Friday, January 26, 2007

Epiphany 4 - Year C

How would you recognize a holy man when you saw him? Or for that matter, how about a holy woman?

Would you be struck by his serenity? Would she have a calm disposition? Would he dispense ancient wisdom like spiritual McNuggets, to be gobbled up by a hungry crowd? Would her listeners nod their heads in inspired wonder? Would he be challenging, yet soothing, tossing around sweetly spiritual words that comfort anxious souls?

Or would she be more like Jesus in today’s gospel?

Things were happening at First Synagogue in suburban Nazareth; their purpose-driven, seeker-sensitive, strategy was working well for them. Their church school was the envy of the other synagogues, and the youth strategy was paying huge dividends. Their praise band just cut a CD and they just finished a building expansion to deal with the numbers of new people that were pouring into their sanctuary each weekend. These folks were on a roll, in the Zone, in a Groove, at the top of their game.

That was until Jesus opened his mouth. And this was his first sermon.

You might have thought that Jesus would have used a different strategy. I guess he was sick the day in seminary where they taught would-be preachers how to outline an argument. He forgot that you need to save your more inflammatory rhetoric after telling a joke, softening up the listeners with a heartwarming story or inspiring poem.

Not with Jesus. First day in the pulpit, first sermon, he jabs them right between the eyes with Isaiah followed by a right hook from First Kings. And the congregation goes down for the count.

When they get back up on their feet, they try to throw him off a cliff. And with that, Luke says that Jesus “went on his way.”

I guess his work was done. If his job was to leave a group of unsuspecting church folks frothing at the mouth, then, I say, “Mission Accomplished!”

But if the crowd was so angry, who could blame them? Listen to what he said, and you may remember this from last week when we heard the first part of this story:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Fine. Good. Great, even. Reading from the bible is what we expect preachers to do. It was wonderful to see little Jesus, Joseph and Mary’s boy take his faith seriously. They remembered him when he delivered papers, letting him off the hook when their morning news arrived after their coffee had perked.

They had heard that he was making a name for himself in the city, playing the small venues, building an audience. So, they were all smiles when he walked to the front of the sanctuary and started reading the bible.

But then he sat down in the preacher’s chair. That’s when the trouble began.

It was quiet. When he was sure that he had everyone’s attention, Jesus pronounced, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

They just wanted to see a few signs and wonders, or at least a stirring sermon. They didn’t want to hear blasphemy. They didn’t want to hear that the scriptures were coming true. They didn’t want to hear that this bible thing means more than a little spirituality on the Sabbath. They didn’t want to hear that the world was changing because they had worked so hard to make it the way it was.

They may have known that their lives weren’t perfect; then again, whose is? They may have been comfortable in the prison of their grief, because they made that prison their home. They may have been happy in their blindness to the world’s great need because they knew there was too much hunger, fear, and brokenness around them to actually do something about it. They liked their lives just the way they were. How dare Jesus suggest that God was going to change their lives?

Others thought the world was moving along just the way it should. Those in prison should rot there. The poor should get jobs and stop complaining. The oppressed should learn that they will get their riches in the next life and should stop whining about how bad their lives are now. Life isn’t fair, deal with it. This preacher should just keep his nose out of things he doesn’t understand and just tell folks how much God loves them.

It’s no wonder they tried to push him off a cliff. I probably would have done the same thing.

If bible promises are coming true then that means my life might change. It means that God is asking me to do something that I might not want to do. It means that I might be pulled kicking and screaming out of my comfortable rut.

I don’t know about you, but I like to think of myself as reasonably self-reliant. Yes, I’ve gotten some help along the way, but it was me who studied for my exams. It was me who wrote the papers. It was me who went looking for a job after I finished school. I was taught at an early age that the world owed me nothing. Whatever I wanted, I had to earn. Period.

So, Isaiah’s promises that were fulfilled in Jesus don’t sound like good news to me. So where is the gospel for those of us who have worked hard and played by the rules? Where is the gospel for those who try to do things that are right and good and pleasing to God only to be told that God’s promises are for someone else?

Grace isn’t fair. Deal with it.

That’s what I think God would say. If there’s one theme that runs through the gospels it is that grace is patently UN-fair. The older brother in the story of the Prodigal son gets shafted when his younger brother arrives home after squandering his dad’s hard earned cash on beer and prostitutes. The workers, who worked all day in one of Jesus’ stories, received the same wage as those who only worked an hour. That doesn’t sound very fair does it?

God’s only Son, the only sinless person to have ever walked the earth, is born into a world of sin, pain, and death, only to be executed in one of the most horrible methods ever devised by the human imagination, simply because he preached love, peace, and forgiveness. That doesn’t sound very fair either, does it?

But if we want to find ourselves in the story, maybe we should look at those parts of our lives that are not strong: our fear, our failures, our faults. Maybe we need look at our pain and grief imprisons us, keeping us captive from the life that God wants for us. Maybe God is asking us to discover our own blind spots, keeping us from seeing where God is alive and active in the world. Maybe God is challenging us to learn just how poor we are, that way we can notice the poverty of others all around us.

Then maybe we will find good news because we’ll know that Isaiah’s promises, fulfilled in Jesus aren’t just for those who are weaker than us, but that they are for us as well.

Then, perhaps, we’ll be able to see the suffering of others through the lens of our own pain. And maybe, we’ll receive with joy God’s gloriously unfair grace that Jesus came to give to the world.

Then the holy men and women we meet will be in each other, and ourselves. May this be so among us. Amen.


Post a Comment

<< Home