Filed under: Sermons
Texts this week Jan 31, 2016
Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ-
Take a moment to think of Jesus. Try to picture him. I want you to really see him. What’s he wearing, what’s his hair like, where is he? Imagine that you’re with Jesus. You’re standing there- there’s you and there’s Jesus.
Now, if Jesus was right there, right in front of you- what would you do? What would you say? What would you ask?
I’m going to take a wild guess, but I’m thinking that your first impulse isn’t to push Jesus away. The last thing you’d be thinking is- where’s the nearest cliff- I want to push Jesus off.
This really weird response is what we hear happening in the gospel today.
So what on earth happened? What happened that the people in the Gospel didn’t respond like we’d expect? Shouldn’t they be happy that the Son of God is there among them- that he’s come to explain the elusive scriptures- so they can finally understand what God wants?
What did Jesus do, to make the crowd, so early on at this beginning of his ministry, want to kill him?
Jesus proclaims the gospel. God isn’t just for them. God is concerned for all people, all creation. That is what makes the people reject him.
Now I imagine most of us would think- well, if Jesus was right here, teaching me how to follow God’s will, finally letting me in to the secrets of God’s plan- there is no way I would reject him. That’s the kind of interaction I’ve been waiting for!
Most of us think we’re looking for clarity on how to live life. We want to know how to follow God in this life today.
The thing is, if any of us were in that same situation, with Jesus preaching about God’s work among the outsiders, I think we would have the same reaction as the crowd. In some ways, we already do reject Jesus’ embodiment of God’s preference for the outsider.
In the Gospel, Jesus has just started preaching and doing signs. He comes back to his hometown. He goes to worship and opens up the scroll of Isaiah, declaring that God gives sight to the blind and releases the captives, and then he sits down and says, this word of God is coming true in me.
The people say, yeah, ok, then do something among us. Do some great work of God here- we want this good news, this good work of God to happen among us.
But Jesus won’t.
Maybe it’s because he sees people doubting him- seeing him only as an eight year old kid, following his dad— but I think there’s some other reason that has to do with the upside down, outside in, way God works.
Jesus turns them to their scriptures to say- remember, there were lots of people in need among the Israelites, but God sent the prophets to do God’s work for the outsiders. Lots of people were sick and praying for God to heal them, but God went to someone who wasn’t praying to God and healed that person instead.
After this exchange, I can understand the people being angry. It’s kinda like Jesus saying- see all this good stuff God can do- it’s not for you. Certainly, they’re confused. They’ve been seeking God, they’ve been trying to live according to God’s law- and then Jesus says, hi, I’m God come to earth— but I’m not here for just for you.
I can understand they’d be angry- I think we are angry, too.
At the heart of that anger is fear. We don’t know what to do with this idea that God would give beyond expectation- that God would reach beyond the people God has promised to bless- and bless those outsiders first.
God promised God was going to bless the people descended from Abraham and Sarah- those who followed the law of Moses. They’re supposed to be the favored, chosen people- to whom God brings good news. They’re the people sitting in the synagogue, the people who end up pushing Jesus towards that cliff. Do we find ourselves among them?
The hard truth of this Gospel is that sometimes we are those who want to reject Jesus. Jesus shows us that we make exclusionary groups, so that we can be the insiders. We make boundaries to identify ourselves among God’s people. We use our power to create outsiders on whom we can put all our fears and blame. We use those outsiders to carry that tension outside of our group- so that we feel more secure.
In the wider world, I see this happening today with Muslims and refugees. As I listened to the radio this week, I heard about someone bringing guns into a Paris Disney hotel. All I heard in that brief 10 second report was that he had guns and a Koran. It’s a way of identifying violent, death dealing people- as those who are not white Christians, who are not us. We do this so we can feel safe in our own community, among our own people.
Our need to scapegoat by creating an outsider who we can demonize, blame, and destroy is one way to understand Jesus’ death. This is one of the meanings of the cross. Jesus calls us to embrace God’s vision, in which community is expanded so wide that there is nothing that would separate us from God. But that is too scary- too wide- for us. So, we killed Jesus. The part of us that wanted to throw Jesus off the cliff –back when he first introduced God’s overly wide view of who is worthy- finally won when we pushed Jesus to the outside and nailed his troubling ideas shut on the cross.
Jesus died because we choose not to live into God’s kingdom, with its unfair focused love for those who haven’t even tried. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, God showed just how wide God’s vision is- just how much effort and power God is putting in to this whole all are mine thing. God reaches into death itself and pulls Jesus out, shredding apart even death’s ability to keep anyone outside the beloved community.
As Christians today, we’re really stuck. We’re torn as we try to understand who God is and how we will respond. We want God to be open and gracious. Some of us have found our way into the ELCA because we have found this to be a church that embraces God’s openness.
