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“The Oppressed Shall Go Free”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Exodus 12:1-14
Romans 13:8-14

 

Exodus 12:1-14

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

 

Romans 13:8-14

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.


 

We have been following this story of Joseph – how he was sold by his brothers as a slave, how he was falsely accused and thrown into prison for years and years, and how he finally got out because of the way he used his gifts of interpreting dreams and because he believed God’s Word spoken through dreams.

Joseph was placed as something of a Father to Pharaoh of Egypt, and when Joseph is reunited with his family, he entreats them all to come to Egypt – to survive the long years of famine with him there.

And that is where they have remained….until the days when the new Pharaoh does not know them and feels their growing numbers and prosperity to be a threat.  And this is when we hear of baby Moses narrowly escaping infanticide – rescued from a basket among the reeds, along the Nile river.

Then we heard of Moses who – having fled Egypt after lashing out and killing an Egyptian, who had been beating an Israelite, and marrying and setting up home in the dessert – sees a bush burning in the wilderness and hears the voice of God calling him beyond his every excuse, to be a part of God’s liberation of his people from Egypt.

What a journey!!!

 

 

And here we find the Israelites on the eve of their great liberation – having endured all the plagues sent upon the land of Egypt, and bracing for the worst one yet, the death of all the eldest Egyptian boys in the land.

We have reached this point in which the heart of the Pharaoh is so hardened that nothing less than the death of his own eldest son, will cause him to stop murdering and enslaving the children of Israel.

What a terrible place to be.

 

Isn’t this how every war begins? …When the cost of doing nothing exceeds the cost of doing something?

 

And so this most terrible plague of all, the death of the first born males of Egypt – the pride joy, the economic back-bone, the seat of power – these young ones are struck down…

And it is terrible.

 

 

And here on the eve of this most terrible plague of all, God is instructing the people to be prepared.  …to be prepared because their liberation – long out-of-reach, will come (and go) swiftly

…for God knows that Pharaoh’s own brokenness and openness will be but momentary.

After his moment of heart-broken surrender, Pharaoh pendulums right back to his former position of hardness toward the Israelites and will send his entire army after them, a people fleeing on foot, from a nation chasing them on horse and chariot.

And what a staggering and terrifying position in which to find oneself…

 

All of this lies just ahead, and so God instructs them to eat up – dressed, sandals fastened, staff in hand.  Whatever perishable food they cannot consume is to be burned.  THIS shall be their new beginning – their first of months, their start to a new year…and a new life.

Their deliverance will come in a flash.
And they must be ready to seize it.

 

For God will free them mightily and powerfully, as those on the wrong side of love and justice, are brought to their knees…to consider the evil they have wrought and the lives they have pressed and taken.

A reckoning is here.

 

I am intrigued too at this verse in Romans today:

“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law… Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

The very point of all the laws that God would give the Israelites, through Moses, was love.  For GOD IS Love.  GOD IS LOVE.

…The point all along was LOVE.

 

The Israelites are called to be God’s embodiment of love – that God’s love might shine into all the darkest places, setting creation free in the knowledge of God’s own delight!

“Love does no wrong to a neighbor.”

Love does no wrong to a neighbor.
LOVE does no wrong
To a neighbor.

 

Can we say that we have done no wrong to a neighbor?

 

We have taken moments to collectively remember our national sins of the genocide of Native Americans, the kidnapping of their children, and the stealing of their lands.

We have taken moments in these past weeks to collectively remember our national sins of the enslavement, of the oppression, of the lynching, of the discrimination, of the criminalization, and of the mass-incarceration of our fellow citizens and neighbors of color.

 

Can we say that as a nation, we have been on the right side of Love?
Have these actions embodied the love and deliverance of Christ?

 

When God again moves swiftly to let the oppressed go free, will we be swimming in the swift current of God’s saving LOVE?

Will we stand – fighting the current, clinging to our former positions of power and ease, comfort and stability – losing our souls to save our “lives”-as-we-know-them?

Will the flood have to overtake us,
Or those we love,

Before we let go and allow God to set God’s beloved people free? 

 

I know many among us have long worked and fought, spoken out and sacrificed, that the oppressed might go free.  I know many of you live lives that embody the LOVE of Christ, in so many acts of generosity and loving compassion.

