It’s hard to love difficult people. And everywhere we go, we find them. At work. At school. On the road. Sitting behind you, kicking, talking, spilling their drink on you.
“A man’s enemies will be those of His own household,” Jesus says. He’s talking about people in our own families who go to war with us because our Christianity is causing problems. But we go to war over so much less, don’t we?
It’s hard to love difficult people. And people are difficult because they have difficulties. One person is sick, another has a disability, still another is frightened by something we cannot comprehend. It upsets our plans, disorients our days, disrupts our priorities. And this is all for the good, because our plans and priorities were centered on our own success, our own ideals, our own dreams. Our plans were not good for us, because the good they sought was a self-good. So God gives us other people to force us outside ourselves. For it is not good that the man should be alone.
Alone sat a man along the roadside (Gospel, Luke 18:31-43). He wasn’t alone, and yet he was. Surrounded by people, none were his friends. The blind man in the Gospel was a beggar. When he cried out for help, they silenced him. When he begged for mercy, they were enraged. “Be silent!”
How easily we condemn that crowd! But when a person needs help, do you step forward? Certainly you do when it is a friend, or a relative. But when the person is a difficult person – when he is annoying, when she is always negative, when it is going to really cost you something, where are you? You don’t love your neighbor as yourself. That’s the truth.
Here’s another hard truth: you are the difficult person. It’s hard to love difficult people, and it’s harder still to see the ways we are difficult. Our fears are rational, we suppose; our selfishness is justifiable, we imagine; there is little need to confess, for we rarely do anything wrong.
Noisy gongs and clanging cymbals are we (Epistle, 1 Cor. 13:1-13). St. Paul says, “When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” ; have you? You are the difficult person.
Yet here is good news! When Jesus comes to the difficult person, He stops. Jesus silences the crowd that had been demanding silence. He pays attention to the beggar. He talks to him. He listens to him.
“What do you want Me to do for you?”
He said, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.”
That’s one miracle: Jesus restores creation. That’s His work, mending what is broken in this death-ridden graveyard. Healing the blind man is one miracle. But here is another: “And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.” Moments earlier they were yelling at the man to be quiet. They were annoyed. The difficult man was getting in the way of their aspirations, their desire for a Christ in their own image. But Jesus stops to care for the difficult man, and everything changes. Not only for the man whose sight is recovered, but everything changes for the crowd as well. Their angry shouts become songs of praise.
They have encountered not the idealized love of fantasy and imagination, but the real love that goes into the difficult situation and bears with the suffering, the smells, the sadness.
“Love bears all things,” the holy Apostle teaches us this morning, and we see that love lived out in Jesus Himself. “ For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”
This is love bearing all things and enduring all things. Jesus loves the difficult people. Jesus dies for difficult people, even people as difficult as you and me.
And He’s not done with us difficult people. The blind beggar, having recovered His sight, becomes a follower of Jesus. It’s not a metaphor. The man goes where Jesus goes – and Jesus is journeying to His cross. Palm Sunday happens almost immediately after this. The cross is very near now.
The cross is near to you too. God has designed a cross for each of us. We don’t like it. That’s okay. Jesus didn’t like His. He begged the Father for another way.
But we get the cross designed for us, because this is how we are conformed to the image of Jesus. All is forgiven in the cross of Jesus. All is changed as you bear your own cross, and become as He is.
So you get difficult people to love, all around you. But the difficulty becomes easy as you realize this is exactly where God wants you to be. He who loves you teaches you to love. “Love is patient and kind…. Love bears all things … [love] endures all things.” That’s who Jesus is, and what He does for you. As we follow Him to His cross this holy Lent, we pray that He teaches us this same kind of love, and removes our blindness to His will.
The following is a guest article by Rev. Ryan Loeslie, Pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church , Merna, Nebraska.
Most Lutherans who went through junior high confirmation class at one time in their lives are familiar with Luther’s famous question from his Small Catechism, “What does this mean?” Sadly, this is all many remember. But at the same time, this proves Luther’s genius. He devised a simple, childlike question which all people can relate to as they are learning the basics of the faith. Whatever failure the church has had in retaining its children after confirmation is its own fault, not that of the Small Catechism.
