Saturday, January 30, 2010

Today's Sermon - Jer. 1:4-10 and Luke 4:21-30 “Come to your Senses”

Come to your senses! Can you not see? Can you not hear? Can you not speak?

The Old Testament reading and the Gospel today share a common thread…in each case, people are not using the senses that God gave them.

Think of the passage from Jeremiah, when the prophet tells the story of his call from God. God calls Jeremiah, saying that he has been destined by God to be a prophet. Jeremiah is frightened…who wouldn’t be? There’s that great big God voice, the James Earl Jones scary one, saying that God has a job for Jeremiah to do. So the would-be prophet says no. “I’m not capable, I’m just a boy. I cannot speak!”

God doesn’t take no for an answer, of course.

God says “Come to your senses, boy! You won’t have to do this alone. You will be able to speak, because I, your God, will help you.”

It is a very different story in the Gospel. Jesus certainly has no problem speaking. This passage is an extension of the gospel from last week, when Jesus, new to ministry, shows up at the hometown synagogue and reads from the scroll – a tradition for a teacher like him to follow – and announces that he is the embodiment of the passage he has read aloud from Isaiah. And that last line is such a kicker that the folks who planned our sequence of readings use it as the last line of last week’s gospel, then repeat it as the first line of this week’s gospel, just in case we didn’t catch it the last time.

The situation gets even more tense after Jesus makes this pronouncement: those in attendance are horrified. They whisper among themselves, “Isn’t this Joseph’s boy? What is he saying? We’ve heard he has done some deeds of wonder over in Capernaum…if he wants us to believe what he just said, he’d better do some of those things here!”

And Jesus…well, Jesus is mightily ticked off by these comments. He rebukes them.

“Come to your senses…can you not hear what I am saying? Can you not see who I am and what I am?”

They are just like the Israelites who didn’t pay attention to the prophet Elijah; in the midst of a great famine, Elijah did not help all the poor widows in Israel – he went and helped a widow in foreign territory.

They are just like the lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha – were any of them cured? No. Israel had turned its face from God. Israel had not come to its senses. It did not hear. The only leper that was cured through Elisha was Namaan the Syrian. He could see the power of Israel’s God when Israel itself could not.

Come to your senses.

And after Jesus rebuked them for their lack of faith in him, these people from Nazareth, from his own town, who did not hear what he was saying, could not see who he was, became furious. They wanted to throw him off a cliff. But somehow he eluded them. The gospel says “But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”

As he spoke, they could not see hear and comprehend what he was saying. They could not see he was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. And now, with his life in peril, they could no longer see him in the physical sense. He passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Their senses failed them.

We rely on our senses to make meaning of the world around us. Cold sleet against our skin means that it is snowing out. Darkness means that it is nighttime. Our child crying out in the middle of the night means she is frightened, or is sick. The smell of smoke alarms us – there’s a fire…unless it’s in our fireplace, warm and cozy…that’s a different sense response. But what if what our senses tell us is confusing? What if the message is unclear?

Can you not hear? Well, what if what we hear is not the whole story? Someone I know went shopping with his wife for some new clothes. With the assistance of the salesman, he picked out a new pair of tan slacks and a nice brown tweed jacket. His wife pointed to a tie on the wall…one of those knitted ones that were popular in the 80’s…a brown one, and said, “You should get that tie. It will go well with that outfit.” The husband laughed and said, “No, that’s sort of preppy looking. I don’t think so.” A few moments later the salesman reappeared and said, “Now, you need a tie to go with that great outfit! Why don’t you get this one?” And he pointed – you guessed it – at the brown knit Rooster tie hanging on the wall.

Now, a smart husband would not have said what this one said next…

“Sure, why not?”

In his mind, both his wife and the salesman thought the tie was a good idea. What his wife heard – can you not hear? – was “when I suggest it, he says no, but when that stupid salesman suggests it, he says yes. He thinks my advice is worthless!”

Can you not hear? That couple is no longer together…not just because of that particular event, but because sometimes a whole relationship is built on not hearing correctly, only seeing what you want to see, never speaking what needs to be spoken…and if you don’t come to your senses, the damage is too great; it cannot be repaired.

Listening, and truly hearing is hard, especially when the message is radically different and new.

The movie “Invictus” came out a few weeks ago. It tells the story of the rugby team in South Africa, beloved of the white minority but not a part of the consciousness of the black South African majority. Nelson Mandela is newly elected as the head of the country, one that has been under apartheid rule for generations. Mandela is being encouraged to rename the mostly white team – the Springboks - by those who see it as a symbol of the racism that has tortured and oppressed people of color for so long. And it is a tense time, because South Africa is scheduled to host the world rugby championships in a very short time. Mandela might have chosen, in the language of politics, to play to his base, by giving them a different name. He chooses to help his people hear how different this new post-apartheid South Africa is by keeping the name and by encouraging them to reach out to the black community. He chooses to help the whites, afraid that they will lose all in this new South Africa, to see that this can work for both blacks and whites by his visible and active encouragement. Remarkably, the mediocre team improves, and even more remarkably, all the people of the country get behind the Springboks. Before the final game, the team stands and sings the new national anthem “Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika,” a song the white South Africans would not have known, since it is in Xhosa and Zulu, black tribal languages. The team, now a symbol of what this new South Africa might become, wins the world cup.

Come to your senses. Can you not hear? Can you not see? Can you not speak?

We hear the words of Jeremiah, and we, too, say “I am just me. I don’t have the words to do what you ask me to do. I cannot speak.” And God says, “Of course you can, because you do not speak alone. My voice is behind yours, giving you the words, giving you the wisdom, giving you the courage.”

We hear the gospel, and like Jesus, when we are afraid, we want to pass through the crowd unseen. The message is a challenging one, and it frightens us a bit, to recognize this one as the Son of God, the Savior of our souls. We cannot fathom it, even as we hear those words. But the words of Paul remind us once again that if we use not our senses, but our hearts, we can see. With love, we can see. With love, we can hear. With love, we have no choice but to speak, to praise God, to praise Jesus Christ, and to serve those who need our love.

Come to your senses. Can you not see? Perhaps now, only through a mirror, dimly, but the image of our loving God is unmistakable. Can you not hear? Perhaps not in the words spoken aloud, but in the words we hear from the prophets and from Christ himself. Can you not speak? In our words and in our actions, guided by the principle that love is the most important thing, we MUST speak. God will give us what we need when our senses fail and when our courage falters.

Come to your senses. We see, we hear, we speak…in love and in the faith that God supplies our needs.


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