A sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Lectionary 4B - Luke 4:21-30.
This sermon was preached in the community of
Lutheran Campus Ministry at UT-Austin
on February 3, 2013
(which happened to be Super Bowl Sunday).
I’m glad you could all make it,
and I really appreciate you coming early
so I can be home in time
to watch the cute puppies on Animal Planet.
I assume you will all be doing the same…
But before we get too distracted
with the other events of this day,
I hope we can settle in for a few moments
to reflect together on the words
we have heard proclaimed…
because they are beautiful and complicated
and timely and…as I have found them…true.
The readings today are full
of compelling narrative and beautiful language…
And I think they might even be
especially appropriate for a day
of such cultural significance as today.
When we go home today
many of us will participate in an hours-long ritual
where we will be reminded
of how much value we give
to an odd assortment of things:
like the ability to throw and run
and tackle and kick….
And like the beauty, attractiveness,
cleverness or wealth
that will surely come to us
if only we buy the right beer,
snack food and razor blades…
We will be reminded of our own tenuous quests
for what is worthwhile.
But worrying about what is worthwhile…
and who is worthwhile is not a new struggle.
Thousands of years ago, God called a prophet…
a prophet who knew that he was too young
to speak with authority.
But Jeremiah was given God’s own words…
after God reminded him
that he didn’t have to explain his credentials…
God already knew exactly who Jeremiah was…
And had determined his worth and purpose long ago.
In First Corinthians,
Paul talks about what is worthwhile, too…
And it’s nothing they advertise on network TV.
The love that Paul describes –
patient, kind, not irritable
or insisting on its own way...
is not formulaic enough for match.com
to corner the market on it…
or for a certain soft drink to help you find it.
It’s a love too perfect for us
to ever fully realize in ourselves…
though there are those moments
we cling to that feel so close…
When I asked my stepson Avery
to talk with me about love,
I asked where we find
the kind of love Paul talks about,
And where we need more of it…
He talked about how even in our families,
even with those we love most,
We still fight and fight…
and fight and fight and fight.
He’s right. It’s kind of our thing. It’s what we do.
At the theological conference
Pastor Paul and I just attended,
We heard someone share from a book
where the word “sin” was redefined in a way
that might capture its meaning better
for our modern ears.
It’s a long enough phrase
that it’s easier to refer to by its acronym:
THPTFTU…The Human Propensity to…
umm… "Mess"…Things Up.
Maybe the strong language is necessary
to really feel the weight of that, though.
Because we know that we do…pardon me…
fuck things up.
Badly. And we the victims of other people’s HPTFTU…
And so are whole groups, classes, nations of people…
So is the whole planet.
Paul speaks of love…
but we miss the mark most of the time.
And I think that one of the reasons we do
is because we are afraid.
We, like Jeremiah,
don’t think we are capable of being
who we are meant to be.
Like him, we are afraid that we don’t count now…
when we are young…
But we are also afraid
that we will never count at all.
We don’t believe we are loveable…
we are still afraid of being alone and unloved.
And the love that Paul describes
is so shocking in its scope,
And we are still so captive to our fear
of being on the outside…
That when we hear real Love speak
we tend to try to drive it out of town
and throw it off a cliff.
When Jesus explains how the good news of God
is for foreigners like the Syrophoenician widow
and the Syrian warrior Namaan,
he is talking about a love so wide
it goes beyond the boundaries of Israel…
of us and them…of in and out…
but I think what makes his hometown crowd
(and probably us, to be honest)
angry is the fear that if Jesus is for them…
he’s not for us…
as if loving everyone else, too,
is a sort of betrayal…
as if the love of God was as scarce a resource
as the approval we crave
from the rest of the world…
After all, we know the feeling
of being left behind and left out…
If there were television commentators
assessing our skills or critiquing our lives,
we wonder what good things
they would have to say about us.
We watch television, and we know
that we don’t belong
on the international stage as sport legends…
or on tv commercials
as the icons of beauty and success.
Those people are not us…so who are we?
Well…a voice spoke to Jeremiah’s doubt and fear
thousands of years ago…
And it speaks to ours today.
“I have known you since before you drew breath.
I have loved you forever.
You are my child,
and you are one who I trust
to bring my words to a world
that needs more than anything
to know that they don’t have to be afraid.”
The good news is…
God isn’t listening
to what anyone else is saying about you…
Or not saying about you…
God has said everything about you that matters already:
“I love you. You are mine.”
God’s love is not scarce.
God’s love for this whole universe
does not diminish you…
It connects you into a web of light and life
that is endless and safe and free.
Jesus’ first sermon of his public ministry in Luke…
the one that seemed to be going so well last week…
is another theme in the same symphony
whose notes called Jeremiah to bold witness.
Jesus is saying…I am here for her and for him…
for those people out there…
Maybe Jesus was trying to be provocative.
But when the people heard those words,
Maybe they felt like Jesus
was tearing the words of the prophet Isaiah
away from them.
Because they became so angry.
But then…even as the people who were afraid
that God was being taken away from them
for someone else…
even then, as they were angry enough to mob him
and quite literally throw him out…
Jesus moved peacefully through them.
That’s another irony of THPTFTU…of sin… isn’t it?
When we are afraid that we are losing hold of God,
we try to physically throw God away…
which is the exact opposite of what we really want,
But we can’t.
Having finally gone to see The Hobbit yesterday,
I would be remiss
if I didn’t find a link to J.R.R. Tolkein
in the arc of this story…
because Tolkein loved epic adventures
of transformation, loyalty and love…
almost as much as God does…
And the brave love of others for which God frees us
came across so strongly to me
in the words of hobbit Bilbo Baggins
when he was reunited with his company
after escaping the goblins…
though the dwarves still questioned his loyalty
and ability to share their quest.
“I know you doubt me, I know you always have,
and you're right.
I often think of Bag End. I miss my books,
and my armchair, and my garden.
See, that's where I belong; that's home,
and that's why I came back…
'cause you don't have one…a home.
It was taken from you,
but I will help you take it back if I can.”
Whether we feel ready or qualified
to be drawn into the adventure
of God’s redemption of the world,
we are called…we are loved…and we are claimed.
Jesus is for him and her and everyone out there…
And Jesus is for us.
God has the last word on our worth,
and to God, we are priceless.
In the freedom of that knowledge,
we know that God’s love for others
does not diminish God’s love for us…
and we, like Jeremiah, can bear that promise to the world without fear.
Thanks be to God. Amen.