Who are these people anyway?

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I can just imagine:  Isn’t that Dan and Joleen’s daughter?  Oh yeah, I used to babysit her and change her diapers.  Yes, and I had to discipline her in third grade when she flung ice cream in Lance’s face in the lunch room.  When she learned to drive and I saw her car coming, I would just stop and wait at the intersection until she zoomed by.  I could keep going, but that is all the dirt I’m giving you on me for now.  But, you get the picture.

 

4th
Sunday of Epiphany; February 3, 2013

Jeremiah
1.4-10; Psalm 71.1-6; 1 Cor. 13.1-13; Luke 4.21-30

Pastor
Renee Splichal Larson

 

Grace and
peace to you from our loving Creator, the Spirit who gives life, and our Lord
and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 Whenever I
am asked whether or not I would ever consider being a pastor in my hometown of
Garrison, ND, I say, “I don’t think so,” and refer to this Scripture reading
today.  “No prophet is accepted in the
prophet’s hometown,” Jesus says. 

I can just imagine:  Isn’t that Dan and Joleen’s daughter?  Oh yeah, I used to babysit her and change her
diapers.  Yes, and I had to discipline
her in third grade when she flung ice cream in Lance’s face in the lunch
room.  When she learned to drive and I
saw her car coming, I would just stop and wait at the intersection until she
zoomed by.  I could keep going, but that
is all the dirt I’m giving you on me for now. 
But, you get the picture.

The people
of Nazareth ask one another: “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”  The people know Jesus as “ordinary Jesus,”
their neighbor Joseph’s son.  And here he
is in the middle of their place of worship, reading the Holy Scriptures and
claiming it is now fulfilled in their hearing. 
Last week we heard what he read: 

“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 4.18-19).”

This isn’t
Jesus coming home to continue in the family business of carpentry.  Jesus comes home with a mission and a
self-understanding of his purpose for living and dying.  The problem is the people of Nazareth have a
different idea of who God is and who they believe Jesus to be.  When these ideas are challenged, they turn to
violence and rage and desire to kill Jesus.

The Bible
could not be more clear about who Jesus Christ primarily comes to earth for.  It is for those who are poor, those who are in
captivity, those who are blind, and those who are oppressed.  His purpose is to bring them good news. 

So two
questions then:  Who are these ones in
our communities and world?  And, what is
the good news Jesus brings?

Let’s start
with people who are poor.  For our
purpose today, we’ll think of poverty in two ways: first, financial poverty and
second, poor in spirit.  When I first
think of those who are poor, I think of developing world poor where people must
walk bare foot because they cannot afford shoes, where people do not know if
they will live another day because they have no food, where people do not have
a place to lay their head at night and rest. 

According
to this first way I think, very few people in our country are truly poor;
however, I have known and know plenty of people, particularly women, working
multiple jobs just to pay rent.  I know
of people on all kinds of assistance where if they wouldn’t have it, there
would be no food on the table or no place to lay their head.  In our communities this is what makes people
feel poor…when you have absolutely no idea what tomorrow will bring and where
the money will come from to help you live.

Another
form of poverty that we cannot forget is loneliness.  This is a poverty that lacks loving and
caring relationships.  It is a deep ache
within one’s belly for someone to care rightly for and love them.  This is way beyond romantic love.  It is love that seeps into your bones that
fills you with hope that never ends.  It
is a love that only comes from God.  Those
who are poor in spirit do not feel this love and have a void in them that
houses loneliness. 

Jesus
proclaims to his home community that these are the people he cares about and
who he plans on hanging out with.  The
good news Christ proclaims to those who are poor and lonely is: “Do not
worry.  I am here with you.  You are not forgotten and I will share in
your poverty and loneliness.”

So what
about those who are in captivity?  This
is an interesting concept being as we are on the correctional facility’s
campus.  Jesus makes it so clear that he
cares about people who are in prison. 
This means the ones who are literally locked up. 

It also
means whatever prisons we create for ourselves that keeps us mentally in
captivity, whether that is through fear, addiction, hate, or the belief that
you have no future.  It means being
captive to our own sin and the ways we constantly put ourselves before others
and fail to trust God.

Jesus
proclaims in his home community that he plans on breaking the chains that bind
people. The good news Jesus brings to those in captivity is this: “I forgive
you.  Let whatever is burdening you go.  Nothing you have done or could do will make
me stop loving you.”

Let’s move
to thinking about those who are oppressed. 
The Greek word for the oppressed literally means, “having been crushed
ones.”  I think of those who have
suffered from war, those sold into the sex trade, those whose land is occupied
by another country or people, and those who have been crushed by systems of
poverty, addiction, or abuse. 

These are
people who feel the heaviness of the world and Jesus specifically seeks these
ones out and says, “I suffer with you and it will not always be this way.  I will wipe away every tear from your
eyes.  Death, mourning, crying, and pain
will be no more.  Do not fear, for see, I
am making all things new.”

Now let’s
think about those who are blind.  In many
ways we are all blind.  We are unable to
see the goodness and presence of God in all things and all people.  We are unable to look upon others as those
for whom Christ died.  Paul writes in 1
Cor. 13.12: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to
face.  Now I know only in part; then I
will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”  Even Paul admits his blindness and inability
to know God and see how precious each life is, even his own.

To this,
God says in our Jeremiah reading to you this day: “Before I formed you in the
womb I knew you.”  The good news Jesus
brings to those who are blind is the truth in love.

What Jesus
gives to his home community is the truth of whom God is for.  Jesus communicates this by using stories of
the widow at Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian leper.  The people of Nazareth already have their
ideas of who God cares about and it certainly doesn’t include outsiders. 

Poor
foreign widows, dying children from famine, and a pagan leper general did not
fit their perception of who they thought should be included in the mercy and
grace of God.  Jesus lays it out there
for them that God does indeed care about the people they least expect God to
care about, and he wasn’t about to stick around Nazareth healing people.  He had a larger vision and mission.  For this, the people were filled with anger
and wanted to kill Jesus for it.

So what
truth does Christ need to share with you and me today?  Who is it you don’t want the mercy and grace
of God to be for? 

I recently
read a quote by author Anne Lamott:  “You
can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that
God hates all the same people you do.” God is not bound by what human beings
want.  God is free to love whomever God
desires to love…even you and the people we believe God’s mercy and grace should
not reach. 

My seminary
president, Duane Larson, at Wartburg when I was there said this:  “God goes down deep to where humanity does
not want God to be.”

God enters
into people’s suffering through Jesus because God is not okay with people
living in poverty, captivity, blindness, and oppression.  The beautiful and difficult thing about being
a follower of Jesus is the Spirit leading us where God goes…sometimes where we
do not want God our ourselves to be.  The
irony of it all and the cross is that in the depths of human suffering is where
love is realized, and where new life and release can finally begin. 

If you want
to find Christ, get in touch with your own loneliness and blindness.  Be in relationship with those who are
suffering.  For when you do, the Lord of
heaven and hearth will meet you because it is precisely where he wants to be.