the resurrection—replacing a perishable body with the imperishable. Our sermon is about Jesus’ manifesto of the generous life his people are to live, trusting in his provision.

Pressed Down and Shaken Together

Luke 6:27-38 ESV

Read, or have someone read Luke 6:27-38 ESV.

Malcom Muggeridge, a British journalist who came to Christ at the peak of his secular career, was forever changed by his time with Mother Theresa. He talked about her order coming to start a ministry in London, which happened to be during a labor strike in which the power companies had turned off the lights in the city in a protest for higher wages. As they dedicated the building, they took a moment for a quiet service in their darkened building:

It was the most beautiful service I have ever attended. As it happened, the electricity workers’ go-slow was on, so we had only candlelight, which somehow added to the mystery and majesty of the proceedings. I thought of the vain battle of greed which had plunged London in darkness that day, and of how such battles and such darkness are the stuff of history and the fruit of our unredeemed moral natures. Here in this front parlor of a small suburban house, where an altar and a cross had been set up, a little clearing was made in the dark jungle of the human will. I was enchanted to be there. (Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God, pg 109).

The dark jungle of the human will. The airless chambers of greed where nothing and no one is ever truly free. We’ve all been there – we’ve suffered from it and been part of creating it. As Muggeridge writes, “such battles and such darkness are the stuff of history.” Humanity runs by “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” – we give only to the point that we’ve gotten ours first. Tit for tat, quid pro quo, eye for an eye.

 

Jesus’ sermon here frees us from this dark jungle of greed and power-playing. In just a few paragraphs that probably took twenty minutes to speak, Jesus turns the whole tired human story on its head. Let’s look back at this well-known moment in Jesus’ ministry to see how he undoes our human instincts and shows us what it means to be truly human.

We’ll draw out three details from this story today, which might seem a little disconnected from one another, but we’ll show how they tie together:

  • The level place
  • The golden rule
  • The generous measure

The level place

And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people (Luke 6:17 ESV)

This verse appears a little bit before the focus passage for today and gives this passage its name, “The Sermon on the Plain.” Matthew’s account of this sermon is the “Sermon on the Mount,” which is probably better known. Whether the writers were telling this from two different angles or Jesus gave the sermon twice we don’t really know, but it wouldn’t be a surprise that an itinerant preacher like him would recycle and reuse material. Harmonizing these two details is not nearly as important as what the details tell us.

Matthew sets this on the Mount, casting Jesus as a parallel to Moses, who received the law on Mount Sinai. Matthew’s Gospel is written with Israelite history as a theme. Luke’s theme is economics and inclusion, and he regularly writes about the poor and the outsider as central to Jesus’ mission.

The setting of Luke’s version is on a plain – a “level place,” which works as a visual metaphor for collapsing the hierarchy of human society. In Christ, there is no rich or poor or slave or free, but all are one (see Galatians 3:28), and Luke sets Jesus’ speech in a place where everyone stood on equal footing.

Jesus had proclaimed what his kingdom would be like in Luke chapter 4, where he described his ministry as the Israelite year of Jubilee, in which slaves were freed and debts were forgiven. Luke follows this declaration with several stories in the next chapters of people who aren’t usually welcome – disabled people, tax collectors, prostitutes – that Jesus heals and welcomes into his community. The Sermon on the Plain follows. It is a manifesto of what Jesus’ kingdom looks like, where the poor are blessed, generosity trumps greed and enemies are loved.

And he does so in a level place, where all the odd balls, sophisticates, outsiders, insiders, elite and outcasts look each other in the eye.

What does it mean for us, in our society today, to meet on a level place? For those of us in the West, equality and egalitarianism is something we talk about a lot, but it’s not always something we act on, even in the church. Those who look or dress different than us are often left out of the conversation while we wait for our homogenous group to come back around so we can truly be ourselves.

But Jesus invites us into a different dance. He says that the old hierarchy, which was brutal in the ancient world, won’t work anymore. He calls to unity without uniformity, celebrating the unique voice that each person brings to the choir.

The Golden Rule

Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. (Luke 6:30-32 ESV)

You probably recognize the “golden rule” in the midst of Jesus’ words here. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is one of the most famous pieces of Jesus’ teaching, but was actually not original with him. Similar phrases were spoken by other ancient teachers. Typical of Jesus, he spins a phrase in his own direction.

