February 2, 2010

Sermon 1/31/2010


SERMON FOR EPIPHANY 4 C
JANUARY 31, 2010
MICHAEL COFFEY

Texts: Jeremiah 1:4-10,
1 Corinthians 13,
Luke 4:21-30



Throw Jesus off a cliff.
It just seemed like the thing to do.
When do people want to throw Jesus off a cliff?
Or more to the point: When do we?
If we don’t admit and explore when and why
we would rather throw Jesus off a cliff
than listen to what he says
then we aren’t going to grow much in faith and faithful living.

Jesus had just given a speech
about how God called him to his mission.
He said, quoting the prophet Isaiah:

18 "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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

At first, it sounded good to his neighbors.
Good news! Release! Healing!
Freedom! A time for restoring life to wholeness.
Who wouldn’t want that?
And then someone said:
Isn’t this Joseph’s son?
Isn’t he one of us?
Jesus seems to know what’s going on.
And so Jesus pushes all their buttons.
He says a whole lot of confrontational things.
He turns their feel-good response to him,
into a cliff-hurling reaction of anger.
When do people want to throw Jesus off a cliff?
Well, I guess, when he kind of asks for it!
I mean, he really pushed them to the edge,
before they wanted to throw him over the edge.

But, he did have a point to make,
and he did need to confront their assumptions and wrong-headed needs.
It seemed that if Jesus was one of them,
then he could be theirs,
give them what they want from him,
be just for them, all about them,
and only them.
So, Jesus just starts confronting them:
He reminds them of the most challenging biblical stories
so they hear it:
This isn’t just about you!
God has always cared about and acted on behalf of
folks outside of the faithful and the chosen!
Sometimes, God even is more concerned about the outsiders
than he is about the insiders.
So, when do people want to throw Jesus off a cliff?
When they realize he isn’t just about themselves.
When they realize they don’t own him and control him.
When he speaks the truth that confronts and not only comforts.
When he pushes people to confront their fear and lack of faith.

I’m going to say it this way today:
Jesus pushes people to grow up.
Jesus is pushing his own people to grow up,
to find maturity in their faith and faithful living,
and realize they don’t own him or possess him,
and God’s activity in the world isn’t only about them or for them.
That crowd realized it and didn’t like it:
Jesus is not our small town boy.
Jesus cannot be domesticated by us.
Jesus will not fulfill our narrow agendas.
When do we want to throw Jesus off a cliff?
When we hear the same message
as individuals or as faith community.
Jesus isn’t just about me.
Jesus is not the possession of the church.
Jesus is God’s gift to the whole world,
and instead of giving in to my immature, self-centered needs,
he is going to slowly, lovingly, and maybe even painfully
draw me out into true, mature faith in God.

For too long,
we church folks have made Jesus into our hometown boy,
our affirmation of our small vision
about ourselves and God’s good news for us.
Jesus in the church became our self-affirmation,
either of church as institution and tradition and powerful force,
or of individuals as believers and the center of God’s attention.
So our belief, talk, and practice
have sometimes left us in exactly the place we wanted to be:
in the easier, immature, self-focused way of life.

We see this same struggle in Jeremiah today:
God is calling him to serve God’s greater vision
of restoring his people to faithfulness.
Jeremiah is understandably fearful and anxious.
And he says it just right:
O Lord, you can’t call me to do this work.
I am only a boy! I’m too afraid.
I’m not ready to grow up and be a man.
In the book of Jeremiah
it isn’t clear if Jeremiah is actually a boy here,
or if he is a young man, who still feels like a boy,
still wants to be a boy, safe and protected from growing up
and facing the hard call of God.
Jeremiah feels like he is only a boy:
afraid to act, fearful of people he can’t control,
unable to trust God with the big things of life and death.
Jeremiah feels like a boy among men,
he cannot act, cannot live out his calling and true self.

