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Sunday, February 03, 2019

If it's not about love, it's not about God

A Sermon for Epiphany IV - February 3, 2019

So, after reading and studying this gospel passage, I come to you this morning with some questions that have been weighing heavily on my heart.

If you know how the story ends, what trouble are you willing to make for Jesus? If you know how the story ends, what would you be willing to risk for Jesus?

So, to try to answer that, let's get into the middle of today's Gospel Story.

Jesus has gotten himself into a peck of trouble, hasn’t he? Things have turned real bad real quick.

In the Sunday lesson we heard two weeks ago, he got himself in trouble with his mother during a wedding feast over at Capernaum when they ran out of wine and Mary told Jesus about it.

Well, we didn’t hear this part in the Gospel, but I’ll tell you what, if I were at a wedding with my son – my only son, whom I loved – and told him that there was no wine, and he said, “Woman, what has that to do with me?” Well, let’s just say there would have been  . . . . consequences.

So, he leaves Capernaum and heads back home to Nazareth where he gives his first sermon in the synagogue. He gets an A+. People were “amazed at the gracious words that came out of his mouth.” And, they said, “Hey, isn’t this Joseph’s kid?” 

If they had heard about the miracle in Capernaum, perhaps they were they expecting some favor or something from the home town boy? Some special treatment? Some little miracle he might perform just for their pleasure and enjoyment?

But, Jesus is just not having it. He had to tell them the truth. Even though it makes the people of the town so angry – so filled with rage – they got up drove him out of the synagogue and out of the town and led him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built so that they might hurl him off the cliff.  But, he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

That’s a pretty incredible scene, isn’t it?

What would make Jesus do that? Why would he risk riling the very people he had grown up with? Why would he risk his life like that? Did he really have to tell the truth? 

Couldn’t he have softened that story of Elijah saving that one widow from Zarephath in Sidon? Did he have to make a point of Naaman being the only leper healed by Elisha?

Why couldn't he just have kept his mouth shut? Would it have hurt him to maybe zap a couple of containers of water so everyone could drink wine and be happy? 

Couldn't he just "go along to get along"? Where is that Baby Jesus meek and mild when you want him?

Well, I want to offer one possible answer. 

I think Jesus risked telling the truth, even if it angered people, because he knew how the story was going to end.  Indeed, he knew the whole story even before it started to unfold. He was very clear about who he was and what it was he was supposed to do. And, with that clarity, he could do nothing else but what he was put on this earth to do.

And, he was willing to risk everything for it. Even his own life. 

Because, he knew the whole story: Why it began, the sacrifices that were in the middle how the story was going to end - and, why.

I heard a story this week that reminded me of this scripture. It’s the story  - the true story - of WWII. It’s the story about the country of Bulgaria, which was one of the countries to form an alliance with Nazi Germany.

In 1941, the German government forced anti-Semitic legislation on Bulgaria but the people refused to enforce it. 

In 1943, the German government told the country of Bulgaria to deport all non-Bulgarian Jews to the concentration camp at Treblinka but some high Bulgarian government officials stopped the process from happening.

Finally, the German government demanded at all Jews – ALL Jews – in all of Bulgaria be rounded up and sent to the train station to be deported. 

And, it happened that this time, Bulgaria obeyed. 

All over the entire country of Bulgaria, from east to west and north to south, every man, woman and child of Jewish origin was rounded up and marched to the train station where they awaited to be boarded onto a train and deported.

Except, a Bulgarian man from the military, and one from the legislature, and one religious leader who lined themselves up in front of the thousands of Jews who stood at the train station. 

And, they said to the Germans, “You can take the Jews. But, you must kill us first.”

Hear their words again and let them sink in: "You can take the Jews. But, you must kill us first."

And, they wouldn’t move.

They stared each other down, these three men: the military man, the lawyer and the religious leader and the German soldiers. 

And then, they walked through the German soldiers and escorted them out of their country.

And, every year, on the anniversary of this event, the people in the town gather to celebrate what they call, “The Ceremony of the Ungiven.” They say prayers and light candles and sing songs and they remember the three men who put their lives on the line to save the lives of thousands of others.

Why did they do that? What gave them the courage to stand up to evil like that? Why did they risk their lives for others?

I want to offer one possible answer: They knew how the story ends. 

These three men knew the story of Jesus. And, they know how the gospel story ends. 

They knew that death is not the most important thing. They knew that kindness is. And, compassion. And, the courage to not just know the truth but to risk everything for it.

Because the truth is that we know what Jesus knows: Love is stronger than death. 

As St. Paul tells us in this morning's Epistle: 
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
Love is the way the Gospel story begins - in the Garden of Eden with the love that brings the whole of creation into being.

Love is in the very middle of the Gospel story - in the Garden of Gethsemane with the sacrificial love of Jesus who surrenders his life for the life of the world.

Love is the way the Gospel story ends - with a return to the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life as told in the Book of Revelations. 

In the words of our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry,  
“If it's not about love, it's not about God.”
So, what are you willing to do for love? Look around. Look around. See how lucky we are to be alive right now. Look around. Look around. See whose luck is down right now.

If tomorrow, we received an order to round up all those who were not born in this country and told we had to deport them back to the country of their origin, what would you do? 

If, after than, we were told we had to round up all the Jews and Muslims, everyone who wasn’t baptized Christian, and deport them? What would you do? 

Would you stand in front of all those people on that train platform? Would you look the soldiers in the eye and say, “You can take them. You can deport them. But, you’re going to have to kill me first?”

What are you willing to risk for love? 

What truth do you know that you are willing to annoy and disturb others for? 

What truth do you know that you are willing to die for? 

What truth do you know that makes life worth living?

I know the story of Jesus. So do you. 

I know the story of the sacrificial love of God as revealed on the cross in Christ Jesus. So do you.  

I know how the story of Jesus ends - not on the cross of shame but in the empty tomb of the possibilities of love.  

And, so do you.

What trouble are you willing to get into for love? 

What risks are you willing to take for love? 



kaki said...

Brava, Elizabeth! I hope to have the opportunity to hear you preach viva vice..

Unknown said...

What a fabulous sermon.

Sarah Blaies said...

Thank you for your courage in preaching this sermon Elizabeth!

Unknown said...

Great sermon. The question is why other pastors don't have the guts to preach what Jesus wants us to get right. If they did, we wouldn't be in the position were in with our country. I think we know why they don't, I just hate to admit it. Keep up your calling, your great.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you all. I usually don't publish or respond to anonymous or "unknown" comments but since you asked, I will tell you what I know: Most Clergy "have the guts". They also need their jobs. It's a terrible position to be in. I am more able to do it now b/c I'm no longer a rector. I'm a guest preacher - I help out when the rector is away on vacation or is ill or a congregation is in transition. Even so, I pulled some punches with this particular congregation - mostly, because I really like many of the people and I'd like to get invited back. See what I mean?