 

God is alive.

And God is still writing the stories of history.

God is making wrong things right:
setting the prisoner free,
     giving sight to the blind,
     and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. 

 

Where will OUR lives stand,
Where will we AS A CHURCH stand,

 

When God swiftly rights the wrongs?  When God swiftly delivers?  When hearts and economies and powers must be broken wide open, to finally make room for the Spirit of God – just as the hearts and economies and powers of the Egyptians were to broke wide open, that justice might flow down like the mighty rivers…

Where will WE stand???

 

Our actions and inactions have consequences.
And LOVE calls us to account.
LOVE calls us to right the wrongs.
LOVE calls us to join with Christ in proclaiming,

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 

Paul declares in Romans,

“…it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light”

 

 

Let us pray: 

Holy and Mighty God,
Lover of Justice,
Protector of the Weak,
Deliverer of the Oppressed,
Lover of our Souls,…

Hear these our prayers. 

You have woken us.
We are awake.
We were blind, but now we see.
The night is gone.  The day is near. 

Help us…
to systematically
and completely lay aside every work of darkness
and to clothe ourselves in your love,
your armor of light.

 In Christ’s name we pray,
Amen.

 

 

“Loudly He Wept”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Genesis 45:1-15

 

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.  God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.

…for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

 

Genesis 45:1-15

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

“You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”

Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.


 

What goodness can follow atrocity.  What healing can come after grave injury.  What morning light can dawn after fierce storms.

 

Here we witness the reunion of these brothers, from one Father and several different mothers.  It is a reunion none of them saw coming…or not exactly.  These brothers had betrayed their own humanity, selling their own brother Joseph to traders to be a slave.  But in a strange and twisted yet truthful kind of way, we can be grateful that they brothers had chosen to sell him over killing him, which was their first instinct.

You see they hated him.  He said things.  Unwise things.

God filled young Joseph with dreams and visions.  And naïve or unfiltered or autistic or perhaps boastful as he was (…we do not know why), he spoke these dreams aloud, no filter, sharing them with his family.  And they did not take kindly to these visions – for Joseph dreamed that he would rule over his brothers and whole family.

It was unsettling.

 

I have wished he’d paused a moment to assess and to reconsider sharing these dreams.  I wonder if he even perceived how it would be taken by his siblings.  Did he sense their anger and resentment?  Did he not anticipate their jealousy over the favor his father showed him?

And why did Joseph share the 2nd time?  He shared one time, and I imagine that couldn’t have gone well.  So when he had yet another of these dreams, why did he share it yet again?

I do not know.

My heart breaks for him.

 

Can you imagine the emotional trauma?  Talk about post-traumatic-stress!
Can you imagine the betrayal?  Can you imagine the sense of abandonment?

What scars Joseph must have carried.  What fears he must have had to live with.

 

He was a good worker and advanced in his servant role to a man named Potiphar, but alas, Potiphar’s wife took interest in him, and when her advances were shunned she decided to slander Joseph – accusing him of violating her.

And thus, Joseph is thrown into yet another hole.  This time it isn’t an abandoned well – meant to hold him until his murder by family.  It isn’t the abandoned well that ended up being his holding cell before being sold to strangers and taken away from all he knew and everyone he held dear.  No, this time it was an actual cell, the hole of prison, and he stayed there for a long, long time, falsely accused, with no justice.

 

Some among us truly endure far more pain and loss than others of us.  Some of us FEEL more pain in our experiences than others.  And some have hardened the walls of their hearts to protect them from these painful moments, years, and lifetimes.

Joseph was one who endured more than he ever should have had to.

Even if he was boastful or proud, sharing his dreams and visions…
Even though his father favored him above the others…
Even if he was unwise in sharing his dreams…

It doesn’t matter.  None of this should have stripped him of home and family and freedom.

…and for SO long.

 

Yet this is Joseph’s story.

 

And when his brothers begin journeying to Egypt to buy grain – after Joseph’s interpretation of dreams has finally freed him from prison and placed him even over Pharaoh’s entire household that he might lead the nation in surviving the coming years of great famine – these brothers have no idea they will see their brother.  They have no idea where he is.  They do not know whether he is dead or alive.  He was probably the last person they ever expected to see again.

