The Golden Plan

A Sermon for 17 March 2019 – Second Sunday in Lent

A reading from the gospel of Luke 13:31-35. Listen for God’s word to us.

“At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 Jesus said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

This second Sunday in the season of Lent with the gospel’s foxes and brood and the hen with wonderfully, healing wings; it seems a good time for a little something different. So, listen to a story for Lent. It comes from the children’s book written by Walter Wangerin, Jr. and it’s called “Branta and the Golden Stone.” Listen.

Branta is a little girl, living out in the middle of no where in the Northern-most region of the world where it is absolutely freezing! Winds whip down from the northern seas to send an unbearable chill immediately up your spine. Branta, sadly, finds herself alone one winter when her ancient father – her only connection to the human world – dies. But before he leaves his dear daughter, he gives her a gift. He tells her the secret of his stone; a golden stone he has harbored for years. With it, people are changed. The powerful golden stone makes a person whatever they wanted to be. Sick suddenly are healthy. Blind eyes at last can see. A farmer becomes rain to water his fields in abundance. An angry man turns to fire to burn up his enemy’s house. People are changed by the power of the stone all right. Both for good and ill. The moment before his final breath, Branta’s father warns that she must be extremely careful with this golden stone. The change is incredibly costly. For you see, the change is irreversible: absolutely no going back. “Beware,” Branta is told. Whatever a person becomes by the power of the golden stone, she will stay that way forever.

Isolated upon the death of her dad – no neighbors anywhere in sight, Branta eventually is accompanied by a new arrival. One day a delightful duo of geese grace Branta’s solitude. O how she welcomes her new companions – even if they’re just geese. After all, humans and geese are so very different. They aren’t able properly to communicate with one another. Branta never could get too close. Regardless, the geese offer the company of another life. Branta enjoys the geese: watching them, listening to their gaba-gaba squawking, seeing them soar in the air. Branta grows to love her new feathered friends. As spring sprints on, the two quickly multiplied to eight! Six sweet goslings gaba-gaba-gabbing on and on. A whole goose family. What fun! . . . But winter can come in an instant in Branta’s northern hinterland. And so it is one night when summer abruptly dies and a storm tears in from nowhere. The north wind blows. The ground freezes. Heavy snow heaves itself upon the earth. For two days Branta cuddles in her cozy cabin. She’s gotta survive the storm. Still, all she can imagine is her precious pals caught unawares and now withering in the wintry blast. Finally, bundling up, she takes off outside to find them. She’s convinced herself that she’ll coax the geese into the shelter of her heated home. . . . Picture the scene: frantically the gallant girl is trying to wave the perishing geese toward the warmth. But filled with fright, they run further from their only shot at survival. Eight freezing geese – perhaps aware of the perilous wintry winds – are terrified of the alien intruder. They just don’t get it that she’s trying to lead them to life. What in the world is a determined little girl to do?

It isn’t geese but chicks Jesus chats about that day. His course has been set on Jerusalem. He travels with firm resolve. It might be helpful to remember that Jerusalem, named the city of peace, had become the seat bed of power for the Jews of Jesus’ day. A conflicted place, however, what with Rome ruling right over the Temple to ensure no one tried to rebel against the foreign oppressors. Collusion with Rome in order to keep on practicing the faith has grown common. It’s not that there’s anything inherently bad with the religion of Jesus and his people. Rather, as always has been the tendency; playing into a system of dominance, fear, might for the sake of worldy gain has seeped into the water. Too many in Jerusalem – religious leaders and Rome alike have lost the Way. Resolutely, Jesus has set his face to go there – into the halls of power. In order to attempt a course correction. . . . What happens one day is that somewhere still in Galilee, a handful of Pharisees approach. Their intentions are not to harm. Rather this group gives the warning. It seems Herod – the ruler of the region – has it in for Jesus. He wants him dead – perhaps his head also on a platter as was the conclusion for the dear John the Baptist. Some friendly Pharisees fear a fatal end for Jesus so they set out to curb his path. But Jesus will not be deterred. Onward to Jerusalem he goes. For he knows his purpose; the God in whom he trusts. Content to speak God’s truth to worldly power, Jesus simply says, “Go and tell that fox: he may think he’s got the ability to interrupt God’s plan. But listen: I am continuing my work of casting out demons, performing cures, and on the third day I’ll be done” (Luke 13:32). Determined. He’s absolutely sure of the mission.

Remember the mission? For a long time God has been trying – tirelessly trying to gather God’s brood. It’s an awesome Old Testament image to which Jesus attests. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem. How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34). Once we have a little bit of the world’s ways, it’s hard to give them up. A plethora of prophets were sent. You’d think exile in unknown lands might have gotten their attention or at least the restoration thereafter. The cycle keeps happening again – as it has in the history of the church, the generations gone before, right up to the ways we ourselves can continue to go astray. . . . Look at it from God’s view: as if we were those vulnerable baby chickens. Those fuzzy little fluff balls. So tiny. So fragile. Oodles of us – curious little chicks scattered this way and that; winding way out of the barnyard. Far from mother hen – and the shelter of her wings. Can you smell the big bad wolf lurking in the shadows? Ready to snatch the little, lost ones in an instant. Momma hen would be in a panic! . . . That’s exactly how it goes. God births the brood of Israel for God’s very self – a light to shine in the nations for all to come to know. But no sooner is the covenant constructed, than the children go astray. It seems so in our nature that we willfully wander far out into the wild. Suddenly we’re easy prey for all sorts of predators. We ignore God’s commands that were given to us to ensure communal bliss. Our selfish actions give rise to division. Too often we live in whatever manner we wish – no matter how far from our Creator our actions take us. We’re as oblivious to the danger as are the good God-fearers of Jesus’ day. What in the world is a gracious God to do?!!!

