“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Epiphany 4C

The headlines on Monday said Windy v’s Indy! The Bears are going to the Super Bowl, and they’re playing the Indianapolis Colts.

Tony Dungy is the head coach of the Colts, and Lovie Smith is the head coach of the Bears, and as it turns out these two have a long history together in the NFL. Eleven years ago Tony Dungy was the head coach in Tampa Bay and he gave Lovie Smith his first coaching job as the Buccaneers linebacker coach . They worked together for over 4 years. Now, on Feb. fourth these two men are and their respective teams are headed for the Super Bowl.

In Tuesday’s Daily Herald Lovie is quoted as saying: “A dream of mine was a chance to play the Colt’s. My dream was for Tony to get to the Super Bowl. That dream has been fulfilled. Now it’s about the Chicago Bears winning that Super Bowl.”

All around this part of the Midwest, is Super Bowl fever – on the news, in the papers, even making national news, and in our every day conversations, young and old, men and women, alike.

Winning sports teams have an infectious impact on the community that supports them. And after years of supporting losing teams it is invigorating for Chicagoans to have two winning teams in two years – first the White Sox in the World Series, and now the Bears at the Super Bowl.

Most all of us get excited and most of us will participate in some kind of Super Bowl festivity, even if we just watch the game at home with friends or family.

It’s interesting to me, this phenomenon of sports and how it impacts us so deeply. It’s like somehow we feel better about ourselves and our community because we live in an area with a winning team. Of course when they lose we say something like, well you know, isn’t that typical, they need to strengthen their defensive or their offensive players…when they lose it’s all about them. But when they win, its all about us!

This same human phenomenon is at play in our reading today from the Gospel. The people in Nazareth are so excited that Jesus is there. They’ve heard all about the wonderful things he’s done – and in response they are like, “Well, yeah, of course, he’s Joseph’s son…”

You know!, Joseph, our good neighbor. Joseph the carpenter….

and because Jesus has done all these wonderful things, and because he’s from the home town, and because he is now famous for his miracles, the town is so excited! Jesus makes them all special just by being from there and coming back. They want him to stay and do all kinds of wonderful things for them and in their presence so they can feel even better about themselves.

But for this Jesus calls them to task. He reminds them that work he does is about much more than making them feel better about themselves…”Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ and you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the thing that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”

Jesus goes on to tell his home town friends and family that his ministry, and theirs, is about something more: Jesus reminds them that they were not chosen by God to create a closed society where they could feel good about themselves. They were chosen by God to bring the Good News of God, the benefits of faith, to all people. And here’s the clincher, they are supposed to focus their energy on other people, not themselves. He uses examples from their tradition to remind them of this: that Elijah and Elisha: “there were many widows in Israel and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of the widows except one who lived elsewhere….and there were many lepers in Israel at the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except one who lived elsewhere…

The people in Jesus’ town need this same kind of shift in thinking…it’s not about them, it’s about others – the call of God to Jesus, to the Nazareans, and to us, is a call to look beyond ourselves and love others.

Hearing this, the people, of course, are enraged. They would rather feel good about themselves, just by being associated with Jesus – they don’t want to have to do anything. They want him to do the work and for them to feel good about it.

Ok, so the football players do all the work and win the games and we rejoice as if we have been right beside them all along. Yet on some level, either by watching at home, or attending the games live, or buying their merchandise, we have actually participated in their winning, through our support. So this is not an exact analogy to our Gospel.

But the basic idea remains: we humans love to be affiliated with the rich and the famous and the successful, because when we are we somehow feel better about ourselves as well. Jesus takes this one step further by reminding the people that they are not suppose to form an exclusive club that lets some in and keeps some out. They are suppose to be a people who know God’s love and then actively share it with others making the circle ever wider, ever more open. Because when Jesus brings up the widow from Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian, he is speaking about people far removed from the Israelites, people who have in fact persecuted them. It was like telling them that God cares as much for the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and the suicide bombers, as God cares for us. That’s how Jesus’ words were heard. It’s no wonder they drove him out of town.

None of us wants to hear, really, that God loves our enemies like God loves us. But Jesus’ words remind his townsfolk, and remind us, that God does not get our boundaries of who is in and who is out. The problem is not that we are loved any less. The problem is people we fear, despise, or just plain dislike, are loved by God. God just keeps on loving human beings and we are invited to join in the love or move aside.

Our scripture, especially much of the Gospels, like the parable of the good Samaritan, the woman at the well, the story of Nicodemus, and including our Gospel reading this morning, remind us of the truth of this.

And this is equally true for our churches today as we struggle over who is in and who is out. It’s true for us as a parish community as we ponder what it is we are being called to do and be. On the one hand I think it is really simple: get up off the sofa, stop being a sideline fan of Jesus, and share the love you have of God with all of God’s people.

I know, this is hard to do. We don’t like to talk about our faith. It’s awkward and we don’t know how. But that is not what we are called to do. I don’t think we’re called to pull out megaphones and shout from the street corner, but we’re not supposed to keep silent either.

Jeremiah gives us a good sense of what this is like. In response to God’s call to him, Jeremiah, the young child, backs away from God. He says’ “I can’t do what you ask, I am only a child.” This reading, by the way, is used at many ordination services acknowledging that the about to be ordained person is somewhat terrified of what lays ahead. And some would say, for good reason, because the ordained are always out there front and center, like a coach hoping the team players can make it to the Super Bowl.

In our reading from Jeremiah, God responds:” Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you…you shall go to all whom I send you and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid…for I have put my words in your mouth.”

Truly comforting words. As we move from the safety of our sofas to the world beyond, God not only calls us but will give us the words to say. God calls and God provides. But God also expects that we will venture forth, not just as people cheering on the sidelines, but as people leading the way - bringing God’s message of hope and love to a world of lost and lonely people looking for a team.