And can you imagine Joseph’s feelings upon seeing them?

You’ll see he first tests his brothers.  He puts them in compromised situations in order to see how they will handle themselves.  He wants to be sure that his younger brother Benjamin – his only full-blooded brother – is not being mistreated as well.  He wants to know who his brothers have become.

And when he experiences their changed hearts, he is broken open with grief released and gladness.  He is overcome, such that he can no longer hold back, but weeps so loudly that all of Pharaoh’s house hear it.

 

I have long loved this story.  It may be my favorite in the Bible.  But what I am moved by today is Joseph’s release.  He can no longer hold in his feelings.  They all come tumbling out.  Finally.

And furthermore, I wonder if his dreams came back to mind.  Did he remember his celestial dream, where his family bowed before him, …now that they are all bowing before him?  Could any of them have foreseen the path Joseph would walk to get to this point?  Could any of them have foreseen how their own actions would be woven by God into a tapestry of goodness and life?  Could any have imagined how, what was intended for evil, God used for great good?  And here Joseph is, choosing to see his life, not as a victim but as a messenger, sent ahead of them by God, to save lives.

 

I tend to have visions of an end but no idea as to how to get there.  Like Joseph, I am left wondering what it all means, as none of it yet seems true.  And I’ve long wondered why God does this.  Why does God give me vision?

Sometimes, especially when I am in the pits of life, I can resent these visions because they seem so far-fetched.  I can get discouraged.

But God is faithful.
Whatever God says, is true. 

If God says something will be, then it will be.  And God can use whatever comes, to get there.  We can work with God or against God.  Those are our choices.

 

Joseph chose to trust his dreams and visions.  God showed him, over and over again that they were true.  He was leading an entire nation in preparing for a major time of famine – based solely on a dream…a dream

And yet, to this point, he had not yet seen his earliest dreams come true…

Until

Now.

 

God speaks to each one of us, in different ways.

Some dream dreams.
Some interpret.
Some have visions.
Some interpret.
Some perceive the end.
Some perceive the path.

But God is speaking.
And God is trustworthy. 

 

May we have the courage and audacity

To follow our dreams – the visions God plants in our hearts –
And to believe that God is indeed working ALL things for good
For those who love God
And are called according to God’s purposes.
For God is the primary actor in this play.
God is using it all to save lives. 

God is working God’s purposes out.

Will we trust God’s call,
and join in the work? 

 


 

PRAYERS   

                                                                       (Iona Abby WB)
Creator Spirit, wellspring of our lives,
as the refreshing rain falls on the just and unjust alike
refresh us with your mercy, who knows our own injustice.
As the stream flows steadily on, defying all the odds of stone and water,
flow over every boundary and border that separates us from each other.
As the waters of our baptism washed us and welcomed us
renew us now in newness of life and unity of love.
As we were once held in the waters of our mother’s womb,
hold us now in the power and peace of your abiding presence. 

                                                                        (Richard J. Foster)
Today I accept your acceptance of me.
I confess that you are always with me and always for me.
I receive into my spirit your grace, your mercy, your care.
I rest in your love, O Lord.  I rest in your love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BLESSING                                            (Vienna Cobb Anderson)

The blessing of God,

whose love reconciles all who are divided,

be with you

as you seek to heal the brokenness

around you.

“Come, O Prince of Peace”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 2:1-20

 

Luke 2:1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.


 

 

We tell this story of Jesus’ birth because it matters.

 

More than just a sweet story…

More than a fairy tale – with snow and animals and wise men…

More than a tradition – with carols and Christmas trees and gift giving…

 

It is more.  It is far more.

 

But if we focus too much on the fairy tale, on the traditions, on the sweetness, we just might miss the real deal.  All those things are fine, but only if they are held secondarily to the main thing.  And the main thing is Christ – come to live within our hearts.

Now, I don’t know about you, but raised in Christian culture, I have heard about Christ living our hearts for all my life.  It is something I know in my mind.  And because I know it in my mind – because it has become something I think I understand – I have verged on missing the point entirely myself at times.

For God didn’t come to claim an earthly Kingdom,

God didn’t come to stake out territory and force obedience,

…God didn’t come in all the ways we expected God to come.

