Preacher: The Rev. Richard P. Limato, Deacon of St. Michael’s Church
We all have our personal stories of faith. Perhaps it was a moment in time or maybe a journey over time where we found ourselves drawn more deeply into our relationship with Christ and our Church.
James was in his early twenties when it happened to him. He was living an ordinary life, the usual day – to – day experiences, nothing too dramatic was happening.
One day he met up with an old friend who was on his way to church and James joined him.
To his complete surprise his entire life was turned upside down.
No one was more surprised, He discovered a sobering truth on that day, James met Christ.
“He was as real to me as you are in this room,” James reported.
He began living in a whole new world, one he didn’t anticipate, a world he couldn’t fully understand or explain.
He felt more alive than he ever did before.
James suddenly found himself in a world where God’s love for him and for others was more than he could fathom.
For a time, James held tightly to this creed.
Yet two nagging questions persisted, questions we might ask as well.
What happens now that I believe?
What am I here for now?
James approached his pastor for some advice.
The advice offered was firmly grounded in the message of the Gospels for the third and fourth Sundays after Epiphany.
These Gospels place Jesus amidst his local community of faith in Nazareth, a community of Jewish refugees living in exile.
In last week’s Gospel, Jesus read from the Prophet Isaiah.
“God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, sent me to announce pardon to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is God’s time to shine!”
And with all eyes on him, in today’s Gospel, Jesus boldly says, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true in this place.” (The Message (Bible) translated by Eugene Peterson)
Initially, these grace-filled words were well received by those in the Temple. Jesus was speaking to his community, all too familiar with this scripture’s hope and promise. The Messiah would surely come one day to save his people.
Yet it was inconceivable to them that the son of Joseph, born of humble origin, was speaking words with such authority.
Could this actually be? Was he proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor, proclaiming that in him the scripture was fulfilled this very day?
Jesus continued causing more consternation.
He told two stories from Hebrew scripture. The first story about Elijah providing for a widow in Zaraphath in Sidon and the second, the story of the healing of Naaman, the Syrian.
The crowd suddenly turned on him and was filled with rage.
Jesus was teaching a lesson they obviously did not want to hear.
He was brazenly offering these non – Jews, extreme others to those in Nazareth, as exemplars of faith, as recipients of God’s compassion.
The crowd wondered.
Why was Jesus relating Hebrew scripture to those beyond their own community of faith?
Why was he teaching a perspective that challenged their worldview?
Why had he left out the words from Isaiah promising God’s vengeance to those who held the Jews in exile?
And why was this young upstart arrogantly proclaiming the fulfillment of the scripture on this very day?
Jesus’s message threatened the social and religious boundaries of the day.
He was proclaiming that God’s redemptive love was available to all, those outside of Nazareth, those outside our own holy walls.
Fulfillment of this scripture challenged those in Jesus’ time incapable of identifying with marginalized outsiders, the extreme others, those who lived beyond their own community.
Much like it does today when we refuse to see or accept the plight of those we deem to be “the extreme others” in our own lives, those who we disinherit or disenfranchise with our own judgments.
Jesus knew what he was doing. He intended to challenge the social boundaries of his time, and ours.
In the midst of this community of faith, in this very moment, Jesus is revealing God’s new narrative.
He launches his ministry with a message of compassion, hope and vindication to those forced to live on the edges of society.
Jesus reveals God’s worldview.
His message is clear.
Nothing will confine our God from embracing those beyond the established social and religious boundaries.
He cautions us not to look the other way at the world of suffering, not to be indifferent or worse mean-spirited to those who live on the edges of what we deem to be “our community,” those who have their backs against the barriers we have built.
It was stunning news to those in the Synagogue that day and perhaps to those of us sitting in church this day.
Upsetting news to those who think otherwise, those who refuse to accept the radical inclusiveness of God’s love; God’s desire to dismantle walls, to love those deemed unlovable, those whom we neglect to see.
Jarring news when we consider all the inconvenience that this implies, how this stands to reorder our lives, how we choose to live our faith.
Like those in the Synagogue that day, we might let our own self-preservation and complacency get in the way.
We might listen, but not really hear, respond with indignation and refuse to follow.
We might fail or refuse to reckon with those who live on the edges of our own parish and larger community.
We might let our own judgments affect what or who takes custody of our hearts; the place where Jewish tradition teaches God’s presence is most deeply found.
As he launches his ministry, Jesus teaches us that God’s story comes alive on the edges of society.
To love like Christ, to believe like Christ, means to move beyond our own interests, self – preservation, self-regard to embrace the outsider, to create a new narrative, to move more deeply beyond “just believing” into the story of a faithful and enduring Christian.
A Christian willing to reach out to others in love, Christians willing to cultivate a heart like Jesus.
A Christian who let’s love take custody of the heart.
Divine, not romantic love, the perfect love described in Corinthians, love that is patient, and kind, unselfish and unconditional, that does not insist in its own way, that does not rejoice in wrong doing, that bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things, rejoices in truth.
Love that doesn’t disinherit, doesn’t build walls, doesn’t turn away from the edge places of life.
Love that God has for us, love that we should have for all people.
The love found in our Baptismal covenant the love that “strives for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every living being.”
When he came to Nazareth, Jesus, Son of Joseph, went into the synagogue on the Sabbath as was his custom.
He read from the Prophet Isaiah. He recounted from the Hebrew scripture.
He preached words that challenged his society, words that challenge ours today.
He taught what it means to be in relationship with God’s people, how to be part of God’s liberating work.
Jesus boldly announced the intention of his ministry and what is ours to follow.
What happens now that we believe?
What are we here for now?
We love like Jesus.
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.