Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Fourth Sunday of Epiphany @ 1st Cong UCC, Rock Springs, WY

The Bitter Sweetness of God’s “Good News”
By Rev. Steven R Mitchell
First Congregational UCC, Rock Springs, WY Jan 31, 2010
Jeremiah 1:4-10; I Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30

The Hebrew text for this week is one I was quickly able to connect with, as my daughter Tara and son-in-law Dan were in Ethiopia, this past week, picking up their first child, Mason Mamush Simmons. It was this past October that they found out theyMMMo were going to be adopting this specific baby.
My daughter is truly a product of her generation and the majority of her communications with family and friends comes by way of Face book and through her Blog. So from the very onset of them finding out they were finally getting a baby in their lives, they started the stream of information through cyber space. No phone calls, no letters, where there is certain privacy about one’s life events, but open communication, a broadcasting of their joy to a world that they might not even be aware but is listening! It’s kind of like Joseph and Mary, where instead of using cyber space to have the birth of Jesus announced, God chooses to use Angelic voices and signs in the Heaven’s for all who might be searching the skies to see.
Because of the adoption agencies rules, they were not allowed to put on face book or their blog either a picture of Mason, nor his name. Those particular details could only occur through private e-mails and phone conversations. So since last October, if you were to be reading Tara and Dan’s Blog, or following their conversations on Face book, you would only read references to “baby M” with respect to information about Mason.
As I followed my daughters Blogging, I couldn’t help but remember the first baby (a daughter) that my wife and I were waiting for. I recall one day in particular my, mother-in-law could no longer stay quiet, when hearing her first grandchild being referred to in conversations as “it”. Discussions such as, “Do you know what sex ‘it’ is?” “Has ‘it’ been moving around much today?” So she demanded that we name the baby something while we were pregnant. My wife’s two younger sisters came up with the name, Binky Jingles or more commonly called, B.J. A good name since we didn’t know the sex. After she was born, we had become so fond of the initials B. J. that among other reasons we named her Bobbie Jo!
For Tara and Dan, as adoptive parents they were given all sorts of information about Mason, so that when they finally were able to hold him in their arms this last Sunday morning, they knew much about him. For my wife and me, when we first held B. J. in our arms, we virtually had had no information about her. She was a complete mystery to us. All we knew is that she had 10 fingers and 10 toes, a bald head and was the most precious gift we had received from God up to that point in our lives.
In Jeremiah, we are told by God, “Before God formed us in the womb, God knew us…” Isn’t that just one of the most comforting assurances that one can read in the scriptures; that before we are even conceived in our mother’s womb, we are known. Not only are we known, but we are consecrated, consecrated meaning, we have been appointed for specific tasks.
Often times, parents out of frustration with the monumental job of directing their children will often times say, “I’m doing the best I can, after all you didn’t come with instructions!” And from the view point of the parent, there is some truth in that; yet God knows exactly who we are! In reality, if parents are very observant and actually listen, their child will be telling them who they are and how the parent can best work at helping them grow up to become the healthy person that God really has in mind for them.
It’s in the little things that need to be observed; such as does this child respond better to tactile learning or does he learn better by listening or is she more visually stimulated; does your child prefer to show the nurturing aspects in ways that society says is not normal for that gender? For example does your son carry his books close to his chest, while your daughter prefers to carry her books at her side? Or at Christmas time, does your daughter wish for a Tonka truck and your son wants a Barbie and Ken doll set? All of these things are signs of who your child is trying to become; of who they are; the consecrated person that God has in mind.
As parents it is our obligation to that child to raise them up into who they are. As a church we make an oath at the time a child is baptized to see that they are nurtured and supported not just in Christian teaching, but to nurture them into who they have been designed to be. We have an obligation as parents and as the body of Christ to stand up to society and to those who do not want to allow these gifts of God to grow into who they are consecrated by God to be.
Let us turn our attention to what is happening this week as Jesus is announcing his “consecration” of who he is and of what his job assignment, so to speak, by God is to be. We read that he is still in Nazareth, his home town, is sitting down after reading from Isaiah and announcing that the day of the Lord’s favor has been fulfilled in their hearing. “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” “Isn’t this Joseph son?” Can’t you just hear the conversations going on between one another in this crowd? “Look, we have a celebrity here in our midst. Jesus, this home town boy of ours is becoming well known around the region. I hear he not only can give a good sermon, but that he can heal people who have been blind and he has healed people who couldn’t walk in the past,; then there was that thing at the wedding in Cana, where I hear tell, he turned plain water into the sweetest wine you have ever tasted.”
