Thursday, February 21, 2013

Don’t You Get It?


Sermon audio is available here for up to one month.

Do you ever feel like the answer to some problem or another is just as plain as the nose on your face but no one seems to get it? That certainly seems to be the attitude of the majority of the talking heads in the media today. The argument of one point or another is made clearly and concisely as if there were no other variables than personal freedom, or corporate responsibility, or mental health, or any number of things that do not exist independently and cannot truly be controlled. Then the next step in the process of eliminating opposition is to describe any other position as lacking understanding and with no grasp on reality.

Of course sometimes that is true. Sometimes there are groups or individual perspectives that are not well thought out.  It does seem to me, however, that those groups or individuals who are just plain wrong tend to be the ones claiming that someone else does not get it.

Take the synagogue in Nazareth for example. Jesus proclaims God’s jubilee – the release of captives and the recovery of sight for the blind – and they spoke well of him and said, “Hey, that’s Joseph’s boy!” Doubtless they were aware that he had established a following. They knew he had cured the sick. It seemed pretty obvious that God favored him. It seemed pretty obvious that he was here to begin the revolution against Rome just as the Macabees did against the Seleucid Empire only a few generations before.

But Jesus said, “You just don’t get it, do you? God’s vision of grace and mercy has never been as small as yours. Do you think it was an accident that Elijah helped a widow who was not an Israelite? And what about Naaman? He was a general for an opposing power!” And when their own history proved the limitation of their understanding they did the only logical thing. They said, “Kill him!” And they drove him to a cliff so that he could fall to his death. That way no one person was responsible – while all were satisfied.
And then Jesus demonstrates that their concept of judgment – just as their concept of grace – is much smaller than God’s, and he passed among them unharmed. I’ve often wondered how. Was it miraculous and metaphysical? Did he touch each one on the shoulder and look each one in the eye so that none could bear the weight of personal responsibility for his death? We will never know.

I do wonder if they ever got it. I wonder if they ever realized what Jesus meant when he said that on that day the scripture had been fulfilled in their hearing. 

This is where we left off last week, and I encouraged you to think of God’s promise as being fulfilled anytime you experience or see restoration taking place in the world around you. 

The scriptures we have received today push us a little further.  They seem to egg us on a little and even push us like a finger in the chest saying, “Don’t you get it?” Not only are we to look for God’s promise of restoration being fulfilled – we need to be a part of it.
Just as God cuts Jeremiah off and says, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy,’” God cuts us off at the pass with, “Do not say, ‘I am only a (insert category here).’” You see, I have heard this passage all of my life in youth groups and conferences as encouragement for young prophets – youth and children who are held at bay by the pejorative title of “the future of the church.” Well as I have said before and doubtless will again, youth and children are no more the future of the church than the elderly are its past! We are all the church together – here and now, today!

And if that is the case – and if the command of God is not to let age, or anything else, get in the way – then the same can be said of any of us, regardless of our natural limitations. Not only that, but the fear of needing to be the one who comes up with the words to say or things to do is removed by knowing that God will put God’s word in your mouth when you are open to it. And when it is God’s word it has the power to uplift, but it might just uproot. And not only that, if we hear God’s invitation to speak – whether it is with words or actions – and we refuse to do it, we just might be the ones to be uprooted. For in verse 17 God says, “Do not break down before them or I will break you before them.”

But the good news is that – although God does have words to speak and actions to do in and through each of us – our task is not necessarily as grand as the lone prophet appointed to speak truth to the nations. Our task is to be a community that demonstrates grace, mercy, and mutual forbearance. 

Our task is to hear the words of Paul in the midst of our conflicts when he says, “Don’t you get it?” Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not selfish or boastful. Love does not expect perfection – it labors toward perfection. Because even the things we think of as perfect will one day fade away. Only love remains. Love hopes all things, bears all things, and believes all things. Love is love’s own reward.

I was reminded of these things the other day when I heard a commentary on the radio about a surprise reunion between the comedian Steve Harvey and another man who had helped finance his early career.  Somehow they had lost touch over the years between Steve’s early struggle and ultimate success. Possibly this was because Steve was indebted to him for more than he could pay. Through tears the tough as nails comedian said, “You bet on me.”

The radio d.j. then encouraged the listeners to think about people who have gambled on them in their lives, and I began to think, “Who hasn’t?!” But then I remembered one of the youth advisors in the church I served in VA. I caused Kathy a lot of stress. At one point this became undeniable, and I was thanking her for her deep commitment to the church. I’ll never forget her response. She said, “Well, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think you were worth it.”

And that, friends, is the whole of the gospel. When we consider Christ’s life laid down for us, we ought to hear God saying, “Don’t you get it? I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think you were worth it!”

Not only that, but when we consider the opportunity of being uplifted – or uprooted and broken – by the word of God, we ought to hear God saying, “Don’t you get it? I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think you were worth it!”

And when we consider God’s calling into covenant relationships through the church, we must see each other as “worth the effort” in the eyes of God. If we can’t do it here, there is little hope out there. And when we can’t even do it here, there is yet the Body of Christ that has been broken for us – that we might taste and see that the Lord is good. 
The beautiful thing in all of that is that we, too, have been called together to be the Body of Christ which has been broken for the world. And in our brokenness there is an abundance of opportunity for grace and mercy and forgiveness – but we will never receive unless we also give it as freely and lavishly as we have received it. Amen.
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