Superpower

Genesis 45:3-11, 15 | 1 Corinthians 15:35-38,42-50 | Luke 6:27-38 | Psalm 37:1-12, 41-42

I can’t help but wonder if, when the lectionary committee was deciding which Old Testament reading to put with today’s gospel, they had to draw straws as to which story was the most gut-wrenching story of forgiving one’s enemy. Because there are loads of stories about people doing wrong by their neighbor but mostly doing wrong by their family, and not every story gives us an illustration of forgiveness, either.

Recall that Joseph, beloved son of Jacob, was thrown into a well and then sold to traders by his brothers, was accused of raping an officer’s wife (because he wouldn’t have an affair with her) and imprisoned, and then because he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, was released and rose to power, second only to the Pharaoh himself. It was Joseph’s planning through the seven years of plenty that prepared Egypt for the seven years of famine, that not only made Egypt the breadbasket of the world but also saved the people from starvation, including the very brothers who had cast him away, good as dead.

You’ll have to go back read Genesis 42-44 to get the full story of how the brothers go to Egypt for their stores, experience the dramatic irony of the brothers not realizing that it is their Joseph who is their lord, their saving grace. The recognition between the brothers does not start with our lesson today. Chapter 45 begins:

“Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, ‘Send everyone away from me.’ So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it.” (vv. 1-2)

And then we begin with today’s reading, when Joseph addresses his brothers, re-introducing himself and inquiring about his father. Is he still alive? But the brothers can’t answer him, “dismayed” at his presence. Dismayed? The Jewish Study Bible contains a more accurate description, I think: “…his brothers could not answer him, so dumbfounded were they on account of him.”

After all he has been through and all that he has done for them, Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers, and he breaks down. Breaking down doesn’t give Joseph credit, though, and perpetuates the stereotype that to show emotion is a weakness. This man who is second to the Pharaoh sobs before his brothers so loudly that everyone in the vicinity can hear him. The floodgates of emotion–of grief, loneliness, heartbreak, anger, worry, fear, anxiety–all of that and more, I’m sure, are finally released. Of course the brothers are dumbfounded. They tried to kill Joseph, and when they finally meet him again, he’s a great man of power, sobbing, and inquiring about his father’s well-being. They don’t know what to do.

They don’t recognize him. Do you think that’s because if he really was their brother, this isn’t how they expect him to react? Maybe Joseph realizes this might be the case, too, so what does he ask them to do?

“Come closer to me.”

Come closer to him so that they can see into his eyes, recognize the familiarities that persist through time. Listen to him as he says he knows they’re the ones who sold him into slavery. Listen to him as he says that he sees God’s hand at work because in all of this, it is Joseph’s presence in Egypt that has saved them. In fact, he says that it was God who sent him there, ultimately to serve as lord and ruler of the whole land of Egypt. He tells them what to do, essentially to go get their father and all their things and come live in Goshen near him, and he kisses them all, weeping with them, and only then are they able to speak with him, covered in his tears and affection.

This story takes any story we have of sibling rivalry to a whole other level, doesn’t it? And it says something about Joseph’s sense of presence, character, and faith. He could have easily recognized his brothers and had them imprisoned, as he nearly did to a different end. The Pharaoh would have his back, as he did on recognizing the brothers and assisting their move. It could have gone the other way very easily. Some decisions are like that, balanced as they are on the edge of life and death.

In our gospel lesson today, we have a mighty checklist of do’s and don’ts for disciples. Jesus tells us to love our enemies. “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Don’t strike back, give generously, and don’t expect things to be returned. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Be merciful. Don’t judge or condemn, and forgive.

Are these things that only the ancient Joseph, ultimately mighty in power and favored by God, could do? No. They happen every day. Only God knows the extent to which the Golden Rule helps preserve humanity itself, let alone the goodness conveyed in our true love, mercy, generosity, and forgiveness. And only God knows the strength that these actions have in moving us closer to the kingdom of God.