Back in the cabin, the storm still raging outside, Branta searches diligently for that stone. “If only I can grab it,” she wishes. “Become a goose myself. Perhaps putting on their very same size and shape; the same white markings on my throat and that exact black beak.” Branta rationalizes to herself: “if I become one of them I can speak their gaba-gaba language.” Then maybe her precious geese pals will trust her enough to follow where she leads – right back home to shelter from the storm. . . . Would you believe it? The plan works. Holding the golden stone in her human hand, Branta speaks her desire: “I want to be a goose,” she says. Next thing you know she’s flapping majestic wings. Sporting that sleek neck. Waddling away. The little girl literally becomes one of them: a goose – gone forever her human ways – quite a cost for sure. But a sacrifice she willingly makes because she knows it’s the only shot she has at leading her beloved friends to safety. Sure enough, as soon as the geese – near-death without protection from the blizzard – as soon as they hear in their own language: “Gaba-gaba gather. Gaba-gaba Get up. Gaba-gaba Go. Go into the warmth of the cabin.” As soon as they see one just like them pointing to the path, immediately they heed. It’s like a lightbulb suddenly goes on. “Oh, okay. If YOU say so!” Eight otherwise doomed geese and one little goose-girl survive the storm together!

Do you wonder what will happen with God’s willful, wandering brood? How in the world so many lost, little chicks will be pointed down the path? Led back to the shelter of momma hen’s wings? One way: one high-priced way. Someone will have to become a chick like the rest. To lead the whole lot. . . . Jesus is born into the world. He grows. He begins the mission to show the Way. But so infinitely many are a part of this brood. As soon as one is brought to safety, ten more seem gone for good. Unlike Branta’s story; for us it takes a continuous process to gather such a huge flock. . . . And so it goes that those who have been found – having learned the Way home – are expected to enter the enterprise. Despite potential danger. The found chicks go from the shelter of momma’s wings in search of others. Learning to speak their language. We point the Way home. It’s a grand communal effort initiated at high expense. But tell me: what else is a God of grace to do?

In the name of the Life-giving Father, the Life-redeeming Son, and the Life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (all rights reserved).

Wilderness Testing

A Sermon for 10 March 2019 – 1st Sunday in Lent

A reading from the gospel of Luke 4:1-13. On this first Sunday in the season of Lent, we hear the gospel of Luke’s version of what happened to Jesus right after he was baptized. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.’ ” Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, “Worship the LORD your God, and serve only him.'” Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

In Braving the Wilderness, Dr. Brené Brown states: “Theologians, writers, poets, and musicians always have used the wilderness as a metaphor, to represent everything from a vast and dangerous environment where we are forced to navigate difficult trials, to a refuge of nature and beauty where we seek space for contemplation.” Brown writes: “What all wilderness metaphors have in common are the notions of solitude, vulnerability, and an emotional, spiritual, or physical quest” (Braving the Wilderness, 2017; p. 36).

I think of Dr. Brown’s work when we hear the reading from the gospel of Luke put before us today. For what else are we looking upon in the story of Jesus after his baptism, than his very vulnerable encounter during his very real emotional, physical, spiritual quest? Each year we begin the season of Lent with Jesus in the wilderness. Long has the Church looked upon this text as the perfect place for our attention on the first Sunday after Ash Wednesday. We’ve just entered the time in the liturgical calendar when we begin a more fervent listening and watching and learning how best we can follow as disciples of the Christ – all the way to Jerusalem and beyond. Lent is our time to willingly stand with Jesus in the wilderness – not only to see what he encounters there, but also to be taught our own need for wilderness. The like-it-or-not time we must face in order to be who God would have us be.

In Braving the Wilderness, Brown is using the metaphor of wilderness to present her research and lived findings on what she calls “belonging so fully to yourself that you’re willing to stand alone” (Ibid.). Which sounds exactly like Jesus, doesn’t it? Brown is talking about living so entirely as your true self that you belong not to the voices that surround from culture, family, ego, and even religious institutions. Wilderness is Brown’s understanding of, what Carl Jung defined as, being our capital S Self – the wholeness of Self that regulates our center. That inside, which “some speak of . . . as the God within or the Christ-within” (Unopened Letters from God, Robert L. Haden, Jr., 2010). The Divine Spark that animates us to live our best selves. Biblical commentators might say: wilderness is where – and when – we live as the authentic creation God made of us at our start. Before we forgot and got entangled in the mess of how this world too often goes. In my reading of it – especially according to the gospel of Luke, I would say that wilderness is where we must wrestle any other influences – the demons within and without – in order to authentically be who God created us to be.

Dr. Brown reminds that wilderness is “an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching” – surely Jesus knew that, not only from his first forty days there, but from the many times, according to the gospel of Luke, when Jesus deliberately returned to wilderness. When he stole away as often as he could to return to time alone with God. Brown writes: wilderness “is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. The wilderness,” Brown states, can feel “unholy because we can’t control it . . . but it turns out to be the place of true belonging.” The bravest, most sacred place we ever will stand (Braving the Wilderness, p. 36). The place of honest integrity before God – honoring our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer – as Jesus did in the wilderness. Being so firmly resolved to trust the One he often called Abba, heavenly Father.

Unlike the other gospels which claim that immediately after his baptism Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, the gospel of Luke uniquely claims that “full of the Holy Spirit” Jesus “returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness” (Luke 4:1). Instead of an emphasis of the Holy Spirit seizing him in his baptism to lead him out there to withstand alone whatever would come, the gospel of Luke focuses us upon the Spirit’s role with Jesus the entire time, when he seemingly went to the wilderness as a voluntary act. Which might leave us wondering if the gospel of Luke is emphasizing that like our need for a deepening of connection with God during Lent, Jesus too needed a time alone to hear what was to come. To listen for what it all meant that he’d just heard The Voice declare in his baptism: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22b). To have the opportunity to choose – to sort out the ramifications of the message of his baptism. Like his ancestors who are recorded as having wandered forty years in their own experience of testing in order to reveal their true selves. We’ve got to wonder if the wilderness will strengthen Jesus’ resolve to move out to be who God has made him to be. Will he choose acceptance of and obedience to The Voice? Will he emerge ready to unite himself fully with his authentic, true self? So that even when the most difficult challenge was to come – one night about three years later in a garden outside Jerusalem, Jesus still could be found praying: “Not my will be done, LORD, but yours” (Luke 22:42). In advance, wilderness shows if the Beloved faithfully will be the Beloved, or not.

