getting back into the habit of blogging also means posting my sermons as well. (it also helps when you are able to write them on the computer instead of by hand like i was when the 'puter died.)
so i will share this one here based upon luke 4:14-30.
In the name of Jesus; amen.
This past Monday I sat in the Parish House of Bethesda Lutheran Church in New Haven, CT with about 15 people, mostly clergy for an informal conversation with Bishop Younan of the ELCJHL (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land.) Bishop Younan was speaking at Yale later on that night about the situation in Palestine Israel and had agreed to meet with some area clergy for an informal discussion.
After giving us a brief introduction of his work people were invited to ask questions; I had one:
“If we could only take one thing you said back to our congregations this coming Sunday what would you want us to tell them?”
He shared a statistic with us and asked us to bring it to you. 10 years ago the population of the Holy Land comprised of 15% Christians, the number today has dropped to 2%.
The statistic was startling. The reason for the drop is mostly due to immigration of Palestinian Christians to the United States, Canada, and Australia. They leave to provide better lives for their families, many of whom are separated because of the ongoing conflict and strict restrictions placed upon Palestinians in general.
Our brothers and sisters in Christ are fleeing their hometowns.
I want to share something else Bishop Younan said: If asked, he told us, which was needed first in the Middle East democracy or justice he would say justice because extremists are too smart; they know how to get the votes. And he wasn’t just speaking of Muslim extremists, but Jewish extremists, and Christian extremists as well.
In today’s Gospel Jesus, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, returns to Nazareth, his hometown and goes to the Synagogue as was his custom. There he reads the words of 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.”
He sits down, all the attention of the room on him and says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Moments later the people try to kill him because they become enraged by his message.
I am always a bit scared to preach on this text. Most preachers want to challenge their listeners with their sermons, but I’ve yet to meet one who wants to enrage them to the point of violence. And so this text challenges me, especially this week as I continue to contemplate Bishop Younan’s words.
It might be easy to say that in light of the statistic he shared and the gospel today that Jesus is no longer welcome in his hometown. But I don’t think that’s it at all. And at the risk of sounding political I might say something else entirely.
As Americans we tend to think that Jesus is our hometown hero. With the presidential race for 2008 already begun we are going to hear the words, “God bless America” an awful lot. We pray fervently (as well we should) for our troops fighting in Iraq. And the Left Behind series of books which lifts up our country as a new Jerusalem, is now so well franchised that they have made a video game about it.
Jesus belongs to us. Afterall, we are American and American are entitled to so many things so why not Jesus and all of his promises?
I shared with you the statistic Bishop Younan gave us because he asked us to, but I shared his statement about democracy and justice with you because it disturbed me when he said it. Aren’t justice and democracy interchangeable I thought? It was a knee jerk reaction to what he said about an American notion and I am American.
How can we have justice without democracy first?
What Jesus teaches that day in the synagogue is justice, God’s justice. And God’s justice is maddening because it is never just about me or about us.
God’s justice is universal and communal and so far away from our notions of individuality or personal ownership. Nazareth could stake no claim on Jesus and neither can we.
Instead God’s justice is about our belonging to God. Even in our personal relationships to Jesus it’s that we are his, not that he is ours.
And at the risk of sounding universalistic the fact of the matter is that we all belong to God: Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Pagans, Atheists, and Christians; Palestinians, Iraqi, Israeli, African, Swedish, and American. We are God’s.
And God’s justice is meant for all of us.
And I hope that infuriates you; not because it offended anyone, but because God’s justice is kept from too many, left unrealized, and not enacted in the lives of others.
I hope it infuriates you; not so you’ll drive me off some cliff, but so that you might be driven to love and actions of love.
It was love that claimed us, gathered us in, and gave us value. And it is love that calls us out into a world of “me, me, me!” to proclaim a message of God’s justice first for all people.
Jesus is indeed a fulfillment of scripture; God’s greatest loving act, we should live it in such a way that the world changes because of it.