Love Means to Empty Ourselves of Ourselves to Make Room for Others: Fourth Sunday after Epiphany January 31, 2016
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany January 31, 2016
Jeremiah 1:4-10 Psalm 71:1-6 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 Luke 4:21-30
Love Means to Empty Ourselves of Ourselves to Make Room for Others
The lessons for today are filled with sermons and I pray God in the words of Last week’s Psalm: that the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart might be acceptable in God’s sight, dear Lord God, our rock, our strength, and our Redeemer. Amen. There’s the call of the boy Jeremiah; there’s the Love Poem of St. Paul; and there’s the story of Jesus’ hometown Nazareth and the trouble he has with his own folks.
It is also Reconciled in Christ Sunday today and we thank God that our congregation and our synod are R.I.C. How wonderful that we can affirm love even for a same-sex marriage and strengthen our acceptance of transgender folks and the LGBT community. It has been a long and arduous journey for me and many Christians are not there yet and we pray that their love expand their acceptance of others as well. Life is complex and we thank God that we love each other with a true and genuine internal bond, so that we can celebrate and even rejoice in our differences. True unity differentiates, because such unity is made out of love and trust and frees us to be as different as we actually are. Uniformity is an external thing that traps us into having to be the same and act the same. That saps our creativity. I believe a thankful response to the Good News is not only good works but also creativity. Good faith fuels our love. I remember a lawyer, who told me that when it came to the point of suing someone, the code words were: “You are no longer dealing with me in good faith.” So good faith fuels love and good faith is trust in God. It’s also important to trust each other and, of course, when we do, we often get hurt. So we have to be trustworthy – and we receive the power to trust and to be trustworthy from above, because we don’t live out of our own strength, but by the strength that comes down from above.
Now the folks in Jesus hometown, Nazareth, were amazed by the gracious words that came out of Jesus’ mouth. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son and don’t we know Mary his mother, and James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon, his brothers; and aren’t his sisters here with us?” Now he has to do for us what he did for Capernaum. Heal our sick, take care of us, perform the miracles among us that he did in those places. Galilee was the Galilee of the nations, meaning that Greeks, Syro-phonecians, and Romans were all living there and it was hard to be a Jew. “Jesus should drive all these foreigners out and give us a good Jewish revival.” They must have thought.
Doubtless you will quote the proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself.” Do here in your hometown the things we have heard you did in Capernaum.
The problem is that small towns like Nazareth and sometimes small churches can become like pools of stagnant water, with no refreshing stream flowing in and waterway flowing back out.
Then minds go to sleep. Hearts tend to grow narrow. Prejudices proliferate. Once I heard it said: the thinking starts stinking.
One definition of sin is to be turned in upon oneself and it is as easy as it is treacherous for love for a community or a church to get that way.
Jesus is called the man for others. Love is involved in forgetting oneself and being there for someone in need. We cannot love when we are full of ourselves. We have to empty ourselves of ourselves so that we make room for others. St. Francis says that it is in dying that we live. It is in dying to ourselves that we start living for others and the by-product becomes our own abundant life. But that abundant life requires giving ours away in love. Again to quote St. Francis: “It’s in giving that we receive.”
Let me give you an example from my own life. You know that I’ve been a pastor of Black and Puerto Rican congregations in Oakland and Coney Island. Back in New York we ran huge Vacation Church Schools and Day Camps and we rented out public schools. So to rent one public school I visited the custodian who had authority over the building. His wife and workers were also there and they were German. I spoke German with them…they loved me and welcomed our school. When my school arrived – it was Black and Puerto Rican! They could have killed me. I think I know just how Jesus felt when I walked through them in their office, when he walked through their midst and they couldn’t touch him, even though they were enraged and were going to throw him off that cliff.
Meanwhile, we left that school cleaner and more picked-up than we found it. An all-White Vacation Day Camp in a neighboring school that received all the city funding, while we received none – tore up their school. The kids ripped the fire-extinguishers off the walls and left the place in chaos. That was no crime. Being Black and Puerto Rican was. Can you see why prejudice is a crime? Our thinking can really start stinking.
Look at the incredible injustice of our War on Drugs! How many poor people of color are languishing in jails! Now when the White mainstream America, our quarterbacks and cheerleaders, have an epidemic of addictions and overdosing that is spiking in many states, we say, “We have to understand. It’s really a disease. They need our help. You don’t punish people for being sick!
If instead of racism and prejudice our hearts and souls would have been one with Black people and the poor in our cities, then we would have had twenty-five to thirty years to learn how to help the addicted and we would not be seeing all these young people dying of OD’s in New Hampshire, Nevada, and Mid-west America. And you know, it is not only drug dealers in the streets, it’s the drug sales of the huge pharmaceuticals and the doctors pushing pain-pills. Many athletes got hooked on pain medications.
I asked my doctor what to do with all my left-over oxycodone – pain medication I had to take for my hip replacement. I tried to get off it quickly to be able to work with a clear mind. He said, “Flush it down the toilet. Fish don’t like to feel pain either.” He was joking.
A lot of people are in pain. Kitamori, a Japanese theologian wrote a Theology of the Pain of God. Love sends us to bear some of the pain others are feeling. I know I myself can’t take much. There is physical pain and emotional pain. I know that one time I got beat up very badly in a mugging. Believe it or not, the physical pain was a relief from the emotional pain.
Just imagine, our Lord and Savior nailed onto the cruel rails of the cross, nailed like he was a block of wood. The most loving and sensitive person who ever lived on earth and we treated him like a piece of wood. And how insensitive we can be to others when it is “us and them” when we don’t feel their pain.
Let’s pray to God to help us get out of our self-concern and champion others who are in need: Native Americans, experiencing disaster in their lives on the reservations; people of color, whom we use to cushion us from the pain; immigrants, whom we deport breaking up their families; the homeless and poor. Think of the mass incarceration created by the War on Drugs, the two million languishing in our prisons and in the prisons inside our prisons. Imagine the fellows who spend 26 years in solitary confinement! Talk about pain!
Oh Lord, help us deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
 Cf. Psalm 19:14.
 Matthew 13:55-56.
 “Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace.”