4 Sunday C—2/3/19
Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30
Pr. Scott Kramer
The presidential election is still almost two years away but already it’s a full field of candidates. This past week Congressman Cory Booker of New Jersey threw his hat into the ring. Announcing his candidacy, he said this: Love ain’t easy…The people I admire are the people that lead by calling out the best of who we are and not the worst. Congressman Cory Booker is African-American, so he knows a thing or two about the power of hate in this country.
Half-way through the term of a leader who is a great example of what love does not look like, it is refreshing to hear any presidential candidate speak first of love–and not just speak about it, but to acknowledge that “it ain’t easy.” God’s love–the kind of love we proclaim and affirm in this church–doesn’t come naturally. It ain’t easy! You’ve heard me say it before, and you know from your own experience: The love we proclaim is hard work!
I don’t know what the chances are in this country for a politician whose first concern is love. Jesus would’ve made a terrible politician–not because he practiced love, but because he just didn’t know when to stop talking.
In last week’s reading, you remember, he returned to his hometown and used scripture to proclaim God’s love–specifically, God’s priority for the poor and the oppressed. His audience in the synagogue heard this as good news (“He’s talking about us!”) and last week’s reading ended as today’s begins: All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
Now, most of us, experiencing such adoration from an audience, would have milked that for all it was worth, or, maybe just quit while we were ahead. But not Jesus.
Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, he continues. ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ ” 24And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah…yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
What Jesus was saying is this: You think you’re God’s favorites? Think again. God doesn’t care so much after all about doctrines and denominations, about beliefs, or church attendance, or patriotism, or any of the other priorities that religious people embrace.
Well, those were fightin’ words then, and they still are! All of a sudden, these respectable, church-going folks who had such glowing praise for Jesus one minute turned into a lynch mob the next (an appropriate image as we move into Black History Month). You remember last week what St. Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Corinth: God’s priority is the “inferior” members of the body, the least respectable. It is they who the “respectable” folks are called to serve.
That service has a name, as Paul writes in today’s reading. It’s called love. It’s patient and kind, not envious or boastful. It doesn’t seek its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. In other words, “love ain’t easy!”
If love isn’t my goal, Paul says, then I’m like a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” And not just the love that represents my people, my country, my religion, my race. These things are all extensions of myself, and in the end represent some form of self-interest. The gospel love that got Jesus into trouble was a radical love for the outsider, the foreigner.
No, love ain’t easy. Public affirmation of such love could even get you killed, even by your own kind. The story tells us that those good church-going folks took Jesus to the top of a cliff, that they might throw him off.
But then a strange thing happens. He passes through them…and goes on his way.
One of the things that’s tripped up us church-folk over the past 2000 years is Jesus’ humanity. We talk a good line about him being human, but when push comes to shove we give up on the idea of Jesus’ humanity and think of him only as God, the one who can do what we never could, like miraculously get himself out of a tough spot.
For example, what do you think about this detail—that Jesus “passed through the midst of them and went on his way”? It sounds like some kind of superhero stunt: He zaps the bad guys and they have no power over him. Or, maybe he puts on an invisibility cloak.
But when we lose sight of Jesus’ humanity, we miss out on a chance to claim the very power of God in the ordinary circumstances of our own lives. So, instead of something supernatural, imagine this:
The crowd grabs Jesus and takes him toward a cliff, in order to throw him off. But then, some of the folks say, “Hey, let’s not throw him off the cliff. Let’s stone him to death.” And another group calls out, “No, let’s whip him to death.” Soon there’s an argument about how Jesus should die. Everyone in the crowd takes sides, and they’re so caught up in arguing with each other that they don’t see Jesus…simply walking away.
No superhero magic–in fact, something pretty ordinary that we can imagine in our own lives.
It’s easy to become so distracted by our beliefs and opinions and strong feelings that we forget who we are. We are God’s beloved, called to be and to practice the radical love of Jesus in the world. The sobering part of this story is that when we forget that, Jesus passes through our midst and goes on his way.
This Jesus of Nazareth is not tied to us because we are the hometown crowd, any more than he was tied to the people of Nazareth. He is not tied to us because we are Americans, or Lutherans, or because we go to church every Sunday. The only evidence that we are the Body of Christ is the practice of love, especially the kind of love that we can’t practice on our own, the kind that “ain’t easy.” As Jesus reminded his hometown crowd, the love of Christ is what makes us unique, and that love is made known to the world beyond our walls, beyond our gates, beyond our borders.
Where the love of Christ is absent, God simply passes through the midst of us, looking for evidence of hearts and minds open to the power of love wherever they might be found—even if they aren’t Christian.
No, love ain’t easy. But in the end, it’s the only thing from our lives that continues beyond this life.
Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these—the hardest of these–is love.