Valentine’s Day is coming up, which is—pardon my cynicism here– the best opportunity we have to think superficially about love. Hearts and sweets and atrocious spelling? Seriously. What does any of that have to do with love? What good is giving my spouse a pretty card on February 14 that assures him of my love for him if I don’t live our everyday life together in a way that respects him and nurtures him and acts him into well-being?
Love isn’t a once-a-year celebration. Love is way of life…a way of life characterized by this list Paul includes in his letter to the Corinthians: “Love is patient and kind; it’s not envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude. It doesn’t insist on its own way. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” I can be immensely gifted; I can speak with the voice of an angel and prophesy with the best of them; I can buy the biggest bouquet of roses available a week from this coming Thursday (and carry them around in the back pocket of my blue jeans, like that guy I saw at Waffle House this week), but “if I do not have love,” Paul says, “I am nothing.”
True love is not a surface thing. Love goes deep….deeper than assumptions, deeper than appearances, deeper even than words, sometimes. Love goes to the heart of things and sees them as they are…and then, as we like to say around here, acts the beloved into well-being.
Love. It’s a key concept in Christian faith. So, what’s up with Jesus? When you hear about his visit to Nazareth, it makes you wonder if Jesus got the love memo.
He’s been baptized, tested in the desert, and returns home, full of the Holy Spirit to begin his ministry. Oh, the home folks are so proud of their Jesus! There he is at worship Saturday morning. He takes the Isaiah scroll to read it. Their hearts must have been near to bursting.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he reads, “because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to claim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Oh, he reads so well! He really has that preacher’s voice, don’t you think? Mary and Joseph must be so proud!
Jesus rolls up the scroll, gives it back to the attendant and sits down—which is the sign that he’s going to teach. As he sits, “The eyes of all in the synagogue are fixed on him.” They are blown away by their little Jesus.
Things start taking a turn with this next bit, though. “Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”’ Most of the people “spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” But somebody there on the back row has been listening more closely…and it finally sinks in what Jesus is saying: Wait a minute! “Is this not Joseph’s son?” the person says. Joe’s son, Joe the carpenter’s son, is calling himself the Messiah! He’s saying that God’s Spirit is with him and that he has powers for healing and releasing captives. Isn’t that, like, heresy, or something?
Jesus senses the crowd is about to turn on him, and he responds…. in a way that doesn’t seem exactly loving. Listen: “‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town.” Here’s where he gets really provocative. “But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them (that is, to none of our Israelite widows) [but] to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon (a foreigner). There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them (not one Israelite) was cleansed; only Naaman the Syrian (another foreigner).’
What Jesus is doing here is calling his home congregation on their hypocrisy. Yes, when he reads Scripture and says all the pretty things, they love him—or rather, the him they want him to be. But when he starts going below the surface of things, when he points out to them that salvation isn’t just for “people like them” (Israelites), when he pushes them to believe and act out of the belief that God’s love is for those who are different from them, even Sidonian widows and Syrian soldiers… when Jesus challenges the Nazareans actually to act others –all others — into well-being rather than simply to talk about it, they don’t like it, to put it mildly. In fact, they become enraged and try to pitch him over a cliff.
On the face of it, today’s Epistle and Gospel lessons don’t seem to have much in common. One waxes poetic; the other reports a near murder. One’s about love; the other is about social justice. One’s about treating each other with kindness and patience; the other is about changing social systems to end oppression and poverty. One is about making connections with and acting kindly toward people we know; the other is about making connections with and acting kindly toward people we don’t know. One text is about acting others into well-being; the other is about acting others into well-being.
Wait a minute. What just happened here? Did my rhetorical turn get twisted up on itself? Or are BOTH these passages about love? The Corinthians text is definitely about love….it does, after all, mention the word love 9 times.
But what about this provocative text from Luke? Let’s look again at that list of things Jesus feels called to do: bring good news to the poor, claim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free… Those sound like pretty apt descriptions of acting others into well-being, don’t they? Sharing good news with the poor– acts them into well-being. Releasing captives– acts them into well-being. Helping the blind to see– acts them into well-being. Letting the oppressed go free– acts them into well-being.
It’s great to read these prophetic texts in worship. It’s great to pray beautiful prayers and read inspirational books about helping the poor. It’s great to cheer the pastor on and say Amen! when she preaches a sermon about the poor… But if we only use our words to address the needs of the poor and the oppressed, the captive and the blind, If we only talk about acting others into well-being, then we are no more than noisy gongs and clanging cymbals. If we don’t seek to do something about the plight of the poor, the oppressed, the captive and the blind, then, to quote Paul: “We are nothing.”
I don’t mean to guilt trip anybody. I know that most us here want to do good, not only to speak of it. But it’s so overwhelming. And we have so little time! How do you choose? Just look at Jesus’ own list! How do we help the poor and the captives and the blind and the oppressed? There are so many needs out there! Where do we even begin to act others into well-being in the way Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel lesson?
There are, of course, many ways to act the poor, imprisoned, blind, and oppressed into well-being. Many of you already are involved in some of those ways. You provide and serve lunch at MUST; you assist with the Kairos prison ministry and visit death row inmates; you volunteer with at-risk children and youth; you volunteer in hospitals; you participate in home repair ministries, like the project coming up with The Fuller Center.
Today, I want to focus on another way we all—and I do mean all—might “share good news with the poor.” The poor of which I speak are homeless families with children. The way we might share good news with those families is by participating in the Family Promise program.
Through its Interfaith Hospitality Network, Family Promise works with congregations to “meet homeless families’ immediate needs for shelter, meals, and comprehensive support services.” If we choose (as a congregation) to partner with Family Promise, we will house and feed 3 to 4 homeless families for a week at a time, 4 times a year. Family Promise provides beds and transportation; congregations provide food and people to stay overnight with the families. The people who stay overnight do not have to stay awake the whole time. Family Promise provides beds for them, too. Church members who stay overnight are there to answer questions and to be a liaison with the Family Promise staff.
Yes, there are many ways in which we might “share good news with the poor,” but no other program brings the poor literally inside our doors…no other program invites the whole congregation to work together to meet the needs of homeless families….no other program, quite frankly, makes it so easy for us to serve a population in great need. You don’t even have to plug a strange coordinate into your GPS to serve! All you have to do is go to church. And it’s not a weekly or a monthly commitment—it only happens four times a year. And we don’t have to do it all ourselves—we can partner with other congregations, even non-Christian ones.
Yes, there are many other ways in which we might “share good news with the poor,” but I invite us all to give prayerful consideration to participating in the Family Promise way…not because I said so. Not because the Missions Committee asks us to. I invite us to participate in Family Promise as a way of “sharing good news with the poor.” I invite us to do it as an act of love.
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2013
I Corinthians 13:1-13
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The Gift of Love
13If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,* but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.12For now we see in a mirror, dimly,* but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’23He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’24And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town.25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land;26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.27There were also many lepers* in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.29They 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.30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.