Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sermon for February 24, 2013 / Lent II

Where is God When I’m Angry?
February 24, 2013 / Lent II
At that time some Pharisees said to him, “Get away from here if you want to live! Herod Antipas wants to kill you!” Jesus replied, “Go tell that fox that I will keep on casting out demons and healing people today and tomorrow; and the third day I will accomplish my purpose. Yes, today, tomorrow, and the next day I must proceed on my way. For it wouldn’t do for a prophet of God to be killed except in Jerusalem! O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned. And you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Luke 13:31-35
Every once in a while, we meet someone who is REALLY angry. I remember cutting someone off in traffic when I lived in Boston. If you’ve ever driven in Boston, you know that cutting people off and being cut off is a matter of survival . . . and enjoyment! But this was a close call, even by Boston standards. The driver not only laid on his horn in anger, he followed me to my destination. When I parked, he ran out of his car while it was still rolling to a stop, approached my humble, maroon Ford Taurus station wagon and began pounding on the roof of the car, swearing and shouting. He was out of control – telling me to come out of the car and apologize. There was no way I was getting out of my car. I was afraid of his anger.

Sometimes I hear people talk about feeling angry toward God. And sometimes they feel guilty about it. Take this letter for instance. It was written to a newspaper columnist:

At an early age, my mother was taken from me and my family due to an illness. It was a terrible blow for all of us to take. My biggest struggle then and now is my anger. I acknowledge the existence of a higher power but find it hard to believe in God. I'm angry with [God] for taking my mother from me. It seems as though God is made out to be our savior, our forgiver and our friend. Why would [God] tear my family life asunder by taking her from us? I've moved away from the Lord as a result, angry that [God] robbed such a powerful figure from my life. How can I cope with and heal my anger?

Death not only cost this man a mother. That alone is hard enough. He also feels alienated from God. His sense of how and why he belongs in this world has shifted. The one whom he intimately called “God” is now a source of abandonment. I wonder if that’s how the psalmist felt when writing the words of Psalm 27. Addressing God, the psalmist writes, “Do not turn your back on me. Do not reject your servant in anger. You have always been my helper. Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me, O God of my salvation!” We hear this desperate tone in many of the psalms. Listen to the opening words of Psalm 13:
    Long enough, God— you've ignored me long enough.
    I've looked at the back of your head long enough.
    Long enough I've carried this ton of trouble,
    lived with a stomach full of pain.
    Long enough my arrogant enemies
    have looked down their noses at me.
Let’s be honest. Sometimes we get angry. Sometimes we get angry when we feel like we have no control over our lives. It may be a failed relationship. Or the death of a loved one. Or growing worry over an unending health crisis. Or financial concerns. Sometimes, we get angry at God. And sometimes we feel guilty. The problem is some of us have been told that it’s inappropriate to get angry at God. We worry that God's feelings will be hurt. Or worse yet, God will return our anger. God will be like that angry man in Boston, pounding on the roof of my Ford Taurus Wagon with frothing, unbridled rage. Many of us were raised to believe that God is much better at being angry than we can ever be. There is an old saying: Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig. Some people think the same reasoning applies to our relationship with God. Never get angry at God. It wastes your time and annoys God. And you do not want to be on the receiving end of God’s anger. Remember good old Jonathan Edward’s sermon, Sinners in the hands of an Angry God? Edwards imagines people dangling from the hand of God over the pit of hell. He writes, “they have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, his anger is as great towards them . . .” No one wants to get that God angry!

I no longer listen for God in those texts. I say go ahead and let yourself feel angry. Anger is a sign that something is wrong. And it’s OK to let God know about it. God already knows that we are angry, and God knows WHY we are angry. God knows our feelings of helplessness, fear, confusion, and disappointment that lead to our anger. Sometimes we feel angry because we are powerless. God knows our powerlessness. Sometimes we get angry because we are hurt. God understands pain. God might even share our anger!

Consider the scene we read from Luke’s Gospel. Jesus has some allies in the camp of the Pharisees. They warn Jesus to run, because Herod is on the lookout from him. Jesus would be wise to follow their advice -- Herod is worth running from. Herod is a menace and an iconic bully. Herod is not so much a despot as a manipulator, which is a bully’s prime talent.  He achieves his goals through economic oppression.  Money, taxation, and opulence are among his weapons. Herod’s works are huge, elaborate, and expensive. In contrast, Jesus’ works are disarmingly simple, freely given, and liberating.  Jesus says Herod is like a fox, and he is like a mother hen. Herod wants to rule with slyness and fear. Jesus wants to draw and protect the people of Jerusalem as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.