Now what happened from the point of when Jesus was sitting down and telling those within the room that he was here to restore site to the blind and hearing to those who were deaf and free those who are imprisoned, and in just two verses, had the crowd in a complete uproar, shouting hateful things at him, even coming to a point where they took him to a cliff where they were going to throw him off?
What happens to a person or a crowd, when they hear some piece of information and they become so angry that they loss all control of civility and become physically violent or verbally abusive? Especially when they are listening to God’s words, from God’s own son! This type of behavior happens when we hear something that we don’t wish to hear; when we hear a truth that differs from our perceived truth, it is a ‘bitter sweet truth’.
Think of all the hateful statements that people like George Wallace was making about integration during the years of the civil rights movement and when the government was stepping in and ending the “separate but equal” type of socialization that continued in the Deep South. It also happened in the North as well, in communities where the upper middle class families were being told that their children were going to be bused across town to black schools as well as having black youth bused into their white schools. This was not only a truth of equality that we as Americans were being forced to listen to, but forced into participate in as well. Many of the loudest voices protesting these events came from organizations that called themselves Christian.
Author and commentator Kim Beckmann can help show us a cultural view of what is happening in Jesus’ home town of Nazareth, as a means of helping us understand what might be going on in this week’s story.
“The Judeans would have seen the Galileans as “peasants,” “common people,” “unwashed people of the land” with an accent that betrayed their region’s long history of a rich mix of cultures and races. For instance, the story Luke mentions about the Inn at Bethlehem of Judea as having ‘no room’ for Mary and Joseph, not as being ‘full,’” which gives another layer of meaning to our Christmas story. We might expect the Galileans, then, to hear only good news when Jesus’ evokes the memory of ancient promises of restoration for those oppressed, and those Judeans would finally have to move over and make room for them. However, striving for what the Judeans had wasn’t the restoration God was bringing to pass, neither was armed rebellion to bring the state to its former glory, but concern for all those on the margins that made humanity whole. These weren’t the terms they had in mind. They wanted the privileged, chosen status and the prosperity gospel that their brothers and sisters of Judah aspired to and that the dominant culture had normed.”
So it is very possible that what angered these people of Nazareth so much was the realization that their “favored home town boy, Jesus” wasn’t going to bring them the status that they had been hoping for. In the film, White Privilege that will be shown as part of the Lenten study, talks about this very aspect of how, the very low classes who are White, those who do not hold much privilege in our country with respect to economics and having voice for their needs, will almost always vote for programs that will continually keep them from having what the upper part of society enjoys, just to keep those who are of color, out in the cold. The whole debate on “Health care” has been fueled with this type of controversy, yet those white folks on the lower end do not see how they are being manipulated and through this manipulation are keeping themselves without proper healthcare. You see the word “Privilege” implies that that there are those who “are not privileged”.
As Jesus was trying to show those in the synagogue that the restoration wasn’t about them getting what the Judeans had, that of getting “privilege” within their own race or the re-establishing of their county to its former glory, but rather this restoration was to all peoples, the Apostle Paul was having similar issues with the church in Corinth. A church that was highly divided with issues surrounding the “haves” and the “have not’s”. Paul in addressing the arguments and disharmony within the Corinthian church by chapter 13 sums up the concepts that we all need each other in order to experience an enriched life; a life where everyone wins! Paul states, the only way that this can happen is through Love; and not only can this richness of life happen just through love, but it can only be sustained in the environment and security that comes through love. This environment is the recognition that each one of us is special; we have been made uniquely and we are each known by God; each one of us is consecrated by God. The Bitter Sweetness of God’s ‘Good News” is that we are restored, but not to be privileged, rather restored so that we might help one another to be the consecrated person that God has made us to be. We are all of one body, the body of Christ; yet we are all individual parts of that body, young/old, rich/poor, educated/not so educated, Hispanic/Caucasian/Native Indian/African American/Asian, whether of sexual majority or minority, we all are of one body and not giving up our individuality are called to live in harmony; which can only be achieved by respecting one another as a whole human being and this is accomplished through love and this love is sustained only with the security of commitment. In this case, commitment to the love, grace and mercy that God has ordained. Commitment in deepening our relationship with God.