• Rev. Izzy Harbin

Most of us are familiar with the story of Palm Sunday, the day that Jesus rides in on a colt or a donkey into the city of Jerusalem just prior to his death. If you’ve ever seen the movie Jesus Christ Superstar you might recall the scene in your head, folks lining the streets waving palms as Jesus and the disciples come through the back gate of the city singing Hosannah. Or the musical Godspell where the sing the iconic classic, “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord…” Yes, we can see and hear the crowd of folks as they welcome this teacher, preacher, holy man into the city. But there is a short passage in the Book of Luke that is often not read on Palm Sunday, or ever, really.

Luke 19:41-44 – “As Jesus came near

and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you, and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

I find it remarkable that Jesus is expounds on demise of the city as he is headed into the city to meet his own demise. He makes a clear point in the first sentence, that his message to the people was all that was necessary to recognize the things that make for peace. Let that sink in for a minute. Jesus’ message was a message of peace.

Let’s think about what Jesus’ primary focus in the Book of Luke – the beloved community. Jesus emerges among the pious Jews of his day who were steeped in the traditions and ancestry of the Jewish people. But we see Jesus’ presence among the people, mostly those marginalized by the church: women, the less-than-pious, tax collectors, the poor, the sick, the oppressed, and even some Pharisees. What Jesus does is remind all of us that compassion is our highest calling.

Discipleship is a secondary theme of the Book of Luke, connected to the primary theme of the personhood of Jesus and his need/desire to walk among us. Discipleship, though, is not a simple task or part of some check-list, it is a way of life and requires self-reflection, repentance, and a desire to love beyond the bounds of one’s own capability. In the world of discipleship, we are called to make manifest the kingdom of God right here on earth. It is a fundamental necessity to see God’s presence in the world, active and alive in Jesus as our primary example of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling.

When Jesus speaks of peace in this open sentence, he is issuing a word of admonishment to those who would call themselves followers of Christ. He is pointing out the unfortunate fact that while they may see themselves as part of God’s kingdom, they are missing the mark because of their desire to keep some out of the kingdom. The exclusive club intentionally disowns the very people Jesus touches on a daily basis. This was not God’s plan for peace.

Jesus makes it clear that because of their need to build barriers along the path to God, all of their safeguards and structures would crumble. His last statement, though, is chilling, “…because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

There is this moment of realization, every time I read this passage, that most of us would not recognize God if he were standing right in front of us. We think we would, but I fear we would not. In this day and time, anyone talking like Jesus would find themselves locked up in a mental institution and most likely given a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Still, we want to believe that we’ll all be embraced by Jesus/God if they were walking among us now, but I’m not so sure.

The life that we are called to live in response to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is grounded in our relationship with God and our relationship to others. We cannot have one without the other. How we treat others, how we love and live in community actually matters to God. When we start or end a conversation with God’s condemnation of others, we have missed the point of God’s kingdom.

Phillip Gulley said it best, “You know that you’ve created God in your own image when God hates all the same people you do.” Gulley, like myself, recognize that setting aside our petty differences is central to our understanding of the true nature of God. We were all created in the image and likeness of God. All of us. When we attack one another, call each other names, or degrade someone because of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious affiliation, we are essentially saying to God, “You messed up when you created the world and all that is in.”

Where we live and to whom we are born is all a cosmic game of chance. Anyone of us could have been born in India to a Hindu family, or born in Sri Lanka to a Buddhist family, or born in Russia to an Orthodox family, or born in the US to a non-church going family, none of which makes us less the children of God that we were created to be.

The way of peace is simple. We MUST see God in the everyday, ordinary lives of ALL people. We MUST live lives of compassion toward ourselves and others. We MUST hold each other accountable in love. We MUST be the light in the world that shines in the darkness. We MUST.

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  • Rev. Izzy Harbin

38 Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs a year old regularly each day. 39 One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer in the evening; 40 and with the first lamb one-tenth of a measure of choice flour mixed with one-fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and one-fourth of a hin of wine for a drink offering. 41 And the other lamb you shall offer in the evening and shall offer with it a grain offering and its drink offering, as in the morning, for a pleasing odor, an offering by fire to the Lord. 42 It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. 43 I will meet with the Israelites there, and it shall be sanctified by my glory; 44 I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar; Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate, to serve me as priests. 45 I will dwell among the Israelites, and I will be their God.

By chapter 19 of the Book of Exodus, the people of Israel arrive at Mt. Sinai. It is at Mt. Sinai that Moses receives the 10 commandments, the law, and other instructions regarding the building of the temple and the anointing of priests for God’s service to the people. Through each detailed instruction to Moses, God reminds Moses that these laws are to protect the people, to guide the people, and are there for their instruction so that they will not wander off and worship other gods.

