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Called to the Edge.

Luke 4:14-30

4th Sunday after Epiphany Common Lectionary Year C

©  The Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones.

  Audio file

I wanted to begin this sermon with “It’s good to be back home”
after spending a week in Vancouver representing the United Church of Canada
at our formal dialogue with the Anglican Church.
It is true,  I am glad to be ‘back home’ in this space,
but after that Gospel reading,
perhaps I should be a little cautious….
given Jesus’ comments about preaching the Gospel on home turf…!

It started off well for him, heading back home;
being asked to read at the Sabbath synagogue meeting was a honour,
and he appears to have done  it well.
He opens the scroll to one of the most resounding of God’s promises contained in Scripture;
that God is sending an anointed one – a Messiah, a Christ –
who will proclaim  Good News to the poor,
the release of prisoners, the recovery of sight to the blind,
the liberation from oppression,
and the beginning of a year of Jubilee
– the forgiveness of debt,
the release from indentured work,
the lying fallow of overworked land…
It’s such a hopeful, radical vision we perhaps have lost the capacity to imagine in its fullness,
because these words are so familiar to us…
and probably to those in Nazareth that day too.

Think about it, to a people whose land is overrun by the boot of Rome,
these visions  and promises of a national liberator were what kept faith and hope alive.
So to hear Mary’s boy, all grown up,
read this moving passage was likely to generate  home-town pride.

But  it goes all horribly wrong… and we may  frankly be at a loss to figure out how or why.
What turns a gathering so swiftly from “amazed and proud” to furious and murderous?

At first I thought it might be the moment when,
having read this marvellous passage from the Isaiah scroll, he says
“Today in your hearing, this scripture has been fulfilled.”
Did they look at the carpenter’s son and see delusions of messianic grandeur, perhaps?

But, apparently not, for Luke says that when Jesus declared
“Here, today, this Scripture has been fulfilled”
“they were amazed at how well he spoke…. in awe… marvelling..”

So, we’d be wise not to assume that his world is like ours,
spiritually suspicious, in some places, downright allergic to religion.
They heard this, willingly, as a word of hope from God.
This passage from Isaiah that he had just read was a clarion call
“Idle no More,”  a Tahrir Square declaration,
an “I have a dream” speech.
It was the soul song of Israel, filled with echoes of Miriam’s Song,
of his own mother Mary’s song about God lifting the lowly from the dust,
upsetting kings from their thrones.
Nothing could have been dearer to the heart of those listening to Jesus that day
than this promise of liberation, recovery,
restoration of national identity, self-determination and pride coming true in their midst.

Another (leftover 19th century Christian) assumption we should jettison
is that the religion of Jesus’ day had nothing to do with politics!

So it wasn’t that which turned them against Jesus.
It was what he said next, what he did to their political theology,
their understanding of Yahweh the God of Israel.
And frankly it is what he says next that makes me  nervous as  pastor and preacher,
because  look where it got him….

Let’s remind ourselves what he says next…
he takes them on a historical journey back to the days
of the kings of Israel,  to a story they knew well, but perhaps we don’t.
There was a famine in the region that was devastating the homeland  of Israel,
but also the neighbouring land of Sidon.
God chooses to send the prophet Elijah to rescue a widow,
to give her grain to feed her child and keep him from death.
A widow, not of the chosen people, but a foreigner, the lowest you can get,
the supposedly farthest you can get from the mercies of a national deity.
Jesus has deliberately chosen a story about God choosing to work at the edge,
off the map of mercy drawn for God by her people.
But before anyone has chance to form an objection, Jesus ploughs ahead,
and tells the story some of us know a little better, of Naaman the Mighty Warrior,
who was healed by another of God’s prophets, Elisha.
And again the story pushes the edges:
Naaman is leper – a Syrian…. socially, religiously, culturally a pariah,
and as a soldier of an attacking foreign army, he is a threatening one at that…
It is this man who is singled out for God’s healing mercy.
To try to see how … offensive this is….
it would be like rolling AIDS, a form of fundamentalist Islam, and North Korean sabre-rattling into one Mexican drug Lord,
and saying that this person is to be the recipient of the loving mercy of God.

Luke says “That set everyone seething with anger.”
No kidding!!

Jesus reads Isaiah’s God- Dream of a reconciled world in the fullest of its implications,
– a reconciled world of all religions, all nations, all creatures –
and he reads it to a people grown too used to limiting God’s Dream
to a localised, even individualized sectarian realm of
“my rescue, my comfort, my healing..  my personal salvation,”
and he says
“Don’t you dare!!
Don’t you dare limit the Creating, Redeeming,
Sustaining, Loving, Living God  to “just us!”
Normally when I have the privilege of preaching this Gospel of Jesus,
I am caught up in the expansiveness of the vision,
I deeply believe it, it calls forth awe and gratitude from my soul.
But today’s text reminds me just how hard this cosmic dream is
when it crash lands into the real world
of labour disputes, human trafficking, school shootings,
Idle No More  aboriginal movements, and Arab Spring, turned winter,
and urban poverty,  and…..
all sorts of things that cause me distress, anger, bigotry, confusion, frustration, fear.
Because of one thing I can be sure, and it scares me,
it is right into the midst  of all this political and social and ethical
“real life” that Gospel comes,
straight from the lips of  this Jesus whom I proclaim and follow.

To hear the call of God to follow Jesus takes us where he has gone, to the edge.
The edge… to the place where some may want to push me off the cliff,
for daring to mix pulpit and politics.
Where some will want to deride you and me for daring to proclaim
in faith, word,  and in action that the God-Dream,
the reconciling, liberating, life-giving Gospel of God in Jesus Christ,
is for all.
For people who are straight, gay, lesbian, transgender,
aboriginal, immigrant, refugee,  homeless, jobless,
of all religions and of none,
people who are poor, on the outskirts, the edges, the margins.

This edge is sometimes as scary as hell, but for the life of me, and us,
dare we go anywhere else but to the edge,
if it is at the edge that God is always to be found?

© 2013. The Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones.

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