I hear some anger in Jesus’ words, too. To me, Jesus sounds angry at a ruler who is, by all accounts, a sociopath. Jesus is angry at a political system that where leaders use poverty as a tool of domination; where the rich become richer as they devour resources that could be used for the common good. Jesus is angry at a city that closes its ears to the truth of God’s reign, kills its prophets and punishes God’s messengers. Even thinking about it stirs anger within my own heart. I wonder if Jesus feels the same way.

Remember, Luke is collecting and compiling his stories long after Jesus has died and risen. Luke and his congregation are still living in a broken world. He wants his readers, his congregation, to understand something through this event. He wants them know that when they look at the condition of the world around them, there is plenty to be angry about. Luke sees idolatry, persecution of prophets, injustice, inequality, exploitation, poverty, scarcity, violence, and death. He sees people who are beat up, worn down, and angry. But that’s not the end of the story. Anger is an invitation. It’s an invitation to experience their violent, alienating world as it really is. It’s an invitation to make a change. Luke’s audience has an opportunity to join a movement that can free them from the entwining values of their broken world. In Christ, they can weave new values into society; values like love, peace, justice, equality, mutuality, solidarity and life.

Luke is preaching to our congregation, too. We can look around us and get angry at the broken world around us. And that is OK. The anger is an invitation to make the world better. Our anger can lead us to the realization that cultures built on self-centeredness, racism, exploitation, manipulation, sexism, homophobia, ultra-nationalism and threat of violence can expect those very things to lead to the eventual breakdown of that culture. Luke offers a vision of the church, our church, as a prophetic community that engages in ministry on behalf of the aims of God.

Listen to this quote about prophetic anger:
"I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth . . . but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments, produced in me anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people."
Nelson Mandela wrote those words in his book Long Walk to Freedom. Mandela was angry at the injustice of apartheid. He was not remorseful or ashamed of this anger — it was actually a source of blessing. Anger moved people enough to stand up, to fight for freedom, and to change the unjust system of oppression that was governing South Africa. What an incredible gift anger can be -- to be upset and aware. Anger can be a great motivator to help us seek justice and change in the world.

Our feelings do not surprise God. Instead of letting your anger block God, use your anger to let God in. Tell God how you are feeling. Let God know your deepest, darkest fears and concerns. Invite God to know your sorrows and count your tears. You may never get all the answers, but you may get something else. You may get comfort instead of answers. You may get motivated to change your part of the world.

I think it’s OK to be angry at God, but it’s not OK to stay angry. That only hurts you. Ongoing anger doesn’t affect God. But it changes you. Ongoing anger changes the way you perceive reality. Ongoing anger harms your relationships. Over time, these feelings keep us from experiencing the liberating, transforming, renewing, glorious new life that God wants us to have. Anger is a holy, if difficult intimacy. Whatever causes you to feel pain is now part of your spiritual journey. It calls for strength, and honesty, and the steadfast assurance that God is for us.

“Anybody can become angry — that is easy,” said Aristotle, “But to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.” A minister named Dale Turner reminds us of this one certainty in life: “Were anger and moral indignation to die out of the world, society would swiftly rot to extinction. It is possible to be good — and at the same time — be angry. God both wills and encourages it.” There are still things that still make God angry in this world. There are still things in this world that make God weep. Injustice, aching poverty, discrimination and systematic oppression. God is still angry, and we should be too. We can commit to doing things about them. The important thing is that we be angry about the right things, and express it in appropriate ways. May our anger be directed to constructive ends so that God’s love may grow, and all people may know the God of compassion, justice and peace.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Sermon for February 10, 2013 / Transfiguration Day

Healers or Haters?
Celebrating the National Preach-in on the Environment

Today, I want us to consider this proposal: The earth is God’s beloved, and we need to listen to her. What might it mean to be attentive to the messages God wants to send us through the creation around us.  The earth is God’s beloved, and we need to listen to her.  Think about his as we consider out Gospel text for today – Luke’s version of the transfiguration of Christ. Today we are going to use this story as metaphor that can illuminate us about the possibility of a renewed, radiant, transfigured planet.
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.  Luke 9:28–36

