A Jubilant Jubilee
LEVITICUS 25:8-10; COLOSSIANS 3:12-14
Yesterday, Eleanor June Smith and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. The celebration continues today, a jubilant jubilee. The reading from Leviticus told us about the year of Jubilee, celebrated every 50 years.
There is a great deal of wisdom in the ancient literature. Our spiritual ancestors were wise beyond their years. Every seventh day was observed as a day of rest. Some of us have yet to learn the wisdom of resting. Two wagon trains left St. Louis and decided to race to see which would arrive in the west first. One observed the sabbath day of rest; the others were in a hurry and decided not to waste time by resting. Of course, the wagon train that stopped every Sunday and let their animals and themselves rest arrived first.
The seventh year was observed as a day of rest for the land. Leviticus 25.4, “In the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land.” The fields were untilled every seventh year. It took our American farmers quite some time to learn the wisdom of crop rotation so that the land could rejuvenate itself. On our farm in Minnesota we raised corn and alfalfa, and rotated the crops to replenish the land with nutrients.
And, in the Old Testament ancient times, the year after 7 x 7 (or 49) was the Year of Jubilee, the 50th year. The Year of Jubilee was a year of liberation, a year of forgiveness. In the Year of Jubilee, not only did the land rest, but the land was restored to its original owners. Debts were forgiven. Land was only sold and purchased for a period of 50 years, or a portion thereof. Leviticus 25.8, “It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and everyone of you to your family.” Why? v. 23, “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; (says the Lord) with me you are but aliens and tenants.”
How wise were our ancient spiritual ancestors! The Jubilee prevented the accumulation of land in the hands of a few. It prevented monopolies. We have yet to learn this wisdom. Across our nation, small family farms have been lost to huge agri-businesses. By the time of Jesus also, the Jubilee had been lost. Small farmers in Jesus' day lost their farms to the lenders. When they had to borrow to make ends meet, the high interest charged forced them into foreclosure. They became homeless and known as “the poor”.
The Year of Jubilee was not only the forgiveness of debts and the sale of property, but also the liberation of Jewish slaves. Leviticus 25.39-41, “If any..become so impoverished that they sell themselves to you..they shall remain with you as hired or bound laborers...until the year of the Jubilee. Then they and their children with them shall be free from your authority; they shall go back to their own family and return to their ancestral property.” The captives are freed. Slaves are emancipated. What a jubilant jubilee! Jubilee is about forgiveness.
In the second reading this morning, Paul instructed the Colossians how to treat one another. In the church, the Christian community, in friendships, in the family, in a marriage, treat one another with:
Compassion—be aware of hurts, pain, and needs of the other; be concerned and caring.
Kindness—be kind to one another, polite, courteous. Can we be as kind to our spouses or our siblings as we are to our neighbors, or the stranger on the street?
Humility and meekness—put the needs of the other ahead of our own. When you put your spouse first, and your spouse puts you first, you are both winners. Be humble.
Patience—your spouse, your children, are not perfect. You may be perfect, but they aren't. Be patient.
And a necessary virtue, Colossians 3.13, “Bear with one another”. I like that. In every church, in every friendship, in every family, in every marriage, there are times when we must bear with one another. The Palo Alto Church newsletter once quoted a member as saying that I was fun to work with. To which my wife responded, “I hope they don't ask if you are fun to live with!” There are times when none of us is fun to live with. Be patient. Bear with one another. At those times in a marriage when times are rough, don't give up, don't run, don't divorce; bear with one another.
Another essential virtue in church, friendships, family and marriage is forgiveness. Colossians 3.13, “Forgive each other, just as the Lord has forgiven you.”
Continuing my series on forgiveness, forgiveness means more than saying, “I'm sorry.” Some people expect to be forgiven when they glibly say, ”I'm sorry.” When the wounded one is reticent about accepting the “I'm sorry”, the now insulted perpetrator belligerently responds, “What else do you expect me to do? I said, 'I'm sorry'.” What else? How about honesty (being sorry enough to tell the truth)? How about repentance (being sorry enough to change one's behavior)? How about restitution(being sorry enough to make amends)?
