The Spirit of Gentleness

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Yesterday morning, Brandon and I were walking through the farmer’s market downtown when suddenly before us was a man holding a gigantic sign. As people passed by, averting their gaze, he shouted out condemnations and warnings.

“Don’t return to church,” he said as I crossed his path, “Return to the Lord!”

Most of you haven’t met my husband because he is not a churchy person. He had some bad experiences with the church as a younger man and they have forever left an impression upon him. In many ways, he left the church because of people like the man who stood shouting in the middle of the street.

I don’t doubt for one second the sincerity or faithfulness of that man.

I don’t doubt that he is standing there in the street out of an honest desire to bring people to Jesus Christ and to share the message with salvation with them.

But today we are going to talk about not only the message, but the method for how we share God’s saving power with others, and how we should respond when that message falls on hostile ears.

For most of this summer, we have used various biblical characters to exemplify the fruits of the spirit that God has given for ministry. From the healing powers of Peter to the patience of Esau, these ancestors of our faith have been witnesses of how God equips us for ministry.

Today, we are going to learn from example what NOT to do.

As Andrea and Noah just shared with us, the prophet Elisha is a man of God, but he is also a very human being.

In a moment of frustration and embarrassment he lashes out at a group of young boys.

Every time I hear this story, I am reminded that this kind of conflict and tension between grumpy old men and rude young boys is timeless.

From Mr. Wilson in Dennis the Menace to the character of Walt Kowalski, played by Clint Eastwood, in Gran Torino we catch a glimpse of Elisha’s mindset in this story. Like Eastwood’s character, Elisha is overcome by recent grief, which only complicates his violent response.

But we also have seen the impertinence of those who jeer the elderly, mock the disabled or anyone different from them. Sometimes we try to excuse the behaviors, thinking that boys will be boys, but bullying in any form, at any age, is inexcusable and it hurts.
As I shared with the children, sometimes our first instinct to bullying or frustration is to push back – through words or actions.

And so many of us has let a curse slip out of our mouths in a moment of anger or pain.

Elisha is only human and that kind of response is understandable.

Yet, Elisha is also filled with the Spirit of God and he is new to the whole business of being a prophet. Just days before, his mentor Elijah had been carried away up into the heavens and the mantle of God had been left to HIM.

And Elisha doesn’t quite have this power of God figured out yet. He doesn’t understand, like the prophet Nathan did last week, that his ability has tremendous power to harm as well as help.

Aristotle once said that a person who displayed gentleness would be angry, “only on the right grounds, and against the right persons, and in the right manner, and at the right moment, and for the right length of time.”

Elisha let his anger get the better of him.

He might have been hurt because he had been teased, but these were children and rather than an “eye for an eye” – his curce called out bears from the woods and killed those children on the spot.

We can look firmly at his actions and state without a doubt they were anything BUT gentle.

The same Spirit of God filled the first disciples when they were sent out on their first steps of ministry. Jesus called them and gave them this charge in Matthew 10 and Luke 9:

“Go to the lost, confused people right here in this neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons…”

Along the way, they were sure to encounter their share of hostile glances and threats. He tells them to not be naïve, because “some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation – just because you believe in me.”

So Jesus also added these instructions. Knowing that they were still new to this work of God, he told them:

“When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.”

We imagine they might have followed his advice and performed much better than Elisha had with this power of God within them… yet by the end of the chapter in Luke’s gospel the disciples have already forgotten that Spirit of Gentleness.

When a town will not welcome them, James and John turn and ask Jesus if they can call down fire from heaven to destroy the people.

Again, we discover rash, arrogant, and excessive behavior, which Jesus quietly rebukes and they move on.

So, what is gentleness and how are we supposed to live it out in our lives.

The The Full Life Study Bible defines gentleness as “restraint coupled with strength and courage.”

Aristotle says that it is halfway between excessive anger and indifference.

It is the kind of restraint that Nathan showed when he confronted David in our text from last week, the same that Paul tries to emulate as he writes to the Corinthians. He asks them: “What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip, or in love and with a gentle spirit.” (1 Cor 4:21).

He could be angry. He could be harsh. As a teacher, he probably knew something about discipline… but he wanted them to repent and transform their lives not out of fear… but out of the love and gentleness that was shown to them.

