St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
February 3, 2019
The Reverend Rick Veit
People were so excited about Jesus as a great teacher and healer and their Savior, until they were not so excited about Jesus as a teacher, healer, and Savior. Doesn’t this just seem the way life is for us as well? Life is good. We love the LORD. Life gets bad. We don’t love the LORD. Life goes our way. We want more of God in our lives. Life does not go our way, and we want out of the relationship altogether, or we just get plain mad. And rightly so! We don’t understand why God does or does not do things, or allows or does not allow events to happen in the world and universe,…which leads right into our Gospel story today.
Jesus had been baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit. Life was good. Everything was fresh and new and exciting. He was then in the desert for 40 days and nights where he was tempted by the devil, tempted by evil. Life became miserable for him. Why God, why? Why would you allow the devil to operate, for evil to be present in this world and in Jesus’ or our lives?
After his days in the desert, Jesus then began his ministry in the area that is Galilee, in Israel. And it was going really well. He was teaching in synagogues and everyone was praising him. He was kind of a rock star from 2,000 years ago. News spread and flocks of people began coming to see and hear him. Then he stood up in the synagogue and read from the Scriptures. It was from the book of Isaiah. Everyone loved Isaiah and his writings, that great prophet. Jesus read, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, (Oh, this was one of their favorites) because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus was apparently the one that Isaiah, the prophet, had written about 700 years earlier. He was the suffering servant that would be our Messiah. Jesus would be the one to help the poor and give freedom to those in prison, to release any and all oppression in the world, and bring recovery to anyone that needed recovery. And the people cheered! And Jesus proclaims, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled!”
Can’t you just imagine? It was like when Barack Obama or Ronald Reagan had become president. It must have been like when Pope John Paul II had become Pope. It all seemed so good. People spoke well of Jesus and were amazed at his gracious words of hope. He began to inspire them that cures and healings were about to come, quoting an old proverb – ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’. Start the healings right now, Jesus! Continue here what we heard you were doing in Capernaum.
But THEN. Wait, “but then”? Doesn’t their always seem to be a “but then” in our lives? Just when everything becomes wonderful, “then”. But then Jesus’ teaching took a turn. It had all been so good and inspiring. The Messiah must be here. OR, maybe not. Obama was incredible as president, in my opinion. Reagan was a rock star orator and leader, even if you didn’t like all their policies. Pope John Paul II was a giant. But none of them solved and cured all of our nation and world problems. Jesus didn’t either. That is, until his resurrection from the dead, when death and sin were defeated forever. I can just picture the smiling, gleaming faces of the Jewish people begin to turn towards frowns, gloomy, even angry faces, perhaps confused looks, just like many had done with our Presidents (Republican or Democrat) and the Pope. We realized they were not the Messiahs.
Jesus continues with his interpretation, his teaching, after the reading of the scriptures. “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” What? What is he talking about? “The truth is, (Jesus continued,) there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah. (You remember, the good old days of the beloved prophet Elijah. But do you remember when the heaven was shut up three and a half years, and that horrible famine had occurred? Do you remember when there was no rain for years?)” No, Jesus, you are here! It is all good now.
And then it got worse. Jesus continued his teaching: “(Do you remember Elijah, when he served only the Gentile, the widow at Zarephath, in Sidon?) A Gentile? No, Jesus, you, God, you are only here for the Jewish people, God’s chosen ones. Why are you bringing up a story when God blessed a Gentile, a non-Jew? Jesus continues: “(And there were all of those lepers, those sick, sick people when Elisha was a prophet. But God did not cleanse any of them, that is, except for Naaman the Syrian, who also wasn’t a Jew, by the way. All people can receive God’s blessings. And sometimes, Jewish people may not).” False prophet! Get him out of here. He must not be the Messiah. “When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.” The freedom for the prisoners, the cures, the recovery, the release of the oppressed, the Messiah, that was only for us, no one else. Do you even remember our history, Jesus, when we were terrorized by the Egyptian people? Do you remember when we were exiled from our land, or when your Temple was ransacked and destroyed? The Messiah is exclusive for God’s chosen people…only! Now get out!
(In the blink of an eye, perhaps in the fastest shift that had ever taken place, they drove Jesus out of town, this once beloved, what they thought was the, Messiah. In the blink of an eye, they were now furious with him and even tried to hurl him off a cliff. Yes. They tried to kill him, this Messiah…this Messiah? Couldn’t be.).”
And somehow Jesus got away. Perhaps it was not his time yet. He survived, for now. AND, ironically, at this point, he had not even called one disciple yet. It was early in his ministry as both God and man, the Messiah on earth. And it would only get trickier, as we know the rest of the story, i.e. the cross, death, and resurrection from the dead. But not yet. For now, Jesus just disappeared and continued his teachings and healings elsewhere, along with his future disciples.
A side note, but a great quote came across Facebook this week. It reads, “Let us feed the hungry, house the homeless, stop the killing and provide medicine for the sick. When we have accomplished that, we can sit around and argue about religion.” Even the Jewish people, not unlike Christians and Muslims and, and, how easy it is to live into the idea of having an exclusive right to God. Perhaps we should all come together and make sure the hungry are fed, homeless housed, the killing stopped, and provide medicine for anyone who is sick. Then, the world will be truly following Jesus as their LORD and Savior. But I digress.
Life is swollen with amazing highs and dark lows and everything in between. I read another great quip from Facebook recently about transmutation. “Transmutation: Grapes must be crushed to make wine. Diamonds form under pressure. Olives are pressed to release oil. Seeds grow in darkness. Whenever you feel crushed, under pressure, pressed, or in darkness, you’re in a powerful place of transformation and transmutation.” It was the way of the world 2,000 years ago, and it is the same today. What is your transmutation story?
Sadly, we do not know why the world is the way it is. But we do know that in the midst of darkness comes light, in the midst of chaos comes order, with sadness and grief comes joy and freedom, eventually.
And the Psalmist so poignantly proclaims: “In you, O LORD, have I taken refuge;..Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe..Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked,..For you are my hope..my confidence since I was young…I have been sustained by you ever since I was born; (even) from my mother’s womb you have been my strength; my praise shall be always of you.”
We trust in something greater than ourselves. We trust in the good of the world and in ourselves. And with the bad, we work and work and work to make things better, even when, especially when, things are really bad. Stand up and be a voice, work for those in need.
That is why I am involved here at St. Mark’s. That is why I remain involved in ministry with our Mayor, our Legislature, and our Governor. That is why I have also been active as a police chaplain in the past. I continue to deliver Friday Food Bags to children who go hungry every weekend. Did you know I even had a talk radio segment on pop radio when we lived in the Washington DC area called Rev. Rick. It was tied to one of the finalists on American Idol.
What are you doing for the outcast, the rejected people of the world? What are you doing for the sick, the friendless, and the needy? Take a moral inventory for a moment. (Silence) Now prepare to get started, or maybe continue what has already begun in you.
And so we praise God in all circumstances, and we serve the people of this world, and especially not just our own or our favorites. We are one family, and all of us deserving of God’s blessings.