What Jesus takes aim at here is the ethical code that Rome and much of the ancient world lived by. Quid pro quo. Society at this time ran on this exchange. You gave a gift to someone because they gave you one. You hosted someone at your house, and they had to host you, or they would be shamed.

And that shame meant more than embarrassment. It meant loss of reputation. Possibly loss of livelihood. Society became this maddening web of who owed who, of who thanked who, who offended and avenged who.

This is not exclusive to the ancient world. Not by a long shot. We see this in our own world all the time—kindness given only when we’ve received it, love given only to those who think we’re lovable, compliments given only if some are received.

Jesus breaks the back of such thinking here: “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” (verses 32-33)

Jesus takes aim at this back-and-forth culture and takes aim at ours as well.

We don’t give kindness because of the kindness we think we’ll get back. We don’t give gifts because we’ll get one back. We do these things because God tells us to love others in action, and he knows how humanity works. We answer to him because he is the only reason generosity exists. He’s where it comes from.

If we are left only to ourselves, we degenerate into a who-owes-who society. Our relationships degrade into exchanges and our interactions become transactions.

So, Jesus puts his own spin on that golden rule. Instead of treating others in kind to how they treat you, he calls us to make that first investment. To give first, to love first, not believing that we’ll get something back, but believing that God is in charge. And he tells us that the giving world is the best place to live.

The generous measure

Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:38 ESV)

This is the key to the Jesus kingdom; this is the exit out of the dark jungle of the human will—generosity. In the calculating, self-addicted world we live in, generosity is the only relief, the only rest.

This image in verse 38 comes to us from entrepreneurship in Jesus’ day. At the time, most of what we might call shopping was done in open-air markets. You bought from the merchant, and he would measure out your purchase.

But Jesus puts generosity into this everyday exchange. Pressed down, shaken together, pouring over. This isn’t just about your mom giving you an extra helping at dinner. This is an exchange with a merchant who is measuring very carefully. But Jesus turns us toward God’s generosity, which gives plenty in even the most measured exchange.

He is pouring out something, like seed or grain, then pressing and shaking the measure until it’s packed full and overflowing.

We don’t give because we’re waiting for the same in return. We aren’t kind only if we get some kindness back. We don’t love only those who love us. We give, show kindness and love because God is in charge and he will take care of us.

And so we come back to that moment with Malcom Muggeridge and the nuns in a cramped room by candlelight. Where “…a little clearing was made in the dark jungle of the human will.” Jesus gives us the methodology of his upside-down kingdom where the last shall be first and the generous are the truly rich.

Let’s look at what we can take with us.

Reorientation of giving

We’re talking about a reorientation of what it means to give. To give as Jesus gave means that we give first, love first, show kindness first because his love compels us and because we know God will take care of us.

We don’t have to get entangled in the quid pro quo of the world, but we can put that all to rest in his capable hands.

The level place, the golden rule, the generous measure. This is the world we live in, created and sustained by the God who gives to pouring over. Let’s join him in that giving today.

 

 

Gone Fishing! w/ Kenneth Tanner W3

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Gone Fishing! w/ Kenneth Tanner
February 20 – 7th Sunday after the Epiphany
Luke 6:27-38 “Love Your Enemies”

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Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for Sermon—Pressed Down and Shaken Together

  • Have you ever seen generosity bring rest and joy in an environment where people were being selfish? Essentially, have you ever seen giving work wonders or been involved in that giving yourself?
  • How is our modern world like the ancient world in which giving and receiving was really just an exchange instead of an act of true generosity? How does giving with conditions, such as what we want back, take away from the authenticity and joy of that giving?
  • How has God been generous with you in your life? Can you point to blessings in your life that you never could have “earned,” or don’t even deserve?

Questions for Speaking of Life: The Boy from The Well

  • Have you ever been in a helpless place like Joseph in the well? Have you ever been in a helpless place like Joseph’s brothers later in the story?
  • Joseph forgiving his brothers was essentially impossible. Have you ever seen this impossible forgiveness at work? What was the result?
  • God doesn’t work by our weights and measures, our understanding of revenge and forgiveness. Do you believe that? How does that change your daily life?

Quote to Ponder:

 “No one is useless in the world who lightens the burdens of another.”~~Charles Dickens

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