It's not about you: Love is Particular and Often Sacrificial
In our Gospel lesson from Luke today, we have the conclusion to Jesus going into the synagogue, unrolling the scrolls, and making a hidden prophetic claim that he will fulfill the law of God. This story also occurs in Mark and Matthew's Gospels, and there the townspeople take offense because Jesus is only the son of a carpenter and therefore doesn’t have any authority to be doing the teaching, let alone speaking the prophetic words he does.
In Luke's Gospel from this morning though, the people are surprised but not immediately offended by Jesus' words in the synagogue. It’s not until he indirectly criticizes those in the Synagogue with him, that they take offense. What is it that he says to them? Well, he would appear to compare his contemporaries to the ancient Israelites who rejected God’s own prophets.
Who then are they ultimately rejecting if they do not listen to him? Him of course. But in rejecting him, they are in fact rejecting God himself, as we heard unfold last week. So his comparison to them this week is a challenge to respond differently than did their ancestors. This call for a new response leads to his rejection. And yet we hear their response to him: “When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.”
I want to focus on one point that ties to our readings from the OT, Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, and from the psalm this morning: “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown [and the conclusion] they led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built so that they might hurl him off the cliff.”
He escapes this violent action for the time being, for it is not yet his time; but of course his ultimate fate is sealed. From our reading in Jeremiah, one of God’s prophets, we know that God’s holy prophetic message falls on the shoulders of those most unlikely, a boy, Jeremiah, a baby born to an unwed woman. If we were to follow Jeremiah’s life, we would hear of how Israel rejected his revelations from God about God’s law, his will, his justice, his love unrequited by Israel; we would hear how Israel pursued, harassed and sometimes imprisoned, threatened, tortured, and even killed God’s messengers.
Our psalm captures the real fear and anguish of God’s messengers so well, “Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel. For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother's womb. My praise is continually of you.”
These words echo those of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest, “take this cup from me O Lord.” Lord they do not hear you speak through me. They are obstinate in their ways, fixed in their hearts and minds. Certain of their own interpretations; so certain they choke off your word from their hearts. Rescue me, Lord for I am in terror. I am innocent Lord, I cannot bear the weight of their betrayal. Yet we know Jeremiah, foretelling, yet more fundamentally fulfilling Christ’s ultimate revelatory prophecy, has the word of God proceed from his mouth and from all the actions he undertakes.
For this is God’s own doing. It is God who speaks. It is God who challenges and chastises. It is God who reaches through the lives of the human beings he created to draw others to him. And their denial of this forms a bitter wretchedness that suckers others to follow, twisting, distorting, causing an ever clanging gong of noise as they step on one another up their tower of Babel in false presumption they are ascending to God.
And here we arrive at our Epistle lesson this morning: “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.”
Put bluntly, “I can appear to have everything there is, knowledge, wisdom, the ability to speak in tongues, the ability to organize well, a great voice, the ability and desire to do lots of tasks in the church, being a busy body of productivity, raising all kinds of money, giving away lots of money to the church or to charity, dedicating my body and my life as a married person or as a celibate person, as a priest or nun, if I do all of these things but I do not love: I am not following Jesus Christ.
So what is love? As I said last week, love isn’t a concept. It is first a reception. It is receiving God’s love in ourselves and acknowledging that God has poured out his love ALSO, to our neighbours and enemies. Then it is looking at what is possible when you realize you are loved by the one who is eternal love, a love that never ceases to exist, that holds you securely in it forever. It is realizing that despite any experience of rejection of those around you – parents, friends, spouses, children, church members and leaders – you remain loved to the very core of your being. And in being loved, this also means that despite not necessarily knowing or understanding or seeing it, God has given you a purpose, a meaning, and a reason throughout every second of your life.
And it also means he has given you the freedom to seek that. But to seek it in a way that takes up that freedom from sin, and so conforms to the law of freedom. The law of freedom is the perfection of being, the perfection of love: loving God, neighbor and enemy. This is why, then, Paul says, “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 then, has to do with HOW we live together in the church and in our communities. Everything else will pass away and the only thing that will be left is love. At the end, God will look for himself. So he will look for love, for love is all that endures. To reject or make another stumble is to reject God, for God came to all that he created in Christ. So how you engage another person is what is being measured. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with everyone or everything. It doesn’t mean that you must support all things or that everything and anything said goes. But it does matter how you approach the people and situations you encounter. So I ask: how will your life of works measure in God’s accounting when the bottom line for him is love?