I love the words in Braving the Wilderness that Dr. Brown quotes from a friend who is a religious leader in a Christian community that is known for lacking full inclusivity. Of wilderness, Brown’s excluded friend says she has discovered that “the wilderness is where all the creatives and prophets and system-buckers and risk-takers always have lived, and it is stunningly vibrant.” She writes, “the walk out there is hard, but the authenticity out there is life” (p. 152). For belonging so fully to the Self we discover God has made us to be, ends up linking us fully with all the others devoted too to being their true Selves. Those who cannot not live as God has created, called, and sustained them to be! In other words: it’s best we remember that no matter how difficult wilderness can be, it is entirely worth it! Just ask Jesus. What would his life among us have been had he not relied upon and lived in full the Way The Voice had called? Had Jesus not lived his authentic self, no one ever would have gone on to proclaim his name! No 5,000 plus fed on just five loaves and a few fish. No impassioned plea to follow after him. No bread broken and fruit of the vine outpoured as sign and seal of a God of infinite grace. No death at the hands of his enemies. No resurrection in power from a grave. No Life everlasting offered for all forever, Amen!

One biblical commentator writes: “In Luke 3:21 – 4:13, we see that the Spirit’s anointing of Jesus in baptism and his faithfulness to God amid testing constitute Jesus’ preparation for his mission. (For) being chosen and anointed is not sufficient preparation either for our ministry gathered or for our ministry scattered.” The commentator writes: “We must be tested, often by being led to places of hunger and despair. Only then do we learn dependence on God, who graciously provides for all of our needs in all of life’s seasons” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 2, Jeffery L. Tribble, Sr., p. 44).

Brothers and sisters of Christ, especially during Lent; wilderness is where we belong – in our lives individually and in our life together. For in wilderness the Spirit is with us. The tests provide opportunity to choose. Jesus knows it’s difficult and that we could so easily lose the Way. But wilderness forces us really to finally, fully rely upon God. To wrestle with all the other voices until we too earnestly pray as our Savior and Lord has taught, saying: “Not our will, but Thy will be done, O God!” . . . Grateful for one another and all vibrantly alive out there, let us embrace wilderness in order to be who God would have us be.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (all rights reserved).

Shining Like the Son

A Sermon for 3 March 2019 – Transfiguration of the Lord

A reading from the gospel of Luke 9:28-43. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

You’ve heard it said that beautiful brides radiate. And once their bellies get big and round, everyone agrees that pregnant women have that glow. Anyone excitedly welcoming a newborn talks about them being a bundle of warmth – as if the sweetness of God reflects right through them. When parents are as proud as can be, they beam at their children. And of course, two people in love look at each other and their eyes light up an entire room.

Thomas Merton, one of the 20th Century’s most well-known monks, is famous for his epiphany in downtown Louisville on March 18, 1958. He said: “In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.” He said, “It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race . . . there is no way of telling people they are all walking around shining like the sun.” . . . He went on to explain that on that day he “suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes.” Merton wrote, “If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all of the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed” (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, New York: Doubleday, 1996 – http://merton.org/TMSQ.aspx).

Buried in the book of Daniel, the prophet exclaims that “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness (shall twinkle) like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:3).

The Exodus reading assigned by the lectionary for Transfiguration Sunday – and referred to in 2 Corinthians, which often is read on Transfiguration Sunday as well. The Exodus reading names Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the tablets of the Law. He was up on the mountaintop – in the presence or Shekinah of God. What he didn’t know as he descended from that amazing experience of being with God was that his face shone brightly – the light of God’s presence was reflecting on Moses’ skin. (Exodus 34:29-35).

Jesus himself has some sort of experience. It may not have been exactly the same. But we hear of the way Jesus was transfigured on the mountain. He’s up there praying – just eight days after he told his disciples what lie ahead. Peter, John, and James are with him. While he’s deep in prayer, they look up to see “the appearance of Jesus’ face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Luke 9:29). He’s transformed before their eyes. That radiance. That glow. That beaming shine like the bright summer sun. The presence of God glows right through his skin. It’s as if on that mountain, all with eyes to see finally behold the core of Christ’s reality. Who he really is: the one in whom God in-full dwells. A voice even confirms it saying: “This is my Son, the Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)

Now, it may seem like quite a leap, but we can think about worship just like that. In Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster, worship is defined as: “when (upper case S) Spirit touches (lower case s) spirit” (Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster, 1998, p. 159). When the Holy Spirit of God connects with the spirit of God alive in us. Worship is when we get plugged in. Re-charged. Spirit unites with spirit, which we know can happen anywhere in this God-breathed creation. So that sometimes it just happens. Walking along an autumn path, the rays of the sunshine just so that it seems the world is transfixed into heaven-like streets of gold. Or any number of such unexpected, take-your-breath-away life moments that leave us speechless in awe. The times we’re not ready for God’s Spirit to wake up the one slumbering in us. And the times we actually get ourselves ready: prime the pump, it’s often called. When we go to a particular place – like here – where it seems a thin place between common and extraordinary. Holy and mundane. We attune ourselves to connect with that which is Beyond. Spirit touches spirit: worship!

