Scripture Readings: Jeremiah 1:4–10 | Psalm 71:1–6 | 1 Corinthians 13:1–13 | Luke 4:21–30
“They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” (Luke 4:29-30).
Whose side are you on?
Last week we looked at this passage from the Gospel of Luke, where Jesus begins His mission to share the Good News of God’s Kingdom in His own hometown… only to have His family and neighbours turn on Him in rage, run Him out of town, and try to throw Him off a cliff.
One moment they’re listening to Him eagerly, amazed by His gracious words… the next, they’re ready to violently end His life. What a way to start God’s rescue mission… caught up in life-or-death clashes and conflict right from the get go. And despite the life-giving nature of Christ’s mission and His message, these clashes and conflicts would continue in various ways all throughout His ministry. Clearly, something about what Christ came to do causes controversy… it challenges those who encounter Him, often in uncomfortable ways.
Of course, these days it seems like conflict and controversy are everywhere… calling for us to pick our sides in countless, unending divisions.
All over the news this week, for instance, we hear all sorts of people speculating about whether or not Russia is going to send armed troops into Ukraine… and if a major military conflict is on the horizon. We’re also hearing about the convoy of transport trucks arriving in Ottawa to protest and try to overturn vaccination mandates. These are just two examples from recent days, but the list goes on and on… and over these last two years, as our whole world goes through this time of massive change and anxiety, where so many of us are feeling exhausted, and frustrated, and frightened… it feels like we’re constantly being called into another fight. Sometimes with strangers we’ve never met, and likely never will. Sometimes with those closest to us… neighbours, friends, and family.
Like lots of folks, I hate conflict. From as long as I can remember I have tried to be a peace maker… and to avoid choosing sides if at all possible.
But sometimes we do need to choose… to take a stand one way or another. As tempting as it may sound to try to remove and protect ourselves from every storm our society faces… to keep our heads down, and our mouths shut… the Church is called not to hide it’s light, but to see that it shines. The question for us as Christians is not how can we avoid all conflicts… but what are the choices that God is asking us to make as we follow Him? What does it mean for us to choose to be on God’s side? And the answer is usually not nearly as obvious as we might like to think.
This morning we heard about Jeremiah, and how the Living God set Him aside from birth for a challenging mission: to speak God’s words to a stubborn people who did not want to listen.
And Jeremiah wasn’t exactly eager to take part in this mission. “Ah, Lord God!” he says, “Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” God’s only reassurance is that no matter the challenges and difficulties he would have to face, God Himself would be with him.
Eventually, if we read on in Jeremiah, we’ll learn precisely how hard this calling would turn out to be… surrounded by his neighbours who hated everything he said and did. Alone, eventually arrested and thrown into a pit. Jeremiah’s life ended up being a constant struggle and source of conflict, calling God’s unfaithful people to turn back to the LORD with all their hearts… knowing full well he would never see his people actually listen.
Imagine being Jeremiah: called as a kid to take on this seemingly hopeless mission. But as hopeless as it must have seemed to him at the time, Jeremiah’s life was not wasted… it played a huge role in the Good News of God’s great rescue mission, for not only Jeremiah’s neighbours, but for the whole world.
In many ways, Jeremiah’s life points forwards in time to the life of Jesus, and His mission… Christ’s whole life was dedicated to bringing God’s word to His people… embodying the heart of God to them, even though most would reject it. We spoke last week about how His message of God’s Good News was first received with joy by His hometown, then turned quickly to violence when Jesus pointed out that God’s compassion and love was not just for them… that the Living God would not fall into the traps of our human polemics and prejudice… that the LORD of all creation was not simply on their side… and that it was up to them to respond faithfully and choose to be on His side!
That was a particular stand that almost got Jesus thrown off of a cliff. Standing with God, choosing to be faithful to His ways will not be easy… but it is the way of life. True life. Eternal life. And what it looks like is love.
Not the self-seeking kind of love… the holy love that St. Paul speaks of. Christ shows us that God’s holy love
“is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
This love, the holy love of God is not a feeling, it’s a choice. A stand. A way of life we need to actively and intentionally pursue, again and again. Especially when it seems like no one around us is listening. Especially, when like Jeremiah, and Jesus, we seem alone… with only the promise that God is with us, and His love will see us through.
This love is not necessarily going to solve geopolitical tensions, or find a way to make our neighbours and loved ones with opposing political and ethical commitments come together.
But it IS the calling of the Church of Jesus Christ, who gave His life on the cross as the full embodiment of God’s holy love for everyone. Including those who betrayed Him, abandoned Him, and crucified Him.
There will always be something to fight over, and people calling us to choose sides. But as Christians we’re already committed to God’s side, made known in Jesus Christ. The side of holy love, which is patient, kind, not envious or boastful, or arrogant or rude. “It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
We are called to live this way each day precisely so that the Good News of Jesus Christ, and God’s re-creation and reconciliation that is at work through Him might take root and bear it’s transforming, healing, and life-giving fruit in our world through the Holy Spirit of God at work in us.
Like Jeremiah, we may not see others change their minds on account of our message. We might feel alone, but that will not stop the Spirit from being with us and constantly working through us.
Like Jesus our Lord, if we take our stand on the holy love of God, we too might be rejected by our neighbours and run right out of town… but that will not stop our Saviour’s rescue mission for our world that He has drawn us into and calls us all to share with everyone.
Will we at St. Luke’s choose the more excellent way of God’s self-giving love? Will our lives be a sign to our polarized world that in Jesus, God Himself is on the side of His divided creation… eager to reconcile us all to Himself through His own blood?
By the grace of the Living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, may it be so. Amen.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School