 

With all the scripture about righteousness and judgement and justice, they thought God would come and shake up our human systems – making things just and right, placing power in the hands of the righteous.  And we too, have wanted God to enter into our human systems & revolutionize them – wiping away systemic injustice and evil.

After all, we believe God can’t stand evil.  God will not stand for evil and all that kills and destroys.  So doesn’t mean God will take down those who have power unjustly?  Doesn’t it mean that God will lift up those who are oppressed unjustly?  Doesn’t it mean that God will make things right in this world?

Well yes, but not in the ways we think.

For instead of running for political power, instead of joining the movement to overthrow Rome’s governance of Israel, instead of forming a coup to overthrow the powers that be, Jesus did all the wrong things.

Jesus didn’t woo the powerful.  Jesus didn’t meet with all the right people.  Jesus didn’t advance through the ranks of the religious elite.

 

Rather Jesus met with all the wrong people – the sinners and the broken, the diseased and outcast, the estranged and the powerless.  To the frustration of his followers, Jesus wouldn’t catalyze his popularity, to advance his own interests.  To the frustration of his followers, Jesus managed to tick off all the people he would need to please in order to advance.

And he didn’t just tick them off, they felt threatened by him, so much so, that they would vow to take him down.

 

Jesus doesn’t do any of the things we expect.  But what Jesus does isn’t surface.

 

Jesus didn’t come to change the law, or the rules, or the systems.

All those things matter, but Jesus was in the business of the root causes of all our turmoil and distress.

 

Jesus came to heal hearts.

Jesus came to heal the human heart.

 

The root of all our fighting and hurt,

The root of our broken relationships and communities,

The root of our sorrow and isolation,

Come from the state of our hearts.  For it is from the human heart that all kinds of vile and evil come.  So Jesus came fishing for hearts.

 

Our Prince of Peace knows that the only lasting peace is created from the inside out, one heart at a time.

 

So Jesus didn’t come as a ruler.

Jesus came as a baby.

 

If you look around and wonder – “where is this Prince of Peace?”  I am glad you are asking the question.  Christ is still living and active – working through you and I, but if we’re not allowing God into the innermost sanctums of our hearts, day by day, there’s a good chance we’re not spreading peace but rather our own turmoil.

God has come!  Christ is here!

Our responsibility is to welcome God into our hearts, day after day, that indeed the peace that passed understanding will keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  And God’s peace will spread from heart to heart, through-out the whole earth.

 

It begins with you and with me.

 

 

“Boasting In Our Sufferings”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Genesis 50:15-21
Romans 5:1-5

 

Genesis 50:15-21

Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

 

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

 



 

This passage from Romans challenges the way we approach suffering in our society.

 

It is common belief that you reap what you sow.

And where did that idea come from?

Well,… probably everywhere.  It’s the idea behind Karma.  And it is quite literally in the Bible.

There is truth to that statement.  We do reap the consequences of our actions.  But how-much-so does vary by situation.  Some folks, who you can easily and quickly think of, seem to have far more than their fair share of suffering.  And o-so-many have suffering we dare not ever attribute to the result of their actions or inactions, sins, or mis-steps.

 

While we do reap what we sow.  Life has shown us that that’s not always how things go.  Some folks seem to prosper in doing evil.  We can look at any number of big corporations to see that.  In our Old Testament reading today, we glimpsed a merciful ending to the crazy story of Joseph.  While God indeed used all the evil dealt on Joseph for good, Joseph suffered more than most of us will ever know – sold by his brothers into slavery, falsely accused of rape, and imprisoned for many years…

So it is clear that while we do reap what we sow.  Sometimes, we do not.  And perhaps many times, true justice or fairness may only come in the hereafter.

 

But I will tell you why I think this idea of reaping what we sow is so strongly engrained in our sub-consciousness as a society.  It’s because whenever bad things happen to us, we are mesmerized and incensed.  We slam our hands down; it isn’t fair!  We protest with righteous indignation.

We expect that if we do good, we will receive good.

And when we don’t get it, we get mad.

Often we even take it further:  we question what we did wrong.  We wonder where we went wrong to get such a bad outcome.  We rehearse and review moments and years and decades in our minds.  We turn a situation over and over in our imaginations.  We try to figure out why something bad happened.  We are trying to prevent it from happening again.  We hope to learn from the experience and change our future.  And we are grappling with feelings of inadequacy, shame, or guilt for being unsuccessful.

