By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
January 31, 2010
Read: Luke:21-30 & 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Today we hear that well-known piece of the scripture where Jesus says that “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” We understand that on a surface level, but there is so much more going in this story. Jesus had just read from the book of Isaiah and is giving us the pronouncement that today that scripture has been fulfilled. The Isaiah reading proclaimed good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and the year of the Lord’s favor.
Given the history of Israel up to Jesus’ day, it’s not a stretch to assume that the hearers in the synagogue considered themselves to be the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed, etc, and were pleased to hear this ‘local boy done good’ announce that good times were ahead. But then Jesus goes on to suggest that the poor and oppressed include those outside the inner circle–Gentiles no less!–and that THEY were the ones who could now look forward to good times ahead.
You see, in the examples Jesus gave, of the widow Elijah was sent to (they would have been familiar with this story) – that widow was a Gentile who was from Sidon of all places. Sidon oppressed the Israelites, and the Israelites were God’s people! No wonder they were mad; why would God save their oppressor rather than his own people? The same goes for Naaman. Naaman was a Baal worshiper who had a Hebrew slave (and who sent for Elisha for healing). Why would God let his own people suffer with leprosy and choose to save someone who didn’t even believe in him? Perhaps at least part of the reason people react so strongly (and even meanly) is that they have felt betrayed by one who “should know better.” The reason they attack the messenger is that they feel that they have already been attacked. In their minds, they are simply responding in kind.
To broaden the image a bit, it’s bad enough to be an enemy. But the worst thing possible is to be a traitor. You are “supposed to know better,” you are supposed to have the same expectations, the same experiences, the same outlook, the same devotion. To come out and say publically that you don’t, is incomprehensible, especially to those with whom you grew up, worked, trained, etc.
In the people’s minds that day in Nazareth, Jesus betrayed them.
Here’s modern day story:
Years ago a young man from a tight-knit community found himself headed for Harvard Medical School. The whole community was so excited. There was a small hospital that served this community, and they just knew that this young man, upon completing his studies, would come back home to set up practice. As it turns out, he did not come back. After completing medical school and an extensive internship in infectious diseases, the young man joined Doctors without Borders and devoted his life to serving the poorest of the poor. He gave up the opportunity to have a lucrative medical career among family and friends and chose instead to live on a very basic salary with people he did not know.
You would think that someone who gave his life to serve the most desperately needy people in the world would garner respect and admiration from people who knew him. But that is not what happened. On a visit to family one Christmas, the young doctor was in the local grocery store with his mother. On more than one occasion, he was accosted by people who knew him and his family with one or more versions of this criticism: “So you think you are too good for us. Because you are sacrificing yourself for others, you think you are better than us.”
The young doctor was baffled by the response. What he did not know or understand is that people can move quickly from admiration and even adulation to anger when their expectations are not met. Under different circumstances the townspeople may have been proud of his decision to serve the poor. But they had decided in advance that he should live among his friends and relatives to take care of them.
Now, going back to Jesus’ story. His hometown had expections, we all have expectations, and their expectations were not met. What does it mean for Jesus to be “for us”? Does it mean that we receive preferential treatment, privilege? If we have presumptions about being an insider, about getting something special, then perhaps we’re mistaken. In today’s passage, Jesus is talking about the “other”. Jesus is talking about God radical grace and mercy. It is a profound expansion of God’s grace and mercy. There is a saying about drawing lines. That anytime we draw a line for who’s in and who’s out, you’ll find God on the other side.
So who do we imagine Jesus NOT being for today? Who would be the outsiders? Who do you imagine Jesus NOT being for in our world today? Take a moment to think about that. Where do you draw that line?
Barbara Brown Taylor tells the story of a weekend retreat she attended. The opening exercise was to “tell a story about someone who had been Christ for us in our lives.” People shared stories “about a friend who stayed put through a long illness while everyone else deserted, and another one about a neighbor who took the place of a father who self-destructed.” There were a lot of warm fuzzy stories being shared about comfort, compassion, and rescue. Until one woman said, “Well, the first thing I thought about when I tried to think who had been Christ to me was, ‘Who in my life has told me the truth so clearly that I wanted to kill him for it?'”
That’s what Jesus did and what happened to him because of it. He told his hometown people something they didn’t want to hear. He challenged their ideas about who was “in” and who was “out,” about who was deserving of what, about who you could be prejudiced against.
And they wanted to kill him for it. Ouch. Let’s have the ears to hear today and understand that what Jesus is saying is good news. That God’s radical mercy and grace extend to all of us. God loves us deeply.
In the little book called “Pocketful of Miracles”, which is a daily devotional and spiritual growth guide, the author (Joan Borysenko) under January 31st, writes:
Shakespeare said, “Pretend a virtue if you have it not”. Most of us are still locked up in the petty, self-centred concerns of our egos. Nonetheless we feel the ancient longing of our soul to move beyond ego to union with the divine. It doesn’t matter if our motivation for Divine Union falters, or if selfish concerns predominate. If we just pretend the virtue of longing for God and being of service to others, eventually those virtues will arise spontaneously. As my husband puts it, “Fake it till you make it.”
So looking at our Corinthians reading for today about love. Here is how we might think about a call to action:
If you don’t feel loving
do the caring thing anyway;
If you don’t feel like being kind
say something nice about the person who is being rude to us anyway;
If you don’t think that someone else’s plan will work and that your idea is better
let them do it regardless;
Don’t think you can possibly do what God is calling you to do
start doing it anyway.
Fake it till you make it; or as Paul puts it earnestly strive for the greater gifts – the greatest of which is love.
Listen – this is about you – close your eyes as I read the passage about what love is like to you.
Love is patient. Love is kind….. I am patient. I am kind.
I am not envious or boastful, arrogant or rude.
I do not insist on my own way.
I am not irritable or resentful.
I do not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoice in the truth.
I bear all things
I believe all things.
I hope all things.
I endure all things.
The text of this sermon is the property of the author and may not be duplicated or used without permission.