January 31, 2016 – The Rev. James Richardson

Picture this scene if you will: Jesus walks into the synagogue in Nazareth, opens the scroll, and reads the scripture from Isaiah – the one you heard last week about feeding the poor, freeing the captives, giving sight to the blind, and all that.

He closes the scroll and declares: “Today the Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

That’s it.

Well, almost.

As the people in Nazareth hear this Scripture from Isaiah, and their first reaction is: So far, so good, Jesus.

We get it. You are talking about us, right? We are the poor, hungry, captives, and blind. We are the victims of Rome, after all, and endless persecutions. So you are talking about us, right?

So Jesus tells them something more:

Yes, it is about you. But not just you. Other people too.

So now it hits them: You mean, Jesus, you include people not in our religion, our tribe, our nationality? Maybe even the Romans too?

In a word, yes.

All of this language in the gospel about Elijah and Elisha going to the widow in Sidon and Naaman the Syrian is code language for the Other.

Jesus is saying these great Jewish prophets served more than just the Jewish people. They served lepers, Syrians and foreign widows.

And that is just too much for the good people of Nazareth. They are now enraged.

Translate this to our context:

It would be like Jesus walking into a church, opening the Bible, and telling people he came to serve people who suffer from HIV/AIDS, or live on the Mexican border, or on the streets, or in refugee camps.

He is declaring that his mission isn’t just for the good people worship with him. He includes people considered dirty, unsafe, national security threats.

And so his hometown flips out. They spin from awe and wonder to anger and homicidal rage. They are so furious they want to kill Jesus, but he slips away from their grasp.

This is rough, risky stuff, make no mistake.

It was then, and is now.

To follow Jesus has always been thus: To truly follow Jesus – to be a disciple – means sometimes taking a risk.

I would submit that this passage today is at the very heart of how we are called to live as faithful people.

It is at the very heart of what it means to be a disciple – and at the very heart of what it means to be the church, or as Saint Paul puts it, “one body, though many.”

It is at the heart of what we do well here at the Church of the Incarnation.

We are not a sanctified social club but a hospital for sinners. We are the place of forgiveness and second chances – and third and fourth chances.

We are the place where God’s dream of redemption can come alive, and in this world and not just the next.

By daring to be disciples, we declare no one is beyond hope: God loves everyone, no exceptions.

Yet to take this seriously will pull us out of our comfort zones, guaranteed.

We’ve always struggled with how to do this down through the ages. We haven’t always done it well.

Institutions exclude, and ours is no different. We carry with us the legacies of slavery, homophobia, sexism and all manner of human prejudice and bigotry committed by good Christian people.

But take heart – we have a guide: Jesus Christ himself – if only we listen.

In the synagogue, Jesus finishes reading the scroll and leaves. He embarks on a journey healing people, and along the way, teaching people how to live with compassion in the very presence of God.

Others catch what he says, and they pass this on to still others until it comes to us.

St. Paul never met Jesus, but he absorbed these lessons deeply from those who knew Jesus.

Paul struggled mightily with how to live faithfully and courageously as a disciples, and we can hear his struggles in his letters.

And so Paul writes this extraordinary letter to the church in Corinth that we hear today.

This letter is often read at weddings and funerals. But his words are bigger than just for these occasions.

I’m delighted we hear it today.

This morning let me implore you to hear his letter as the best advice you will ever hear for how to live a faithful life in community with each other, and how to compassionately serve the world beyond these walls.

This letter is the formula for being a disciple.

I end with his words, for I cannot possibly improve upon them. Hear again the words of St. Paul:

“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 patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.

“It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.

“It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. “Love never ends.”