Monday, February 1, 2010

Preacher's Are Like Whales

There is an old saying, “Preachers are like whales. They don’t get harpooned until they start spouting off.”
A saying that this morning I am all too aware off, because this morning’s Gospel from Luke is about Jesus spouting off and upsetting some good religious folks in his hometown of Nazareth.
See Jesus sermon had been going well.
“Everyone spoke well of him”
He told the good people of Nazareth that the Good News that they had hoped for had been fulfilled in their hearing.
That God had “Brought Good News to the poor and 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 poor people of Nazareth who had been enslaved by the Romans welcomed this good news Jesus brought to the synagogue that morning at worship.
What they didn’t like was Jesus then telling them that the message was not only for them, but it was for the Gentiles too.
That God in the time of Elijah and Elisha had saved Gentiles as well as Jews.

Now it was not merely that the good people of Nazareth were prejudice.
It was that they believed the Gentiles to be a sinful people.
They were dirty, and did unclean things that the law of God strictly forbade.
They ate the wrong food, did not wash properly, worked on the Sabbath, and were not the chosen ones of God.
Jesus correction is that God always chooses whom God wills.
Jesus reminds us that we can never put human conditions on God even when it comes to the law that we often ascribe to God.
Because of Jesus sermon that morning the good religious folks of Nazareth were so mad wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff.
That is how enraged they were by what Jesus preached about that morning.

My question for all of you this morning the good people of Concordia Lutheran Church is who do you want to keep out?
All of us to some degree or another have someone in our mind who is not worthy of God’s attention.
And sometimes we even use the Bible to do it.
We use the word of God to show that our prejudice or our own self righteousness is justified.
Who is it for you?
Whoever it is we have to be careful because God always surprises us.
The Good News of Jesus Christ is not just for us, but for all the people we think unworthy.

One of the great issues of our day is homosexuality.
It is not a new thing of course.
But because it is out in our society it has been hotly debated.
This past summer the ELCA once again debated this issue at our national church wide assembly.
As of January first gay marriage became legal in the state of New Hampshire.
This morning I want us to put aside the issue of gay marriage or clergy being allowed to serve congregations who are in committed same gendered relationships.
I want us to put those issues on the back burner.
I think that they are political issues and they have no place in my mind in pulpit.
If you want to ask me about my position on these issues as a citizen of this country I will give it to you.
What we are here to do this morning is to hear God’s word.
And what that word says to us is that there is no one that God excludes.
There are people that we exclude, but God will chose whom God wills.
If God wants to pick a widow in Sidon to save his prophet God will.
If God wants to save Naaman of Syrian from leprosy God will.
The Good News of God is not just for us who think we are holy it is for everyone, and especially for those we think are not.

My grandparents taught me a great deal about the issue of homosexuality.
They taught me about God’s love and tolerance.
You see my grandmother’s brother Karl was gay.
My grandmother grew up in a very strict pietistic Swedish Lutheran home.
Her father, my great grandfather, was a Lutheran minister.
My Grandmother was not allowed to play cards or dance.
And being gay was out of the question in her household.
So my uncle Karl did what was expected of him.
He got married, had kids, and tried to be “normal”.
The only problem was that he was who he was.
He ended up getting divorced, becoming estranged from his children, and becoming an alcoholic.
He died a lonely man, except for the love and support my grandparents continued to give him.

Now, one could quote seven biblical passages about the sin of my great uncle Karl.
You could use the Bible to suggest that he deserved what he got in life.
But what I think Jesus challenged the people within the synagogue that morning and the one I am challenging with you today is what about the rest of the Biblical witness.
What about the passages like we read from Paul’s letter this morning that speaks of love.
In fact, Paul tells us that nothing is more important than love.
Consider this translation from Eugene Peterson’s The message,
1 Corinthians 13
The Way of Love
1 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. 2If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing. 3-7If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.

12We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
13But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

We can follow the letter of the law, be the best person in the world, have all the faith, and understand all the mysteries and if we don’t have love then it all means nothing.
That is what I am asking us to consider this morning.
That God’s love has no bounds.
That the person you can’t stand, the person whose behavior is abhorrent to you, is also loved by God.
And that person you are called to love as well.

You see people are not political issues, they are not meant to be debated on television, or in church halls.
People are people meant to be loved and cared for.
My grandparents are not moral crusaders for some gay agenda, they simply loved and cared for someone in their life and taught their children and grandchildren to do the same.
This is the stronger message in the Bible.
It does not negate sin it only suggests that God’s love is bigger than sin.

And thank God because my sin is pretty bad.
I want God to forgive my sin why would I negate that from someone else.
That is what St. Paul is trying to get the church at Corinth to understand, it is what Jesus is trying to get the good people of Nazareth to understand.
It is what we as God’s people here need to constantly remind ourselves.
Church is not about taking theological stands and then stubbornly defending them until we get our way or leave because not enough people agree with us.
It is about the relationships we form with one another and our God.
It is about how well we welcome into our midst the stranger and the outsider.
Henri Nouwen the great spiritual writer says it this way:
Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them a space where change can take place.
It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.
It is not to lead our neighbor into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment.
This is what I hope for our church.
Is that we as the people of God will offer space for all of us to experience God.
That we can do that without always judging the worthiness of someone else, but just offer space for them to be themselves and to know God’s love.
This does not mean that everyone does whatever they want it means that our lives are governed by the ethics of love, understanding, and peace.
This sermon might make you mad, or you might not think this is an appropriate topic to talk about.
But the topic this morning is about who God loves and cares about.
The answer is everyone.
That is the clear message of Jesus sermon to the good religious folks of Nazareth.
I worried about this sermon.
In the end I decided to trust all of you.
That you would hear the message as intended not as some conspiracy to get you to think a certain way, but as an invitation to expand your thinking about God’s vision and love for all people.
This morning I would have to risk getting harpooned because God’s love is for all people, and that might seem easy to accept until we hear who those other people are.
This morning let us share the good news with all people.
Let us love as God has loved us.
Let us know that God’s love is bigger than our prejudice or our sin. Ame

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