The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
3 February 2019
Epiphany +4, C
St. Joseph-St. John, Lakewood
In Christ there is no East or West,
there is no South or North,
but one great fellowship of love,
throughout the whole wide earth. Amen.
My senior year of college,
I had been approved for postulancy,
approved to go to seminary.
I remember preaching
at the church that sponsored me for ordination
on a Sunday morning
and going back to my tiny home town in the afternoon
I remember listening to my sermon in my car
as I pulled into the Baptist church
where I was baptized
taught how to love,
and formed to be a Christian.
I don’t remember anything about the service.
I remember seeing the people
who helped make me into the Christian that I am.
I remember telling them about how my semester was going
and my plans for the following school year,
to go to seminary
to be an Episcopal priest.
And I remember that one of the first things
a very close family friend said to me was
“You know you can’t forgive sins right?”
This story from my life
isn't meant to cast myself as some kind of prophet
prophets usually end up dead, as Jesus learns today.
Rather this is meant to illustrate
that going home after leaving,
especially back to communities of faith,
is really difficult.
That’s what Jesus learns today
even as he tries to teach those from his home town --
and us --
the vast wide expansiveness of God’s love.
We heard last week how Jesus comes to Nazareth
proclaims release to the captives,
recovery of sight to the blind,
Good News to the poor,
and says “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Their response is excitement,
Joseph’s son has come home!
They’d been hearing stories about his miracles,
and wanted him to perform them there.
Jesus knew humans though.
He grew up around these people.
He knew that despite their best hopes,
their best desires,
their longings for God’s reign,
he would always just be Joseph’s son.
“You know you can’t forgive sins, right?”
Before they can even ask him
to perform wonders like he’s performed in Capernaum,
Jesus tells them no.
Luke writes that they were astonished
by the gracious words that came from his mouth.
Rather than performing more signs and miracles,
Jesus offers more gracious words.
“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
except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.
“There were also many lepers in Israel
in the time of the prophet Elisha,
and none of them was cleansed
except Naaman the Syrian.”
The gracious words Jesus offers his home town
are that God already has a history of working miracles
outside the people of Israel,
as well as to the followers
of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Jesus tells them today,
when their hearts are looking for miracles,
that in him there is no south or north, there is no east or west.
Then they try to kill him.
Jesus proclaiming the expansiveness of God’s love
for pagans and faithful alike,
makes the people of Jesus’ hometown so angry
they try to stone him by throwing him off a cliff.
That’s how hard it us for us humans to understand
just how deep, broad, and wide God’s love us.
Jesus tells his family friends in his home town
that God’s love for creation is abundant,
I think sometimes it’s hardest for Christians,
people who follow Jesus to hear that
because they don’t believe it about themselves,
that no matter how much they do the right thing
or check off the boxes,
or believe from the depths of their souls,
there’s an uncertainty of God’s love,
an unwillingness to accept it.
If we can’t accept God’s true, deep, and mad love for ourselves,
of course we’ll be willing to put restrictions
on how God can love other people
who aren’t doing everything right,
or aren’t even trying.
God’s loving us is offered with no strings,
but it does change us when we live into it.
When we celebrate that God loved creation
enough to be a part of it in Jesus,
we work to care for creation —
rocks and rills, prisoner and impoverished,
to offer our thanks to God for that love.
When Jesus reminded the people of his hometown
that God had demonstrated love and mercy
for those outside their own in group,
the people tried to kill him.
When he continued this message,
the leaders found a way to kill him.
That wasn’t the end,
but it’s a strong message to us.
Proclaiming God’s love is risky.
Let’s take some risks like Jesus.