1 Corinthians 13 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
Luke 4: 18-30 January 31, 2016
And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.”
Prayer: May we have the Spirit of Christ, who shared your truth and love, even at great risk. Amen.
As my daughter Cydney walks home from seminary classes at Harvard Divinity School, she often calls me to chat and get caught up. Two weeks ago on Martin Luther King, Jr. day, she called and asked what I did that day. I said, “Well, I had an interesting day… I went to the Martin Luther King, Jr. breakfast.” “Oh!” she said. “Did you go to serve?” Hmmm. “No…” I said. “At breakfast, our church received an award for our act of service at Crispus Attucks.” “Oh. That’s nice,” she said, rather flatly. I’m like, “What?” She said, “Usually people spend Martin Luther King Day doing acts of service somewhere.” “Well,” I said, “We did an act of service and I received an award on behalf of Christ Church.” “That’s nice.”
It’s interesting to me that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a national holiday that only has some business honoring it, has evolved into a day of doing acts of service. Politicians and other people who happen to have that day off are shown on the news serving in the soup kitchen lines, assisting with the homeless, helping out at the thrift stores, doing charity work, and so forth. That’s wonderful!
To be sure, these acts of service are good things, and I do not disparage any one of them or any for person doing them at all. I am concerned, though, that the message that Dr. King advocated, fought for, and died for, a message that combatted racism, a message that railed against inequitable civil rights, a message that spoke against hunger and poverty, a message of justice and peace for all people, that message gets watered down, or worse, gets lost in the cultural and political correctness of doing good acts of service.
It’s much easier to do what our culture deems as the wise thing to do, but sometimes, isn’t the right thing to do more challenging?
Sometimes I think there is a difference between doing the wise thing verses doing the right thing. Yes, at times they’re one and the same, and other times, not so. In simple terms, the wise thing to do is often the one that calls on conventional wisdom. It’s wise to stay out of trouble, to play it safe, to take limited risks. And often, the wise thing focuses on what’s best for the individual.
The right thing may not necessarily keep you out of trouble. It often can focus on what you value morally, ethically, spiritually, while keeping personal integrity. It often focuses on what’s best for others, the wider community.
Sometimes that means not being afraid of trouble, but you don’t go looking for it, either. Many times though, when you are focused on high moral, ethical, and spiritual standards, trouble finds you. I call that “Holy Trouble.” It’s holy because God usually is in it. It’s holy because God may need that trouble to occur because almost always, God’s ways and values are front and center in your heart, inspiring you to push back against those things that are fundamentally opposite of God’s ways and God’s love. That’s trouble worth getting into sometimes, I think.
Holy trouble comes when you get in the way of injustice, like taking a stand against unethical work practices in your workplace. It comes when you try to impede the advancement of poverty by helping in the soup kitchen and/or by questioning poverty's systemic root causes. It comes if we fight against the way of violence in our world. The people who practice those kinds of things will give you holy trouble.
For example, when Georgia Congressman John Lewis was growing up, his mother told him to stay out of trouble and not get in the way. Sounds like the wise thing to do. But, by age 18, he knew that the right thing for him to do was to become the youngest member of Dr. King’s team. When the day came for the first march on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama, John Lewis was one of those who was beaten into a coma by Alabama State Troopers in the infamous “Bloody Sunday” event (personal email and http://johnlewis.house.gov/john-lewis/biography, retrieved January 29m, 2016). Not such a wise choice, but oh, for Rep. Lewis, it was as such, the right choice to make.
Our story in Luke I think gives us a glimpse of Jesus choosing the right thing over the wise thing to do. He comes into his home town
shortly after having spent 40 days/nights in the desert being tempted by the devil. And rest assured, that when he arrives in Nazareth, he is tempted again. His hometown crowd are proud of him. They spoke well of him. They heard of his miracles. They were amazed at his gracious words. Jesus could have gotten caught up in such adulation. He might have been tempted to show off by performing a little miracle for them—certainly he wouldn’t want to let their praise to go unrewarded… after all these are his homies… his own people. Besides a little miracle would have been wise because in those early years of his ministry his home base would have become very supportive.