It’s what the Apostle Paul is referring to when he writes that “all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord – as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image (of the Lord) from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). Worship is about that connection. Seeing the glory of God. Celebrating the glory of God. Being in the glorious presence of God and never finding ourselves the same thereafter. . . . Like those disciples. Think about them. Most probably they weren’t up on that mountain to worship. I’m guessing they only went because Jesus’ asked them to. Kinda like a president’s bodyguards who have to follow around where ever the president goes. They either felt it their responsibility as Jesus’ trustworthy friends to make that trek up. Or maybe they curiously were trying to develop a prayer habit of their own. . . . According to the story, they make the climb and sit nearby as if casual observers. They planned to just sit around to watch as their dear friend Jesus prays. But what’s about to take place on that mountain isn’t something they’re able casually to observe. In the Presence of God, they’re pulled in. They hear God’s voice. And they are called to heed. Though they are silent upon the descent, eventually their sealed lips will be broken and they will be charged to go into all the world filled in the same way — with the power of the same Spirit — to witness in word and deed to the ends of the earth. . . . Worship is about that – that encounter which transforms. Our spirits unite with God’s Spirit in that glorious high that requires us then to go forth changed. Transformed to reflect God’s glory. You might even say transfigured ourselves to heed the call of Christ. Which is why there should be a sign at the sanctuary entrance that we’re all required to read on our way in: Warning – enter at your own risk, because you cannot leave here the same!

I once read a story about a preacher who tells what he saw as a young boy in the face of another man. Supposedly as a child, this would-be preacher encountered a missionary just home on furlough who was on fire for God. When first the boy saw him, he ran to get the neighborhood priest to ask who this man was. The boy was so impressed by the joy that exuded from that missionary. He never had seen someone all aglow like that. He claimed in his memoirs, which he wrote near the end of his life; that he went on to commit his life to serving God in professional ministry – largely because of the moment he encountered that missionary. He confessed that he never could get away from the influence of the light he saw radiating from that man. A shining face – glowing with the love, with the joy of Christ. The experience changed that boy’s life entirely. . . . Which just goes to show that time spent with God – Spirit connecting with spirit – true worship has power we never can underestimate. . . . Shining like the Son, may we go forth to light up the world!

© Copyright JMN – 2019  (All rights reserved.)

The Jesus Kind of Love

A Sermon for 24 February 2019

I read wise words this week regarding the text I’m getting set to read – the portion of the gospel of Luke assigned by the revised common lectionary for this 7th Sunday of Epiphany.  By the way, Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday is on the way next week with Lent beginning on Ash Wed a few days thereafter.  Just to get us all in an open frame of mind, I want us to hear those wise words first, so we might willingly keep our ears open for the reading of the gospel!

Of Luke 6:27-38 – the words immediately following the gospel of Luke’s version of the Beatitudes – the Blessing and the Woes of the Sermon on the Mount, biblical commentator Vaughn Crowe-Tipton writes this:  “Congregations respond to this text in the same way my children respond to seeing cooked spinach on their plate at dinner.  No matter how much I explain the nutritional value, no one around the table really wants to dig in.  I suspect preachers are not terribly different.  Even though we know enough to understand how texts can be bound by culture and time, we also know this text goes down hard, no matter when or how it is served.  Perhaps we should not be surprised that professionals and neophytes in scholarship and faith struggle to swallow what Jesus served us in this text.  Maybe he would have had an easier time of it if he had left this item off the menu.  Goodness, Jesus, who wants to love an enemy?”  Crowe-Tipton goes on to write:  “Jesus focuses, however, on the real problem with nutrition; there is a vast difference between what we want and what we need.  All who dare prepare a sermon with the ingredients Jesus offers will do well to remember that tension.  (‘Cuz) no one comes to (worship) on Sunday already thinking, ‘I would really like a challenge today; perhaps I will be asked to love my enemy.’  Nevertheless, that is what Jesus demands.  Look at this text for what it is.  Jesus offers this ridiculous teaching to his closest followers.  Remember that anyone else who heard it probably laughed out loud and with good reason.”  Crowe-Tipton writes:  “This clarion call is to swim upstream.  It asks the disciples to break conventions, to stand out in a crowd, to find fulfillment in going a second, third, and seventy-seventh mile” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 1, Vaughn Crowe-Tipton, p. 381, 383).

So, with this warning in mind; let us listen for God’s word to us in a reading of Luke 6:27-38.  This next portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain according to the gospel of Luke.  Listen.

“’But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.  30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.  31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.  32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners love those who love them.  33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners do the same.  34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.  35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.  Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for (God) is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  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; 38 give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’”

            This is the word of God for the people of God.

Thanks be to God!

 

In 1906, a man was born in Germany who would grow to become a force in such opposition to Adolf Hitler, he was seized by the age of 37 and taken to Tegel Prison in Berlin.  (Details here from http://www.dbonhoeffer.org/Biography.html.)  Nearly two years later, he was moved to Buchenwald Concentration Camp.  Then two months after, executed by hanging at Flossenburg – 29 days before World War II came to an end.  When just 31 years old – six years into his ordination as a Lutheran pastor and a few years after helping to establish an underground seminary for the German anti-Nazi Confessing Church – this devote follower of Christ wrote the following words:  “How then does love conquer?  By asking not how the enemy treats her but only how Jesus treated her.  The love for our enemies takes us along the way of the cross and into fellowship with the Crucified.  The more we are driven along this road, the more certain is the victory of love over the enemy’s hatred.  For then it is not the disciple’s own love, but the love of Jesus Christ alone, who for the sake of his enemies went to the cross and prayed for them as he hung there.  In the face of the cross, (Christ’s) disciples realized that they too were his enemies, and that he had overcome them by his love.  It is this that opens the disciple’s eyes and enables (us) to see (our) enemy as a brother.  (We) know that (we) owe (our) very life to One, who though (we) were his enemy treated (us as brothers) and accepted (us), who made (us) his neighbor, and drew (us) into fellowship with himself.  The disciple can now perceive that even (our) enemy is the object of God’s love, and that (our enemy) stands like (ourselves) beneath the cross of Christ.  . . .  God loves God’s enemies,” who the author explains, are all of us sinners.  The author goes on to write in this infamous work entitled The Cost of Discipleship, written by the young Dietrich Bonhoeffer just after the Gestapo closed the underground, anti-Nazi seminary he helped to start.  Bonhoeffer writes:  “God loves (God’s) enemies – that is the glory of (God’s) love, as every follower of Jesus knows; (because) through Jesus” we have become partakers “in this love” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer [1906-1945], The Cost of Discipleship; New York:  Simon and Schusster, 1995, pp. 150-151).

