January 30, 2022

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, 1/30/2022, Pastor Lois Pallmeyer

Today’s scripture readings:  Jeremiah 1:4-10; Luke 4:21-30

Have you seen the signs of people on the brink lately? Have you been there yourself? People who normally function well are cracking. Friends are posting cries for help on social media. Shoppers are blowing up over insignificant frustrations. I myself grew way too testy the other day when I had to wait at the self-checkout for a cashier to clear the automated scanner which couldn’t identify the grapes I had on the scale.

We’re all on edge. Maybe it’s news of one more longed for celebration being canceled or postponed. Maybe it is the text message telling you a loved one’s cancer is no longer in remission. Maybe it is a car driving too fast as it passes you, and you break. You say something ugly; you lash out at a friend; you neglect to do something very routine; you start ugly sobbing, and you’re afraid you won’t stop. It’s not just one or two of us, but whole lots of us who are finding it hard to navigate another winter of pandemic.

We’ve reached a breaking point. We find it hard to react to even mild inconveniences with anything except anger, grief, or hostility.

Jesus’ family and friends seem to have reached a breaking point, too[i]. Although they initially delight over his reading of the scripture, things turn dramatically when it sounds as if he hasn’t come for their benefit. Jesus implies that the good news he is proclaiming is as much for neighboring towns and outsiders as it is for those he knows best, and that does it. The people snap, make a sudden U-turn, and become violent. They drag Jesus out to the edge of the village, and prepare to throw him off. They are quite literally on the brink.

But Jesus never lets violent outbursts or rejections stop him from embodying God’s reign. In perhaps the least mentioned miracle of his entire ministry, Jesus passes through the midst of the angry crowd and goes on his way. Rather than responding to the anger, the violence, the uproar, or the rejection, Jesus moves right through the animosity, and continues his work.

The gospel doesn’t explain whether it was a mystical transformation – as if Jesus turned into some kind of untouchable figure, impervious to the crowd’s viciousness, or if the neighbors and family members simply realized he wasn’t about to engage, and so let him go. Either way, it seems miraculous to me. And it’s a miracle I could use in my own life these days.

How might God weave kindness and compassion into our reactions and interactions so that we more fully embody the love Jesus comes to bring the world? How do we respond to the precipice on which we stand today? How do we find ways to deescalate, to calm the storms, overcome the nastiness and brokenness around us and move into the wholeness and grace of the reign of God?

I spend a lot of time complaining about people in charge who should be doing things differently. The Republicans shouldn’t do this. The Democrats are missing the point there. The school boards are all messed up. The media is reporting everything wrong. And the self-checkout machines at Cub could certainly be better at recognizing grapes. And you see, none of it is my fault! I can’t do anything about any of those problems except fret, complain and fume. Right?

Dear Jeremiah was only a child when God called him[ii]. As Kyrstin shared, he felt totally inadequate, unprepared and unable to speak for God. But God had been watching him since before he was even born, and knew what Jeremiah was capable of achieving.

God touches the boy’s mouth, and assures Jeremiah that he will speak God’s with own words. God will be with Jeremiah wherever he goes, and appoints him to proclaim God’s own message to nations and kingdoms, to feuding political parties, to people in power, and to every place he is sent. Jeremiah, just a kid, is told to speak on behalf of God, to pick everything ready for harvesting, and to pull down that which needs to be pruned, to uproot any impediments to God’s will, and to plant all that will bring justice and grace and hope to the world.

Dear friends, do you suppose God knew you before you were born, too? Is it conceivable that before you were knit together in your mother’s womb, God was picturing you to be right where you are today, and was equipping you to bring about God’s will? Haven’t you sensed God’s presence in your life, in our gathering right here this morning, and right there in your homes, kissing you with kindness and empowering you to be the one the world so desperately needs?

Dr. Walter Brueggemann, scholar of Hebrew Scriptures and Old Testament, charges the church to follow the prophets in speaking to the world. He says, “The prophetic tasks of the church are to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion, grieve in a society that practices denial, and express hope in a society that lives in despair[iii].”

None of us is exempt from that charge. God empowers each one of us in our baptism to stand up like Jesus did and say, “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Today, God’s will is being done in the world. Today, you and I are called to speak the truth in love, to respond to grief honestly and openly, and to fill the world with hope. Today, God is giving us the voice of a prophet, and urging us to respond to a broken, hurting world with news of love, kindness, and compassion.

And though we may try to argue, not one of us is too young or too old, too tired or too passive, too timid or too assertive, to be empowered to speak God’s truth. Not one of us is too faithless to be shown a miracle, as God’s goodness equips us to walk away from the edge of the cliff, passing right through the rancor and discord around us, and be a force for healing.

A friend who is grieving shared a message from poet Nikki Banas which feels perfect for our present situation. She writes:

You never really know the true impact you have on those around you. You never know how much someone needed that smile you gave them. You never know how much your kindness turned someone’s entire life around. You never know how much someone needed that long hug or deep talk. So don’t wait to be kind. Don’t wait for someone else to be kind first. Don’t wait for better circumstances or for someone to change. Just be kind, because you never know how much someone needs it[iv]

After I finished outlining this sermon on Friday, I went back up to my neighborhood Cub, and gave a bunch of flowers to the clerk who listened to my rant over the grapes at the checkout the day before. It probably didn’t make a big difference in her day, but it was a healthy way to remind myself of the miraculous power God gives me to walk back from the brink.

Today, God appoints each one of us to build and to plant. God kisses each of us with words of mercy and kindness. Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.

[i] Today’s gospel reading is Luke 4:21-30.

[ii] Jeremiah 1:4-10

[iii] Barger, T.K., “Walter Brueggemann Draws Parallels from Today’s Society to Ancient Times,” The Toledo Blade, January 11, 2014, https://www.toledoblade.com/Religion/2014/01/11/Ohio-author-strives-for-the-truth.html

[iv] Banas, Nikki, “Impact,” Walk the Earth, https://www.pinterest.com/pin/847169379891903033/, nikkibanas.com