We Can’t Save Ourselves, an Interim Sermon for February 3, 2013 ORLC, South San Francisco
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in South San Francisco
Jeremiah 1:4-10 Psalm 71:1-6 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 Luke 4:21-30
We Can’t Save Ourselves.
The lessons today are wonderfully filled with sermons. It may be best to start with Jeremiah using his words for a prayer:
O Lord, put out your hand and touch my mouth and put your words into it “to pluck up and to pull down [our sin] to destroy and overthrow [injustice] to build and plant” your gracious righteousness with love in the world and in our hearts. Amen.
And the prayer for you that is also required because the scripture becomes fulfilled in your hearing:
O Lord, put out your hand and touch our ears to let your word enter our hearts in order “to pluck up and pull down [our sin] to destroy and to overthrow [injustice] to build and plant” your gracious righteousness with love in the world and in our hearts. Amen.
So like Jeremiah excusing himself because he was just a boy, we can’t excuse ourselves from proclaiming Good’s Word to those around our church, witnessing to our friends, and to our families. Often it is really hard there, because our families know our faults and often it is best when we take time to read the scriptures together, have devotions, and relearn our Small Catechisms on a regular basis.
The psalm prays for God to be our shelter, our mighty fortress, our refuge and strength, and our protection. When God answers that prayer it is safe for us to take some risks, because we are in God’s hands, completely loved and provided for.
Moving to St. Paul’s Love Poem that we heard in First Corinthians 13, we can’t “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things.” It is only when we are held by God’s hand that we can. There are powers and principalities or, in other words, social and financial forces that are so much greater than our tiny selves. Just think about the mighty down-turn, the great recession that we just experienced. It was 7.9 million who lost their jobs right away and they say some jobs will never return. Do you think it was because of the employee’s own fault that they lost their jobs? Of course not. Or what about the millions who lost their houses? For the most part, it was not. But if you are being carried by God’s hand, know that God is mightier than social and financial forces. And God is working with you and for you, even if you are unemployed. Did you get it? You’re unemployed but God starts working for you! That’s the good news. God gives you a home. God has many mansions and you have a home in God, even if you lost your house. You can endure all things because you are in God’s hand. You can even endure sickness, bad health, and dying, because it is by the wounds and injuries of Christ that we are healed. Even if we die, yet shall we live – because the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a God of the living and not of the dead. Jesus promised that we will remain alive in God.
Jesus said that those who die live in God, so Abraham and Sarah and don’t forget Hagar all are alive in the God of life. Thus, even if we die, yet shall we live. The Good News is that when we are held by God’s hand we can “bear, believe, hope, and endure all things” in God’s everlasting love.
I never understood Jesus’ experience in his hometown of Nazareth the right way. I thought their anger had to do with knowing him when he was immature, knowing his family too well, his sisters and brothers, too. Do you think that Joseph, his father, may have been old and may have already died? We don’t know. But for the people of Nazareth, I thought that perhaps familiarity bred contempt.
When a person has a heart of gold, then to know them is to love them. When a person has an unchanged heart, which is rotten on the inside, then familiarity breeds contempt. That is how I try to understand these sayings and I thought that was the issue at Nazareth. The general understanding of “familiarity breeds contempt” goes: perhaps because they were so familiar with him and his family they overlooked his greatness and had no respect for him. Often people tend to harp on the negatives about a person and take the good for granted.
But first in the pastors’ Bible study and then in the online commentary I began to understand the Nazareth issue in a different light. Jesus had become famous and he was like a hero for his hometown. Now their expectations were all ramped up and they expected him to perform all kinds of miracles the way he had done elsewhere. Jesus says to them: Doubtless you will quote the proverb to me “Doctor, cure yourself” and “Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did in Capernaum.”
They were telling a prophet what he now had to do for them. They were trying to micro-manage God’s miracles for their own benefit.
Jesus tries to tell them that they are getting God’s mission all wrong. But their disappointment turns into rage. Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit and they reject him because they become filled with rage.
They are really saying to Jesus what the one unrepentant criminal on the cross beside him said: “Save us and save yourself, if you are the Son of God!” and the people around the cross: “He saved others but he cannot save himself” they said of Jesus, wagging their heads.
A complete orientation about oneself and one’s own interests contradicts the love that God and Christ are all about. Intense love will make you a slave to the other, to the one you love. Some of you may remember the old pop song, “If they made me a king, I’d still be a slave to you.” It’s true.
Our faith does make us kings and queens. Our faith gives us the nobility of the spirit, because we have received the blood of Christ and now it flows in our veins and that makes us richer than the Rockefellers. But God’s lifting us up is meant to strengthen us to fall way down in love. We can bend all the way down and tie a little kid’s shoes, and teach the little one how to tie them himself. That’s not easy.
Some people say that Luther taught individualism by declaring the priesthood of all believers. He did not. He never said “everyone is his or her own priest” but “everyone is his or her neighbor’s priest.” Love requires us to care about the other, to care about our neighbors.