We might know this same challenge.
Immaturity is the easy and common path we take out of fear.
Maturity is the hard task of giving up, letting go,
confronting ourselves and accepting the cost of doing what is right.

I can’t count how many times in my life
I have been faced with challenges and hard things
and felt that boy inside say:
No! I’m only a boy!
I need to go back home to safety and security
and feel loved and accepted.
How can I step out into the world,
this hard, challenging, dangerous world?
Let the men and women do that.
Leave us boys and girls at home.

You can hear Paul wresting with this in himself in 1 Corinthians.
He writes about the depth and challenge of loving others.
He isn’t talking about romantic or marital love really,
even though we use this text in weddings all the time.
He is talking about the love of God in Christ,
that we ourselves are called to embody for others
in our actions, words, intentions, and values.
Paul fully admits this is hard to do,
because it is a mature and selfless kind of love.
He says:
When I was a boy, I thought like a boy.
I wanted the world to revolve around me.
I wanted to make a safe nest for myself
where all the answers were easy
and I don’t have to step out into the open air and fly.
But, he says:
When I was a boy, I thought like a boy,
now I’m a man, I live as a man.
I take the risk of loving others and the world for its own sake,
because that is how God’s love in Christ works,
even as it works in me.

Each of us has to wrestle with our tendency
to fall into our own immaturity,
to want to be the center,
to assume the world revolves around us
and will never change or challenge us.
And the church has more often than not
been just as immature and self-focused as we individuals can be.
We want to find a safe, secure, insider community
where things are settled and we can relax
and not face the inevitable change and challenges
that come our way.

Yet we see it in texts like today:
Jesus is not so much for the church
as the one pushing the church beyond itself
to everyone else,
so that the very purpose of creating an insider community
is so there will be no more insiders and outsiders

The church only exists as mission:
mission to the world,
mission beyond itself,
mission to serve and create and live and die,
mission to all those outside.
The church is simply never about itself
but about the world of God’s redeeming
just as Jesus is never about himself
but about living and dying to redeem God’s world.

Whether thinking about ourselves or the church as a community,
we have to face the mature journey
of going beyond ourselves and trusting God’s call
that pushes us out into the world of others.

There’s a movement in all these texts
that I can only describe as a movement away from immaturity
and into maturity:
a movement away from small thinking
and insider mentality
and toward a larger vision,
letting go of the self as our pre-occupation
moving on to our occupation of God’s mission.
It is a movement through fear and mistrust
and into deep joy and trust.
It always hurts and requires losing something
in order to gain something,
because the very issue of the boy, the girl, the immaturity in us
is that we should never lose anything, never give up,
never not be the center of things,
The boy and girl in us
would rather push Jesus away, even off a cliff,
than face this kind of growth and challenge.
Yet, even as we push away,
God in Jesus keeps pushing back for our own good.

Jesus embodies this mature, man or woman faith
in such a way as to transform us in our faith.
He walks through the crowd a fearless and faithful man,
knowing exactly who he is
and doing what he is called to do,
accepting that he may get tossed over the edge
or crucified by Rome,
but he is just going to keep on walking right through…
Stop him or not, he is going to walk that path,
he doesn’t look to your approval or acceptance or good feelings,
he looks to God and the good he is called to do.

It’s the hard, mature faith God always calls his people to live:
we do not possess God,
but God does possess us,
holds us firm,
envelops us in true love and acceptance,
claims us, not as children,
but as men and women,
sons and daughters.

The hardest thing to do is to trust,
trust that you are loved
without being in control of that love.
That is the path of mature faith
mature love,
mature living.
Trusting, letting go, and taking the next unknown step
on this journey of life with God and one another.
And just like Jesus in that crowd,
taking the next step,
and the next step,
and the next step,
walking right through whatever threatens or worries you,
confident and strong
not in yourself,
never in yourself.
In yourself only be satisfied and accepting and humble,
but be confident and strong in God,
and walk right through.

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