I recently read these words from American libertarian and political commentator Lew Rockwell: “I am a sinner but unrepentant. You see, I don't practice environmentalism, and I don't believe in it. I don't recycle and I don't conserve-except when it pays to do so. I like clean air -- really clean air, like the kind an air conditioner makes. I like the bug-free indoors. I like development, as in buildings, concrete, capitalism, prosperity. I don't like swamps . . . or jungles ("rainforests"). I see all animals except dogs and cats as likely disease carriers, unless they're in a zoo. When PBS runs a special on animal intelligence, I am unmoved. I'm glad for the dolphins that they can squeak. I'm happy for the ape that he can sign for his food. How charming for the bees that they organize themselves so well for work. But that doesn't give them rights over me. Their only real value comes from what they can do for man . . . Not being a do-it-myselfer, my favorite section of the hardware store features bug killers, weed killers, varmint traps, and poisons of all sorts. These killer potions represent high civilization and capitalism. The bags are decorated with menacing pictures of ants, roaches, tweezer-nosed bugs, and other undesirable things, to remind us that the purpose of these products is to snuff out bug life so it won't menace the only kind of life that has a soul and thus the only kind of life that matters: man.”

Rockwell’s perspective has a strong foundation in Western culture and theology – the idea that the world was created for human advancement and enjoyment. The idea comes from the Greek philosopher Plato. Plato regarded the earth as temporary and worthless -- a mere shadow of the ultimate reality. Plato proposed a second world outside space and time – a non-material world of pure thought and ultimate truth. He was the first one to say that a soul could exist independent of one’s body. The end result was a culture skewed towards the belief that things are not always as they appear. As a result, thinkers tended to view the world as made up of the profane, and the sacred. The profane was changing, shifting, unreliable. The sacred was unchanging ultimate reality. Plato’s ideas had some powerful effects on religious thinking. Dualism influenced the founders of the early church, from Paul to Augustine -- people who lived in the epicenter of the Greco-Roman world. Even now, Western Christians have been conditioned to divide every subject into two: left/right, good/bad, evangelical/liberal, healer/hater, and so on. Dualities multiply and abound. Out of this comes the traditional Christian teaching that the material world is of lesser importance than the ultimate reality of an orderly, dispassionate unchanging God.

Lew Rockwell’s comments are the ultimate expression of dualism. We are not connected to the earth. There is no true sense of ecology – literally “the study of our dwelling place.” For Rockwell expresses what’s in the minds of many people: humans are the crowning glory of the planet, separate from it, and able to use and control its resources to advance human achievement.

I think we need to question the assumptions of our worldview. Is God really an orderly, dispassionate deity? Luke's gospel describes how Jesus called twelve ordinary people to be his closest confidants. Jesus invested them with power and authority to drive out demons and to enlighten the darkness; to cure diseases; to preach the subversive love of God and to heal the sick. "So they set out and went from village to village," writes Luke, "preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.” Jesus invites followers to be healers and not haters. Healing love is the mark of a disciple. Jesus invites followers to bring the outsider inside. To include the excluded. He tells followers to befriend the broken, heal the hurting, and embrace the unfamiliar. Jesus calls followers to care and to cure, not to condemn. It was a tall order. The first disciples stumbled and bumbled, failed and floundered. They couldn't heal. They didn't understand.

We see it on the Mount of Transfiguration. When faced with the reality of who Jesus really is, the disciples cower in terror. Their fear is an indication to us, the readers, that something has gone wrong. The disciples consistently fail to see who Jesus is, what he has come to do, and what he asks them to do. They are so frightened, they become ineffective disciples. Fear clouds their ability to listen. And that’s all they have to do. The voice from heaven has a command for everyone on the mountaintop: Listen to my beloved. Listen! It’s interesting to me two prophets from history are there. Moses is the greatest prophet in Jewish history. Moses is the law-giver and prophet of promise. And Elijah, who fights against a wall of hardened disbelief; against the violence, blasphemy and bloodthirstiness that stalked the land. God tells everyone on that mountain to listen -- even Moses and Elijah. On the mount of transfiguration, Jesus is the revealer. He has something to show all of us – from the greatest figures in history to the poor bumbling disciples. Listen to him. He is going to tell just how much God cares. How much God loves. The length God is willing to go to demonstrate passionate, ever-present love to the entire world.