If you listened to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s nearly hour-long sermon from the Yes to Jesus Revival that I posted a couple of weeks ago, you heard him share the story from the documentary about Jackie Robinson called 42. Baseball had been divided into all these different leagues to keep it segregated, but there was one man named Branch Rickey who loved baseball so much that he wanted the best of the best to play together. Now, you’ll have to watch the documentary or listen to the sermon for more details, but essentially, when Rickey, the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers made the proposition to Robinson, he acknowledged that there were going to be people who would say and maybe even do ugly things because he was a black man and that’s the way the country was in the 40’s. The man also said that he wanted Robinson not to retaliate. At this, Robinson said, “Oh you want a negro who’s afraid to fight back,” and the man said, “No, I want a great ball player who has the courage not to fight back just like our Savior Jesus Christ.” Rickey pulls from his desk a book of sayings of Jesus and reads to Robinson words that include our words from Luke today. When he put the book down, Robinson shook Rickey’s hands, and as Curry summarized, they went on to change baseball and America because they followed the Way of Jesus, the Way of Love. At our best, we have the power to change the world because of our love, because of Jesus’s love, God’s love.

You might still be thinking that all this is fine and good, but these are extraordinary circumstances with heroes from our past. I’m sorry. I’m sorry that we don’t hear more about our everyday courageous warriors who fight with love. I’m sorry that our news is filled with anger, division, fear, and violence. I’m sorry because for all the time focused on the evil of the world, there are countless others upholding the Golden Rule, doing right by their neighbors, strangers, and kin, and practicing the Way of Love, even if that’s not what they call it.

And I bet there are times in your life when that’s just your m.o., and I also bet that there’s a time in your life when you felt it more poignantly. When these words of Jesus, that have revealed themselves to be written in your heart, revealed your belief of them in your actions and proved yourself to be a warrior for love, too.

Someone I love dearly was in an abusive relationship, and she had escaped–not her first time to try to get out, but this time it was sticking. (It typically takes 7 times before a woman leaves her abuser.) I received a call from the abuser late one night. He was looking for her. He was saying things, telling me what I thought of him. And I don’t know if you’ve ever had an encounter where you felt like you were facing demons, something truly evil, but my heart was racing. I felt stunned, but I stayed on the phone, words coming out of my mouth that came from a place I didn’t know I had. At one point, I said, “No, I don’t hate you. I love the good person you can be, that you are at your core, but I do not like what you’ve done. And I won’t tell you where she is or help you get in touch with her.” There are other times in my life when I realize how much I love people, especially people I don’t like, and there’s a sadness that washes over me, a lament at the loss of what could be.

The Way of Love, following the Way of Jesus, does not make us passive doormats. It doesn’t mean that we will always be protected from danger, nor does it mean that we see everything as sunshine and roses or always see the silver lining. What it does mean is that we know that love is a powerful thing, that God’s love is our superpower when we find ourselves tapped into it.

God’s love enables us to be wholly in relationship with others, even if that person is so other that we can’t see eye to eye. God’s love enables us to act in ways of justice and mercy, to heal and seek reconciliation rather than bury ourselves in grief or anger or grudges. Most importantly, God’s love transforms us, turning us into Christian superheroes capable of amazing feats that most often won’t make the headlines but make all the difference in someone’s life. I hope this week or even today that you get the chance to share a moment when you tapped into that superpower, when you did something you didn’t think you could do but were keenly aware–if not in the moment then at least in retrospect–that it was God working through you, living through you, loving through you.

Come closer, and recognize the power of God’s love in our lives.

 

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Power for Purpose

 

Isaiah 62:1-5 | 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 | John 2:1-11

We pass signs all day long, often reading them without thinking. One of my kids’ kindergarten teachers showed me that children, even before they can read, can tell what company, store, or restaurant a sign–or well-branded logo–represent. Looking at the exercise sheet, I realized at a glance that I could, too. I mean, it’s hard to miss the Golden Arches or the Coca-Cola script. How often is it that when we see something, we know exactly what it means, what it represents? Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding feast, and this is the first of his signs. Honestly, we’re a little clearer on the cross and what it means and choose that for our corporate branding–and it works well, don’t get me wrong. But there’s something to this little water to wine miracle that saved a celebratory feast, something about Jesus doing what only he could do: using his power for a purpose.