Maybe that is why I am so troubled by the good and faithful folks who stand in the middle of the street at places like the farmer’s market, shouting out dire warnings at all who might walk by. Because I believe that change comes when we approach one another with a spirit of gentleness and not fear.

In John Wesley’s writing, we see that gentleness in his command to “do no harm.” As our former, Bishop Reuben Job reflected on that command, he writes: “I have found that when this first simple rule was remembered, it often saved me from uttering a wrong word or considering a wrong response.”

He adds, “this simple step, when practiced, can provide a safe place to stand while the hard and faithful work of discernment is done.”

Maybe that is the key. Gentleness invites us to take a step back and to determine proper response.

And I think that if we are faithful to the scriptures we will find that gentleness should be our response to the world.

In Luke, chapter 9, the disciples remember times when the power of God was unleashed on the people and on communities unwilling to repent or upon people who don’t appear to be on their team. They think that they might be justified in doing the same.

Maybe, they are even thinking back to the horrific mauling of those children by the prophet Elisha.

But “vengeance is mine” says the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35).

And as Paul encourages us,
“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12: 19-21)

Jesus responds to the anger and pain of the disciples and gently rebukes them and in doing so, he shows us how we should respond when threatened or encountering injustice.

He is aware of the power of the Spirit that lives within him and he uses it to be gentle to those in need of transformation.

As Stanley Horton writes, “The broken reed He would not crush but would fully restore. The flickering wick of a lamp He would not put out but would cause it to burn brightly again… [Jesus] gently takes the sinner and makes him whole.” (http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/top/fruit8_gentleness.cfm)

That man who stood there in the farmer’s market is correct in naming that there will be a time of judgment. After all, our God is great. God is strong and mighty and I truly hope that there will come a day when all things are made right and justice comes to those who have harmed and destroyed on this planet.

But I also know that only God knows how to unleash that power “on the right grounds, and against the right persons, and in the right manner, and at the right moment, and for the right length of time.”

And so the spirit of gentleness we are called to embody is to take a step back and allow that work to be God’s.

Elisha tried to be the judge, jury, and executioner when he encountered wrong in this world.

Instead, God’s spirit calls us to embody gentleness by remembering that we are all sinners.

We are all broken.

We are all filled with the power to lash out or shut out.

And way the message of God’s good news of saving grace is shared is just as important as the message itself.

For my husband, the words shouted out in the street did not open up new possibilities for God’s grace to enter, but probably closed him off even more.

As we live out a spirit of gentleness in this world, let us instead do no harm and in gentleness and love give God time to transform the lives we encounter.

The Spirit of Patience

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Patience is not a virtue that comes easily to us.

Some of us are built with fairly short fuses.

I think it is because we get personally invested in our work and our play and we want to see the results of our efforts.

But when things start to fall apart, instead of taking the long view – we begin to lose hope, we begin to get angry, and sometimes we behave in ways that are far from Christian.

So, this morning we are going to talk about patience through the story of two brothers… Jacob and Esau.

Esau is the older of the two – a rough and tumble sort of guy who thinks with his gut.

Jacob on the other hand, is quietly clever… a mamma’s boy who uses his wit to trick his older brother and gain the upper hand.

And Jacob uses these skills to steal the birthright and deathbed blessing from his brother, Esau.

Esau is furious at the outcome of these events. Everything has just been taken from him.

This isn’t the kind of frustration that comes from some sore muscles – this is the kind of existential angst that comes from having your very identity called into question.

As we heard in the scriptures from this morning – Esau seethed in anger against Jacob… he brooded, “The time for mourning my father’s death is close. And then I’ll kill my brother Jacob.”

It was the last straw. Esau just couldn’t take it anymore and he snapped. And Jacob had to flee for his life, far off to the land of his uncle, Laban.

Usually when we visit these stories, our attention stays with Jacob. We follow him to Paddan Aram where he works for seven years for the hand of his beloved Rachel… and then for seven more years when he is tricked into marrying Leah instead. We follow his story as he spends time increasing the flocks and in turning tricking his uncle Laban and ends up with the best of the flocks and the herds and a huge family of wealth and power.

