Posted By Beckie Sweet on Feb 2, 2022 | 0 comments

January 30, 2022 ~ Fourth Sunday after Epiphany ~ Rev. Beckie Sweet

Fulfilling God, Help me to expect miracles.

Help me to get past the borders of my eyes,

the roadblocks of my mind, the narrow door of my heart.

May my soul embrace the mystery of Your magnificent love!

May my heart rejoice over the unexpected and undefined!

May my mind and body sigh with the sheer awe of it all. Amen.[i]

            As we approach today’s scripture text from Luke’s 4th Chapter, the ministry of Jesus was just getting rolling.  After his baptism and time in the wilderness, Jesus went forth to proclaim God’s gospel of love.  As he was preaching in synagogues throughout Galilee, he entered his hometown of Nazareth.

            As a young boy, Jesus had attended the synagogue there with his father where he would have participated in worship regularly.  Attentively listening to the scriptures read from the Book of the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, Scripture tells us Jesus grew in knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.  Now, the son of Joseph had returned, having received praise in the surrounding communities, but knowing that what he had to say here would not be received well.

            As there were no permanent rabbis in the outlying villages, itinerant ones were always welcomed.  When Jesus came to worship as was his custom, he was invited to read scripture and reflect on it.  The scroll handed to him that day was from the prophet Isaiah.  Unrolling it, he chose the place where it is written:

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

            Wrapping up the scroll, he handed it to the attendant and said: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)  While folks watched him intently and were amazed at the authority with which he spoke, they also realized that he had dropped a theological bombshell on them.  Not only was Jesus, son of Joseph, this homegrown boy claiming to be the Messiah, the fulfillment of the prophesy, he was also claiming that God loves all people, including those crude Gentiles!  The congregation demanded proof of Jesus’ authority, as the scripture account goes on.  Jesus refused their demands.  The people lacked faith, and thus were not receptive to God’s miraculous fulfillment of this or any other prophesy. 

            You may remember how this narrative concludes.  Rage took over, and the congregation became a mob bent on driving Jesus out of town and perhaps even killing him.  But Jesus walked right through the crowd and went on his way.  The people Jesus once knew best lacked love, and they rejected the Son of God’s love. 

            So, Jesus moves on, and presents the gospel of love to others.  Miracles were done where faith existed.  His words were received by those with open hearts.  God’s love was demonstrated in word and confirmed in action.  Even in Jesus’ death and resurrection, that love was confirmed.  Love is so much more than a warm, fuzzy feeling we get somedays, and then vanishes on others.  Love IS Action.  Love is what we choose to do, and how we choose to treat others, especially the most vulnerable ones: the poor, the captives, the blind (or physically and mentally challenged), the oppressed, and those in debt. 

            As a middle-aged couple met with their pastor in preparation for their upcoming wedding, the pastor lead them in a discussion about the meaning of love.  The pastor told them that to love – really love – was to reach out to another with only the desire to care, share, comfort, encourage, or give hope.  One of those present mentioned that she had witnessed different kinds of love in the church.  She said that her parents are loving people, and that they had made sure that she made it to Sunday School and worship regularly.  Faith and the church were very important to her family.

            She went on to say, “After I left home, my brother, Jimmy, was born.  He was a change-of-life baby and was physically and mentally somewhat impaired.  It was hard on my parents.  They loved Jimmy so much.  They wanted him to know God loved him, too.  Every Sunday they took him to church.  One afternoon their pastor came to visit and said, ‘Jimmy is very disruptive in church.  Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if Jimmy stayed home on Sunday mornings?’ he suggested.  Jimmy was being rejected because he just didn’t fit in.  After that visit, my parents stopped going to church.

            She continued, “That pastor left a few years later, and the church called another.  As the new pastor was looking over the membership files, he noticed that my parents were faithful in sending in their offerings, but they never came to worship or participated in any congregational events.  Asking the church secretary what the story was, he learned all about Jimmy.

            “That afternoon the pastor walked across the field – our home is on the other side of a field behind the church.  After visiting for some time with my parents, he invited them to come to worship on Sunday.  ‘Well, it’s sort of hard, pastor, with Jimmy.  It’s just a difficult situation,’ my mother replied.  The pastor wouldn’t accept any excuse, as he replied, ‘God loves you and your son.  I’ve walked across the field to make sure you understand that and to ask you to come to church this Sunday, and to bring Jimmy, of course.’  ‘We’ll see,’ was Mom’s hesitant response.  Sunday came, but neither Jimmy nor his parents showed up.”

            REJECTION – it’s so hard to deal with, especially when it’s done by people who espouse faith.  Jesus was rejected because he didn’t FIT the expectations for the anticipated Messiah.  The words he spoke comforted some, but confronted others – those who refused to reach out and show love to others.

            Love is the action of reaching out to others – of walking across a field – of caring for someone besides oneself.  Love – God is love; a love revealed to us in Jesus. 

            When the new pastor walked across the field the first time, he put his love into action.  But there was no response to his invitation to come to worship.  Jimmy’s parents hadn’t rejected his invitation; they just didn’t know how they would be received.  They didn’t want Jimmy to be rejected again.

            The pastor was not discouraged.  Once again, he walked across the field.  He told Jimmy’s parents that all three of them were EXPECTED to be in church the next Sunday, and there they would be welcomed.

            The next Sunday all three were in church experiencing the love God revealed in Jesus.   That love came through a young pastor who cared enough and was persistent enough to walk across that field and share the love he, too, knew in Christ.  That walk continued for a long time as he walked with Jimmy across that field to watch a baseball game, to rake leaves with the youth group, to have a glass of lemonade and just hang out.  Jimmy’s parents once again became active in the congregation.  In fact, his father now serves a chair of their church council.  Jimmy is the first graduate from a special Sunday School class for the impaired that was started at the church.  This class now has six students.  Jimmy’s mom cried as she watched his eyes shine the day he received his cross lapel pin. 

            God is love, a love revealed to us in Jesus.  Love is when we receive God’s love and put it into action…then the prophesy is fulfilled.  Love makes a difference in every life it touches.  Think about that today.  And while you’re thinking about how you may act on love, why not take a walk across a proverbial field.  Walk with Jesus and talk about those whom the world has rejected, those so desperately in need of experiencing God’s love offered through us.  With whom will you share God’s love when you walk across that proverbial field?  Who are you inviting into the community of faith?

Fulfilling God, Help me to expect miracles.

Help me to get past the borders of my eyes,

the roadblocks of my mind, the narrow door of my heart.

May my soul embrace the mystery of Your magnificent love!

May my heart rejoice over the unexpected and undefined!

May my mind and body sigh with the sheer awe of it all. Amen.[ii]

[i] Sweet, Leonard, posted in Preach the Story.

[ii] Sweet, Leonard, posted in Preach the Story.

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