I wonder what made Mary think that Jesus could do something about the situation. We’ve probably all been at parties that are starting to turn south–it could be that the d.j. is bad or the food or drink runs out too soon. It gets embarrassing, really; at a wedding it can be truly humiliating. I read in a commentary that perhaps Jesus and his buddies didn’t bring their contribution to the wedding and could have been part of the reason for the early shortage–a good reason for a mother to call out her son. But maybe Mary’s reasoning came from the hunch of a mother who had faced difficult times before and had been comforted by this special child, now a man. Maybe in years before, Jesus has showed her hands that could soothe a tired and weary mind, eyes that could console the sorrowful, and laughter that brought joy to the surface. Maybe those were some of Mary’s experiences that made her, in this situation, look to her beloved son to make things right.

And he could.

And he did.

The act was performed. Witnesses beheld the miracle. A feast was redeemed, made even better than before. Surely the guests were enlivened by the freely flowing spirit around them. (I think there’s some foreshadowing here of what will be when Jesus’s true hour has come.)

Even though he says his hour hasn’t yet come, when called upon, Jesus performs the task at hand. Like us, Mary sees what is before her and can foresee the disaster about to unfold. Jesus, however, with the mind of God, probably thought on a different scale. On a scale both large and small, Jesus makes the world a better place. Jesus brings light into the world by the very nature of who he is, both God and man. Yes, Jesus, the bridal party is out of wine; make these jars full of wine through the power of Spirit, as you will, in time, fill our cups with promise of life everlasting. We see what you’re doing here.

This wedding miracle is not itself a simple sign, a mere advertising gimmick branding Jesus as miracle worker, though a miracle worker he is. He who is wisdom and light bears this gift . . . and all the other gifts of Spirit, too, because that’s his nature. Jesus is the Son of God. His very nature is his power, and he chooses to use it for a purpose, drawing us ever closer into relationship as a bridegroom does his bride.

At our baptisms, we are bestowed with gifts of the Spirit.

Each of us has gifts.

Each of us has power.

A few years ago at the Choir Camp Festival Day at Subiaco Abbey, I saw a friend whom I hadn’t seen in years. It was quiet, of course, prior to the service, so I couldn’t squeal in delight as some of us are prone to do, but I did sort of leap up and outstretch my arms, greeting her with a huge smile and an all-embracing hug. We stepped apart, still holding arms, and smiled some more, not saying a word. It was just a moment. Joyful, beautiful, and heartwarming.

As she turned toward her seat, I heard a man’s voice say, “Sara, be careful how you use that power.” In the pew behind me sat my liaison to the Commission on Ministry. I hadn’t yet left for seminary but was already deep in the discernment process. I still haven’t forgotten what he said or the way he looked at me with wise eyes and a knowing smile.

I have come to see my smile as a gift, one I freely share with others, but it is only a sign of the greater gift that is joy. Though I thank my parents for getting me braces when I was younger, you can’t buy joy that a genuine smile conveys. A true gift is precious and priceless, which is part of the reason why we feel such loss when those who share their gifts with us die. There’s a collective grieving this week with the loss of David Bowie and Alan Rickman. And if we think of others whom we have loved and lost, their gifts, too, often come to mind because when they shared those gifts, we knew we were witnessing something special if not miraculous.

Paul says,

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

Our gifts aren’t ours alone. What greater service than to share our gifts with others? What greater good than sharing our gift as a sign of Christ’s presence in the world, shining light into what can often be a dismal scene?

I hope that we are all aware of some of our gifts. Sometimes we need someone to point them out to us. It’s completely normal to take what comes naturally for granted. That doesn’t make it a good thing, but it happens. Moms can be great people to call out our gifts. A friend who knows you well or even a complete stranger can also recognize a gift if they’re paying attention. Just this week at the elementary school where I mentor, while I was signing out of the computer, a man told the others in the office, “You know, if everyone had a smile like that woman, the world would be a better place.”

Maybe it’s your smile. Maybe it’s your music. Maybe it’s your sportsmanship or prowess with numbers; your ability to operate on bodies or manage corporations or build bridges, towers, or spacecraft. Maybe it’s your intuition, your understanding, your ability to be present. Whatever your gifts–because we do have more than one–I urge you to recognize it and nurture it. Give thanks to God for it and pray for guidance in how and when to use it for the common good, especially if it fosters faith, hope, and love. We can’t count on someone else to be or do something better because God needs each of us to shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory in the world as only we can.

