February 3, 2013 “ 4 Epiphany C
Jeremiah 1:4-10; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
When I arrived here as rector some years ago, I had to deal with something I had never really faced before. I got more phone calls each day than I could return. The events in my last parish moved pretty fast but here there are even more moving parts and I was embarrassed each night when I would go home with a stack of calls on my desk I hadn’t had time to return. Things in general were just more than I could reasonably address in any given day. A lot did get gone but each night I was aware that there was a whole lot more that I didn’t do than what I did do. I told myself that things would adjust after a while and I would catch up. One day I thought I would be able to take care of things in a timely fashion. But I’m embarrassed to admit that each day since then I have gotten a little further behind. Every day I am further behind than the day before. I’m accustomed to it. But I hate it. It’s very hard for me to appreciate what has been done because what hasn’t been done seems so much larger.
That helps me get at something I’ve noticed about life in general and I’m sure you have noticed the same thing. Amazing things are taking place on a regular basis. Daily I watch people handle things they simply could not handle on their own. Just watching the various crises that people face and how things generally work out will certainly make a believer out of you if you weren’t one already. A lot of good things happen all around us every day.
But as much as good things are happening and things are getting taken care of in remarkable ways, there’s a whole lot more out there that seems to be piling up and not being taken care of. In my simple way of looking at things, it looks to me like God is accomplishing a lot every day, but it also looks like he’s not getting it all done. Every day things are going wrong that aren’t getting corrected. Suffering occurs that isn’t getting healed. Injustices occur which aren’t being solved. It’s a sinful and broken world and, as much as it is clear that God is doing so very much, it sure seems like a lot is getting past him. He has returned a lot of my calls but a lot of them he hasn’t gotten to yet.
Jesus arrives on the scene and the people are amazed. He awakens a hope within the people that had died down over the years. He comes to his home town synagogue and reads from the scroll of Isaiah: the Spirit has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to release the captives, to give sight to the blind, to free the oppressed, to proclaim God’s favor to the people. And Jesus says to them: I am here to do all that Isaiah foresaw. The people are amazed and the people are proud that he is one of them. They know his father Joseph. They know his family. They are excited that Jesus will now be able to do all the things that they have associated with the coming of the Messiah. Now all the things that seem to be getting by God will finally be taken care of.
But Jesus kind of cuts them off. He says that what is going to happen in his life is not going to be what they expect. They’ll want him to cure everything they think needs curing. They’ll want him to do the miraculous things others have told them about him. And he says that as the Messiah he will do many wonderful things but they’re probably going to notice even more all the things that it appears he isn’t getting done. They want healing and justice now and the Messiah will reveal that healing and justice are more than what we see. We want to know, and the Messiah is sent to us to teach us to trust. We want things on our timetable and the Messiah is sent to teach us the ancient message that we are to be still and wait for the Lord.
Jesus recounts two events in the lives of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. In Elijah’s day there was a great famine. Many people died. Elijah had warned King Ahab that this famine was coming because he was not faithful to the Lord. Ahab ignored Elijah and the famine hit. Not only did Elijah not do anything about the famine, he traveled to a Gentile land and performed a miracle which allowed a poor widow and her son to be rescued from starvation. Elijah acted to end a famine for Gentiles but would not act to end the famine for them.
Then he tells them about Elisha doing something very similar. While many lepers in Israel were not healed, Elisha healed Naaman among people considered to be enemies of Israel. It seems like Jesus is saying that these people are going to expect good things to come about for themselves, aren’t going to be satisfied because they’ll be too busy noticing all the things God isn’t doing that they think he should be doing, plus Jesus adds that he is going to be doing marvelous works in the lives of people they consider enemies. The people go from being amazed at his gracious words to being filled with rage and trying to throw him off a cliff to kill him.
Our attitude toward God is in need of adjustment. We don’t appreciate what God is doing as we notice more what God seems to be forgetting about. We resent that God acts in the lives of people we think should come way after us in the order of priority. We resist the whole giver of gifts character of God as we try to turn life into something we can control better.
All too often we approach faithfulness from a selfish perspective. Our desire in wanting to increase our faith or to be more faithful to God is usually wrapped up in some desire for life to be better for us. If I had more faith, I wouldn’t worry as much. If I trusted God more, things would turn out better. All too often we think of faith as part of our skill set that we should hone so life will be easier. Rarely do we look at faithfulness as our worship of God, as our love of God that he invites as a response to his love for us, our recognition of just who God is.
What’s on your list of the five most important things to you? You’re here so I’ll bet that God is on that list. Maybe family is on the list. Health. Work. Financial security. Community involvement. Your good name. All of those are pretty important. Now if you’re real honest, where is God exactly on that list? You’re like me so I’m guessing it depends on the day. Some days God is number one. Some days he slips to four or five. But he’ll be back to number one in a few days. He kind of moves around depending on what we need or how the other things on the list are going.
What I’ve just described is probably the opposite of faithfulness. Years ago I read a list of the 20 biggest party schools in the country. The list had the University of the South at number one with an asterisk beside it. Then it listed the other nineteen schools. Then at the bottom the asterisk appeared again and said that the University of the South really deserved its own list altogether. None of the other nineteen schools should even be on the same list as Sewanee. Now that was 40 years ago when I read that and all the schools have caught up by now but what I’m trying to say without making you so mad that you want to push me off the cliff is that God shouldn’t just be on our top five list. God should be a list unto himself.
God should be at the center of our lives. We should worship him because that is meet and right, not just because it helps us feel better. God should be at the center of our lives and we should deal with our list of important things to tend to from that centering. Faithfulness isn’t moving God up a notch or two. Faithfulness is putting God in the center of all my efforts. Faithfulness is trusting that God is tending to things in the best possible way. Faithfulness is appreciating all that is being accomplished by God’s grace and knowing that the things that aren’t going the way I think they should will ultimately be resolved by God. Faithfulness is taking all my concerns to God in trust instead of taking God to all my concerns as a fix-it man. God is not there for me to use when I need him. God is there to be worshipped, loved, and trusted.
Our great model for faithfulness is Christ Jesus, the one who becomes like us so that we may become like God. That’s the promise of faithfulness, not that we would improve but that we would we would be transformed. Be faithful. Be faithful, not for yourself, but for God.