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The Preacher No One Wanted to Hear

Epiphany 4C-16

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

 

How many weddings have you heard someone read 1 Corinthians 13? It must be among the most well known chapters in scripture. Paul writes, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.” (1 Corinthians 13:4) By describing love so well, Paul also gives us a pretty good idea about its opposite—what hate looks like. Our gospel offers an incredible example. Preaching God’s grace and jubilee made people in Jesus’ hometown impatient, unkind, envious, boastful, arrogant and rude. Lifetime family, friends, and neighbors, united in rage moved as one mob intent upon hurling Jesus over a cliff. (Luke 4:29) Jesus is the preacher no one wanted to hear.

We ask, ‘my God, how could those people have done that?’ But then, we have to admit we are no strangers to the irrational destructive power of sin. Taken together our scriptures today teach us what is most unbelievable about the story of Jesus in Nazareth is not the people’s violent rejection of grace, but God’s steadfast openness and love for them, and us, despite it.

I wonder how many of you have visited the 9-11 Memorial in New York City? It opened less than five years ago on the tenth anniversary of 911. It is a testament to the fact that wherever human trespass is multiplied and sin abounds, God’s grace abounds all the more (Romans 5:20). Twin reflecting pools outline the footprints of the Twin Towers. Sheets of water cascade 30 feet down into the darkness of a lower pool you cannot see. Each exactly marks the spot of an open wound for victims, their families, the city, our nation and the world. Yet, each pool is a metaphor for the profound outpouring of God’s mercy and grace.

God eternally showers grace into the darkness of human hearts. God pours mercy into open wounds, while they are still painful and sensitive. The Spirit of God is balm for injuries wrought by human violence. Just as water seeks its own level, God fills the empty space between us with love. God fills the gaps of the universe with God’s own self. Just as water inevitably finds its way to the lowest spot, so grace falls and pools in the lowest and darkest and most hidden places of the soul. We are filled with God’s mercy starting from the bottom to the top and to overflowing.

“Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” (1 Cor. 13:5) As we survey the 2016 political landscape on the eve of the Iowa caucuses, we could benefit from a bit more grace in civic dialogue that rejoices again in finding our way to the common ground of shared truth.

In Nazareth, people were enraged. In the American electorate today, people seem to have reached a slow boil. I keep hearing 2016 is the anger election. Bernie Sanders angry tirades against Wall Street have found a receptive audience. Hillary Clinton talks about the fears and insecurities of ordinary voters. On the Republican side, no one has identified with or stoked voters’ anger better than Donald Trump.

People have good reason to be upset. Household incomes are still thousands of dollars below where they were at the end of the Clinton Administration,” (Mara Liason, NPR, 1/27/16) The country is changing racially, the common culture is changing socially, religious life is changing universally, and the economy is changing globally.  (Nancy Rockwell) Confidence in the church is upended by child abuse scandals and the decline in church participation across denominations. Here in Illinois the problem is compounded. State leaders seem locked in a self-destructive battle for power. Chicago government is torn by racial bias and political corruption. Chicago schools face enormous shortfalls.

In the face of such crisis, the prophet Jeremiah’s words in response to God’s call strike a cord. ‘Ah Lord God, why are you bothering with me? I am just a boy.’ (Jeremiah 1:6) What are we supposed to do about all this? How can my voice matter? I’m just one person.

The fallacy of being just one person is what leads to the unhealthy economics and politics of scarcity and fear: there is not enough land, healthcare, water, money, and housing for all of us. There are never enough guns to keep us safe. It leads to religion that keeps careful account of sin, confuses righteousness with self-righteousness, is generous with punishments, but stingy with mercy.

The truth is you are never just one person while you live in love in God.

Paul writes, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Cor. 13:1) What are we supposed to do about all this? How can my voice matter? The call of God to life in mission is a love story. So, fall in love. Until then, Jesus will always be the preacher no one wants to hear.

Only God’s unconditional, unearned, infinite love and forgiveness can move you from the normal worldview of scarcity to the divine world of infinite abundance. God’s kingdom comes, God’s will is done, and the year of our Lord’s jubilee is begun in our hearing as we hear, understand, accept, live, and have faith in Jesus’ words and the promise of God’s abundant grace.

Where is God calling us? How must we confront our own barriers or our community’s issues? What prophetic word are we called to speak that might cause a holy disturbance?

The Nazarean’s rage and our current politics of anger are transformed in the fountain of God’s abundant grace. Like twin pools at the 9-11 memorial God showers grace into the darkness of human hearts. God pours out mercy to heal our wounds. God fills the empty space between us with love. God fills the gaps of the universe with God’s own self. Grace finds its way to touch and transform the lowest, darkest and most hidden places of our soul and we are filled with God’s mercy to overflowing.

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