Dear God, may my sermon not incite the congregation to attempt pushing me off a
nearby cliff. Amen.
When I read all the readings for today, I knew this sermon would be important.
Every sermon is, really–to someone, your words will mean the world, the difference
between hope and despair, life and death, even if just to one person. Some Sundays, that
person is the preacher. Perhaps today will be one of those Sundays.
“The word of the Lord came to me saying, Before I formed you in the womb, I
knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the
nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a
girl.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, I am only a girl;” For you shall go to all to all
those I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of
them, for I am with you to deliver you.”
I will never forget that moment as long as I live. Because I knew, ever since I was a
girl, that I had a calling to serve God. Before that, I spent 28 years trying to figure out
what that calling looks like. But for many of those years, people told me only men could
do certain things. Things like preaching, for example. Like Jeremiah, I doubted. I
thought I misunderstood God, that I couldn’t really be called to be a spiritual leader. I
couldn’t lead people the way a man could.
Jeremiah doubted too. How could he be a prophet? I’m too young, he said. I’m
not a good speaker. No one will listen. But God said, Jeremiah. This is bigger than you. I
made you holy and chosen before you were ever born. You’re not only going to be a
prophet…You have always been one. Jeremiah, do not make excuses and do not let
others make excuses for you. You will go to the people when I say and say what I tell
you. Don’t be afraid. I will rescue you.”
Jesus certainly found out early that it is dangerous to be the messenger. In our
Gospel reading today, Jesus comes to teach in the synagogue of his home town. And
when he is finished, the people chase him out and try to push him off a cliff! But what
did he say that was so controversial? He did announce that he was the fulfillment of
Scripture, which is kind of a big deal. But that wasn’t the trigger.
Let’s look at the passage again. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted
in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the
time of Elijah, when there was a famine for three years, yet Elijah was sent to none of
them, except to a widow at Zaraphath in Sidon. There were many lepers in Israel in the
time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
And THEN everyone was filled with rage and chased him out of town and tried to throw
him off the cliff.
What did he say that was so awful and terrifying? Well, it doesn’t stand out right
away if you’re not up on your Middle Eastern geography. Jesus says, there were plenty
of Jewish widows, but Elijah visited this one. There were plenty of lepers among the
Israelites, but Elisha cleansed this one. What was different about these two people?
They were Gentiles. They weren’t Jewish.
Jesus is basically saying, “This is bigger than you, Nazareth. This is bigger than
you, Israel. The Good News for the captive, the blind, the poor, and the oppressed is not
just Good News for YOUR captive, YOUR blind, YOUR poor, or YOUR oppressed. This
Good News is for all.”
St. Luke’s is a prophetic voice in this community. We seek to form Beloved
Community, which is welcoming and diverse, with Christian worship and service at its
heart. We seek to feed people in body, mind, and spirit. We believe you are worthy of a
hot, home-cooked meal no matter where who you are or where you sleep at night.
We heard Paul’s famous Love Chapter read today. This follows his words on
spiritual gifts and the body of Christ because people had different gifts and fought
among themselves about who was right and who was better. But Paul says, “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.”
No matter what amazing things we do inside these walls or outside of them, if we
don’t do them with love, we are nothing. If we shout out our prophetic words, “Things
are not right! Things must change! There is a better way!” but we do so without love, we
are nothing but noise.
God’s love is for all people, even those whom we find hardest to love. If in our
passion to shout out that things are not right, we forget to love, lose our ability to see
other people as human… we are nothing but noise. We are the prophetic voice, and we
must prove that there is a better way– but we must do so with love. Now let me do for
you what Betsy did for me. Close your eyes, if you like, and listen.
Then we said, Ah, Lord God! Truly, we do not know how to be prophets. We are
only one small church.
Because three things remain: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is