Sermon for Lectionary 4C + Sunday, February 3, 2019
Jeremiah 1:4-10; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30

Watch here (Minute 23:50)

In the name of Jesus. AMEN.

Think of a time you were mad. Really mad.  So mad you were enraged.

As you think about it, you might recognize that there was both the trigger – the actual even that set you off, and the deeper nerve that was struck by the incident.

In the Gospel reading today, we read about rage. After listening to Jesus give his first sermon in his hometown, the people weren’t just a little upset … they weren’t only really mad … they were enraged!

The people might have asked Jesus not to come back. To his face they might have said,  “Nice sermon, Jesus.” And then after he left, they might have said, “Ok, we’ll that’s over.  We never need to have him back again.”

They might have even been so mad that they banned Jesus from Nazareth. “Get out of town, and never come back.” Like in an old Western movie, they might have driven him to the edge of town and then told him never to show his face there again.

But they weren’t just those two levels of mad … they were enraged.

After Jesus gave his sermon, recorded in Luke 4:29  “They got up, drove him out of the town, led him to the brow of the hill, so that they might throw him off the cliff.”

They were so mad at the sermon Jesus gave … that they wanted to kill him!

The trigger appears to be what Jesus said recorded Luke 4:23: “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb: “Doctor, cure yourself.”  And you will say, “Do here also what you did in Capernaum.”

And then Jesus went on to remind his hearers, of the times God didn’t help the people of Israel, but instead helped foreigners and outsiders. Jesus reminded the people of the times God did not hear the cries of the widows of Israel in the time of the famine, but helped the widow of Zaraphat instead.  Jesus continued by reminding the people of the time God did not heal the lepers of Israel, but instead healed Namaan, the Syrian, the foreign general instead.

Lutheran pastor and write Paul Lutter suggests that what Jesus is doing in this teaching, is inviting his hearers to understand that, “the call we receive from God is to care not only for those among us whom we like, but also for those who are, for whatever reason, outside what we normally understand as our concern.God’s love, mercy, and healing extend beyond the lines we create for ourselves.  To be about the work of God is to erase the lines between us and those we often understand to be unlike us.  In God, there is not us and them, in God there is only us.”

In essence, what made the people so enraged, was that Jesus told his hometown crowd, that God’s love, that God’s healing, that God’s power, was not the exclusive right or exclusive property of the people of Nazareth.  Jesus told the people that God was bigger than them.

Jesus told his hometown crowd: “Hey, I’m not just here for you.  I’m not here to cater to your whims and desires.  I’m not here as your personal chaplain.  I’m here as God’s work bringing healing to the world.”

 So that was the trigger, what the deeper nerve that he struck? The never that Jesus struck, is the same never struck in congregations today, including Trinity, when our sense of ownership and entitlement is threatened.

When that happens, we experience what sociologists recognize as loss aversion.  Loss aversion teaches us that we feel the loss of things much more powerfully than the gain of things.  We will expend far more energy on holding on to what we have, than we will on gaining something that might be better.  

Here’s what happens when the nerve is struck in congregations, including Trinity:

Who do those new people think they are? Why are they making decisions that change things? Don’t they know I’m the one who has been here for decades – who are they to change how we do things?

Or, who are those people invading into my space?  Who are they to move into my territory, crowd into my project, use my closet, store things in my storage space? Don’t they know it’s mine? I’m the one who controls that?

What so enraged the people, was that Jesus wasn’t buying any of those ideas. He didn’t let the people of Nazareth get away with that kind of thinking.  He didn’t belong to Nazareth alone, they could make no claim on insider privilege.

Applying what Jesus told the people of Nazareth, to us today, is to realize that none of this belongs to any of us. No project, no ministry, no space in this building, is the exclusive right or property of any one person, or team, or ministry.

Not even my call to preach from this pulpit and serve as your pastor, is my personal right or my sole property – it is handed to us as a gift. All of this, all of our ministries, all of our space, my call to serve as your pastor, and our calls to live as the baptized children of God … all of this is a gift given to us out of God’s abundance to be shared liberally, lavishly, radically in witness to a liberating and loving God.

Jesus enraged the people of Nazareth, because he called the people to get over themselves and move beyond themselves. He invited them to think bigger than themselves, their individual lives, their life as a synagogue, their life as the children of Israel. He struck the nerve that pulsed with the idea that faith was about their personal comfort, their privileged insider status, and that Jesus was their personal chaplain.

Jesus called them outward – out of their individual lives, out of their synagogue, out of Israel, and to see how God was working in him, to bring the message of faith, healing, and love to all the peoples of the world.

Today, God’s word confronts and challenges us.

God’s Word smacks sharply against all the ways we put a limit and cap on God’s work by turning inward and focusing on our personal needs and wants at the expense of community.  The word that confronts us today is the same word given to Jeremiah in our first reading today.

The Word that came to Jeremiah is a living and active and powerful word … a word that plucks up and pulls down, that destroys and overthrows, that builds and plants …

That is God’s word that speaks to us in our comfort, and privilege, and territorialism today. That word plucks up and pulls down all the ways we turn inward and away from strangers and outsiders.  That word today, destroys and overthrows our sin that breaks relationships and ruins community.

The Good News of God’s Word today, is that while the word confronts us, it does so in order to build us up as a team that lives together in faith in Jesus Christ. God’s word comes to day to build and plant.

Because today is the last Sunday of the NFL season, let me use an illustration from the Patriots. Hanging on the wall at Gillette Stadium is a quote that reads:

“We are not collecting players … we are building a team.”

God’s word, announced in Jesus Christ, is a word that speaks today building new community, new communities of trust, of understanding, of partnership. God’s Word speaks today in the water, and in the bread and up, building a community on the foundation of Jesus Christ alive in the sacraments.   God’s Word speaks today, building us up in love, to live together in the ways outlined in 1 Corinthians 13.

1 Corinthians 13 is not about love shared between two lovers on their wedding day.  It is about how a community is called together in love. God’s word today does

NOT build a a community arrogant or rude, it is not a community insisting on its own way, it is not a community irritable and resentful.  

Instead it IS a community bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, and enduring all things together – as one people gathered around Christ.

God’s word plants in us today the seeds of faith. In the announcement that our sins are forgiven – each of us receives the good news that Christ has made a place for each of us in this holy community. In the mercy of Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, faith is planted in that we may see and recognize that all promises of God are revealed in expansive and inclusive community that knows and recognizes no borders, no divisions, and no separations in the body.

What God is building and planting in us today is community that acknowledges the truth, that God’s Word recognizes no us & them.  God’s Word speaks to Nazareth then, and to us now, that God is about building community that only recognizes one shared humanity,  one holy community not torn apart by borders, not separated by skin color or sexual orientation, not layered by class or economics, but gathered around the same grace and mercy of Christ.

Receiving this active and living word of God, speaking in Christ,may our anger today not be because Christ calls us to imagine and enact radical new forms of community …

May our anger, instead, be the righteous anger, the holy anger, the living anger that burns when beloved community is threatened.

May our anger not be because Christ challenges our personal comforts, may our anger be because the hungry are ignored, the homeless are abandoned, the prisoners are shamed, the sick are left behind, and the strangers are rejected.

Indeed may it be so.