Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sermon for Year C Epiphany 4


Some of you may remember a documentary film from a few years back
It focused on global warming and climate change.
The movie was controversial when it came out in 2006.
Some said it was should have been titled “An EXAGGERATED Truth,”
that the facts were distorted, overblown.

Six years later, as we look back,
we see that the facts were not exaggerated.
We are living into that inconvenient truth now
and experiencing radical climate changes throughout the world.

The truth is often inconvenient.
Sometimes we prefer to remain ignorant.
Sometimes the truth just seems impossible to us--
remember Mary’s words at the annunciation--”How can this be?”

And then sometimes the truth makes us afraid or angry.
Really, really angry.
We don’t want something to be true--
”How dare you say that?”

There is an inconvenient truth erupting in Luke’s gospel today.
It’s not about climate change.
It’s about the words that Jesus is speaking in the synagogue in Nazareth.

At the beginning of this gospel passage,
everyone seems to be a member of the “We Love Jesus” fan club.
But by the end of the gospel passage,
they are ready to toss their homeboy off a cliff!
What happened in just a few verses?
What is going on here?

Jesus is telling them that God will be gracious to everyone.
That God is not sending the Messiah just for the people of Israel.
The references to the Elijah and Elisha stories
are situations where God saved Gentiles, not Israelites.

What Jesus is saying is that God’s saving help 
will not necessarily start with them or be only for them--
that the Israelites to not have the exclusive inside track to God.
God belongs to everyone.

Is there no home court advantage?
Nope, says Jesus.

Now Jesus is NOT telling them that God does not care about the Jewish people.
There is no indication that the Israelites are or will be excluded 
from God’s help, God’s love.
Indeed, in the Elijah and Elisha stories
God does heal and redeem the Israelites as well as the Gentiles.
Only the Israelites were not first in line.

The point is not exclusion.
The point is 
God always has the freedom 
to act in unexpected ways
and to work through unexpected people.

We don’t get to write God’s story,
Jesus tells them.

And sometimes,
we don’t like that.
The people in the synagogue in Nazareth that day
certainly did not like what they were hearing.
And the people flew into a rage.

Luke’s gospel is setting the stage for what is to come.
Jesus will continue to speak the truth
and Jesus will continue to make people angry.
Jesus will continue to exclude no one in his ministry
and Jesus will continue to infuriate those in positions 
of power and privilege.

Do you understand their anger?
I mean, how dare he?
How dare he say these things
but even more so,
how dare he do his miracles in Capernaum
and Cana and other places
and then come home to Nazareth 
and offer nothing?

How about a miracle?
How about a sign?
How about we toss you over this cliff, son of Joseph?

Anger and violence are often our behavior
when we don’t want to hear the truth,
especially the truth we already know is absolutely true.

We see a lot of anger and violence in the world around us today.
If we are honest,
we sometimes see it in ourselves as well.
We want things to go our way--
and if they don’t, 
well, it’s somebody else’s fault.
We blame. We criticize. We judge. We pout. We explode.
We seek revenge.
We don’t push people off cliffs anymore--
at least not on a regular basis--
instead we pull out a handgun or a semi-automatic rifle.

We have to shed this way of resolving problems.
It may not be the way you or I personally solve problems
but more and more it is where Americans are turning to violence
when they get angry or fearful,
when the truth is inconvenient.
Or when mental illness overcomes reason and compassion.

We are followers of Christ,
not followers of the Terminator.

I wasn’t sure if I should be upset or proud
when I recently read that the Episcopal Church is on the “enemy” list
of the National Rifle Association lobby.

The Episcopal Church is labeled as anti-gun.
That is not really the truth--
the truth is the Episcopal Church is anti-gun violence.

This week our Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori
 sent out this message:

The United States has witnessed far too many public shootings 
in recent months and years. 
Far too many lives have been cut short or maimed 
by both random and targeted acts of gun violence.

The school shooting in Newtown was horrific, 
yet since that day several times as many young people 
have died by gunshot.

It is abundantly clear that Americans are ready to grapple 
with the complexities of gun violence. 

She is right.
We are weary of these repeated acts of violence.
We are going to have to face this inconvenient truth
and gun violence is going to have to be addressed.
We are going to have to face the inconvenient truth
that Christianity cannot be confined to the walls of a church building.

Our Great Commission is to go into all the world 
and spread the gospel.
Into all the world.
This is not just about missionaries going to faraway places
it is about speaking up and speaking out 
in our own communities. 
Speaking up about loving one another.

You may be thinking,
well, I am not going to throw someone over a cliff 
or shoot someone
and what can I do?
I’m just one person. I’m nobody.

We can do just what Jesus did 
in the synagogue that day.
We can speak the truth in love.
Even when the truth is inconvenient.
Perhaps especially when the truth is inconvenient.

On Monday, February 4th,
the National Council of Churches
is asking people of all denominations
to call or email or tweet their federal legislators
and ask that gun violence be addressed.
Be addressed.
Talked about.
Wrestled with.
But not swept under the rug.
Not ignored.
Not pushed aside because powerful lobbyists 
abel Christians as the “enemy.”

Love is not the enemy.
Compassion is not the enemy.

Wanting those who represent us in government
to have a civil and thoughtful and courageous non-partisan conversation
about gun violence--
is not the enemy.

Episcopalians and Lutherans and Methodists and Jews 
and Catholics and Congregationalists
are not the enemy.

Perhaps we feel we do not need to speak out
because this is church and that is government.
We need to remember that Jesus never made that distinction.
Our American separation of church and state
means that the government cannot legislate the church’s behavior.
It does not mean 
we cannot speak out as Christians.

Perhaps we feel we do not need to speak out
because we have not personally experienced gun violence.

That’s what people in the safe little community
of Newtown, Connecticut thought.
That’s what people whose children were students
at Virginia Tech University thought.
That’s what a man in Candler thought
when he and son 
were having what the father thought was just a no big deal argument.

As people of God,
as followers of a Christ who spoke the inconvenient truth often--
we need to speak out--
not just for ourselves,
but for all God’s children.
Our voices need to be heard.
Inconvenient truths need to be spoken.

Or we 
may be the next ones 
thrown off the cliff.


Tom E said...

Jeanne this is wonderful and needs to be said and preached from every pulpit in our country. Thanks for reminding us.

Hasib Sarker said...

Well defined on sermon. People are gradually forgetting about the religious terms, rules & regulations due to no practice or no learning of the religious books. More about Baptism here.