4 Epiphany Yr C Jan 31 2016 Audio
On a Saturday afternoon, when I was in elementary school, all of us would load up the yellow school buses, our moms and maybe our dads, and all the kids, would head downtown Minneapolis for the Shrine Circus. What an adventure, people squished together to get in, people squished together in their seats. The smell of cotton candy wafting through the air, hot dogs, and cracker jacks. All of those light up whirring toys tempting us, calling to us, and our moms saying no. At least my mom saying no. But it's the trapeze that I am imagining today. The men and women climbing all the way to the top of the big top, swinging the swings back and forth. One person on each swing, swinging back and forth. And then the flyer, hands clasped to the swinger, swings back and forth, until it's time to let go and fly. That's it, right there, flying through the air, exhilarating and frightening all at the same time.
That's the place Jesus puts us. That's where this story puts us. It continues the story we began to hear last week, Jesus takes up the scroll in his neighborhood synagogue, the place he grew up, the place he crawled around on the floor as a kid, the place he played with his friends, the place he learned to read. His friends and his parent's friends in the synagogue were thinking, this is Joseph's son, isn't he a nice boy. And he knows his Bible so well.
And then as Jesus is reading from the prophet Isaiah, he claims that he himself is in the line of the prophets. He is a prophet like Elija and Elisha. And just like that the story takes a dramatic shift. The story had always been told about events in the future, the messiah will come, the messiah will be a political event, and all of a sudden the tense changes from Messiah's fulfillment in the future, to now, this is happening now. It gets really tense. And it surely doesn't look anything like any of them had imagined.
And that's where we are, like the trapeze flyer, we have left one swing behind, and have not yet grasped the other one. We live in this place of exhilaration and fright all at one time. We live in this presence that Jesus gives us. The past has been, the future is yet, and Jesus pulls us squarely into the present, and claims that God's love and grace are available to you right here and right now. Not only is it available to you, it is available to everyone, God's love knows no bounds.
And the reading from first Corinthians shows us what we are doing while we are flying. We are loving. And if we are not loving, we are falling.
The good news though, might actually be about the net, the net that is always there under those flyers. Now, you may think the net is there to catch you when you miss the connection, and that is helpful. But I would suggest it's even more than that. I suggest the net is there to make us bold and courageous. Without the net we tend to be timid, and you can't be timid and fly, the net helps us to love boldly and courageously. The net helps us to let go and live the life of love that Jesus invites us to live, not in the past, not in the future, but right now.
Love is patient and kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing but in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, Love wins.
And the net reminds us there is a cost to flying, there is a cost to following Jesus. Because the Word of God is for all people including the poor and the oppressed, the outcast and the sinner, those we love and those we hate, you and me, the Word of God threatened and continues to threaten those who are in positions of power. Jesus tells stories that show God’s grace, available to all, not to just some. Like rain, God's grace falls touching all – Gentiles as well as Jews, insiders as well as outsiders. To speak and act in God’s name sets one apart, and sets one up for ridicule, sets one up to be thrown over the cliff.
And the net also reminds us that forgiveness is about living boldly and courageously. Loving, loving as first Corinthians encourages us to love, does not mean that we get it perfect or even right. But not loving, not even trying, is to not even live at all. We may miss our mark, but you can't miss if you don't fly, you can't miss if you don't Love. The net reminds us that when we miss, God's forgiveness and grace is there to catch us.
When they realized what Jesus was saying, they got angry, is this not just Joseph's son? Who does he think he is? They led him to the cliff so that they could hurl him off. Now, in the movies what would be really exciting is the hero hurled off the cliff, and somehow he flies, or is rescued with a lot of special effects. But Jesus doesn't get rescued in a dramatic sort of way, instead, he passes through the midst of them and goes on his way. And that too is bold and courageous.
Jesus is in our midst, Jesus is fully and completely present with us. Jesus didn't get somehow whisked off the cliff, and Jesus doesn't get whisked off the cross. That's not the way the story goes. After some pain and suffering, Jesus dies on the cross. Pain and suffering are a part of living and loving. The new life that is offered goes through the cross, not around it, and Jesus is not magically whisked off of it or out of it.
Nor are we. We might fall or fail when we are living and loving boldly and courageously, and as we hit the net there's nothing that guarantees that we don't get hurt, it may even kill us. But that's not the end of the story, because you and I know that Love wins.
The claim that Jesus makes, that God's kingdom is fulfilled in the present, in our presence, is transformational. We are partners with Jesus in kingdom building, and we have our roadmap in Corinthians, "And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love." And as partners with Jesus we love boldly and courageously. We remember that love is not a way we feel, but that love is what we do. It seems to me, in these days, loving boldly and courageously is hard work. But we've already acknowledged there's no guarantee for easy. This call is to live and do mercy, compassion, and justice. There is so much injustice happening in the world around us. God's love calls us to do it differently. And God's love helps us to fly. Let's fly together. Amen.