Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | September 9, 2019

When did we stop looking?

When Luke mentions Jesus eating with sinners, the word should probably be in quotations. Everyone defines a “sinner” differently. It seems that it simply, in Luke’s words, means someone who is lost.

Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’

So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

 ‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’

[from Luke 15]

Jesus loves hanging out with those who felt lost, disconnected, different. If we channel his character, so should we. And we all know lost people.

The adult child who has wandered into opioid abuse.

The aged parent who is institution-bound.

The partner who shares our home but has stopped communicating.

The friend who seems depressed.

The teen who stands at the fringes of the group.

The toddler separated from refugee parents.

The victim of sexual assault.

An acquaintance who is out of work.

In many ways, we are all lost. We’re hoping to find and to be found. We want to be restored and to restore—to friends, to family, to full humanity, to wholeness.

Too bad we have stopped looking, because there is so much to be gained in the finding.

When we look for each other, God finds us. And rejoices.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2019

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | September 1, 2019

Values clarification

I first heard about values clarification when I was studying for a degree in education. Since then, the concept has always intrigued me, and I’ve sometimes used exercises to help myself, students, and parishioners evaluate their most important values.

The simple truth is that often we can hold two values simultaneously, but there are other times when those same two values may conflict and we have to choose one over the other.

Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. [from Luke 14]

Jesus, in yet another difficult saying (does he have any that aren’t difficult?) says that discipleship—learning the right thing, doing the right thing—is the most important value. Everything else comes second. Every. Thing. Else.

This is why you see parents covering their children in the presence of gunfire, giving up their own lives to save the life of someone they love. Or a police officer or soldier shielding a civilian who may even be a stranger.

This is why people call the authorities to turn in the family member they love who is plotting violence.

This is why the whistleblower releases information about illegal activity by an employer or agency.

This is why groups like AlAnon teach friends and family how to say no to someone suffering from addiction, though that can be incredibly difficult and the person they love may leave.

This is why the college student who could easily succeed in a lucrative career chooses instead to work among the poor, or create a nonprofit, or live a life centered on at-risk teens.

We all make choices every single day, and those choices are based on values that we, consciously or not, have at our highest level of what’s important.

Which values will we choose?

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2019

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | August 26, 2019

Because they cannot repay you

In my community, a new restaurant has opened. Spark Community Café calls itself a “farm-to-table, pay-what-you-can eatery.” While accepting donations to their 501c3 organization, what Spark really loves doing is feeding people. All people.

We’re a rural community, so Spark reaches out to local farmers for the best and freshest ingredients they can find. That’s the farm-to-table part. The pay-what-you-can part is more interesting and unusual. Spark is part of the One World Everybody Eats network of 60+ cafes in the U.S., a group that strives to “profoundly enhance food security, interpersonal connection, diversity, compassion, respect, and inclusion.”

This particular local café was the end result, at least partly, of a high school class on community activism. The students felt strongly about giving back, and settled on the idea of tackling food insecurity. Spark’s menu has suggested prices, but customers are invited to donate additional funds, or simply to pay what they can, or to pay nothing. The café depends on volunteers to serve as waitstaff and in some other positions. The food is great!

So much is written in the Bible about food. People gathered around food, and still do. The Bible was written in a society that was largely agrarian, or at least where city dwellers understood their dependence on the farms just outside their gates. And food insecurity was often a problem—either for everyone during a famine, or for some people much more of the time.

Jesus said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

[from Luke 14]

Feeding people has a spiritual component to it. Jesus says we are to look around for those experiencing food insecurity and to make sure they have food. Not just PB&J, but excellent food—a banquet! A gathering around a meal means social interaction, relaxation, meaningful conversation, laughter, renewal of body and soul. A meal is an opportunity to learn from and about and with each other, to share and make memory, to be a source of kindness to each other.

In spiritual language, to bless and to be blessed.

Here’s my favorite part: when we feed the hungry, we are blessed because they can’t pay us back.

Because they can’t pay us. Not in spite of that fact.

We care for children, the elderly, the sick because they can’t do anything for us.

We provide clothing, healthcare, and shelter because people are sometimes vulnerable and at those times they can’t repay us.

We feed children, individuals, and families because they’re hungry and can’t afford a meal or groceries.

Most of us are lucky enough to have a banquet of resources—in our own families, our congregations, our communities, our governments.

Whom will we invite to that banquet?

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2019

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | August 19, 2019

Breaking the rules

Last week I had the joy of visiting the home of Emily Dickinson, my favorite American poet. Dickinson (1830-1886) refused to adhere to the conventions and rules of writing. Her poems were so inventive that early editors changed them. They felt no one would want to read poems with strange punctuation and non-standard capitalization. It’s not as though Ms. Dickinson did not know the rules; she was an incredible scholar. She simply chose to break them. And break them she did. Beautifully. Her work has moved millions upon millions, at least partly because of her innovation.

Of course, every society has rules and social mores that help guide its members—not just regarding literature but also about many areas of living, especially living together. Are there times when rules ought to be reexamined? Are there some that should be outright replaced?

The answer to those last two questions is an unequivocal yes. Every society changes its rules and mores over time. Most groups no longer prohibit women and girls from wearing pants; laws governing marriage and divorce have changed as society has evolved; some types of discrimination that were once legal are now forbidden by both ordinance and custom.