We could point to Jacob and talk about his patience. About how in spite of being cheated by his uncle, he stuck to his promises and waited for God’s blessings. We could talk about how his persistence and trust led to his success.

But today, I want us to look back to the land of Canaan to the son who was left behind.

The fruit of the spirit we know as patience, is often translated as longsuffering.

It is the gift of being able to endure in spite of the circumstances that have come against you.

It is a hopeful fortitude that reminds us that there is light at the end of the tunnel… that if we trust and wait, the outcome we are praying for will come to pass.

Barclay’s commentary writes that patience is the grace of a person who could revenge a wrong but doesn’t.

Patience is the grace of a person who could revenge a wrong but doesn’t.

Patience is seeking an opening, waiting for the anger to pass, breathing deeply, and finding a way forward.

Patience is remembering that this inconvenience, this obstacle, will not last forever.

If patience is the grace of a person who could revenge a wrong but doesn’t… then I think the person who actually exemplifies the spirit of patience is not Jacob, but his older brother, Esau.

The first way that Esau is patient is that he doesn’t strike out immediately in anger when his brother cheats him.

If we followed their story from the time they were just children, I’m sure that there was more than just these two instances of trickery. And yet, up until this point, up until the moment that Jacob steals away his blessing, Esau has managed to not let it get to him.

The straw that broke the camel’s back is this moment where everything is taken from him and Esau is pissed off.
But, even in the midst of his anger… we might even say righteous anger… he has enough control to wait.

I haven’t played a lot of disc golf this summer, but there was an afternoon a few seasons ago when I hit four trees, in a row, on four consecutive shots, before I ever got to the basket. I hadn’t been playing well all afternoon, and my frustration was building. My temper was getting the best of me.

If we truly think about patience as having the grace to not revenge a wrong, then patience would have been taking a deep breath, not picking up my disk and chucking it at the nearest tree out of frustration for it being in the way.

Many people in today’s world who had something done to them like Esau experienced would immediately grab the nearest weapon and seek out their brother. But Esau waits. He thinks. He knows that there are some things that are more important at the moment… namely, the fact that his father is dying.

Patience means being slow to anger and while Esau became angry, he didn’t allow that anger to consume him in an instant. He thought about others. He put his anger on the back burner.

In moments when you find yourself on the brink of acting out of frustration or anger, patience is taking a moment to breathe and to pray.

It is asking for God to come into the situation and remind you of what is really important… and if necessary to let go of the anger.

Esau also helps us to understand patience in how he lives his life after Jacob flees.

He acts not out of spite, but in all things tries to follow his father’s wishes.

When his brother is sent away, Jacob is commanded not to marry a Canaanite woman. Esau is not given this expectation, but he also chooses such a bride, always looking to please his father. He seeks out his half-uncle Ishmael… and marries one of his daughters.

And that is all we hear about his life for the next 14 years.

Not once does Esau plot and plan and come looking for his brother.

Not once does he try to make good on his promise that his brother should die.

No, he moves on with his own life.

He carves out the best possible future for himself.

In spite of the situation that he finds himself in, he endures.

That is longsuffering. That is patience.

Making the most of our given situations is a very hard thing to do. We like to sit and stew and wish that things were different. We breed anger and resentment in our hearts. And we spend too much time looking into the past, instead of living into our new futures.

Yesterday, I had the honor of helping to celebrate the life of a woman named Renee. When our church began its work with the Women at the Well Re-entry Teams, Renee was the first person that we had the honor of walking with.

As I sat talking with her dad, Paul, he mentioned to me how you always think that someone else’s child would be homeless, or addicted, or abused. You never imagine that it could ever happen to your child. But it did.

From the ages of 4-14, Renee was sexually abused by a family member who also gave her alcohol. Her addiction began before most children even know what a drink is. That terrible injustice had a profound impact on her formation. In some ways, it led her to be scared of being successful – often getting in her own way. But in other ways, it provided the source of her ability to connect with people who were struggling, homeless, down and out. Her experience helped her to share her life story and God’s word with people who desperately needed to hear it.

In the midst of the hurt and pain of her life, she knew that God was with her and that her journey was not something to be ashamed of or to run away from, but it was an opportunity to share with others. As the Message translation of Isaiah chapter 50 reads, “The Master, God, has given me a well-taught tongue, so I know how to encourage tired people.” And in spite of her addiction, Renee used her humor and writing to bring encouragement to people who needed it the most. She didn’t allow herself to be overcome with bitterness and despair.

