So, there was this guy, Jim, that loved this woman, Patty, passionately. And when you met Patty, you knew why. She was funny, thoughtful, had a real gift for drawing people into conversation and listening to what others had to say. Jim daily thanked his lucky stars that Patty had found him and that they were in relationship with each other.
A year in to their exclusive thing, Jim started to get cranky. The problem was that he wanted her home more, around more, with him more. She was always helping someone in her family out of a crisis or taking a call late at night from someone at work. When they would entertain, she would get in these deep almost intimate conversations with one of his friends. It would unnerve him. It bothered him to see her talking alone for an hour with another guy, even when that other guy was one of his oldest friends. It all ended in one evening. After he made her a nice dinner, Patty got up kissed him and said she had to meet a girl at her work who was going through a divorce. He blew up. He was her boyfriend. He should be getting more attention from her than some loser in the cubicle next to her. She belonged to him after all. His words were ugly. Patty ended it a few days later.
I made Jim and Patty up, but it is a story that seems familiar to me. We just never seem satisfied with getting a good thing, when if we got more of that good thing it would be a great thing. Does this make sense? I can’t tell you how many times I filled my bowl to overflowing with ice cream to “finish” the carton, rather than just have a small bowl, leaving another small bowl for myself the next day or maybe even surprise Paige with a small bowl. Why be satisfied with good, when we can get great? Why should we sacrifice and get less so that someone else can receive what we found?
This is how I hear today’s gospel story. Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth was not happy when they found out that Jesus wasn’t just sent to save them, but to save everyone. They would be saved. This was clear. Jesus’ love was for them. Using Isaiah 60, Jesus preached that he had been sent, anointed by God’s Spirit, to bring good news to the poor. They were poor and ready for some good news. He had been anointed he preached to free people from what keeps them from living life as God hopes. Demons? Gone. Blindness? healed. This is going to be great, they murmured. Smiles all around. Who would have thunk that the boy who used to climb their olive trees would be the one God sent to do great things…for them!
It was Jesus that ruined the good vibe. A preacher has got to know when to say amen and then stop. Jesus just kept right on talking. I came to bring good news to everyone who is poor, not just my family and friends in Nazareth, he preached. I came to free all of those who are bondage, not just my cousin Miriam with leprosy. I came to bring sight to all of the world, not only cousin Jesse. When the radical inclusiveness of Jesus’ sermon became evident to those gathered, their belief that God should save them first if not solely, since he was one of their own, leapfrogged over their joy that God had sent a prophet in their midst. Like Jim drove Patty out of their apartment, they drove Jesus out of Nazareth. In the end, because they were not open to others receiving God’s gift of love in Jesus, they were not able to receive it themselves.
God’s gift of love is wonderful and great, life giving, but it is always meant to be given away. If we don’t understand this, then we can’t receive it. God’s love is not a big fat 401K just growing over the years in an account, ready and waiting for you when you need it. God’s love is an action verb. God’s love is a wild animal hating a cage. God’s love is a beautiful painting that would be obscene if we kept it in our home and no one else saw it. Sure, it’s a sacrifice to share, but, if we don’t understand it has got to be shared, we won’t ever be able to receive it in the first place. Our call to faith is not simply to be vessels to receive God’s love, but vessels to pour out God’s love.
For the last four weeks on Wednesday night, about twenty five of us have had a discussion on how to be church in an increasingly violent world. The crux of the problem is how can we protect ourselves from strangers while at the same time welcome strangers as passionately as God welcomes and loves them. Locked doors made no sense. We cannot love a neighbor we refuse to meet. Profiles of likely suspicious subjects made no sense. Who do we turn away because the risk is too high? When we got to the solution part, all the suggestions assumed we couldn’t keep someone out that wanted to do us harm. We would have to sacrifice a small level of security, let everyone in the doors, in order to do the greater work of God, to love and invite everyone passionately.
A sacrifice of love. This is what we are doing when we are okay with the person we love, sharing that love passionately with others, too. A sacrifice of love. This is what we are doing when our focus as church is more about the world outside our doors, than the needs inside our doors. A sacrifice of love. This is what Jesus wanted of his hometown when they heard the good news. Rejoice that God’s anointed one has drawn near then send that body of Christ into the world to share that great love with others. The love we have received is abundant, it is more than enough to be poured out and sacrificed for others.