Luke 4:16-30 & Pride (In the name of love) U2
I hear so often from folks how well the communion meditation or offering meditation and my sermons sort of flow together each week, as if we plan to speak on the same things. I really believe that when that happens it is evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in all of us.
I find that to be also true when I pick out texts and plan sermons weeks in advance, and when it comes time to share these with you events happen that go right along with what the sermon is already about.
Today is such a day.
We’ve been working on this series all summer—music and faith—and the intersections of both and how we find God everywhere, not just places designated as ‘Christian or spiritual.’
Today’s song U2’s Pride (In the Name of Love) is a response to hate and bigotry. It is a tribute to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and his dedication to justice and equality.
If you had asked me a few years ago about where I thought our country was in regards to racial justice I would have spoken about how I thought we had come a long way, that most people supported equality, and that hate and prejudice no longer has a foothold in mainstream society.
And I would have believed every single word. And would have meant it the best way I could.
This weekend we have seen the largest open rally of white supremacy that we have seen in decades.
Its ugliness is on display for all to see.
Now what on earth does any of this got to do with coming to worship on a Sunday morning.
We should keep politics out of the pulpit because that’s not what we’re here for.
Except we are. It’s exactly what we’re here for. Politics is a reflection of our culture.
Jesus was radically political when it came to injustice and disregard for other people. He called hate for what it was, and proclaimed that he was there to fight for the oppressed, the broken, those caste out onto the margins.
His sermons, his stories, his miracles, and even his meals were all about righting wrongs and shoving up against what was wrong in the world.
In his world, just as in ours, there was hatred based on religion, culture, ethnicity, and race.
It was wrong then and it is wrong now.
And both he and his message were rejected.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was 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.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he 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 the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their 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.
When Jesus stood to read from the scroll of Isaiah no one listening objected. When he sat to preach, they waited to hear what he had to say.
When he stated outright that he was the one that Isaiah spoke of, they did not object. They got ready to listen. They were amazed, proud even that one of their own was going to speak the word of the lord.
And when they heard what he had to say about the text they got angry and that’s when they wanted to throw him off the cliff.
The issue is not about Jesus coming to fight for justice.
The issue is that Jesus came to fight for justice for those that were not perceived to be worthy of his justice. Those that were what one scholar suggested were on the ‘outside of Israel rather than on the inside.’
Lepers—not on the inside—they were excluded from the community because obviously God’s wrath was upon them as punishment for their sins.
Widows were pushed to the side—they have no value because they have no husband, and without a husband or adult son they have no safety, no means, and are deemed a burden.
Not only does Jesus mention the lepers and widows, but he speaks of a widow in particular that was on the outside-the widow at Zarephath in Sidon. This was about Elijah coming to town, looking for bread. Who asks for bread from a hungry person? And, who asks for shelter from a widow of the same tribe as the woman who was trying to kill him—Jezebel, wife of Ahab.
Jesus was illustrating that those on the margins, those on the outside, those who are unexpected always have a place and by proclaiming that he will demand justice for them—well—those are fighting words and offensive to those in his hometown because they felt that God’s justice was for them alone.
Essentially what these folks are saying to Jesus is ‘God is for my needs, God does not care for anyone I don’t want God to care about. Anyone I don’t like, anyone I am afraid of, anyone that does not look or act like me. Anyone outside of my culture and experiences—God does not care for them. God only cares for me and my kind.’
That doesn’t sound like the Jesus I know.
The Jesus I know is always on the side of the other.
We have not been the other often enough to know what it feels like to be rejected based on the color of our skin, where in the world we were born, the language we speak, the gender we’re attracted too, the religion we hold dear.
If they are on the outside, and we know Jesus is with them, we have to ask ourselves where we’re standing.
We don’t have to completely understand the experiences of others to affirm their dignity as human beings created in the image of God and be able to stand with them.
We don’t have to completely understand their experiences in order to show compassion and that we know that God is with them.
Justice seeking is not a tame quiet process of compromise.
Justice seeking is radicalism, courage, and speaking out.
And justice seeking is supporting those who do with prayer and love.
Justice does not comprise.
We say that Jesus came for peace. Indeed, Jesus did come for peace.
But peace is not simply an absence of conflict, an acceptance of wrongdoing, just so we can go along to get along.
The peace that we talk of in the church, the peace of Christ is about God’s peace—which is affirming and upholding the worth and dignity of all God’s people. Until such a time as that—justice is radical, loud, stubborn, persistent work that sacrifices itself for others.
Peace does not mean looking the other way when there is injustice. It means confronting the injustice in a Christ like manner. We remember Christ as a peacemaker, and sometimes that leads us to believe he was mellow, live and let live kind of fellow. But he wasn’t. He was a revolutionary who carried a whip into a temple and called out those in charge and said they were vipers. He came for the express purpose of changing the way things were done so that God’s vision could be let out into the world.
Working for justice is hard. We risk alienation by our community, often those who speak out are labeled as troublemakers, rabble-rousers, as those who just want to stir things up. We can be rejected by those we care deeply about for the sake of those of whom we know little.
We look at the example in our song today of Martin Luther King Jr. At this point an iconic figure in our cultural memory. And while he was committed to non-violent protest, he was nonetheless committed to protest the wrongs of his time.
Wrongs that continue today.
This rally by the KKK this weekend proves that there is still much to be done, and that the message that Jesus preached and died for—that there is no inside or outside of God’s acceptance---is still desperately needed today.
But there are more of us than them…more of us who believe in the value of all. More of us who believe it when we hear the words that God is love.
More of us who lay claim to God’s vision of the world as a place of acceptance, peace, and dignity for all.
Let us continue together the work Christ began.