I didn’t know they tracked this kind of statistic, but it really doesn’t surprise me, because they have stats for all kinds of people. Apparently the number of hate groups in the US rose to its highest level in 20 years in 2018, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. This civil rights organization has labeled 1,020 active groups as espousing hate. Included on the list are white supremacists, black nationalists, neo-Nazis, neo-confederates, Also included are Catholic Family Ministries, the Conservative Republicans of Texas, the Ku Klux Klan, American Nazi Party. There are 24 right here in Indiana. “We monitor hate groups and other extremists throughout the United States and expose their activities to the public, the media and law enforcement,” they say. Fighting hate, seeking justice, teaching tolerance.
It doesn’t matter on which side of the political aisle you sit, I think we could all agree that fighting hate, seeking justice and teaching tolerance (and I’d maybe reword that last one) appear to be worthwhile core values, but the approach seems to be missing something. Their goal is to expose such groups and their activities and plaster their name and their hate all over social media.
I wonder if Joseph’s brothers would have made the list of active hate groups. Consider the story about Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, who had twelve sons, who would eventually become the twelve tribes of Israel. One of his sons, the second youngest, was Joseph. Joseph was daddy’s favorite, and he didn’t hide it. The other older brothers were jealous of this special treatment. In fact, jealousy is an understatement. They hated their younger brother. And he didn’t help matters by bragging about these special dreams he had, moon and sun (mom and dad) and eleven stars (his brothers) bowing down to him. He didn’t help matters by parading around in his technicolor dreamcoat. They hated him so much that when daddy sent his favorite son to check in on the older brothers, who were herding the family flocks, as soon as they saw him, his fine robe flowing in the wind, waltzing toward them in the fields, they conspired to murder him right there on the spot. Now I’ve fought with my sisters before, and I’ve witnessed my own children demonstrate a little animosity toward each other, but not on this level.
Thankfully, one of them, the oldest, Ruben, persuaded the others not to go so far. After all, it was murder. And so, when Joseph approached their little huddle, they grabbed him, ripped the prized coat off of him, roughed him up a little bit, and threw him into a dried up cistern in the ground. Then they sat around the opening and ate their lunch, probably listened to his pleas for mercy with no impact at all on their conscience. During lunch they spotted a caravan of slave traders in the distance. They sold him. Off he went to Egypt, never to be seen again. They ripped the technicolor dreamcoat to pieces, dipped it in goat’s blood, and brought it back to dad. “I guess a wild animal must of got ‘em, pops.”
I wonder if Joseph’s brothers would have made the list. I don’t know about you, but I know that I would, because, sadly, I know that I, too, like Joseph’s brothers, find it difficult to forgive, love, and show patience to those who annoy and irritate. I’ve done it too many times to count. What about you?
When I do want to pat myself on the back and think that I’m doing pretty well, Jesus smacks me over the head and says that this is how he wants me to love: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. When you loan someone your stuff, don’t expect it back.” And then apostle Paul adds this in our second reading, “Don’t seek revenge, don’t make them suffer just because they hurt you, let God deal with them.” Wow! Really, Jesus? You’re asking me to do what? That’s a difficult thing to do.
Even more, this is not just a one-time action, not a parent saying to their child. “Now say you’re sorry.” In the Greek language Jesus is saying, “Continue to do this.” “Continue to love, continue to bless, continue to forgive and be nice and patient and love, because this is who you are.” Remember that in the context of Luke 6 Jesus is speaking to his disciples, to believers, to you and me. This is who we are. We love. We love in a different way than the sinful world, because we have a different kind of love. The word Jesus uses for love is unlike any kind of love in any other religion. Agape love is sacrificial, selfless, seeking the good of others, no matter what.
This love is different because it’s unconditional. Love them, he says, not just when they’re being nice to you, because even sinners, even unbelievers do that. It’s easy to love when the sales associate is nice to you, when the tech on the other end of the phone actually helped you, when your classmate or professor is kind, when your kids are sweet, when your spouse says, “I love you, hon.” No, Jesus says, “When they’re being jerks, when they are your enemy, love them.”