Like the servants ladling out the wine from the jars that they were just sure held water, there are going to be times when we are amazed at what we can bring to those in our midst by the power of the Spirit. We do our work to the best of our ability, rising to the occasion when we are called. We, too, can use our power for a purpose. We ourselves are walking billboards, signs of all shapes, colors, and sizes, pointing to the glory of God.

 

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Genuine Connection

Recall the last conversation in which you spoke from the heart.

Think of the last time you listened with so much awareness and presence that you truly felt what the other person conveyed to you through words.

When is the last time you maintained eye contact long enough to glimpse the soul and true feeling of the person across from you, not diverting your gaze out of societal propriety?

Forget the e-mails, the Twitter, the insincere chatter and texts of your day and seek out what is truly meaningful in relationships — we have to genuinely relate.  Our souls need contact.

Our recent ice storms left many without electricity, many without heat.  Neighbors came together and helped each other, visited with each other; they connected.

In our Women’s Leadership Circle curriculum we’re using in our women’s spirituality group at church, the meat of the curriculum comes from the conversation that conveys our experiences, our observations, reflections from our heart.  No book, brochure or digital anything is going to replace the connection of souls sharing in Spirit.

Many lost or man-made electricity, but the current of energy that Spirit provides may have just been given a boost.  I hope your power is restored.

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When We Are Our Own Worst Enemy

I received an e-mail that reminded me today marks the anniversary of when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.  The nuclear weapon was named “Little Boy.”  The one that was dropped on Nagasaki three days later was called “Fat Man.” (for more on the events of those days, you can visit Wikipedia.

In sixty-three years, am I correct in believing that weapons such as these have not been used?  But the potential of them is weighty, ever-present.  The intent for using them hasn’t gone away, either — power, domination, intimidation, destruction.  These are decidedly masculine attributes.  Is it mere irony that the names of the bombs are masculine, too?

We all have infinite potentiality within.  We have our feminine and masculine attributes.  We have our strengths and weaknesses, our superiorities and inferiorities, that which we build and that which we destroy within each of our feminine and masculine selves.  It is our responsibility to hold these in balance, yes?

That’s why we need each other, our community, to help one another find our balance, share our insights, give us another perspective.   Alone we can convince ourselves that we mean well, that our intent is good and true, our course of action the only way.  But our ego is strongest when given an attentive audience, the slope slippery once we yield to it.  And any one person in power is just as susceptible as the rest of us.

That’s why in America we’re supposed to have the system of checks and balances.  That’s why in families it can work best where there are two raising the children.  Left to our own devices, we can do some incredibly regrettable, irreversible things — when we are out of balance, out of sync.

For our own sake and for the sake of others, may we know peace, the true peace that resides within, lest we be our own worst enemy.

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The Power of a Gathering

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Never underestimate the power of a group of like-minded women.  The more
generations represented, the better.  The energy pulsates through the air.  Smiles are free, and eyes twinkle brilliantly, aided by abundant candlelight. 

In joy the gathering lingers a while longer.  Smiles come despite themselves, offering support, strength and energy which someone is sure to need.  Eyes glisten, perhaps from tears.  The gathering proceeds despite the rapids and even the falls that seem to take us to a higher level.

Keep your women friends near and dear.  Honor them regularly as only you will know how, for they will be with you through it all.

Who is in your gathering, your community?  When was the last time you felt carried away by overwhelming abundance of support and love in Spirit?

I’ve experienced it spiritually in our Time for J.O.Y. retreat, and I’ve experienced it in the birthing community at my Bradley ™ instructor training and at the CIMS Forum.  You feel almost overwhelmed by the energy that’s present.  Anything is possible.  The trick is when you return to the daily round.  How do you carry that awareness home?  How do you keep the potentiality wide open, the enthusiasm present?

Quite simply, we have to do just that.  Be aware.  Be present.  Be enthusiastic.  Just Be.  If we can do that, then we are at once One with the energy we experienced and the fuel for the possibilities to come.  In that state, we can be enthusiastic in our work, whether it is tending to the babe, assisting another in birth, writing a novel or cleaning the house.

Know your community and revisit often to remind yourself what really is and the power you have.

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