In the original German, Luther’s question was framed a bit differently than what we’ve come to know in English translation. “Was ist das?,” the Small Catechism reads. Literally we would translate this as “What is it?” or “What is that?” As you can see, this is an even more basic question than “What does this mean?” It is simpler. It is more childlike. We can picture a small child pointing to a colorful flower or a strange-looking insect and asking the same question: What is it? What is that?
I never knew the genius of Luther’s question until having my own child and teaching her the Small Catechism. We started teaching our daughter the Small Catechism even as she was starting to speak her first words. She started learning by repeating after us the last word which was said.
So if we said the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” she would say “gods” when we were done. It didn’t take long before she could say more and more, and even at two and a half years old now she can say the Lord’s Prayer, most of the creed, and most of the commandments.
And actually, her favorite thing to do is answer Luther’s question, “What is Baptism?” On the one hand, this is very special. We are glad such a small girl whom we love so much can pray and say the commandments. On the other hand, it’s not so special. I imagine this is within the capability of almost any child the same age.
What I find fascinating about this is how she grew into the routine. We always do a bit of Catechism work after reading a Bible story at bedtime. And our daughter came up with her own name for our little time of catechesis. She says it’s time to “say it!”
What is fascinating about “saying it” is that my daughter with her words hearkened me back to Luther’s question, “Was ist das?” or “What is it?” I learned in the most profound way, through the lips of a child, that our simple home catechesis with our children was truly the vision that Luther had when writing the Small Catechism. He didn’t have in mind 7th and 8th graders with the pastor on a late Wednesday afternoon. He envisioned parents “saying it” with their children.
And this is a much more joyous way to pass down the faith, one which does not require cumbersome worksheets, tedious homework, and scheduling hassles. Children love to please their parents, and so also our daughter loves to “say it.” I have a funny story to illustrate this, too. One evening we were visiting friends and came home much later than our children’s bedtime. It was our intention to say the Lord’s Prayer with them quickly and put them to bed. But what happened? Our daughter broke down in tears because she wanted to “say it.” She would not let it go. So as I tucked her in we did “say it,” however little time we had. The day wouldn’t be complete for her otherwise.
I mention this not because it’s cute, but because it demonstrates the joyous and powerful effect that the Small Catechism can have on our children. When people remember the question “What does this mean?,” it is often in a nostalgic manner. It’s a relic of their past when they went to confirmation class. Perhaps it is something remembered fondly, but it doesn’t serve much use in the present, nor does it make them more faithful Christians.
But when we “say it” with our kids, this is something that is a part of them every day, something at the very fiber of their being. When we “say it” with our kids, the Small Catechism becomes something which will actually form a worldview and serve us in our lives. Children who can “say it” will be bright lights in this world because the very Word of God is actually written on their hearts. And when they grow up, the Small Catechism will not be a relic of their past. It will be a treasured possession, something they have always known, loved, and will never let go.
And so take this as a word of encouragement. You can go to Lutherancatechism.com and find some easy schedules to use so you can “say it” together as a family. These are very helpful if you’ve had good intentions about this but never had the support or resources to follow through. It takes very little natural skill. It does not even require much time or effort, only consistency. And yet the rewards are enormous. We learn our faith better. We learn to love it more. We learn a beautiful pattern of sound words which will serve us well in this world. And we can raise up a new generation of children who love God and his Word, who love the Small Catechism and the Lutheran Church, and our lives will be better for it.
Listen here: http://tabletalkradio.org/content/node/515
On this episode of Table Talk Radio after Pastor Wolfmueller shares about his trip to Taiwan we discuss our Buzzwords, especially Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. Then we play a new game called What Attribute Of Scripture Is This Denying so we can discuss some the 6 attributes of the Holy Scriptures and so we can answer a few listener emails. – As We Show Prep, So We Make Mediocre Radio!
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Every week Evan and I talk through the book “Has American Christianity Failed?” and then muse on some current events.
Listen here: http://943thebridge.com/2017/02/15/prayer-and-suffering/
In the first half of today’s program, we talk to Pastor Wolfmueller about the essentials of prayer. Then Pastor Goeglein talks about persecution and suffering.
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