Epiphany 4: February 3, 2019
Year C, Epiphany 4: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; I Corinthians 13:1-13; John 4:21-30
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“When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” – Luke 4:28-30
This is how it ends, the story that began last Sunday: it is Jesus’ first sermon in his hometown synagogue. Word had spread of all the amazing things he had been doing all over the place. We can imagine the headlines, “Hometown Boy Makes Good!” But how quickly things can turn—and turn bad. Ugly and very bad. They want to hurl him over a cliff and be done with him. And why? All because they wanted a piece of him and his power—which seems fair enough. They wanted to see water turned into wine, the lame healed, recovery of sight to the blind, the whole nine yards. They wanted to see it and experience it right here in Nazareth and right now, thank you very much.
And so, do we. That is all they wanted. That is all we want. We are members of his community. We are his people. We are faithful. We want a piece of the action right here, right now, just like the good people of Nazareth.
They felt they deserved at least that much. Didn’t they contribute to his upbringing? Didn’t they put up with his unusual parentage? Didn’t they go to synagogue faithfully every week? Didn’t they study God’s word every day? And pray morning, noon, and night? Didn’t they feel proud when hearing accounts of his marvelous deeds that he had come from Nazareth? He’s one of us, they say! He is ours, they say!
Jesus goes to great pains to remind them that our God works in mysterious ways. That God’s power is often focused on strangers far outside the friendly confines of our cozy little communities of faith. He reminds them that Elijah was sent to a foreign widow in Zarephath; that Elisha cleansed a dreaded Syrian. There were people in need right here in our own community. Yet, he reminds them, God has always looked out for those in need beyond the community of faith, beyond the boundaries of our towns, our countries. God’s power is not ours. God is not ours. Rather, we are his.
They miss what he says. “This scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Our hearing ought to result in our participating in welcoming strangers of all kinds. Our hearing this Word ought to result in our doing the work Jesus does, and, he will tell them later at his Last Supper, those who hear God’s Word will do even greater things than these – greater things than Jesus did (John 14:12).
Jesus reminds them that as partners in the covenant with God, going all the way back to the wilderness, the Exodus, and the Ten Commandments, that they were the people appointed and anointed by God to live their lives in such a way so as to be God’s demonstration community of faith, hope, and charity for all people—or, as Paul would have it, God’s community of Love (cf. 1 Corinthians 13).
What he is saying with all these stories and proverbs is, in effect, “Get with it. Turn water into wine yourselves. Bind up the brokenhearted. Give hope to those without vision. Liberate the oppressed. Release people from their debts. God has given you the vision of the Year of the Lord’s Favor. Live that kind of life. You don’t need me around here. You are already God’s people called to do God’s work, just like me.”
God calls us to work where and when God pleases. If the scripture is to be fulfilled, it must be in our hearing it, our embodying it, our acting upon it – literally, our being it. And to become the fulfillment of the Word of God, we need to let go of all notions that Jesus, the hometown kid, is ours, and begin to figure out what it means that “we are his.” He has a special claim on us, not we on him.
Today, we have blessed altar hangings to the glory of God an in memory of two women who really got it. Who knew what it was to follow God with a passion – whose lives had claims on them by Jesus Christ? Mary Lou and Betty Sue were formed in the faith, hope and love that Paul proclaims in the letter to the Corinthians. These hangings add color and beauty to the altar, lectern and pulpit, but they are more than that. The Episcopal Church, like the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches, cycles through a series of liturgical seasons ever year. These green hangings will be used in what is often referred to as ordinary time.
God’s grace is present with us during all the seasons of the year. It was present with these two amazing women, Betty Sue and Mary Lou. I would love to claim credit for these beautiful hangings, but I cannot. It is the witness that these two women gave in their lives to Christ that is the never-ending reminder of all that we have in Christ.
What Jesus said that day in Nazareth is just as true today: Live the life Isaiah proclaimed and God will see to it that all your water is wine—and not just any wine, but good wine, wonderfully good wine that will warm your hearts and make you glad that the Spirit of the Lord has anointed you to do these things and more. Mary Lou and Betty Sue had these things and more.
Indeed, our cups will be filled to overflowing, and all the world will see that the Good News of Christ shines through all that we say and all that we do. This is how we will become a community of Love, a people of faith, hope, and charity – a people who know that we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Amen.
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