How many of you have that person in your life you would consider your enemy? Maybe you do, but I would guess that for most of us it’s the little things, getting my order wrong online or shipped late, food not cooked all the way at the restaurant, the professor not get my paper corrected, students not handing in their work, when you and your friends or siblings fight, when your neighbor’s dog continues to leave little presents in your yard, when your spouse forgets about the calendar again. Do good, bless, forgive, and this one really gets me, pray for those who mistreat you, Jesus tells us. Pray for them, not that they get hit by a bus, but that life goes well for them.
Then Jesus says, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” And how often don’t we sit here, nod in agreement, and turn this around and say, “See, I’ll treat them the way they treat me.” But that’s not what Jesus meant. He meant to think about how what you are doing impacts and is received by others.
We don’t tend to think that way, because the devil dupes us into thinking that our love is different, that it’s conditional, qualified and quantified on the basis of what the other guy or gal has done or is doing to me, or is not doing for me. We ignore Paul’s encouragement to the Romans when he said to leave room for God’s wrath, to let him take revenge. No, we want the other guy/gal to know how much they’ve hurt us. They ought to suffer, too. It’s only fair, after all. But what if God qualified his love toward us, what if God’s love was conditional toward you and me?
But it’s not, and thank God for that. He loves with a different kind of love. That’s why he says to you and me, “This is what you will do.” You will do good to those who hate you, you will bless those who curse you, you will pray for those who mistreat you, lend without expecting it back. You will love with a different kind of love.
Why? Why in the world would you have a different kind of love? Because you have a different kind of God, a God who is unlike any of the gods of this world. He loves with a different kind of love. Listen to Jesus’ words in verse 35: “He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” He loves me, ungrateful, wicked, hateful person that I am at times. He loves me with a love for me that is not based on how I behave, or how I think, but a love rooted in himself, a selfless love, that moved him to love me, and not just me, but you, and the hate groups of the world, and even Joseph’s brothers.
This is the love that moved God to send his only Son to a world of human beings who have a natural inclination to hate, and to live among them, and to be hated by many of them. This love moved him to turn his cheek to be stuck again and again, to allow them to take his tunic and his cloak, yes, to take everything from him. And in return? He demanded and demands nothing back. He blessed those who cursed him. He prayed for them who put him on the cross. He prayed forgiveness for his enemies. He loved with a different kind of love, a perfect love. And he still loves with that love.
On the cross he was labeled the most hated by God, since he took on himself the sin of hate and anger and selfishness of all of us and this world. He died as the most hated, so that God says to you today, “You are loved because of my son, Jesus. You are forgiven because of my son, Jesus.” That’s why we have a different kind of love. Because our God loves with a different kind of love, and that love changes us.
That’s why Joseph, sold to slave traders, dragged to Egypt, eventually becoming second in command of all of Egypt, when he finds his brothers groveling before him in his throne room, forgives them, speaks kindly to them, loves them. He shows it, first of all by not having them all executed. Second, he moves the family down to Egypt, petitions Pharaoh on their behalf, and gets them the best piece of real estate. All why? Because of love; the love God had for him.
What will happen when you love with this different kind of love, when you pour this kind of love into others? What will that do for your marriage, the relationship you have with your parents, with your kids, with your classmates and professors, students, coworkers and next-door neighbors, what you post on social media, and the people of this community? I don’t know exactly, but God promises that blessings will overflow. And you don’t do it for the blessings. You do it because that’s love, real love, God’s love. Everything that flows from it, like God’s love, like your salvation, is just grace icing on a grace cake.
Yes, you have a different kind of love, and when we love that way, people will accuse us, not of hating, but of loving with reckless love, because that’s the kind of God and Savior we have. And so we, by the Spirit at work through the gospel, love with a different kind of love. We love, not to be loved, but because we are, with reckless love, in Christ our Savior, who first loved us.
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