Sunday, February 3, 2013

Epiphany 4C, 2013: Prophets of Love

Lectionary: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Our catechism teaches us that our goal (our mission) as Christians is to work for the reconciliation of the whole world to God and each other in Christ. (BCP, 855) We hold ourselves to be witnesses of the truth of salvation in Jesus Christ.

If we are witnesses, then we don’t get to just live in this truth. We must be willing to testify to it. That makes us all prophets, mediators of the truth we know to the world.

As prophets, what are we to speak? Maybe more importantly, to whom do we speak it?

There are two hearers of God’s words of Love, two groups to whom our testimony must be given: those being excluded and those doing the excluding. In today’s gospel story from Luke, Jesus is speaking to those doing the excluding.

We hear about Jesus going to the synagogue, picking up the scroll of Isaiah and reading from it. As his hometown people heard him read and teach, they found his words to be full of grace.

As the story continues in today’s reading, the people in the synagogue began to think about that. You can almost hear them… Wait a minute! That’s Mary and Joseph’s son! How does he teach so wonderfully? How did he do those amazing things we heard about him doing in Capernaum? Do those things here too, Jesus. Amaze us too!

But Jesus knew he could do no healings there because of their unbelief. He also knew that the truth he came to bring, that the salvation of God was for the whole world, would make them mad – and in fact, Luke tells us they were enraged.

Why? Let’s hear again Jesus’ response to them: “But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."

The widow at Zarephath and Naaman were outsiders, Gentiles, and unclean in some of the most obvious ways. The widow was from Phoenicia, the center of pagan worship at the time. This story takes place during a great famine and people were dying in droves. In fact, the widow’s only son had just died. Following his funeral, she would become a homeless beggar, likely to die before long. It was this outsider - this pagan, Gentile, homeless woman, whom God chose to save.

And Naaman was a Syrian, which means he was a Gentile, and he was unclean due to his leprosy. Lepers could be found all over Israel, but the one whom God chose to heal and restore to fullness of life, was an outsider.

Jesus words shocked his listeners. Here they were feeling so proud of their hometown boy-made-good. His reputation was grand, his words gracious.

But now, instead of dazzling them with amazing works of power, Jesus insults them! The very idea that outsiders would be chosen by God over God’s own people “filled them with rage” and they tried to “hurl” Jesus off a cliff!

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

We live in a time when God’s own people, as so many groups define themselves, are full of rage over the notion that God might love, heal, and save outsiders. I think of the radical fringes of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism who kill and hate and stalk funerals. I think of factions within the Episcopal Church fighting over property, diocesan seals, and historical names.

And I wonder… where is the love? Where are the words that are patient and kind, words that aren’t arrogant or rude? And what are these fights really about? They’re about insiders getting to define who the outsiders are then casting them out.

Muslims call them infidels. Jews call them Gentiles. Christians call them gays. But God calls them beloved. And this is the truth we are called to proclaim. St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Only love honors God... [and] surely everything [God] made must be perfect.”

Be warned, however: this truth is going to make people mad. They’ll want to hurl us off a cliff. We might lose the affection of friends or family. We will feel insecure about ourselves and our ability to speak this truth.

Our comfort, however, is in each other and in our Scripture. When God called Jeremiah to speak the truth to the people, Jeremiah begged off. I can’t do that. I’m only a boy.

But God’s words to Jeremiah are for us also: No excuses – “…you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD."

Ok then. Off we go, together, to be the prophets God is calling us to be. And when the people become enraged, we’ll remember St. Paul’s reminder to us to love – to hold our arrogance and rudeness, to be patient and kind, and to endure.

When Jesus faced this rage, he simply passed through the midst of it and went on his way. That gives us hope for our time. Despite the rage, despite the attempts to hurl the truth off the cliff, God simply continues undaunted on the path to redemption.

As followers of Christ, so must we.

As our catechism, derived from the wisdom of our tradition, teaches us “Our assurance as Christians is that nothing, not even death, shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (BCP, 862) Amen.

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