And yet we’re still stuck. We can’t quite embrace the good news that God’s grace creates a welcome for all people. We still want control. We want to control God’s grace by defining who is worthy of it. We want to make sure that we get what we deserve- and that others, who haven’t tried as much or given up as much or wouldn’t pass a doctrinal test, don’t get what belongs only to us. We don’t want to be skipped in line- we’re afraid there might not be anything left for us who should be first.
We have this need for some to be losers in order for us to be winners. People tend to mock when all the kids get a trophy. They roll their eyes at participation ribbons celebrating all kids. We want to be winners. It’s not worth the effort if we don’t get singled out as special- and if someone else doesn’t fail. It’s like it’s not worth anything if everyone has access to it.
I think of a young family, preparing to welcome their second child. What is that first child thinking? Is she fearfully wondering if her parents will love both her and this new baby? Will there be enough love to go around? I think most parents would say that love is multiplied, not divided. Can we understand God’s grace in the same way – growing in strength and not diminished as it is spread over all the world?
We have a hard time living as a people of grace. We want rules and boundaries- some way to tell who is in and who is out. There’s still a child within us who needs structure, boundaries- someone else to tell us what we can and can’t do. That’s what makes the child feel secure. If there were no boundaries, we wouldn’t know the shape of our present. Because of that, we often choose to be bound, to be caged – instead of being free.
When I lived in North Dakota, there wasn’t a whole lot to do for fun. It was just Jeff and I for most of the time. So, we made our way through a number of TV series. One of those was Star Trek: The next Generation. There’s this one episode, where a person is wrongly accused of a crime and sentenced to jail. But this jail isn’t like our jail- it’s more like a jail in your mind. They’d maybe only have your body captive for a day or two, but in your mind, you would experience years. So this one person ends up in this mental jail and becomes accustomed to the life of a prisoner. That means not knowing when or if the food was coming, not seeing his family, not having a bed- it feels like years. Then his body is freed, his mind is no longer being controlled in that jail, but he’s not really free. There’s this scene where he’s in the bedroom with his wife. His wife wakes up and he’s not in bed. He’s laying on the floor, because he’s so used to not having a bed. He’s still trapped. He’s not living in to the freedom that has been given to him. It’s too hard to believe.
There’s another show I’ve seen more recently- Kimmy Schmidt. It’s about these women who are kept underground in a bunker and told the world has been destroyed. One day, they are freed. The main character, Kimmy, embraces life, not afraid to enjoy her freedom- but another character wants to go back down in the bunker. It was safe, something she was used to, and the big wide world that had gone on without them was just too much deal with.
We know captivity- so when we’re met with God’s freeing grace, it’s so hard to live in to.
We often say we want freedom, but then when we get there, it’s so wide, so open, it’s terrifying.
Think about kids going off to college. They’ve lived their whole childhood under the watchful eyes of their parents, following their instructions on when they should wake up and go to bed, what they should eat, when they should shower and change their clothes, being reminded to wear clean underwear— to be good, eat their vegetables, do their homework before playing…
When they get to college, there are so many options, so much freedom, they can feel lost and choose poorly. They are overwhelmed when they get to choose how to spend their lives. The freedom can be too much to handle.
The freedom of our faith can be just as terrifying. In the church, we get to choose- if we will bravely follow Jesus into the wide expanse of God’s love for all- or if we will push him off a cliff because we are offended by his message.
This passage reminds us that Jesus reaches outside of the community to show God’s power and life. As we continue to discover God’s will for us as a congregation, as council prepares to come together for a time of visioning. It would be well for us to remember this: if we follow Jesus, we do not live to ourselves, we do not serve ourselves, but we exist for the sake of the outsider, we exist for the one who may never thank us, never join our church. We give ourselves away for the other, because that is what it means to follow Jesus.
We experience Jesus’ radical welcome at the table, where Jesus comes to feed us with his body and blood so that we would be nourished by his presence. God creates faith in us through this eating. We all know that there are congregations and synods around us who choose to limit who is welcome at the table. They want to be sure that each person would be worthy of receiving Jesus’ gifts. That’s all about controlling the wide welcome that Jesus has made in his own death. Jesus didn’t die so that we could decide who would be welcome at his table and in his kingdom. Jesus died so that the worst sinner, the most lost unbeliever, the one who cannot express her desire- can all come to the table to be fed. When we experience a welcome table, we begin to live in to God’s kingdom, according to God’s wide angle vision and not our own narrow one.
The Jesus you earlier pictured is here for you. He’s come with love for you- love for me- love for those you don’t like and love for those you’ve never met. There’s enough for all. There’s great joy waiting for those who are brave enough to walk into this expansive kingdom of God- you might be surprised who you meet there, but you’ll also discover just how great the power of God’s love really is.
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