The words from the gospel of Luke may be some of the most difficult commands on the lips of Christ.  Love our enemies?  And I don’t think he was talking about just those big, world enemies we like to name.  But what about the family members with whom we just cannot get along?  What about the neighbor who seems to care nothing about the needs of others in the neighborhood and just takes and takes and takes from all the other property owners around?  What about ones with drastically different worldviews?  What about the person at work, or at school, who maybe even has done something really terrible to us?  Let me be clear – because this part of scripture long has been mis-heard and at times even mis-used by being thrown in the face of those hurting at the hands of another.  Failing to have proper boundaries between ourselves and another is not at all love!  Turing a blind eye to abuse, neglect, violence is NOT love and never to be tolerated by Christians who rightly are to know and to work for the difference between good and evil.  Never is the Jesus of the gospels puzzled over the rightness of things like his arrest.  His flogging.  His humiliating execution.  Never once would we hear on his lips that the injustice he confronted daily was ok – no big deal.  Rather, every day of his life – even in his death – Jesus, the Christ, God embodied among us, worked to heal those hurt by others; to call those doing the hurting to change; and to work for the abolition of hatred in this world.  The only way he could do that was by love.

You see, Jesus teaches us that love is what allows us to see and thereby live differently.  He actually prayed to God that those killing him would be forgiven – and wants us to live that way too.  He knew their act – our act – was wrong.  Love is clear on that.  But love.  His love – the kind of love he expects of us, his followers, harbors no bitterness.  Holds no grudges.  Is way less concerned about punishment than it is about healing.  It’s not like what we often see around us each day and I know – heaven knows – it certainly isn’t easy.  It’s God’s way.  The narrow path, Jesus called it.  The Way into which we all are invited.

In The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer went on to write:  “This commandment, that we should love our enemies and forgo revenge, will grow even more urgent in the holy struggle which lies before us and in which we partly have already been engaged for years.  In it love and hate engage in mortal combat.  It is the urgent duty of every Christian soul to prepare itself for it.  . . .  And how is the battle to be fought?” Bonhoeffer writes, “Soon the time will come when we shall pray, not as isolated individuals, but as a corporate body, a congregation, a Church:  we shall pray in multitudes (albeit in relatively small multitudes) and among the thousands and thousands of apostates we shall loudly praise and confess the Lord who was crucified and is risen and shall come again.  And what prayer, what confession, what hymn of praise will it be?  It will be the prayer of earnest love for these very sons of perdition who stand around and gaze at us with eyes aflame with hatred, and who have perhaps already raised their hands to kill us.  It will be prayer for the peace of these erring, devastated, bewildering souls, a prayer for the same love and peace which we ourselves enjoy, a prayer which will penetrate to the depths of their souls and rend their hearts more grievously than anything they can do to us” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer [1906-1945], The Cost of Discipleship; New York:  Simon and Schusster, 1995, pp. 150-151).

Prayer for our enemies – not that they get what we think they have coming to them.  But prayer that earnestly asks God to provide what’s needed in them and in us for us all to live together in peace may be the best first step for us in loving those who hate us and curse us and take from us again and again.  It’s the most powerful way to live in the world.  Refusing to allow the hatred of another to permeate our own hearts.  It reminds me of the beautiful, challenging prayer said to be left by an unknown poet near the body of a dead child in the Ravensbrück Death Camp.  “O LORD, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will.  But do not remember all the suffering they inflicted on us; remember the fruits we have brought, thanks to this suffering – our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this.  And when they come to judgment, let all the fruits which we have borne be their forgiveness” (Quoted in The Wisdom of Jesus, by Cynthia Bourgeault, pp. 73-74).

It is tough stuff – to stand in such love.  Costly discipleship . . . may it be the command of Christ we seek to fulfill every day!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (all rights reserved).

Blessed are Those who F.R.O.G. (Fully Rely on God)

A Sermon for 17 February 2019

A reading from the gospel of Luke 6:17-26.  And remember that right before the reading we hear today, the gospel of Luke records that Jesus choses 12 to be apostles – ones sent out in the world to carry on his mission.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“Jesus came down with them (the twelve) and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.  18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.  19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.  20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:  ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  21“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.  Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.  22 Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.  23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.  24 But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.  25 Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.  Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.  26 Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God.

Thanks be to God!

 

Ah!  The beloved beatitudes according to the gospel of Luke:  the blessings and the woes.  Blessed!  Blessed are the poor!  Blessed are the hungry!  Blessed are they who mourn!  Blessed are the rejected!  Rejoice and be glad for theirs is the kingdom of God!

I don’t know about you; but all I can ask is:  why?

The closest I’ve ever come to being poor has been trying to eek by on little to no money coming in as I worked my way through a very expensive Divinity School degree on SpaghettiOs, oatmeal, and plain rice – which was about all I could afford in those days.  Honestly:  it didn’t feel very much like a blessing.  Most of us only have been truly hungry because we forgot to get ourselves up or out of whatever we’d been doing to make our way into plentiful kitchens, with running water, and electricity to ensure a refrigerator full of fresh food and drink.  Can we imagine real hunger?  Pain in our bellies because there is no food to be found.  No freshwater.  Again.  Because of the circumstances of our lives.  Why would anybody say it’s a blessing to be hungry?  And what about mourning?  We all know this one – or will at some point in our lives if we’re willing to open our hearts enough to truly love.  To allow ourselves to fall deeply in love with a partner or a friend or a child or a vocation so much so that our own insides literally feel broken when they are no more.  When things fall apart.  When our loved one dies.  When it all comes to an end.  Any of us who have truly loved – which I imagine is every one of us sitting in this room – know how it feels to mourn.  In that dark pit, it doesn’t feel very blessed, does it?  Why would anybody say blessed are they who mourn?  And what about those being hated, rejected, reviled?  While I’ve known my fair share of struggles as a woman in this biz – one who sometimes doesn’t fit others’ expectations – I don’t remember ever experiencing the evil face of hatred.  Some of us may know this one better than others and I doubt that it feels very much like a blessing to be told that who you are or what you represent or what you believe or how you choose to live in this world is unacceptable.  Worthy of persecution through fear mongering or violating crime or riotous rage.  Why would anybody say it’s a blessing to be reviled, rejected, persecuted on account of the Son of Man?