That is God’s longsuffering patience.

Finally, Esau teaches us about patience through his ability to forgive.

We sometimes think of patience as simply the ability to wait… to hold out.

But the kind of patience that God invites us to embody is that grace of a person who could revenge a wrong, but doesn’t.

Had Esau simply been waiting for the opportunity to strike back then his moment would have come when Jacob returned to the land of his father.

And Jacob knows it.

Jacob trembles with fear at the thought of the anger of his brother. He sends messengers ahead to let Esau know they are coming… it’s almost as if he is saying – I’m here… let’s get this over with.

Jacob divides up his great wealth and sends it over the river in waves as a gift to soothe his brother’s anger. He sends his wives and children over – in essence saying – all that I have is yours if you want it.

If Esau had been “patiently” harboring revenge all of those years, he would have destroyed those gifts. Those four hundred men standing with him on the other side of the river would have taken the flocks, killed his wives and children and come rushing over the river to kill the trickster brother.

But Esau was a man of godly patience.

He put his anger on the backburner of his soul, and allowed God to let forgiveness replace the hatred.

When Esau was given the chance to revenge the wrong that was made upon his life, he instead ran to his brother, fell into his arms and wept.

He looked upon all of those gifts, the wealth his brother had humbly offered, and Esau could have taken them all out of righteous indignation. He could have said, “it’s about time that I got my birthright and my power and wealth back.”

Instead, he looked his brother square in the eye and he said, “I have enough, brother… keep what you have for yourself.”

The past was forgiven. All that mattered now was their futures. The future of two brothers reunited at long last.

My family has experienced the kind of conflict and betrayal of family members that Jacob and Esau struggled with and I have to be honest that they have not yet reached the point of reconciliation.

It is difficult to forgive.

It will take time to forgive.

But I also know that when we fail to do so, we carry around with us a burden that is often too heavy to bear.

My prayer for my family and for all of us who have experienced the frustration of relationships or illness or pain is that instead of holding onto revenge, bitterness, or despair, that we would instead seek God’s patience.

It is the kind of patience that our Master has with us.

In 2 Peter, we are reminded that God is patient towards us, not wanting any to perish but for all of us to be able to change our hearts and lives (3:9).

God’s gracious spirit chooses not to revenge the wrongs we have committed.

God’s gracious spirit waits until we finally turn back towards love, grace, mercy and peace.

God’s gracious spirit shows us true patience, waiting with open arms for us to come back home, no matter how many wrongs we have done in this world.

Amen and Amen.

The Long Hurt

The second most difficult thing in the world to do is to harbor anger and pain.

This week, I read the story of a woman who had refused to forgive. As John van de Laar tells the story:

Whenever a visitor came for a cup of tea or coffee, she would pour the drinks and then reach for an old and battered plastic sugar bowl. Then, apologetically, she would tell her story of the beautiful bone china bowl that her mother had owned, but that her sister had taken when her mother died and they divided up her possessions. She had never forgiven her sister, and had turned her bitterness into a daily routine that kept it fresh and growing.
Every single time she reached for that plastic sugar bowl, she rekindled the anger.
She had never forgiven her sister.
Van de Laar goes on to say that we sometimes let “our lives be defined by our wounds.” We spend all of our days looking backwards at what was and refusing to see the possibilities of healing and hope and forgiveness in our lives.
And while on the surface, it may not seem to take much energy or thought, the truth is that refusing to forgive is exhausting. It is a burden that you carry with you every moment. It is bitterness that never leaves your mouth.
As Nelson Mandela once said – “Resentment is like a glass of poison that a man drinks; then he sits down and waits for his enemy to die.”
And the only person that it hurts, is yourself.
September 11th, 2001 is a terribly sad and painful day in our history. And on this day, exactly 10 years later, we have a question to answer: How are we going to let that day define our lives?
Is it a wound, perpetually reopened, refusing to let us move forward?

Is it a source of anger and bitterness that causes us to lash out in fear?