Repentance, being sorry enough to change one's behavior. Children, when your parent is irritated and gets upset because you drop your clothes on the floor, or leave the bathroom in a mess, don't just say “I'm sorry.” Be sorry enough to change your behavior. Hang up your clothes. Clean up after yourself. Repent!
Restitution. Make amends. When a wife fumes, “You don't hear a word I'm saying,” don't just say, “I'm sorry.” Repent, change your behavior. Make amends. Take time, sit down, look her in the eye, give her your undivided attention, listen, converse, communicate. When your work and pleasure take precedence, don't just say, “I'm sorry”. Make restitution. Make amends. Cancel a golf or bowling date, and take her out. Wives, when you catch yourself nagging, criticizing, complaining, bitching (!) about your husband's shortcomings, don't just say, “I'm sorry”. Repent. Change your behavior. Keep your mouth shut. Make amends. Make him some sushi, or bake him an apple pie. Forgiveness means more than saying, “I'm sorry.”
Also, forgiveness means to stop being angry. Forgiveness does not mean you don't get angry. Forgiveness means you stop being angry. Take you hands away from the other person's throat! Dick Corson sent me a quote from the recent Carrie Fisher one-woman show, "Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die." Anger is not bad; holding it in is harmful. When anger is repressed, it festers and often builds up until it explodes in inappropriate ways.
Anger helps us clear the pipes and focus the hurt. But, deal with it. Express the anger productively. Confront the one with whom you are angry. Especially to your spouse, don't say, “You make me so angry,” but say, “I am angry.” Don't be accusatory which then causes a defensive reaction. Take responsibility for your anger. Anger is what you feel. It belongs to you. Don't blame it on the spouse.
I recall an incident with my senior minister when I was a young associate back in Minnesota. I was in charge of the educational ministries-- children, youth and adults. I worked hard developing a summer camping program with the children and youth. One day, the senior minister came into my office and handed me a camping brochure from another church. I don't recall what he said, but it was something judgmental like, “Look at what they do!”, as if my camping program did not measure up. I took the flyer, glanced at it, crumpled it up and threw it in the waste basket. He left the room, and sometime later said, “I sensed you were angry.” He had tremendous powers of observation! I said, “Yes, I am angry. I don't appreciate the unfair comparison.” Confronting him and expressing the anger cleared the air. I didn't verbalize forgiveness, but I did forgive him. From then on, our relationship was built on mutual respect. We became good friends.
If I hadn't expressed my anger and confronted him, the anger would have festered within me, causing me to hold a grudge, and as John Moody told me, a grudge is a heavy load to carry. The anger would have come out in different ways, coloring our relationship and making me very unhappy in my work.
When you are angry, feel it, express it, confront, but don't stay angry. Expressing anger and forgiving allows you to let it go and move on. Jesus did not expect us to never become angry. He was certainly angry when he chased the money changers out of the temple. Paul taught us not to stay angry. Ephesians 4.26-27, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” In other words, deal with the anger immediately. Do not let it fester and ferment, or the devil will use it to destroy you. Anger will eat at you, robbing you of your joy, building a wall between you and God, between you and others. Be angry and forgive. Let it go!
Paul taught us—you and me-- to treat one another with compassion, kindness, humility, patience, forgiveness, and Colossians 3. 14, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Love one another as God loves us. In the United Methodist wedding service, the couple is asked, “Will you love?” Some ceremonies ask “Do you love?” “Will you love” involves the future. “Will you love” implies a life-long commitment. Will you love for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. Will you love while you are bearing, putting up, with one another? Love is an action—putting the needs of your spouse ahead of your own needs. Love is an action, an act of compassion, kindness, humility, patience and forgiveness. And, in those beautiful moments when the feeling of love wells up within you, rejoice and express your love. We sang, “I love you, Lord.” How recently have you said to your spouse, “I love you?” To your children, “I love you?” To your parents, “I love you?”
God gave us the gift of love. Accept, receive the love God has for you, and express that love in your friendships, in your family and in your marriage, whatever the number-- one year, ten years, or fifty years, which is a jubilant jubilee!
© 2008 Douglas I. Norris