Paul says, “Love genuinely. Hate what is evil. Extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you. Associate with the lowly. Be humble. Don’t repay anyone evil for evil. Live peaceably with all if you can. Don’t seek vengeance. Don’t try to overcome evil with evil. Overcome evil with good.”
Jesus taught forgiveness instead of vengeance.
It’s easy to forgive when it’s a little something.But what about when you or someone you love is seriously hurt or even killed by someone. Intentionally.
I think most of us remember the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. When a man set off a bomb in Olympic Park.
A woman named Alice Hawthorne was killed in the blast. And her daughter Fallon Stubbs was wounded by shrapnel.
Fallon Stubbs appeared at the trial to offer, not condemnation, but forgiveness. She said, “Because of you, I have become a tolerant person. Not for you, but for me, I forgive you. I look at you. I love you … and if I cry,” she added, “it’s not for me. It’s not for my mother. It’s not for my father. It’s for you.”
Memrie Creswell was also injured by the. She told reporters after the sentencing, “He rolled his eyes when I said that I’m going to trump his evilness with love for the rest of my days.”
That takes guts. Real courage.
These two women knew what Paul knew. That evil must be reckoned with. That it needs to be named. That it needs to be confronted.
They know, like Paul did, that love which does not reject evil is not genuine. Genuine love must confront individuals who spread hate and violence. And that it must reject systemic evils in culture and society.
But it doesn’t mean returning evil for evil. Hate for hate. Violence for violence. That never works.
Fallon and Memrie and Paul suggest a third way between the usual choices of seeking vengeance and pretending that someone didn’t hurt us.
The first option—seeking vengeance—is too aggressive. It just perpetuates the cycle of violence. It inflames hate.
But pretending someone or something hasn’t hurt is too passive. It is unhealthy to allow unresolved conflict in ourselves. It further hurts individuals who have been victimized.
We need to practice a third way—loving confrontation. Honest dialog with someone who has lost their way. An invitation to rediscover healthy relationships and community. That’s the key to an overcoming life.
Letting God’s love transform our own self-concept, our relationship with others in the church or outside of it. Loving people back into community, either through collaboration or through loving confrontation.
I’d like to share a personal story about how my life has been transformed by changing my mind.
I’ve shared before how I used to be afraid of flying. Well, I was more than afraid. My palms sweat when I took a friend to the airport. I got the creeps just thinking about being on an airplane.
In 2008 I had an opportunity to travel to New Orleans for the Starbucks Leadership Conference. Between workshops we were going to help with reconstruction efforts around New Orleans, which had been devastated by Hurricane Catrina.
I’d won a major award that year, and was hoping I’d get to meet Howard Schultz.
But one thing stood in my way: I had to fly there. I weighed the pros and cons and decided that it was rational for me to get on the plane. I got on it just fine, but as soon as the door was shut and the engine started, I panicked.
I told the flight attendant that I had to get off the plane. She asked if I was having a medical emergency and I said, “Yes, I’m having a medical emergency!”
The captain let me off. Thank goodness. But I missed a huge opportunity. To work for good in New Orleans, to push myself, and to do something new.
It was disappointed in myself. But I was determined to grow from the experience. With help, I was able to transform my thoughts about flying. In my mind airplanes were something to be afraid of. But now I saw airplanes as a way of expanding my world and my freedom.
Flying made it possible to travel to all kinds of incredible places that I couldn’t have traveled to before, like Europe and Hawaii.
But it took transforming my mind and plugging in new thoughts about airplanes. That was what ultimately made a new way of life possible.
Our Scripture says being transformed by renewing our minds. In order for us to change, we must change our thinking.
If we look a little closer, it’s also telling us what it is that we need to change about ourselves as people who follow Jesus. He offers a different paradigm to the earliest followers of Jesus, one which is of great value to us today.
Instead of seeing yourself in competition with others, see yourself in collaboration with them.
Competition is a natural human mindset. It’s natural to see the “other” as competition for whatever good you’re both after. Paul here says, “You’re not in competition with each other. God has enough grace and mercy for all of us.”
Collaborate with each other to reveal the fullness of God’s creativity and diversity. Only through collaboration will you discover God’s intentions for creation.