I’ll tell you what I hear when I listen. We are interconnected. Like a web. Or a network. Or six degrees of separation. What happens to one happens to all. What if we question our assumptions and realize that God IS the network? God is the connections between us.  The law of interconnected mutuality reaches into the subatomic level of our universe. Two people who sit together in the same room exchange water vapor within 30 minutes. That’s interdependence. Take a deep breath and breathe in some of the same breath that Jesus breathed on the cross, we are assured by some scientists. That’s interdependence. Every square mile of soil on our Earth contains particles from every other square mile of soil on our Earth, say some biologists. That’s interdependence. We inhabit a universe where everything is part of everything else. God is mutuality. Can humanity awaken to this interdependence?

For me, ecology is about connections. Connections are about God. So God is about ecology. I’m suggesting that Earth is God’s beloved. Just as God speaks through Jesus and reminds us of the expanse of God’s care, so God speaks through Earth, showing us that a transfigured creation is God’s highest aim.

Can you hear her? Are you listening? Can we integrate our dualities? Can our fractured connections with the Earth be restored?

Because I gotta tell you – I am afraid. I am afraid that we are heating up the planet and boiling ourselves to death. I’m afraid that we are overpopulating the planet and burdening her resources. I’m afraid of what we are leaving for our children and grandchildren. I’m afraid for what we are seeing right now. And fear is not good for me. Like those disciples on the mountain, my fear is an indication that I’m not listening. I can get so wrapped up in how I’m going to survive, I’m unable to hear the voice of God. When I am stumbling and bumbling, failing and floundering . . . and I can’t be a healer.

So I need to ask myself a question. I need to ask all of us: Are there ways in which we are scapegoating the earth? Are there situations in which we close our eyes and ears to the realities all around us, just so we can maintain our own comfort? It can be very uncomfortable to listen for the voice of God and then to respond by being a healer for the brokenness around us. Even on a small scale, owning up to our involvement in bringing pain to another or doing something wrong, makes us uncomfortable. I remember how it felt to break something when I was a child. My first response was to consider hiding the evidence and hoping my parents never found out. But the reality was then, as it is now, that it is much better to face up to your wrong-doing, to confess the worst and get it out in the open. Dealing with our failings in an open and honest way allows us to learn from our mistakes.
We need to own up to our part of the environmental crisis. If we pretend that we don’t have anything to do with global warming for too much longer, then it may be too late to save ourselves, let alone save the planet. I know this might sound a bit over the top to some, but it is an issue that is close to my heart, one that deals directly with our spiritual health and well-being. We cannot be well in a world that is not well. We cannot be whole in a world that is not whole. I don’t want to be the kind of Christians who come to church on Sunday to pray and pay attention to God, but then walk out of the sanctuary not to think about God again until I come back next week. I can’t help but make connections between God and every other aspect of my life, and as difficult and uncomfortable as this might be sometimes, I would not have it any other way.

What would it take to bring healing to this world? What would it take to turn the tide on human over-development so that we can hold out some hope for the future of the planet? Some folks will tell you that people like you and I can’t possibly make a difference. They would say that one or two or even a hundred people who care about something are not able to speak loudly enough to drown out the voices of those with vested interests in maintaining the status quo. That’s fear talking. If we want to be healers, then we need to speak up, to act out, to make a difference in any way we can. We need to bring our faith to bear on our lives and in the world.

I am going away for study leave next week. I had planned to take next Sunday off, until I heard about the environmental rally being held on the National Mall next week. Jim Conklin and I will be joining more than 20,000 others to let the President and legislators know that we are listening to Earth – we hear her groan and sputter. We sense her burden. We are listening. And we are acting. If you want to join us, please talk to Jim about the details. We aremeeting here at CCC at 10:15 AM and traveling to the rally together.

O God, guide us into caring deeply enough about the world around us that we, too reach out in order to bring healing. Show us how we might begin to heal some of the brokenness that is so evident today. May we live by our faith from our hearts and not just by our words.