Maybe it would help to remember what it means to be blessed.  To have the favor of another upon us.  In The Soul’s Slow Ripening:  12 Celtic Practices for Seeking the Sacred, Christine Valters Paintner writes a whole chapter on “The Practice of Blessing Each Moment.”  She explains the verb blessing.  She writes:  “Blessing is to live life from a place of gratitude, to offer thanks and honor for everything that we have, taking nothing for granted.  When we remember to bless . . . we begin to live from an enlarged sense of being” (Sorin Books: 2018; p. 39).  Paintner’s definition comes close to what the opposite way of living is like – the way Jesus warns with woe.  Paintner writes:  “At the heart of this practice and way of life is paying mindful attention to our lives.  I know hours, days, and weeks can go by sometimes before I discover I have been skimming the surface of things, preoccupied by too many tasks to complete.”  Paintner continues:  “My calendar and to-do lists become misplaced holy grails.”  . . .  She concludes:  “When we skate through life’s endless demands on us, we lose our connection to (the) deep well of nourishment” (Ibid., p. 40).  Perhaps there’s no guarantee that poverty, hunger, mourning, being despised will lead to staying connected to The Deep Well of Nourishment that is God.  But isn’t it the case, that when there is less of me (as Eugene Peterson’s take on the gospel of Matthew’s beatitudes goes in Peterson’s biblical translation called The Message).  When there is less of me, there is more of God and God’s reign.  When we’re at the end of our own ropes, we’ve no where left to turn to but to God and God’s people.  When we’ve lost all that really matters to us, our arms are left open to be embraced by the only One who really matters (paraphrase of Matthew 5:3-4).  When we can manage on our own, why bother to call upon God for anything?

I wonder about that a lot when I reflect upon the big picture view of what’s happening in so many churches today.  Everywhere we look it appears as if we’re in lean days as the body of Christ.  And then I remember what I’ve noticed in myself – what I’ve noticed in you and in other churches I’ve served these last ten or more years of significant cultural shifts.  Churches are doing things they never, ever, ever would have tried before.  Opening their doors, their hearts, their minds – not just on Sundays, but on Mondays through Saturdays too.  I have a sister who is staff support for the older adult ministry organization of Presbyterians who has told me of all sorts of senior adult ministries happening all throughout the week in congregations that used to do little more than Sunday morning worship.  I read about churches beginning Holy Grounds coffee shops in strip malls to get to know whoever comes in – in particular:  being open late nights Fridays after high school games for students to have a safe place to gather.  I’ve heard of congregations doing things like Lenten podcasts for those who commute in the community – kicked off by drive through imposition ashes on Ash Wednesday.  I see members of the body of Christ finding new ways to build meaningful spiritual connection with one another.  And – as I heard one of you remind us last Sunday night regarding our Mending Heart lunches:  welcoming through our open doors those who may no longer be welcomed by their biological families in their own homes.  I behold it all and wonder:  if everything was going just great – pews over-flowing and church coffers overstuffed – would any of these new ways of being disciples in the world be taking place?  If we could manage it all on our own, would we need to rely so heavily on the winds of the Holy Spirit to blow fresh vision into Christians here and around the globe?

About the beatitudes as recorded in the gospel of Luke, one biblical commentator writes, “God does not take kindly to half-heartedness.  God does not bless us as we maintain the status quo, reaping the accolades of those who hear us and follow us.  God does not bless us as we bathe in respectability in the eyes of the world.  God does not bless us as we quietly maintain tradition and gloss over or ignore prophetic voices calling us back to God – in the church and in the world.  God does not bless us as we protect and build institutions and empires.  God does not bless us, well off, full, comfortable, hearty, and well-spoken of.  The realm of God rests among those who have nothing but God” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 1, David L. Ostendorf, p. 360).  That same commentator writes:  “God wants the entirety of our lives.  The destitute poor have nowhere to turn but to God” (Ibid., p. 358).  For let’s face it:  only that which is empty can be filled up.  Only that which is broken can be shared.  Only those who know their need, can rightly ask.

Jesus wants his followers to know.  The blessings.  The woes.  The joy of utter reliance upon God.  The surprises we will see.  The Way with space enough to unfold.  Why?  Because there, in the midst of what is rejected, broken, battered within and without – there in what is called the Pascal Mystery – there dwells God.  Sovereign of all; crucified yet risen Christ!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (all rights reserved).

Discipleship Today: A Sermon for Allie’s Baptism

A Sermon for 10 February 2019

For the next several weeks in this season of Epiphany, the lectionary takes us to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  Today our reading follows Jesus’ first two healing stories recorded in detail by Luke – one being the healing of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law when Jesus was at Simon Peter’s house.  The gospel next reports that many were brought to Jesus for healing.  Jesus departs to pray in a deserted place alone while he’s sought by the crowds who naturally want him to remain to do more marvelous works in their midst.  Perhaps because of his time of prayer alone, Jesus declares to them:  “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).  He goes on his way to continue his mission, and then we hear in Luke 5:1-11 what next takes place.  Listen for God’s word to us through this reading.

“Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret,” (which is the Sea of Galilee) “and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.  Jesus got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore.  Then Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.  When he had finished speaking, Jesus said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”  Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.  Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”  When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.  So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them.  And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.  But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”  For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.  Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”  11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.”

