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4th Weekend After Epiphany (C/RCL) Jan. 30 & 31 "God & Love Do Not Discriminate"

Fourth Weekend After Epiphany (C/RCL): “God & Love Do Not Discriminate”

Jeremiah 1:4-10; Luke 4:21-30

January 30-31, 2016

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ

            When we believe we are called by God to do something, we persevere!  We endure!  We don’t back off the truth as we see it.  We don’t jettison our principles for safety or convenience sake.  We stand our ground.

            This past week the paper reported that for the first time a member of the U.S. military has been named one of the Righteous Among the Nations, a Gentile who placed himself in harm’s way to save the lives of Jews during World War II.   The recipient is Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds.  He was the highest -ranking non-commissioned officer interned at Ziegenhain stalag in January of 1945.   One day a prison guard ordered him to identify all the Jewish prisoners of war in the camp, although the Geneva Convention only requires name, rank and serial number to be disclosed.  When the non-com’s protests fell on deaf ears he announced, “We are all Jews here,” and ordered his fellow 1,000 POW’s to assemble in front of their barracks.  He pointed out to the commandant that if all of them were executed he would surely stand trial for committing a war crime.  That brave and ingenious man saved all those lives and is now recognized on Yad Vashem, the Avenue of the Righteous in Jerusalem.1

            He didn’t speak of it after the war.  I don’t know if his faith consciously informed his decision, don’t know whether or not faith was the catalyst for his courage.    But I have no doubt the Holy Spirit was abroad in that awful place on that momentous day and that Heaven rejoiced.

            Things started out pretty well in the Nazareth synagogue on the day that Jesus preached there.  Because of the snow last week most of you missed the first part of the story, but it was Jesus choosing to read this passage from the prophet Isaiah:

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.   (Luke 4:18)

Then comes the startling announcement/revelation in today’s Gospel:

Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)

Huh??  How??  The worshipers in the synagogue that day had to be puzzled, but initially, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”  (Luke 4:22a)  Jesus sees more in them than they’re letting on, though.  He ventures a guess that they’re wanting Him to perform on His “home field” of Nazareth exorcisms and healings like He had in Capernaum.     Jesus then dips into their corporate memory and reminds them, “…no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.”  (Luke 4:25)  (Jeremiah in the first lesson is a prime example!  Most of his fellow Jews hated him!)  Jesus emphasizes His point by mentioning two pagans who received God’s mercy through Elijah and Elisha’s ministry, and the people are so aggravated (actually murderously angry) that they drive Jesus not just out of the synagogue but out of town as well.  They want to push Him off the cliff to His death, but God intervenes.  St. Luke simply reports:

he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. (Luke 4:30)

Yikes!

            In those days, many Jews hated non-Jews.  They probably figured, why should God’s goodness be wasted on non-believers??  And yet God had announced through the prophet Isaiah that Israel would be “a light to the nations.”  And in today’s first lesson the Lord says to Jeremiah, “I appointed you a prophet to the nations,” that is, to the Gentiles.  Jeremiah’s fellow countrymen didn’t like him any more than Jesus’ neighbors liked Him.  I found an interesting comment while I studied this Gospel:

“[Jesus] didn’t go elsewhere because He was rejected – He was rejected because He went elsewhere.”2

            Religious people of many different faiths sometimes draw a solid line, build a high wall between themselves and everyone else.  It’s as if they’re afraid there’s not enough of God’s love and mercy to go around.  Or it’s as if they believe they’re worthy and no one else is.  Our belief is that we’re not worthy, nor is anybody else, for “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  (Romans 3:23)  Salvation comes as gift, not reward. 

            So we need to be on the alert, always, to see if our practice matches our beliefHospitality is one of the core values our faith family has identified through our visioning process.  So we need to ask ourselves frequently: Do we welcome everyone as we have been welcomed?  Or are we like the Nazarenes who thought less of their neighbors in Capernaum?  How do we choose to whom we minister?  Whom do we notice?  I don’t think we’re consciously overlooking anyone, but are some of God’s children still invisible to us?  If we share in Jesus’ mission to the poor, the imprisoned, the blind and the oppressed – are we recognizing them so that we can minister to them??

            Going back to where we started: when we believe we are called by God to do something, we persevere!  We endure!  We don’t back off the truth as we see it.  We don’t jettison our principles for safety or convenience sake.  We stand our ground.  Like Jeremiah did, despite the flak he experienced and the persecution he endured.  Like Jesus did, despite the rejection He experienced and the cross He endured.  Today’s story of the rejection in Nazareth sets the stage for our Lenten journey which begins a week from Thursday, the journey from Ash Wednesday to Holy Week and Easter.  Perhaps the truth we need to learn better and live out more fully this Lent is: love doesn’t discriminate and love doesn’t count the cost.  Nor should we.  Amen

Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham           

                        1Julie Hirschfeld Davis, “Wartime Act of Defiance: ‘We Are All Jews Here” (NY Times, January 28, 2016), p. A8.

    2Fred B. Craddock, Luke (Interpretation; Louisville: John Knox, 1990), p. 64.