Or in the midst of our grief and pain, can we also remember the tremendous acts of courage and love from that day? And can we look not only backwards but also look forward to as David Lose puts it, “a future that is not defined by the calamity of that day but instead is shaped by hope, possibility, and the grace of God.”

That is what forgiveness is after all. It is letting go of the pain. It is releasing the anger. It is refusing to allow what has happened in the past define your future.

Photo By: Alex Bruda
And while hanging on to old wounds might be the second most difficult thing in the world, the act of forgiving is the first.
Forgiving goes against our nature. We want revenge. We want answers. We want apologies. We want justice. We want someone in this world to pay. We want to hold guilt over another person. Overcome by sadness, anger, and pain, we do not want to move on.

As I have talked about many times in these messages – my own extended family is trapped in a pattern of unforgiveness. I, myself, find it extremely difficult to let go of that pain and imagine a future of mercy and love. Even when I find myself getting close to the point where I can, something else happens, another wrench thrown in, that makes saying, I’m sorry and I forgive you, that much harder.

And yet, over and over again, I find these words in the scriptures that say: Forgive.

Proverbs 17:9 – He who covers and forgives an offense seeks love, but he who repeats or haprs on a matter separates even close friends.

Matthew 6:14 – If you forgive people their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

Colossians 3:13 – Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Mark 11:25 – And when you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgiven him and let it go, in order that your Father who is in heaven may also forgive your own failings and shortcomings and let them go.

Luke 6:37 – Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

from Romans this morning: Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.

Or the even more difficult passage from Matthew: “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

Forgiveness is the most difficult thing in the world to do, and yet over and over and over again, the scriptures command us to forgive.

Why?

Because without forgiveness, there is no life.

Without forgiveness, there is no hope.

Without forgiveness, there is no future.

And we are not talking about the people who hurt us here… we are talking about ourselves.

You see, if debts always have to be paid and sins must always be punished, then there is no hope for us.

And there is no hope for our communities.

You see, a family does not work without forgiveness.

A marriage falls apart without forgiveness.

A church cannot survive without forgiveness.

Even a nation will find itself spinning out of control if revenge and justice are the only goals that it seeks… if it cannot find ways to compromise and show mercy and yes, even forgive.

Left to our own devices, we do not have the strength to do the hard task of forgiveness.

But in the midst of remembering the events of September 11th… in the midst of grieving the destruction and loss caused by four hijacked airplanes and grieving the death and destruction cause by the cycle of revenge that came afterwards… we also take time to remember the events of 2000 years ago.

You see, that is when our ability to truly forgive was realized.

On the cross, looking out on a world of brokenness and destruction, facing his tormenters in the eye, Jesus Christ called down forgiveness and not vengeance. “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”

Our future was forever changed through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The wounds that we caused were forgotten. The sins we committed were forgiven. The debts of the past were canceled.

The future of Christ is one of mercy and not judgment, hope and not despair, healing and not violence, abundance and not scarcity, love and not hate, new life instead of death. (from David Lose, paraphrased)
That is the power of forgiveness.
Life, love, hope, healing, mercy.

The most powerful stories that I have heard in recent days are the ones in which loved ones recounted the conversations they had with loved ones who were trapped high above the ground in towers one and two of the World Trade Center.

They are stories full of tears and goodbyes and I love yous. I was driving down the road, listening to a woman tell of the last time she spoke with her husband and I had to pull over, because the tears just overwhelmed me.
But what I realized in the midst of those stories is that not once did those courageous people who died tell their loved ones to seek revenge.
They spent the few precious moments they had saying I love you.
They said, I’m proud of you.
They said, I’m sorry.
They said, All is forgiven.
They said, remember I love you.
And as we remember those who perished. As we grieve… and we must… we also need to look to our futures. We need to put away the wounds.
I we keep pulling out that old beat-up plastic sugar bowl and refuse to seek peace or forgiveness, then evil has already won and we are truly defeated. (van de Laar paraphrased)
It is hard and painful to forgive… and we cannot do it alone.
But the good news is that through the love and grace of Jesus Christ, we can find the strength and courage we need to let go. To admit when we have caused pain. To say, “I forgive you.”

Today, as we remember, let us forgive… and let us imagine together a future in which God’s peace truly reigns.

The Gift of Patience

For about two years now, I have been playing disc golf. It is a game that is played in many ways like your more typical golf… with a tee pad and the aim of getting your ball or disc into the hole in as few strokes as possible.

