Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Cliff Dwellers (Epiphany 4)

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

There’s nothing better than a warm fuzzy- that nice feeling you get when something good happens or you see something cute or you hear of a heart-warming story. A warm fuzzy brightens your day, can make you a little more patient, might make you feel inclined to pass on the joy.

What could be warmer and fuzzier than a young boy receiving a call from God, knowing the voice of God is speaking to him, knowing his purpose in life? What could be more heart-warming that a lengthy passage about love and its hallmarks of patience, endurance and truth? And what could be more inspiring than the tale of a local boy made good- returning to his hometown to share good news with them?

What? You didn’t get all toe-tingly thrilled with the readings today? Why ever not? Could it be that being called to pluck up and pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant, to do it all with just words- could it be that isn’t quite an invitation to which you would want to RSVP?

Could it be that having to love someone whose gifts I don’t understand or whose habits I don’t like isn’t very exciting or compelling? And, yea verily, having to testify to the truth might get me swept up in the crowd that’s going to hoist me onto their shoulders only to fling me off a cliff? Where’d my warm fuzzy feeling go?

The crowd in the synagogue with Jesus is feeling good when he first speaks and when he interprets Scripture. “Ah, yes. Joseph’s boy. Doesn’t he read well? Aren’t his words fine? What a nice job of interpretation. He looks so good. Maybe he’ll settle down with your daughter. Oh, wait. He’s still talking.”

Doubtless, Jesus’ relatives and friends have heard of the miracles he’s performed in other places. They’ve heard of his teaching, but more about his healings and casting out of demons. And they know, they just know, that he’s come to make them a new healing center, to make their synagogue the best and brightest, to tell them that they are the Lord’s favorites. After all, didn’t he just proclaim the “year of the Lord’s favor”?

But then Jesus talks to them about the prophet Elijah, who was only able to help a woman outside of Israel during a time of great famine and struggle. And then he mentions Naaman the Syrian army commander who, at the urging of the prophet and Naaman’s own slave girl, dipped himself in the Jordan seven times and was cured of leprosy.

Why did this make people so angry to hear? Because it doesn’t fit with their understanding of how God is going to act. Because, by golly, they know that they are deserving and God’s grace is limited to them. Because these two stories are a little bit of a pinch from Jesus, reminding them those words from Isaiah, the ones about freeing the captives, sight to the blind and the day of the Lord, those words are no longer only for Israel, but for all people who will hear of Jesus Christ. It’s not that the words aren’t for Israel, but they are not only for Israel.

For Jesus’ hearers, this is blasphemy. How can he say this to them? Haven’t they been the most faithful, the most devoted, to God? Haven’t they earned the grace? How can it be going to Gentiles? Pigs?

The same annoyance was probably among the Corinthians, which inspired this section of Paul’s letter- going back into chapter 12. The Corinthian believers are certain they know that there is a hierarchy among believers, that some of them have gifts that are better than others, that some of them are more holy than others. Paul has to stop the inner struggle by pointing them to a better way.

And then he goes on to describe love. It’s not a love that overlooks wrongs that hurt people. It’s not a love that is simpering or warm and fuzzy. It’s a deep kind of charity that overlooks differences and brings the community together so that they can actually do the work that they want to do and that they are called to do.

Even more importantly, it reminds the Corinthians of the kind of love that God has for them- the kind of love to which they are called to respond. The kind of love the church has for one another and the kind of work the body of Christ does is a placeholder, is temporary, for the work and the love of God that will win the day. Now we know only in part, now we see in a mirror dimly, but we shall see face to face, we will know fully, even as we have been fully known.

Fully known. We miss that part when we read this passage at weddings. And yet that might be the key part for a couple starting life together. Once you’re married, then you do become more fully known. And it’s not always pretty. Then the work of love begins. As you become more fully known, patience is needed, kindness is needed, hopefulness is needed. We need those things in a marriage. We need these in our community. But they’re not warm fuzzies that just appear. They take work. And truth-telling. And being able to handle the truth.

In all of this, we are fully known. The God who created us, who gives us power through the Spirit, has graciously included us into his body. But just as we’re beginning to feel warm and fuzzy about God’s love, God pushes us out says, “Now you know who needs it… the people of Spenard. People in Haiti. People in Turnagain. People in Bethel. People in jail. People who are hungry. Prostitutes. Gay people. Young people. Old people. Prodigal sons. Elder sons. Non-Christians. I love them too and they need to hear about it. To hear about what I’ve done. To hear about what I’m going to do.”

To be fully known is dangerous it means that God knows exactly what we’re capable of for the kingdom. And God expects it of us. Even knowing we’ll fall short, God gathers us in and sends us out. The crowds may gather. There may be murmurs of cliffs. But Jesus moved through them and on his way. The Word goes on.

And it goes on in and for and through us. We’re each called to speak up and to point to God’s work in the world. To speak to God’s truth. To realize that the message of judgment and grace isn’t just for us.

“For 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.”

It’s not warm and fuzzy.

It’s truth AND dare.

Amen.

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