After the make-shift temple is constructed and the altar is in place, God reiterates the covenant that God made with Abraham. First, there is the sacrifice of animals (not humans), along with a grain sacrifice (that of choice flour), a small amount of oil (olive oil), and a drink sacrifice (that of new wine). These offerings are to be made morning and night.

Later in the Hebrew Bible one of the prophets calls for an end to all sacrifices proclaiming that God doesn’t want our sacrifice, but rather our hearts.

If we place the progression for spiritual activity into context, God is working with the people to change how they worship and approach God over time. In the beginning, there is the elimination of child sacrifice, which becomes animal sacrifice. By requiring them to engage in this practice two times daily, it develops a habit among the people of praying to God, spending time with God at least two times per day (plus all of the other sacrifices made for all of the special days and holidays). In other words, God his helping the people develop specific worship habits. Eventually, though, God says no more sacrifice other than your whole being. A different kind of human sacrifice. It is almost as if God had to take them full circle in order to figure out that the kind of sacrifice God meant from the beginning was a spiritual one, not a literal one.

By the time we get to the end of this passage, we find the famous words that God used with Abraham, “I will be their God,” words that reflect the promise of the covenant made between God and Abraham.

These words represent a key concept in the ancient world, every people, regardless of origin, had a community God that they worshiped. The Israelites were no exception. Throughout the Biblical text, we see the people of Israel working out for themselves exactly what this “God” represents to them. They go through many iterations from the beginning of the Genesis story, but with each shift or change, it is accompanied by the notion “They will be my people, and I will be their God.”

Our passage today reflects God’s willingness to dwell among the people in a way that the gods of other nations fell short. Most other gods resided at a distance from their people, rarely interacting with those who worshiped them. The God of Abraham, on the other hand, wanted to remain close to the people. Even though we are seeing a distancing in the ways in which God interacts with the people, especially from the time of Adam where they spoke directly with God, to Noah who also spoke directly with God, to now where God must be hidden by a cloud; there is still a desire to be intimate with the people. The creation of the temple allows for that closeness. God is saying to the people, I want to dwell among you.

All of the preparations for the temple were detailed by God to the people so that God could dwell in the Holy of Holies among the people. God wanted to be fully present with them, but also knew that the power of God must be contained in some way so as not to disrupt the fabric of all living things. The Holy of Holies provides this kind of safety much like protecting ourselves for radiation poisoning. Even the vestments of the priests were engineered to certain specifications so that they would be protected. The kind of energy that they would have come in contact with must have been extraordinary.

God’s desire to dwell among them must have been so important that God was willing to risk all of the inherent problems with the Ark of the Covenant and the construction of the temple. When you read through the Book of Exodus, each detail is planned so meticulously that you cannot help but notice the care in which God takes over protecting the people. This is a special bond that God is creating here on earth between God and the people. It isn’t to be taken lightly. But it also cannot last forever.

Over the next several weeks we are going to be looking at this theme, “I will be their God.” We will be exploring the few passages in scripture where God makes this pronouncement and how the people respond to such a statement. With each assertion from God, there is a subtheme that runs through that particular passage.

Week 1 – Dwell Among Them

Week 2 – Return to Them

Week 3 – Restore Them

Week 4 – Promises to Them

Week 5 – The New Covenant

With each of these passages we will see how God is moving us through time from his original covenant with Abraham all the way to the new covenant in Jesus. This movement is critical for our understanding of how God interacts with the people and how God continually reminds the people, “I will be their God.”

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  • Rev. Izzy Harbin

45 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. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10 You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

What a tale of woe. The story of Joseph is meant to inspire sympathy and maybe empathy for the teenaged brat whom we know as Joseph. Early in this story, we get to know the character of Joseph as one who is arrogant and petulant. We see his brothers tire of his antics, especially that of tattling to their father about their behavior when they are not in the father’s sight. This story has all the makings of a classic Hallmark movie, except you’ll never see brothers conspire to kill their brother or sell them into slavery on the Hallmark channel.

We know the story well. One of Joseph’s brothers figures out a way to spare Joseph’s life by selling him to a caravan headed to Egypt. From there he was sold into slavery. The Pharaoh of Egypt, Potiphar, ends up utilizing Joseph’s divination skills which save many Egyptian lives. Joseph interprets dreams for Potiphar, helps him to see the famine the is coming and helps the Pharaoh prepare for this devastating event. As a result of Joseph’s predictions, Egypt is fairing well during the famine.

When Joseph’s brother come to Egypt to receive food assistance, Joseph’s first response is normal. Like any one of us, he was angry. He even tried to manipulate the situation so that he could exact revenge, but then spared them in the end.

Our passage today finds us with one of our last encounters between Joseph and his brothers. This is the moment of the great reveal. Up until now, the brothers did not recognize Joseph. It wasn’t until the moment he told them who he was that they realized Joseph had been taking care of them all along. Not only did they acknowledge Joseph’s role in saving their lives, but they realized his childhood dreams had come true; he indeed ruled over them, in a manner of speaking.