            This is the word of God for the people of God.

Thanks be to God!

 

In a few minutes, Allie will receive the Sacrament of Baptism.  Like most of us raised Presbyterian, her journey with Christ begins by parents making promises for her.  Family and friends committed to supporting her.  A whole community of faith vowing to pray for her and nurture her faith whatever ways we can as she soon goes with her family to their new home in Texas.  Like most of us, her path of following Christ will unfold gradually.  No dramatic encounter with Jesus as we hear of in Luke’s gospel when Peter and his business partners James and John brought to shore boats overflowing with fish, then left it all behind to live out their call from Christ.  I suspect that for Allie, as for most of us, discernment of the Way will unfold more like an opening cocoon.  Slowly, when the time is just right.  She’ll hear the stories of Jesus as we all have along our way.  Learn the songs of faith.  Figure out how it works best for her to pray to be connected to The Source in order to discern the steps to take each day.

Maybe I’m pining for the past of how amazingly clarifying it must have been to have Jesus show up on the scene.  Walk right into the vessel of your profession to transform a stinky old fishing boat into a pulpit from which he preached.  Asking Peter to put out just off the shore that he could tell the good news of God’s kingdom.  After Jesus’ Amen, his command to put out into the deep water to let down the nets for a catch, changed Peter’s little boat into a eucharist table – clearly showing the goodness of God!  The fish overflowing in such abundance, Peter had to call James and John quick to come help!  One commentator reminds that “More than a ‘natural miracle,’ the catch of fish also is layered with eucharistic allusions.  (For) fish mean food, and wherever we read about fish in the Gospels, we are reading about the miracle of sustenance for the new community that Jesus is creating in the call of the first disciples” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 1, Peter Eaton, p. 335).  Wouldn’t it be wonderful on our own journeys as disciples to have such a clear, concrete sign of the sustenance we need?  The food for which our spirits long that will keep us filled as a community and as individual followers of Christ each day as we serve wherever we are sent.  I want that for little Allie – don’t you?  And for ourselves.  The miracle of the sustenance we need to grow more each day as Christ’s faithful disciples.

That’s what we are.  Through baptism:  sealed with the outward sign that we belong to Christ.  We have committed to being his faithful disciples!  . . .  But.  How often we feel just like Peter does in the story:  unworthy of God’s Presence.  Not good enough to be put in service like Christ.  Ill-equipped to proclaim good news.  To speak of God’s work to re-create this world.  How often we think our efforts aren’t enough as Christ’s disciples.  Or that, like Peter, James, and John, the REAL disciples; the gig’s about leaving it all behind – becoming like a totally different person with a totally different life trajectory.  And let’s face it:  there’s about 0% chance most any of us are going to leave it all behind dramatically – willingly divest ourselves of our employment, our families, our homes, our investment portfolios to chase all over the countryside healing and teaching and enlisting outsiders in God’s resurrection movement!  So, we decide being a disciple was for folks long, long ago.  Ones first encountering Jesus of Nazareth when his ministry began.  What does discipleship look like today?  For folks like us who aren’t being recruited to begin what Peter, James, and John began world-wide because of Christ.  What will being a faithful disciple look like for little ones freshly baptized – and for us, some baptized over eighty years ago?

Recently I came across anonymous words that were written by someone on a spiritual retreat.  I don’t know much about the person, but it seems the person was wrestling with what discipleship looks like today.  The words read:  “It is baffling to me, who always has been so driven to achieve, that I find myself at a time of life now in which I am driven to connect.  To connect with companions and allow that process to unfold.  To connect with the Holy and to allow that relationship to unfold.  To connect with my deepest Self – and to allow that process and person to be revealed.  So, the intended course becomes much more a following than a driven, planned-by-me direction.  Is it all simply about following?  Moments to decide still come.  But it is as if I have committed to the unfolding – to following the Mystery.  The allowing.  The listening.  The waiting.  All shall be well, (as Julian of Norwich reminds).  Intentions still arise, but they are different than I ever could have imagined for myself.”  The retreatant then wonders:  “Is this what Christ meant?  Crucify your self – your need for your own plan, in order just to follow?  Follow the nudge – the thread?  The stirring of what brings you fully alive?  Let the rest be.  Then, might I heartily be able to say:  ‘I HAVE decided to follow the Christ!  No turning back.  No turning back!’” (anonymous words from a spiritual retreatant).

Is this what discipleship will look like for Allie, and for all of us baptized as disciples of Christ?  Following the nudge.  Paying attention for the stirring of what brings us fully alive.  Allowing Way to unfold – sometimes waiting; always listening.  Not frantically groping in darkness at the Mystery; but allowing the Mystery to call to us as who we are and how we are to be in the world each day is revealed through those ah-has.  Those awakening insights that cause inner shifts.  So, we see the world a bit differently.  We willingly try new ways of caring – new ways of showing through action and word the good news of a kingdom in our midst.  A reign residing in and beyond us that is the direction of our path.

In a few minutes, little Allie will receive the Sacrament of Baptism.  A reminder that the Light of Christ is in her and it is incumbent upon her, as she grows, to shine.  Like Peter.  Like James.  Like John.  Like Jesus.  Like us:  baptized in Christ, disciples of the Way, we are raised to the new life of following the Light to be light in the world for all to see.  . . .  Come!  Let us gather at the font.  Let us celebrate the baptism of the newest disciple of Christ!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (all rights reserved).

 

To See as Jesus Sees

A Sermon for 3 February 2019

A reading from the gospel of Luke 4:21-30.  We learn in the verses earlier in chapter 4, that Jesus has been tempted in the wilderness after his baptism that confirmed he is God’s Son.  Upon the completion of his wilderness testing, he returns to Galilee filled with the power of the Spirit.  He goes to his hometown Nazareth and reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah when gathering with others in the synagogue on the sabbath.  Remember:  he chooses to read the part from the prophet about the Spirit of the LORD being upon him.  Being anointed to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recover the sight of the blind, let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor – the year of jubilee! (Luke 4:18-19).  Right before the verses we hear today; Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  The gospel records that “the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him” (Luke 4:20).  Everything was going really good!  Then, the reading assigned for today begins.  To learn what happens next, listen for God’s word to us in a reading of Luke 4:21-30.

“Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.  They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”  23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’  And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”  24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.  25 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; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.  27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”  28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.  29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.  30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.

            Thanks be to God!

 

Well, here we have a very good example of what NOT to do if you ever want to get scheduled again as worship liturgist for the day!  Filled with the power of the Holy Spirit after being baptized and tested in the wilderness, Jesus (according to Luke’s chronology of the good news) goes back home.  Just in time to gather with his old friends and family for sabbath; he heads to the synagogue for worship.  He’s given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah – he doesn’t totally self-select the words he wanted all to hear that day.  Finding the part about the one anointed by the Spirit to proclaim God’s favor, he stands erect to read.

Of course, it was a beloved reading!  He was standing in the synagogue among those he’d seen all his life.  Scraping by on their little plots in Nazareth.  Living under the continuous threat of Roman soldiers.  Close to the spot in Galilee where foreign armies had invaded the land for centuries – the gateway between Egyptian power to the southwest in Africa; and northern and eastern powers like Syria, Babylon, Persia.  Not to mention a Mediterranean boarder vulnerable to invasion by Rome, Greece, anywhere in the Western world.  Jesus was a part of this crowd, had grown up in their midst; so that in fact he would have known the joy in their hearts that day in Nazareth to hear again the prophet’s promise from God that an anointed one was coming.  Good news was for those crushed under the poverty of foreign oppressors.  The favor of the LORD rested upon them all!

Imagine how the day might have went had Jesus left well enough alone.  Stopped right there.  According to the gospel of Luke’s telling of the events, the issue’s not because of Jesus’ lofty proclamation that he is the One!  His downhome folks in the synagogue are mesmerized by him.  The graciousness that poured forth from his mouth.  What a gift to hear the time had been fulfilled.  God’s change is a’coming!  But, launching into provocation, Jesus pushes.  “Doctor, cure thyself?” he quips.  He goes on saying, like:  “How about a reminder that God long has seen differently?  Like it or not, the outsiders repeatedly are in his examples declare.  God brings hope through foreign widows.  God heals commanders of invading armies.  It’s easy enough to see, Jesus is saying – unless you are totally blind, say like by a mis-guided sense of tribalism.  A mis-informed understanding of the way God always has worked.  A mis-directed heart that continues to buy into the system’s view of separation.  Differentiation.  Division between us and them” (paraphrase of Luke 4:24-27).  Wanna get hurled off a cliff from an enraged response to God’s way of seeing things?  Just point out to people that from the beginning of time God has made us one.  As the authors of The Luminous Gospels write:  “the return to oneness from twoness (duality) is the ultimate goal in the spiritual evolution of humanity” (The Luminous Gospels:  Thomas, Mary Magdalene, and Philip, by Lynn C. Bauman, Ward J. Bauman, Cynthia Bourgeault; Praxis Publishing, 2008; p. 4).  Jesus wanted us to see!  To know the steps we must take!  . . .  Hometown folks snap!  His words hold a mirror up to their faces.  And they are not at all interested in taking a look!

In The Art of Letting Go; Catholic priest, spiritual teacher, and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, Richard Rohr, explains the eyes with which Christ invites us to see.  Rohr says:  “If I believe Jesus, I believe God is wherever the suffering is.  God goes wherever the pain is.  . . .  I believe awakened and aware people go where the suffering is.  Go where people have been excluded.  Expelled.  Diminished.  Abused.  And that is where they find God” (The Art of Letting Go:  Living the Wisdom of Saint Francis, Richard Rohr, A Sounds True Audio Learning Course, 2010.  Quotes from chapter 2).  That is where we see rightly, as Christ sees.  No separation between ourselves and another.  No separation between God and all.  Rohr explains:  “I look at the life of Jesus . . . and I gain courage to believe it because of (him).  That’s what (he) did.  (He) did not live . . . judging and labeling things up or down” (Ibid.).  Rohr declares, rather, “Jesus, a bona fide and proud Jew, makes the heroes of almost every one of his parables and stories . . . a non-Jew.  . . .  Jesus always praises the outsider and critiques the insider” (Ibid.).  Rohr invites us to imagine “how different Western history could have been, how different Western religion could have been if . . . we had treated other people with inherent dignity.  Inherent respect,” Rohr states (Ibid.).  Where we honor and see, as Rohr calls it: “the Divine DNA in everybody else” . . . as equally as we see it in ourselves! (Ibid.).

Can we see the Divine DNA in everybody else, as equally as we see it in ourselves?  . . .  Think about it.  Does the mess of the world begin within ourselves?  Because we can’t see in ourselves the indwelling Spirit of God; so, of course, we are not able to see God living in anyone else???  Would Jesus quote that proverb:  “Doctor, cure thyself” (Luke 4:23)?  Father Rohr wisely concludes:  “All awareness.  All enlightenment.  All aliveness.  All transformation begins with an inner awakening:  that you recognize your own inherent dignity.  (That we see our) DNA is Divine.  That,” Rohr states, “moves you . . . to this world of reverence.  This view of respect.  This attitude of love” (Ibid.).

When we see with those eyes – the Presence within and without, we see as Jesus did.  Our dual minds overcome, as two at last become one!  . . .  It’s not an easy path – we might rather drive him to the cliff to hurl him off in a rage!  . . .  The gospel of Luke starts Christ’s good news with a story that challenges us to see differently – an act that takes conversion.  The inner transformation for which Christ came.  The daily discipline of awakening the Spirit within that we will see it in all as well.  . . .  Here is the good news:  to see as Jesus sees.  May it be our daily prayer.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

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