As I have grown in my ability to play, I have picked up drivers, midrange discs and putters. They each have their own purpose – they fly in different ways, and you use different discs for different sorts of shots.

But I’m still not very good at the game. I bogey and double bogey more than I like to admit. And unlike golf – there is no handicap on the disc golf course… although for a while, we played with something called “Katie-par…” meaning I got an extra stroke on every hole =)

I think what I enjoy most about the game is that I can be outside, hiking through beautiful courses. The grass is beneath my feet, the trees loom around me, we play around streams and ponds, on top of hills and in valleys.

Most of the time, I’m comfortable with my lack of skill. I do the best I can in any given moment.

But there are those days… and I’m sure that any of you who play games or sports has had them… when nothing seems to go right. Every shot is off. I lose sight of the fact that I’m still learning the game and expect perfection from myself. I get frustrated and that frustration only makes me more prone to miss the next shot, which in turn makes me more frustrated and angry. There was actually a hole this last weekend where I hit four trees in a row, on four consecutive shots before I got to the basket. There is nothing worse than when those beautiful trees become obstacles, and I have to admit, sometimes my temper gets the best of me. I want to be good at the game, and I want to be good, NOW!

Patience is not a virtue that comes easily to us. We come with short fuses. We are personally invested in our work and our play and we want to see the results of our efforts. But when things start to fall apart, instead of taking the long view – we begin to lose hope, we begin to get angry, and often we behave in ways that are far from Christian.

This morning, we revisit a familiar biblical story about two brothers… Jacob and Esau. Esau is the older of the two – a rough and tumble sort of guy who thinks with his gut. Jacob on the other hand, is quietly clever… a mamma’s boy who uses his wit to often trick his older brother and gain the upper hand.

Now, as we might remember the stories… Jacob uses these skills to steal his birthright from the older brother and also a deathbed blessing from his father.

Esau is furious at the outcome of these events. Everything has just been taken from him. This isn’t the kind of frustration that comes from missing a few shots on the golf course – this is the kind of existential angst that comes from having your very identity called into question. As we heard in the scriptures from this morning – Esau seethed in anger against Jacob… he brooded, “The time for mourning my father’s death is close. And then I’ll kill my brother Jacob.”

It was the last straw. Esau just couldn’t take it anymore and he snapped. And Jacob had to flee for his life, far off to the land of his uncle, Laban.

Now, most of the time, when we visit these stories, our attention stays with Jacob. We follow him to Paddan Aram where he works for seven years for the hand of his beloved Rachel… and then for seven more years when he is tricked into marrying Leah instead. We follow his story as he spends time increasing the flocks and in turning tricking his uncle Laban and ends up with the best of the flocks and the herds and a huge family of wealth and power.

We could point to Jacob and talk about his patience. About how in spite of being cheated by his uncle, he stuck to his promises and waited for God’s blessings. We could talk about how his persistence and trust led to his success.

But this summer, we are taking a different look at these stories. And so instead, I want us to look back to the land of Canaan and at the son who was left behind.

This fruit of the spirit, patience, is often translated as longsuffering. It is the gift of being able to endure in spite of the circumstances that have come against you. It is a hopeful fortitude that reminds us that there is light at the end of the tunnel… that if we trust and wait, the outcome we are praying for will come to pass.

Barclay’s commentary says that patience is the grace of a person who could revenge a wrong but doesn’t.

Patience is the grace of a person who could revenge a wrong but doesn’t.

Now, out on the disc golf course… that would mean that patience is not picking up my disk and chucking it at the nearest tree out of frustration for them being in the way. Patience is seeking an opening, waiting for the anger to pass, breathing deeply, and finding a way forward. Patience is remembering that this inconvenience, this obstacle, will not last forever.

If patience is the grace of a person who could revenge a wrong but doesn’t… then I think the person who actually exemplifies the spirit of patience is not Jacob, but his older brother, Esau.

The first way that Esau is patient is that he doesn’t strike out immediately in anger when his brother cheats him. If we followed their story from the time they were just children, I’m sure that there was more than just these two instances of trickery. And yet, up until this point, up until the moment that Jacob steals away his blessing, Esau has managed to not let it get to him. But this last time we hear about… well, this is the last straw. He has just had everything taken away from him and Esau is pissed off… and yet even in the midst of his anger… we might even say righteous anger… he has enough control to wait.