What happens next, though, is nothing short of a miracle.

Joseph had every right to be angry. He could have easily had all his brothers put to death or thrown in jail. He had power and position in a country that was equipped to do just about anything to maintain order during a wide-spread famine. Joseph didn’t need permission, just will. Yet, Joseph decided, for some reason, not to take that route. Instead, he felt pity for them; pity that then turned into genuine empathy.

Anytime I am struggling with feelings of anger and resentment, especially for things that have happened to me in the past, the story of Joseph is my go-to story. First, I need to know that it is possible to forgive others for the stupid stuff they do. Second, I need to know that I can let all of that stuff go for the sake of my own soul. And third, I need to know that in some cases restoration or reconciliation is actually possible.

Before I go any further, I need to make something clear. There are times when we are hurt by others, absolutely no fault of our own (you can imagine the kinds of things that are going through my mind), where restoration and reconciliation is neither possible nor a healthy option. There are, however, still ways to find forgiveness—not so much for their sake, but for my own.

The devastating fact of holding-on to past hurts is that the holding-on process keeps us tethered to the past in unhealthy ways. We get caught in the crosshairs between wanting justice and needing to forgive. Growing up I was taught that when someone does something wrong, then they must pay the price for their indiscretion. Lying could land you in the bathroom getting your mouth washed out with soap. Not coming home on time might result in being grounded for a month. Sassing or talking back to a parent might be switch worthy—and if you try to run from the sting, you’re only setting yourself up for more “licks”. If we were paddled at school, we could expect a paddling when we got home. And, in our minds, although we didn’t like the consequences of our behavior, we could clearly make the connection between cause and effect. You break the rules, you pay the price.

The price we pay is what we would typically call justice. In order for justice to be fair, all parties involved must be punished equally. Well, if you were raised in a family with more than one child, you know that justice is rarely fair. Younger siblings rarely have to follow the same rules as older siblings and are never punished as severely as the older kids. We’re even told to our faces that its because of their age. And yet, they were old enough to do the deed.

But what about those who do things that intentionally hurt others, like Joseph’s brothers conspiring to sell Joseph into slavery and lying about it to their father? Where is the justice in this scenario?

What Joseph recognizes is that whatever consequences he could impose on his brothers would not make him feel any better about his circumstances. In fact, Joseph completely flips the script by not seeking justice. Rather boldly, Joseph chooses the path of forgiveness. Joseph has this epiphany moment that we all need to be cognizant of; justice can look a lot like revenge, and revenge only creates greater dissonance. When Joseph makes the decision to forgive his brothers, he is choosing the wholeness of his own heart over the fracturing of their previous relationship.

In many ways, what Joseph offers us is a radical idea steeped in love and hospitality. There are times when I don’t want to offer either of these, especially to those who have hurt me in the past. But here’s the thing, if I don’t offer these things, the only person that is affected by all of this is me. In most cases, the ones who hurt me are long gone. I’m the only one carrying the hurt. I’m the one who needs to figure out how to let go of the hurt. I must, yes MUST, replace resentment and anger with love and forgiveness. Then and only then will I truly be free.

What keeps me churning in my soul is my unwillingness to set all that stuff free. Most of the stuff that I hold on to I cannot change. I cannot fix yesterday. It is done and gone. I am never going to get an apology, or even a jail sentence, but what I can get is my own freedom. I can be completely set free from my past by learning to forgive. No matter how big or how small the infraction, no matter how devastating or benign the trauma, I can still learn to forgive. And just like Joseph, it doesn’t happen overnight, but over time. Joseph went through a process after seeing his brothers again for the first time. Still, he refused to let hatred get in the way of his relationship with his family.

In this case, Joseph was no longer afraid of being hurt by his brothers. He wasn’t in any physical danger any more. In fact, Joseph clearly had the upper hand. Safety is important and was the catalyst for his forgiveness. While every situation is unique, God is not calling us to put ourselves in harms way, but rather to forgive when and as often as we can. Those whom you are forgiving may never even know that you have forgiven them. As stated before, forgiveness is what sets our own souls free. What we do notice, though, when we start practicing forgiveness of others, we can see more clearly the need to also seek forgiveness for the crummy things we’ve done to other people.

Phillip Gulley, in his book If Grace is True, says, “I do not know what heaven will be like, but I can imagine at the great banquet that I’ll be seated between Grace Received and Grace Required—the person that hurt me the most and the person I hurt the most—and I’ll know what real grace is in that moment.”

My prayer is that we can all be a little more like Joseph; setting our souls free from all that binds us to yesterday, so that we may walk into tomorrow fully alive to ourselves and others.

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