Original Blessing by Matthew Fox

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Sermon for February 3, 2013

Jesus, Breaker of Boundaries
Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:
 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
    and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”
Luke 4:14-21
Imagine what the Bible might have sounded like if it was written for families by parents.  God knows we parents have a lot of rules, and we say them over and over and over again. Forget all the minutia about things like the dimensions of the fork used to stir sacrificial meat. Parent’s laws are more practical. I do a lot of the cooking in the Braddock household, so one of my dinnertime laws might sound something like this: Do not scream; for it is to my ears as if you scream all the time. If you are given a plate on which two foods you do not wish to touch each other are touching each other, your voice rises up even to the ceiling, while you point to the offense with the finger of your right hand; but I say to you, scream not, only remonstrate gently with the server, that the server may correct the fault. Likewise if you receive a portion of fish from which every piece of herbal seasoning has not been scraped off, and the herbal seasoning is loathsome to you and steeped in vileness, again I say, refrain from screaming. Though the vileness overwhelm you, and cause you a faint unto death, make not that sound from within your throat, neither cover your face, nor press your fingers to your nose. For even not, I have made the fish as it should be; behold, I eat it myself, yet do not die.” That’s another way of saying, “Stop whining and eat your dinner.”

Most of us know the Ten Commandments (or at least the important ones), but how well do any of us know all the rules of the Bible and adhere to them? Two men tried it a while back and wrote about it in a book called The Year of Living Biblically. Author A.J. Jacobs tried to follow all 613 laws in Hebrew Scriptures. Jacobs followed dietary laws, laws about stoning and laws about how to sacrifice animals. He also took  a crack at laws such as Leviticus 19:19: “You shall not let your animals breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials.” In modern times, with our food production and our clothing blends, I think we have fully succeeded in breaking all three of those!

Inspired by reading Jacob’s book, former megachurch minister Rev. Ed Dobson claimed he spent a year living like Jesus. Jacobs is known as one of the architects of the religious right, a man who preached for 18 years at a very conservative church. In his year of living like Jesus, Dobson followed scriptural rules about eating, clothing and behavior, since Jesus was a Jew who probably followed the same ritual laws. In order to observe kosher dietary requirements to not mix meat and dairy products, Dobson gave up his beloved chicken-and-cheese burritos. He followed Jesus’ commands to help the poor and visit the imprisoned. His conclusion?  “Jesus is a very troubling individual.” In fact, Jesus’ teachings were so troubling, they influenced conservative, Evangelical, founding-Board-member-of –the-Moral-Majority Ed Dobson to vote for Barack Obama in 2008 — his first vote for a Democrat for president. He wrote, “I felt, as an individual, [Obama] was closer to the spirit of Jesus’ teachings than anyone else. [Obama] was a community organizer, so he was into the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, which Jesus is very much into.” I’m not trying to make a political statement here. What I’m trying to understand is the human tendency to marginalize those who threaten the status quo. It turns out, when you preach the golden rule, people try to ruin you. Some have even been killed for it.  Dobson plunged himself into hot water with some of his colleagues over his decision. And that’s an understatement.  On a positive side, Dobson admitted that he couldn’t wait to eat burritos again.

Religious rules are hardly restricted to Christianity. Jews and Muslims have rules. You’ll find rules in Hinduism and Taoism and in the local tribal religions. Religion is, at least in part, about learning to live in ways that cohere with what we created to be. We need rules, both the kind that restrain evil and those that guide us in shaping our lives so that they will be good and abundant and meaningful. Rules also set the boundaries of the community. Who’s in and who’s out? What are the minimum standards for membership? What are the behaviors that will get you tossed out?

Who’s in and who’s out? The question is not just an ancient one. I read about a professor who had an interesting way of picturing the difference between God and humans. God is like this (throwing arms wide open), forever going out from God’s self, creating out of love, embracing out of love. But humans are more closed (hunching over and pulling in arms as if clinging to something). We are constricted, driven to protect what is ours, clinging to what we think we own. We draw lines and boundaries to keep out people who scare them or who are too different from them. All to say, we need to be careful when we say that certain rules are God’s rules. Sometimes we get confused and think that human rules came from God, when they really developed from our own fears.

All of us have ended up on the outside of those lines and boundaries. We’ve been told that we are too young or too old, too pretty or too ugly, the wrong gender, the wrong sexual orientation, the wrong political party. We went to the wrong school or lived in the wrong place. We didn’t have enough money or didn’t belong to the right club or organization. We weren’t smart enough or educated enough. Who’s in and who’s out? Nearly all of us know what it’s like to be out. But the amazing love of God in Jesus reaches out wide across all lines and boundaries saying, “My love is for you, too.”

