Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
In 1978, a man named John David, who was a member of the singing group Airwaves, released a song entitled, “You are the New Day.” The lyrics go, in part, like this:
You are the new day.
I will love you more than me
and more than yesterday
If you can but prove to me
you are the new day
Send the sun in time for dawn
Let the birds all hail the morning
Love of life will urge me say
you are the new day
One more day when time is running out
Like a breath I knew would come I reach for
the new day
Hope is my philosophy
Just needs days in which to be
Love of life means hope for me
borne on a new day
You are the new day
For me, the lyrics of that song express the root of Christian hope. The kind of hope that I heard in last week’s reading from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth that has been haunting me all week. In that reading Paul says.
“The members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor; and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect, whereas our more respectable members do not need this. For God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body.”
That’s a powerful statement about Christian hope for the way people might learn to treat each other. There’s just one problem. For God’s arrangement to work, those who are blessed, those who are gifted, those who have more must recognize it and must be willing to set aside their own struggles, to set aside their own wishes for their futures to be better and instead be agents of God’s love and generosity to those who do not know it.
And that’s precisely what Jesus ran into in this week’s Gospel reading from Luke.
As a continuation of last week’s Gospel, remember that Jesus is preaching in his home town of Nazareth. In his sermon, Jesus reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and, at first, meets with approval.
In last week’s reading he says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
That met with great approval from his all-Jewish congregation because they assumed that the poor and the captives Jesus was talking about were themselves. But then in this week’s reading Jesus says, “Remember Elijah? He was the greatest of all our prophets. And remember when there was a famine in the land of Israel for 3 ½ years? There were a lot of widows in the land of Israel at that time. But remember where Elijah went? God sent him to a Gentile woman in Sidon.” What Jesus was saying, and the reason his life was soon in danger was that God’s words were not just about and for the people of Israel. God’s words, God’s love was for everyone. And we are called to share that love – and to share all of God’s blessings — with everyone as freely as God shares them with us.
I recall a shocking example of this human trait a number of years ago when Oprah Winfrey asked Nelson Mandella what she could do to help the people of South Africa heal from the scars of apartheid. “Build me a school,” Mr. Mandela said. And so she did. Spending nearly $40 million dollars of her own money, Oprah built a school for girls that would be a beacon of hope to the people of South Africa. And just what was the response by some in our own country? To chastise Oprah Winfrey for not spending that $40 million on children here.
We’re the richest country in the world, where everyone, no matter how poor, at least has access to SOME public education, and people in our own country criticized someone who reached out to some of the poorest children in the world.
“Those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor; and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect, whereas our more respectable members do not need this.”
You see, there is a dirty little truth about us humans. That truth is that it is in our nature to see the world from our own perspective. It’s challenging for us to see the world from other people’s perspectives. And it’s even more difficult for us to see the world from God’s perspective. But that is what our readings from last week and this week are all about. They are about the challenges we face as faithful people of God to see our faith not just as something that informs how we might make our own lives better. But rather, to see our faith as something that challenges us to look outside ourselves and to see God in the people around us and to then base our actions toward them accordingly.
There is a disturbing documentary that I once saw entitled “Jesus Camp”. It’s about an effort within the Evangelical movement in the United States to train children to be what are called “Gospel Warriors.” If you look around the internet, you’ll find that for many Christian Evangelicals, there is a belief that we are engaged in spiritual warfare.
There are some disturbing things about this documentary, but what I found most disturbing was the inability of the people in this movement to do precisely what Jesus is saying to the people of Nazareth in today’s Gospel. “Look outside yourself,” Jesus says. “Realize that God speaks to other people too. And realize that you may actually have something to learn from them as much as they may have something to learn from you.” That is a challenge we all face.
Think of all of the different ways that people who worship in Episcopal Churches right here in the Bay Area experience God, and both the challenge and the opportunity it presents us with. The “Anglo” tradition in our churches speaks to the experience of knowing God through the contemplation of scripture. Through ordered and deeply moving music and visual images in our worship space that challenge us to think about God’s acts in history and in our own lives.
Over in the East Bay, our South Pacific Islander brothers and sisters worship in a tradition that teaches that one experiences God in the powerful proclamation of God’s Word in one’s life and through uplifting, joyful music that moves people to stand up and clap their hands in praise to God.
In San Francisco and in the South Bay, our Latino brothers and sisters worship in a tradition that sees God in brightly colored images and in the free-flowing spirit of God that spontaneously erupts in a service that is specifically not planned out in every detail. “Muchos resplandores, solo una luz; es la luz de Cristo.” “Many glows, one light, it is the light of Christ.”
The challenge, as I see it, is for us as Anglicans, as Episcopalians, as a worshipping community here in Marin, is to ask ourselves, “How do we look outside of our own experiences of the Holy? How do we challenge ourselves to hear God speaking through the experiences of others . . . maybe even others who worship from a different faith from ours?
The future of the Church is not to find more people like ourselves to come and be with us. The future of the Church is to be open to the people who God calls to be part of our worshipping community. And then, for us to come together. To manifest that “New Day” in our life and ministry.
The author of Luke’s Gospel wants us to know that the most scandalous thing we can ever do is to actually listen to the Bible. The most outrageous thing we can do is to take the Bible seriously, not only as a comforting word, but also as a challenging and sometimes deeply disturbing word. The main reason why it is so disturbing is that it reminds us that God does not play by our rules. God does not define us the way we define ourselves or each other. And God certainly does not put boundaries around when, where, and how God’s love will be known.
In his follow-up to last week’s reading from the letter to the Church in Corinth, this week Paul makes one of the most beautiful and profound statements about what love is. He 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 never ends.”
It is much more comforting to believe that you are the one with all the answers. That you are the one who has gotten it right. And that you are the one who God loves. That is a satisfying way to ride through life. But to LOVE the way that God calls us to love, requires us all to, at some point, realize that we are not the only people who God speaks to, and we are most certainly not the only people God loves.
That is what Jesus was trying to tell the people in his hometown of Nazareth. He started out sounding so familiar and comforting. But then Jesus raised a question: “How far is God’s reach?” “How far will God’s love go and to whom?” And that got him into trouble. Because it was, and still is, a troubling question.
To think that the reach of God might far extend our own! To consider that the kind of people with whom God might choose to associate is different from our own list. That’s challenging. And what is often even more difficult is to think that God might actually want us to sometimes change the way we do things in order to experience the Holy in a way we have not experienced it before.
Whether it is by the way we hear God’s word, or by the way we see God in the images in our church or by the way we praise God in our music. Our challenge is to seek God in all things and all people. In short, I believe God calls us to usher in that new day. A new day when we are able to look outside ourselves and see others and the world from God’s perspective. Amen.