 

Now sometimes, these feelings are well founded in reality:  we have indeed made poor choices and we will do well to learn from them as much as we can.  But other times, this guilt and shame are entirely misplaced.

This is what happens with victims of assault, violence, and violation.  Quite often the victims feel ashamed – as if what happened to them has made them dirty, as if they somehow were flawed to begin with to have had this happen to them.  They, in fact, rehearse the horrid scenes over and over in their minds, searching to make sense out of what has happened.

 

And I think that’s the key to our responses when bad things happen – we want to make sense of them. 

 

We want to believe that we live in a world that is right and just.  We want to believe that good will happen to the good and evil will come to those who perpetrate evil.  We want to believe that we have power over our world and our lives. 

But, experience shows us that this kind of justice and fairness do not yet cover the earth.  This Kingdom of God living, where justice reigns and peace makes its home in our hearts – this Kingdom is ever coming and ever not-yet-here.  It comes in the actions and persistence and diligence, and compassion, and fierceness of those following the Spirit of God in this world.  But in many, many other realms, justice and peace and wholeness are not yet the reality.

And so no, we do not always reap what we sow.

And as much as we want to believe it to be true.  In loving kindness to both ourselves and one another, we must allow that it is also true that injustice and evil also wield their might and bring death and destruction.  We do not fully control or have power over the outcomes in our lives.

 

Now why have I delved into such a tricky topic after such an inspiring verse as this passage from Romans?

I have done it because I think Christian culture in America has a problem with “boasting in our sufferings.”  Christian culture in America will far sooner shame or judge those suffering than recognize, that for some, if not many, their suffering is undeserved and unjust.  Their suffering is a symptom of our societal sins, and not their own personal sins.

We suffer for the sins of one another, not just our own sins.  We suffer when someone in power lacks the courage to stand up to injustice.  We suffer when company’s and individuals think that to win someone else must lose.  We suffer when anyone tries to store up for themselves all the world’s wealth, without a mindfulness and compassion to their fellow human beings.  When one of us weeps, we all weep.  When one of us rejoices, we all rejoice.  …that is also in the Bible.

We affect one another.  But I believe that in our grasping to understand and order our world, in order to make sense of our experiences, we rush to blame.  We rush to explain.  We rush to judge.  We rush to dismiss.

And in-so-doing, we deal ourselves and one another death-blows.  We hit ourselves and one another when we’re down, when we’re at our lowest points.

And that is an even greater injustice.

 

Christ instructs us not to quench a smoldering wick.  In other words, when someone is down, do not push them flat to the ground, do not trample them further, do not break their back and their spirit.

But when we judge…  And when we shame…  And when we reach to explain the evil and suffering we see wreaking havoc in the lives of our brothers and sisters, we quite often are doing just that – breaking their spirit, piling on.

 

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, is counseling us to do just the opposite of this.

Instead of our hiding our suffering in shame.  Instead of tightening the hatchets and closing all the blinds.  Instead of isolating ourselves further when we need the most help – lest we be judged on top of it all…  we are instead to BOAST in our sufferings. 

 

What?!?!??

Boast?

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Who in our society would BOAST in their sufferings?

The only place I’ve seen it consistently done, are in cultures and segments of our society that have known long-suffering.  Those whose descendants were enslaved, for example.  Or those cultures subject to genocide and discrimination.

And WE need to learn from these segments of our society.

 

How can WE become a community of faith that BOASTS in our suffering…

Knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

 

IF WE can become a community that LIVES this advice of Paul,

That speaks out our sufferings,

Without fear or shame

Worry or judgement,

Then perhaps we will open the doors to SEE and HEAR and WITNESS God’s mighty acts among us.

 

For GOD IS DOING A MIGHTY WORK.

 

But we will only have eyes and ears and hearts to perceive it,

When we create a community safe enough

For each of us to be our authentic selves

Without judgement.

 

Perhaps then, a brave soul, would dare share with us the pearls quarried from the depths of their exquisite pain and suffering.

Perhaps then, we will hear and pay attention, and learn to see

Just WHAT our God can do.