We pick up today in our Gospel lesson from Luke exactly where we left off last week - actually, repeating the statement of Jesus, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” At the end of last week’s message, I asked you to think about what you feel God has promised you and, if the answer didn’t include a loving message, I threatened you with a coffee date from me.
I have gotten a few requests to meet up, which I’m excited to do, and the answer of “God has promised me love” begs further reflection. I struggled a little bit with the combination of today’s passages, but agree that the 1 Corinthians verses are a great backdrop to the story of Jesus’ preaching in Luke.
What does this promise of God’s love to the people even mean?
We are told God is love, we teach our children to love one another, we turn the volume up in the car when the Beatles’ song “All you need is love” comes on.
God’s love is so simple and so complex, so easy and so challenging.
In the Luke passages from last week, Jesus reminds the people of God’s promises, spoken through the prophet Isaiah centuries earlier:
“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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The people listen, they are amazed that this hometown boy, “Joseph’s son,” is speaking such a word of good news, and then the tone changes. Jesus preemptively calls them out on their doubt and reminds them further of God’s love, shown through the actions of the prophets Elijah and Elisha.
The people just heard a good word on God’s love! Shouldn’t they be filled with joy and happy?
Shouldn’t their reaction be to invite Jesus to the after-church potluck? (Which we are having today!)
However, the last verses in our selection today say they drove him out of town and wanted to throw him off a cliff!
What happened!? In Barbara Brown Taylor’s upcoming book, Holy Envy, she notes:
“[The people there] were not furious because Jesus had made special claims of himself. They were furious because he had taken a swing at their sense of divine privilege - and he had used their own scriptures to do it…”
By Jesus reminding them of the help that the widow at Zarephath and the Syrian Naaman received, he was reminding them that God’s redemptive love and release from oppression reaches beyond the Israelites. That love reaches to the Gentiles, the outsiders, the “other.” Particularly when reminding them of the healing of Naaman, because he was a Gentile leader of an army - he was a commander of the enemy!
That’s when the people essentially said, “Wait a second. You want us to share in this good news with our enemies?” In Taylor’s words, “their sense of divine privilege” was challenged.
Their sense that they held the monopoly on God’s favor and love was challenged. Taylor goes on to tell a story...“Once, in a minor attempt to preach it straight, I suggested that Christians who wanted to take Jesus’ sermon to heart might start by donating some of their outreach funds to a local Muslim community that was trying to buy land for a cemetery… Luckily, I was preaching in a town with no cliffs.” (www.pulpitfiction.com)
This is where the 1 Corinthians verses are so helpful. These verses on love were actually written by Paul to a church that was divided and quarreling. These words were a reminder to them of what love is and what love is not.
In reading them today and thinking of the ways we sometimes push people away from us or place them in an “other” category, we are reminded of how to reach out in God’s love. And we can read between the lines a little to learn that…
...love is not always easy, it is not about getting our way or getting what we want, it is not always agreeing or even having fun.
...love does not mean we are used, abused, or stepped on.
...love should challenge us to grow as we age and mature, when we put an end to childish ways.
Practicing God’s love, as Jesus reminded his listeners, means doing hard things.
...it means taking a deep breath before saying something you will regret later
...it means saying to a friend who is plotting revenge on their ex, “maybe there’s a different way to find peace”
...it means being patient to understand the reason behind someone’s beliefs with whom you disagree or knowing that just because their personality and habits are different, doesn’t mean they’re bad
...it means looking at cultures from around the world that make no sense to us and recognizing that our culture makes no sense to them
Living out this kind of love is indeed a “still more excellent way” of living. Brian Peterson, on workingpreacher.com, says love “...is a busy, active thing that never ceases to work. It is always finding ways to express itself for the good of others...true love is not measured by how good it makes us feel. In the context of 1 Corinthians, it would be better to say that the measure of love is its capacity for tension and disagreement without division.”
I wonder if the people who were Jesus’ listeners that day would have reacted differently to his teaching had they heard Paul’s words and reflection on love first. (Probably not, but one can hope.)
When we read these two Scripture selections together, we should be challenged to reflect on how we are showing godly love to the modern-day Gentiles - those people not assumed to be in the “divinely privileged” group. How would we react to news of miraculous healing or release from oppression for them?
We pride ourselves here on being open and inclusive to everyone, and I believe we are! And I also believe we each still hold our individual prejudices of “other people,” even as we work hard to get rid of them.
Taylor says that we should expect to be challenged and upset by the truth, by the "people sent to yank our chains and upset our equilibrium so we do not confuse our own ideas about God with God." We don't like "being told that our enemies are God's friends...No matter how hard we try, we cannot seem to get God to respect our boundaries. God keeps plowing right through them, inviting us to follow or get out of the way" ("The Company of Strangers" in Home by Another Way).
How often have you had a set stereotype in your mind of a category of people and then fortunate enough to have a person from that group infiltrate your life and your mindset - only to erase all of your assumptions?
Think about one person or group of people - whether you know them personally or not - that you’ve bad-mouthed, said unkind things about them behind their back or to their face. Pray about how you can speak about them more lovingly. Not that you have to agree or condone their actions, but our words are important and they reveal our hearts.
We need to recognize when and how we have some of the attitude of Jesus’ listeners in us….when have we scoffed at the good news of God’s love because it means we might “lose” our place as the divinely privileged?
Acknowledging. praising, and taking part in God’s loving interaction in other people’s lives does not take away from God’s loving interaction in ours.
The good news for all is that love is patient, teaching us to care for ourselves and others.
Love is kind, giving us the courage to be kind to those who are sometimes unkind to us.
Love is not pompous, giving us wisdom to speak truth in love for the sake of God’s kingdom.
Love doesn’t seek its own interests, praying for those in need and for those who serve them.
Love is not quick-tempered, pausing to pray for those who are angry, who are abused or do the abuse.
Love bears all things, enduring many cares and much stress, finding ways to help.
God’s love never fails, even through the hardest days and the journey of death.
(~ adapted from post on The Presbyterian Church in Canada)
Scripture: 1 Corinthans 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30