Many people in today’s world who had something like this done to them would immediately grab the nearest weapon and seek out their brother. But Esau waits. He thinks. He knows that there are some things that are more important at the moment… namely, the fact that his father is dying.

Now, if part of being patient is being slow to anger… I want to say that Esau has this only partially right. He became angry, all right. But he did not allow that anger to consume him in an instant. He thought about others. He allowed his anger to be placed on the back burner.

When we find ourselves in situations of great frustration and anger, I think patience is taking just a moment to breathe and to pray. Patience is asking for God to come into this situation and remind us of the things that are truly important in the moment, and to let that anger move out of the way, if necessary.

The second way that Esau helps us to understand what patience is comes from the way he lives his life after Jacob flees.

He acts not out of spite, but in all things tries to follow his father’s wishes. When he hears that Jacob was sent away with the command not to marry a Canaanite woman, then Esau himself, seeks out a woman that would please his father. He seeks out his half-uncle Ishmael… and marries one of his daughters.

And that is all we hear about his life for the next 14 years.

Not once does Esau plot and plan and come looking for his brother. Not once does he try to live out that statement of anger that his brother would die. No, he moves on with his own life. He carves out the best possible future for himself. In spite of the situation that he finds himself in, he endures. That is longsuffering. That is patience.

Making the most of our given situations is a very hard thing to do. We like to sit and stew and wish that things were different. We breed anger and resentment in our hearts. And we spend too much time looking into the past, instead of living into our new futures.

I have spent many mornings talking with the pastor from the Lutheran church . As many of you know, his wife, has a degenerative condition and as time goes on, her body will continue to fail. But as I have talked with Pastor, he also tells me about the patience and peace that his wife has. She knows that God will heal her… sheknows that God has already healed her… but she is patient and she knows that that her time of healing may not come in this lifetime. But, her diagnosis is not an obstacle to living the best possible life that she can today. She has a hopeful fortitude that keeps her going, day by day.

Finally, Esau teaches us about patience through the forgiveness of his heart. Do you remember back to that definition of patience… as the grace of a person who could revenge a wrong, but doesn’t? That is Esau.

Had Esau been the wrong kind of patient… the kind of patient that waits for the right opportunity and moment to strike back… then his opportunity would have come when Jacob returned to the land of his father.

And Jacob knows it. Jacob trembles with fear at the thought of the anger of his brother. He sends messengers ahead to let Esau know they are coming… it’s almost as if he is saying – I’m here… let’s get this over with.

Jacob divides up his great wealth and sends it over the river in waves as a gift to soothe his brother’s anger. He sends his wives and children over – in essence saying – all that I have is yours if you want it.

Had Esau been the wrong kind of patient… the revengeful kind of patient… he would have destroyed those gifts. Those four hundred men standing with him on the other side of the river would have taken the flocks, killed his wives and children and come rushing over the river to kill the trickster brother.

But Esau was a man of great patience. He put his anger on the backburner of his soul, and allowed God to let forgiveness replace the hatred. When Esau was given the chance to revenge the wrong that was made upon his life, he instead ran to his brother, fell into his arms and wept.

And to all of those gifts – the flocks and the wealth that Jacob sent over… Esau didn’t take them out of righteous indignation. He didn’t say – it’s about time that I got my birthright and my power and wealth back… no – he looked his brother square in the eye and he said, “I have enough, brother… keep what you have for yourself.”

The past was forgiven. All that mattered now was their futures. The future of two brothers who were reunited at long last.

It is difficult to forgive. And it will take time to forgive. But when we fail to do so, we carry around with us a burden that is often too heavy to bear.

Let us instead seek God’s patience. The kind of patience that our Master has for us… the kind of patience that allows us to come back to him time and time and time again – after a million wrongs have been committed and greets us with open arms and tears of joy. Our reading from the second letter of Peter this morning reminds us that God’s patience is our salvation… God’s gracious spirit that chooses not to revenge the wrongs we have committed. God’s gracious spirit that waits until we finally turn back towards her. Amen and Amen.