But, Jesus doesn’t get sucked into that temptation. He sees right through all that, and what he says next is the right thing that brings on holy trouble. He first calls out their misguided, superficial faith. Faith in God is not magic; it’s not about producing miracles.
It’s much more about trusting God. Loving God. It’s about believing that God is in everything you’re in. If you’re in trouble, God can use it for good. If you’re enjoying life, thank God for such blessings and provisions. If you have holy trouble, have faith that God may have taken you there, but God is in it with you and God’s presence strengthens you in your efforts to respond to injustice, or whatever is out of whack with God’s ways. And, we learn to say, “Thanks be to God.”
Secondly, Jesus is a prophet. And as a prophet, he knows that God’s word, God’s values, God’s ways take precedent over any of culture’s sentiments and whims. That’s a truth they just can’t handle, resulting in prophets not being accepted in their hometowns.
But, here comes the BIG reason why Jesus’ words bring holy trouble to him… because he said that God’s spirit rests upon him and now is the day of God’s salvation and transformation (GREAT!) BUT! Jesus suggests that God’s salvation and transformation would include foreigners! (GASP!!) People unlike themselves? People of different backgrounds? Different faith, different religions? When Jesus goes that far, well, that was too far… They just couldn’t imagine that God’s shalom and salvation could possibly be a universal thing. And, their prejudice, their discriminatory attitudes turned into anger and rage which overwhelmed them, and they sought to kill him by throwing him off the edge of the cliff. (By the way, Luke doesn’t give us any details on how Jesus got out of that mess… he just “passed through the midst of them and went on his way,” it says. So be it. It wasn’t time for his death yet.)
But, that IS the nature of God’s salvation. It IS God’s universal gift. For everyone, past, present, and future. This is the heart and soul of Christianity, folks.
And in Jesus Christ, we find this universal gift lived out. In Jesus Christ, we find out just how far God would go to ensure that all people would know that this saving grace was available for everyone. In Jesus Christ we have an example of what it means to choose the right thing as he faced, endured, and went through the holy trouble of the cross for the entire world’s salvation. No one on earth would have blamed him if he did the wise thing by being quiet, by not upsetting the apple cart, not rocking the boat, staying out of trouble, thus saving himself from criminal charges and eventual death.
Instead, Jesus was willing to face the holy trouble because he knew God was in it. He knew that God had a larger vision for us as people than what we ourselves could see.
The holy trouble that Christ got into opened up the doors for God’s new growth of spiritual liberation to occur. His holy trouble became the fertile ground for a more just and peaceful world, where everyone would know of God’s love and forgiveness... where everyone could choose to live with the same love and forgiveness expressed toward each other... where everyone, out of mutual, holy, and sometimes sacrificial love, would respond to people in their need.
This way of love is what Paul says is the more excellent way. It might be the wise way to only let love be affectionate love, romantic love, or brotherly love for friends and loved ones. That’s a safe place to be, and much of the time, it’s a good place to be.
But, that’s not the only place to be. The right place to be might be the way of living with God’s agape love as a redeeming love, a sacrificial love, one that Paul calls us to live out… to act with love in all things.
Perhaps the human spirit, when compelled to act because of wrongs flourishing in the world and in our lives, must do so balanced with this agape form of love. It’s the kind of love that enters into difficult situations and seeks to maintain a sense of balance of love for the
person and justice for the situation. It’s the kind of love that encourages parents to with tough love confront their teenager about their drug use, or about missing school, while respecting who they are as a person. It’s the kind of love that makes people of faith respond to homelessness in our community. It’s the kind of love that welcomes refugees and sees them as people in need. It’s the kind of love that rejoices in the truth, which sometimes is difficult to hear.
But, it’s the kind of love that outlasts everything. It’s the kind of love that bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. This love never ends. This kind of love can sometimes steer us into holy trouble and uncomfortable situations, but it appeals to the heart and conscience for God’s values, God’s ways, and God’s love to endure through it all in our lives and in our choices we make. That is, perhaps, both the wise and the right thing to doAmen.