One definition of sin is to be curved in upon ourselves. (In Latin it is curvatus in se.) Furthermore self-absorption is not healthy. It is involved with sickness. When in a hospital bed, for example, when someone is struggling with an attack of appendicitis, the mind of the sufferer turns inward all around the pain, filled with self-concern for survival. Someone can be at the bedside or walk in and out of the room, bring flowers, the person in pain does not even notice.
When a person gets better and healthy, the mind turns outward again, upward to God and outward toward others. Recovering they recognize the people in the room. They ask, “Who brought the flowers?”
That’s how it is in sickness and it’s the same way growing up and becoming mature. Maturity means having concern for others too. It means being able to control our impulses. In a movie, a romance and western, a hero and the woman fall off a wagon and down a hill rolling over each other again and again. He looks up at her on top of him and says, “Control your emotions.” It had nothing to do with her impulses of course they were just rolling down the hill.
That’s funny. But if you can control your impulses then you can be there for someone else, instead of using someone else. But we have to go further and even control our self-interests. I know how much we champion our own self-interests. But we have to keep our self-interests in very strict boundaries or we get into trouble. In the newspapers we read stories every day about those who let their self-interests become unethical and they really get into hot water. We have to be able to control our own self-interests and keep them in check so that we don’t cross shameful lines. There are real boundaries that we dare not cross.
The Nazareth people were not celebrating the fact that all those good things happened in Capernaum – they felt that Jesus should have done those things for them, and if he wouldn’t then no one was going to benefit from the Messiah again. With that they demonstrated the heart of darkness. Nathaniel was right when he asked, “What good can come out of Nazareth.”
We probably all have known people that get ahead only at another’s expense. But as Christians who ride on grace and follow the Lord of Love, we have to think of the interests of others and become more and more unselfish.
While working in Cincinnati, I visited a really poor home. You know, dirty mattresses without sheet covers, roaches running everywhere. The youngest boy, Robert, who was pretty much hindered and mentally disabled, begged me to play a game of checkers with him. I sat down and played a game with him and I could not help but beat him.
Little Robert comes running around the table and hugs me saying, “Peter won! Peter won!” His selflessness reduced me to tears. What do you think happens to someone as selfless as that among us selfish people? They get trampled underfoot.
So we need to take his example. We are the sheep and the lambs among the wolves. Little kids love to win and some people think winning is everything! It is not. We often learn much more from losing. Then we can celebrate those who win, those that overtake us. In baseball the winning team and the losing team used to congratulate each other or at least shake hands together after the game. Now the winning teams out there congratulate themselves and the losing team goes off the field, grief-stricken, that is, after big games. Where is the sportsmanship?
Look at pastors. Many women pastors are naturals and they leave some of us men who are pastors in the dust. Women have now even become bishops. That is wonderful! They represent a challenge for us men to grow and mature more. The problem comes when we get too comfortable, get stuck, and stop growing. Then we become threatened by those who overtake us. We have to give up our childish ways.
The Good News basically, cannot only be for you and for me. We have to tell it to others and bring them to church to hear it. They are the ones that bring it home to us and they can save us, we cannot save ourselves. That is the law of love. We can’t be our own priests. We can only be the priests for others. They will help us see ourselves like in a mirror.
In the Bible times mirrors were made out of metal, which tarnished, so you could only see yourself dimly and chopped up and fragmented in them. But we can look into each other’s eyes and be mirrors for each other and be those who reflect each other clearly. When we see each other in different faces, then we see each other more fully the way God sees us and when God starts seeing us, it like one of those new 3-D printers God starts recreating us from scratch.
So to come to church with all the meetings, you have to miss out on your family. Thank you. When you come to church, it costs you some money. Thank you. Thank you Our Redeemer for your communal meals. Those are quite some meals you dish out. I saw them listed in the Annual Report. Chicken pot pie, Mexican crepes, lasagna! That is one of our favorite meals at home and you served it to the community around this church!
And thank you to the social concerns committee. Representing this congregation, it collected food for the San Bruno Catholic Worker House to support their ministry. Our ministry will be blessed because of it. You gave offering boxes for World Hunger, 38 backpacks for the North Peninsula Neighborhood Services, ten Christmas wreaths, and 100 dollar gift certificates last December for poor families. Your new pastor will also thank you.
But let’s remember that people also need meaning in their lives. So we also have to witness about what Christ has done for us. In showing them our Christian love, they will soon ask about the good news. Actions do speak louder than words, but people have to be changed from takers into givers. In God’s hands we become givers and receivers and the good news of Jesus Christ changes others too so they stop being takers, taking their own lives and the lives of others. The taking of life has gotten so extreme among us. (The givers of life are not only mothers who bear children, but also those who bring about the rebirth in the spirit that changes people from takers into givers.) To become givers people need meaning in their lives, and we can give them meaning in the hearing and fulfilling of the scriptures, the Word of God. Remember when the meaning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ fills us, then we ourselves are words uttered by God. This is the Good News. This is breaking news. Amen.