We have different gifts. Don’t compete with each other, instead, collaborate with each other. Be in relationship with each other. Work together for the common good. There are as many gifts as there are people here.
May we learn to collaborate with others who have different gifts. May we reject the way of the world and all of its competition.
When he was young, Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him. Joseph’s brothers sent him to Egypt to be a slave or to die. But Joseph didn’t accept that. He refused to allow someone else to decide his fate. And he became the second to the throne.
Many years later, when his brothers traveled to Egypt looking for food, they are reunited with Joseph. He doesn’t reveal who he is at first, but then he finally breaks down and says, “I’m your brother Joseph, whom you sold into slavery.”
They have every reason to fear Joseph. He’s now a powerful leader in Egypt. As Israelite’s in Egypt, they are pilgrims in an unholy land. Joseph could have enslaved them or worse—just like they had done to him.
But Joseph chose to renew their relationship instead of seeking revenge. In the heyday of “an eye for an eye” Joseph chose forgiveness over retribution.
Why? Why did Joseph seek a new chapter in his family’s life instead of extending the one they were in?
He knew that violence and hate weren’t the answer. Anger and retribution seem like the way to experience healing, but it’s not. They intensify pain. They prolong pain. They prevent shalom.
Joseph overcame his hostility to his brothers, and their relationship was renewed. Our text ends with this beautiful line: he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.
All because he chose to forgive. Forgiveness brings freedom and reconciliation. Forgiveness says, “I don’t want our relationship to end this way. I want to start a new chapter with you.”
It doesn’t deny that there is pain. Or anger. Or disappointment. It doesn’t deny that another person has acted improperly. It just says that the possibility of a restored relationship is more important.
Forgiveness acknowledges a bump in the road but says we want to continue traveling that road together.
Peter said, “If it is you, Lord, command me to walk on the water like you are.”
And Jesus does. It starts off well. But then a strong wind pops up, and Peter starts to sink.
“Help,” he cries out. “Save me!” How honest, and how human is this story?!?
We say, “What were we thinking? I can’t change. I can’t do that.”
That’s what Peter was thinking. I can’t do what Jesus does. I’m just a fisherman. The only thing I know to do is catch fish! Help! Save me!
We doubt ourselves all the time. We discover a mustard seed sized bit of courage in ourselves and we decide to change. And then a strong wind arises and we give up. And we cry out, “What was I thinking? Lord, save me!”
And of course, Jesus does. And then he says, “Why did you doubt? Why did you think you couldn’t do it? I thought you could. That’s why I called you to be my disciple. I think you can do the things I do.
“It’s you who doesn’t think that you can do these things. You’ve doubted yourself. You do not see you the way I see you. That is why you began to sink. You doubted yourself.”
I wonder how many times we allow ourselves to sink when we’re challenged, not because we doubt God, but because we doubt ourselves.
We doubt that we are wonderfully made. And that we are a beloved daughter or son of the God of all creation.
When we know who we really are, and whose we really are, we will experience new joy and vitality. We will love and trust and forgive and even walk on water, just like Jesus did.
There are times in your life when you may feel overwhelmed, when you may be out of your depth, when you feel you are drowning under a multitude of problems. Don’t lose heart. Don’t forget who you are. And who has called you.
He called you knowing that you are more than a fisherman. More than an educator or caregiver or student. You are a beloved child of the God of all creation.
The surprising hero of the story is a little boy. A boy who shares his fish and bread. He knew it wasn’t enough. But he shared it anyway. Because of his courage and love, and through Jesus, it became enough.
On our own we aren’t enough. We don’t have enough. But when we give what we have to God, God makes it enough.
The gift that God has given you—the gift of teaching or the gift of faith or the gift of compassion or the gift of giving—God waits for you to share your gift with the world.
God takes what we give, blesses it, breaks it, multiplies it, and gives it to others.
God is waiting for you to put your gift out into the world. God is waiting for you to let your light shine. God is waiting for us to take our cue from this unknown boy from so long ago and to share that little bit that we have.
Because God will take it, bless it, multiply it, and give it back to you and also to others. It will be enough. More than enough. Amen.