1 Corinthians 12:12-31a Luke 4:14-21
January 24, 2010 Third Sunday after Epiphany
Last week we looked at our gifts - especially the gifts we keep hidden because we are not so sure they would be appreciated. Maybe you have given some thought to your gifts this week? Maybe you have considered ways to make use of your talents a bit more than you usually do? And maybe, in thinking about them, you have come to a place of feeling that you still dare not share what you have or who you really are. This morning’s reading from First Corinthians, a continuation of last week’s scripture, elaborates on what these gifts might be and how they might be used. Also here, Paul addresses the reality of how we might value one gift above another because it seems more flashy or more publicly acceptable. All of these gifts are valuable, he says, no one gift is more important than another. He describes the gifts we bring as being parts of the body of Christ. Each part is important, and each serves a special purpose that no other part can do, no matter how much it tries. And so, this is the next part of accepting gifts, then. We need to be comfortable with the gifts we bring to the table, and willing to make use of them for the good of the whole, but then we also need to make room for the gifts of others. We need to work alongside one another in order to serve God best, in order to be, as Paul says, “the Body of Christ.” No aspect of this feels easy at first. It is not easy owning up to our uniqueness in a world that begs for conformity. It is also not easy learning how to work together so that our gifts and abilities meet the needs around us and allow room for others to bring their gifts into the mix. I see it as weaving a tapestry, with many different colors and textures. It can be tricky figuring out how and when to bring in a new color to get just the right pattern to emerge. It can be even trickier trying to work with other weavers who have their own ideas of how the pattern should emerge. Cooperation and patience play into this in a big way. We need to be aware of what is going on all around us, so that we can work with others well. We also need to be patient, knowing that our particular gifts might be needed at different times throughout the creative flow of the whole pattern. I find what is most helpful, in a situation such as this, is to be in a position of being open and ready to move when I am needed, but not stressing about doing it now. My timing may not fit with the overall timing that God has in mind, so I need to relax a bit and allow myself to be a part of something bigger than myself.
In our gospel reading from Luke today, we find Jesus really stepping into something larger than himself. Some would say that he put his foot in his mouth and that he should have been more careful in his choice of words. First of all, he was preaching in his home town. I have done that. I’ve gone back to preach in the same church where folks knew me as a teenager. It was interesting to be in that situation. For the most part, people just wanted to hear something nice and sweet, some words that would give them something to think about for a little while. They wanted to see their hometown girl do well. I imagine that if I had chosen to preach a difficult message - a message that challenged people in some way - that they might not have been so supportive and accepting. The situation with Jesus is that he preaches directly from the prophet Isaiah. He quotes Isaiah when he speaks about the tough things - when he mentions bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and free the oppressed. Those are all things the people want to hear, but they hear them in the same way we tend to hear the Bible. For the most part, we hear good, strong words that have to do with a time other than our own. They don’t have anything to do with us because if we really paid attention and intended to do anything about it, then we would have to shake up our rather complacent and comfortable lives, and some people might even get mad.
Jesus was not interested in diplomacy. He didn’t worry about keeping his job or about his pension. He was only concerned with one thing - being the person God had called and created him to be. Everything else had to take a back seat. Maybe he would have gotten a little further if he had learned to soften his words a bit, but he didn’t have the patience for it. Maybe he knew that he only had a little time to do the enormous job he had come among us to do? Or maybe he just was not willing to weigh every word he said so as to ensure that people could hear him? Jesus was the kind of guy who jumped right into the middle of something without considering that there might be a more careful and well-though-out way to approach the issue - a way that would not alienate so many people right from the start. In any case, Jesus quoted Isaiah, and then he said that he was the one who was going to do what Isaiah had proclaimed. It was on his shoulders to bring good news to the poor, release the captives, bring sight to the blind and let the oppressed go free. He was taking on the challenge, but more than that - he knew that God had called him to do this. He knew it was his work, and that he needed to start somewhere. The somewhere he chose was his hometown, where, he hoped that his friends and neighbors would support and encourage him. Maybe he thought they would know him well enough to trust that he could actually do as he said he would. Maybe they would get behind him and work with him to confront the Roman oppressors, to claim God’s reign over and against the reign of the foreign invaders. But Jesus’ words were political. They challenged the authorities, and his audience did not see themselves as having the power nor the ability to confront this kind of overwhelming authority. Even if God was on their side, they did not imagine themselves as having any chance of winning in a battle of any kind with Rome.
What is interesting, is that the major issue for Jesus was not the rule of Rome over the Jewish people (even though many of his followers and would-be followers wished that he would address it). Jesus challenged misplaced power in such a big way, that the temporal authorities seem to be the smallest of his concerns. He did not spend his time nor his energy fighting with Rome. We see this in his conversations with Pilate, for one, where he refuses to defend himself or even attempt to explain to Pilate what he was trying to accomplish. And you get the feeling that Pilate might have even agreed with him, as both of them saw the pettiness of the Jewish religious leaders who wanted Jesus out of the picture. Jesus, instead, spend his time speaking in terms of encouraging people to confront whatever it was that held them back from being the people God had created them to be. His ministry was really about helping people grow in their relationship with God by deepening their connection and by becoming more and more their true selves. He taught this through his words and his actions, and he taught this in the living of his life. When he read the prophet Isaiah in his hometown synagogue, maybe he did so not necessarily because he thought people would see the light of his vision, but because he could not do anything less. He simply needed to be honest about where he fit into the grand scheme of things. Turning water into wine at a wedding feast was a great trick, and it brought him a lot of attention, but ultimately what he was about was transforming regular, ordinary people into the children of God they were born to be. And this was a much more difficult task.
God of transforming love, we come to you ready and willing, but frightened. We do not know how to move forward in our lives. We don’t know how to become more true to who we are as your children. Without your help, we are stuck. Please shine your love on us, in us and through us. May we open like flowers, becoming the beautiful beings you created us to be. In Jesus’ name and vision we stand, amen.