We hear it in today’s reading from Luke. For Luke, Jesus is the golden boy. Luke has stated several times how Jesus continues to grow in wisdom and divine favor. Jesus is filled with spirit and power. Glowing reports of his teaching and preaching spread. Naturally, the folks from the hometown are delighted to have him preach at their synagogue. Jesus goes home to kick off his ministry and mission, like a political candidate today might launch his campaign at the old home place to show his humble roots and strong support for godly values.

The scripture reading he picks for his introductory sermon is filled with history and promise. Their ears perked up as the words from Isaiah rolled out – “good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind,” and summing it all up, “The year of the Lord’s favor.” Everyone caught his drift. It refers to the Jubilee year that is supposed to turn society upside down every 50 years. You recall the first creation story in Genesis – 6 days of work followed by the 7th day of Sabbath rest. God rested, so human beings are to rest, even slaves and animals rest weekly. The book of Leviticus describes a sabbatical year, 6 years of work followed by a 7th year of rest. In the seventh year, fields were to lie fallow, slaves were released, and debts erased. Leviticus also has a seven year cycle. After 49 years, or seven cycles of seven years, there was supposed to be a 50th year Jubilee. Not only were slaves released and debts erased, but lands were to be returned to their original stewards. Anyone who had lost their holdings through debt or drought would be restored as a trustee of God’s estate. Jesus is raising some tall expectations by reading this passage. He is saying, “It’s time to ring in a Jubilee year.”

Some of the people are amazed. Murmurs of disbelief and excitement ripple through the congregation. All these wonderful things are going to start right in the little hicktown of Nazareth. God has finally remembered the poor little folk. Can you believe it? Herod’s glitzy temple in Jerusalem is not the center of the universe. Now that Jesus is here, maybe he can save their city, make it a decent place to live and raise families.

Others were threatened. Release captives? Hang out with the blind and the lame? Associate with the poor? These were boundaries that people were taught not to cross. Captives were in prison for doing something wrong – like defying Rome. People were taught that the blind and the lame were being punished for their sin and the sins of their families. If God was teaching them a lesson, why get in the way? How do you think wealthy landowners would feel about the Jubilee year? Erasing debts and returning land the poor? Redistributing wealth? Not a popular message to those who want to protect their portfolio.

Jesus’ hometown crowd hears a tactless reminder that God does not necessarily act the way we want God to act. We believe that God is gracious, but often we are most interested in God’s grace for ourselves. Yet we are called upon to acknowledge that grace is extended to all, those outside our church doors, those outside our faith, those who are outside our boundaries of acceptability.

Jesus is a breaker of boundaries. He comes to shake us up and help us follow him into a new reality.

We put boundaries around ourselves all the time. We put limits on our vision. We decide that God has only one way. For some strange reason, God’s way seems to mirror our own needs.

It’s time to give up our worries. It’s time to let go of constricting, self-protecting expectations. This is a big challenge for a Protestant Christian tradition that is wilting, sagging and wearing down, troubled by the numbers, and cutting back. Christ says, “Don’t forget the priorities. The Spirit of the LORD invites us to bring Good News to the poor; to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of God’s favor has come.”

When we are settling into our comfortable boundaries, fluffing the pillows, feeling safe with one another, accustomed to the surroundings, and finally feeling unthreatened, Christ comes and says, “Enough with tranquility! I’m the way! The truth! The life! Follow me!”

Just when we’re reading Scripture, extracting important biblical principles from the text, retrieving significant ideas for consideration, and proof texting it to fit our private theologies, Christ gets up, slams the big book shut, and says “OK, let’s stop talking about it. Let’s go do it.”

We have the Spirit that Jesus sent to every one of us. That’s why I know that when you hear what God is doing in the world, there’s a part of you that says, “YES!” We are the Body of Christ in the world. God’s Spirit is on us because God has chosen us to bring good news to the poor. Chosen US. Anointed US. Given US the gifts of the Spirit to see visions and speak truth to power, to invite everyone you know and even people you don’t know, or don’t know yet, to that party we are going to have on that day when every one of us can say, “the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing!”


Sermon for January 21, 2018

How Far Would You Go? 1 Samuel 17 I had a sermon all ready to go today. It was a NICE sermon. You would have felt really good about i...