What values are we teaching when we make hard-and-fast cultural rules? We may be making important statements about essential values. For example, the idea of sabbath rest is essential in both Jewish and Christian faith. It reflects devotion to God and releases us from the temptation for labor to be our master or idol.

Yet in the gospel, Jesus responds to critics who say that he shouldn’t heal on the sabbath because it’s work. Their criticism is understandable, isn’t it? Healing is his work.

But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?’ When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing. [from Luke 13]

Rules are made to be broken, when it’s for the right reason.

What are the rules in your congregation, community, state, or nation that need to be re-examined, re-evaluated, tweaked, or discarded?

Dickinson’s poetry opened up new and thrilling outlets for writers, readers, and thinkers. Jesus’ teachings opened up the realization that life and health trump religious observance. Similarly, our conversations about evolving society should not make us afraid, but hopeful.

Let’s have those conversations. They are faithful heirs to our spiritual (and even our literary) heritage.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2019

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | August 12, 2019

The cloud

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith… [from Hebrews 12]

In 1967 Katherine Switzer became the first woman to run officially in the Boston Marathon. Nothing in the rules prohibited a woman from running, but women’s applications were routinely rejected. An English major, Switzer admired JD Salinger, so she filled out the forms using her initials, KV Switzer. She just wanted to run a marathon. They thought she was a guy.

The day of the marathon, word spread around the course that a woman was running, and during the race she was chased down by race director Jock Semple who attempted to pull off her race bib (the paper pinned to a racer’s shirt with her entry number on it). Switzer’s boyfriend and teammate pushed Semple to the ground. Switzer was so confused and unnerved by the incident she thought about dropping out—it’s not worth it, we’re going to get arrested for hurting that man.

But then Switzer thought of the larger community of women who were not allowed to compete in sports, and decided she would run for them. If she didn’t finish this race, she reasoned, it would set women’s sports back, not forward. The community of women searching for equality was stronger than was her own desire to quit.

The photo of Jock Semple trying to physically rip off her race number went viral. Or at least as viral as things went in 1967. It was in newspapers and on the evening news all over the world. It started conversations and arguments about women competing in sports. They are special. They are fragile. They bear babies. Their bodies shouldn’t be used for such strenuous activities. Try making that case to Serena Williams, who won the Australian Open in 2017 while pregnant.

A few weeks after the 1967 Boston Marathon Switzer was disqualified from the race and removed from the Amateur Athletic Union.

But the greater part of this narrative is the story of community. Community is a huge theme in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, as well as in every faith of which I’m aware. Community enables us to function as healthy individuals and groups. Nearly everyone can make a list of those who have inspired, encouraged, helped, supported, loved.

The writer of Hebrews calls this a cloud of witnesses. A cloud is something we can’t touch or hold onto, but it surrounds us, envelops us.

The communities we inhabit, if they are healthy ones, give us strength to get through the difficult times. They give us hope to reach into the future. They give us life when we think we can’t go on.

Switzer’s cloud of witnesses included her teammates—all men because there were no women’s running teams. It included other runners—strangers, mostly—who encouraged her. It included people all over the world who saw those photographs and were horrified. It included those who were brave enough to speak out afterward, to change race rules, and even laws (Title IX was passed just 5 years later in 1972).

With this cloud of witnesses cheering, Switzer went on to run 39 marathons, winning the New York City marathon in 1975 and coming in second in Boston in 1976. Her cloud of witnesses even grew to include Jock Semple, the man who tried to rip off her number in the 1967 race, but who later supported her and other women athletes.

During that ‘67 race, Switzer had time to think. And her anger and determination made her decide that day, during that race, that she would work for the empowerment of women in sports and business. She went on to build a new community of support.

The number 261 (from Switzer’s 1967 race bib) became a rallying cry for the growing community, that cloud of witnesses that supported and still supports each other.

Switzer created a nonprofit for that very purpose. From the website:

“261 Fearless, Inc. is a global community of women, be they walkers, joggers, or runners, who have found strength, power and fearlessness from putting one foot in front of the other…This is a welcoming place for women who want to become runners and walkers to find their fearless selves through the connection with others. We are here because sometimes you just need to know you are not alone. ”

We are not alone. God walks with us. All the people who care about us, know us, love us anyway—they are with us. All those who inspired us but are now gone are still with us.

We reach out to encourage others. We’re encouraged by those who reach out to us. Whether we’re in a tough place or a good place, community is one of God’s designs for our spiritual, mental, and emotional health.

In 2017, on the 50th anniversary of Switzer’s first marathon run, she ran again in the Boston Marathon, along with 125 runners from 261 Fearless.

When we are inspired by our cloud of witnesses, the cloud continues to grow as we, in turn, support and inspire others.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2019

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | August 5, 2019

Investments

This is not the blog I originally wrote for this week. That one has been shelved for some future posting. The events of this past week required a change for me.

In the space of less than 24 hours, two deadly mass shootings took place in the United States, at a Wal-Mart in El Paso, Texas, and on a street in Dayton, Ohio. These come closely on the recent mass shooting at a festival in Gilroy, California. At the time of this writing, at least two of the shooters have been identified as young white men who posted racist content on social media before the shootings.

Does it really need to be said that this is unacceptable? That murder is unconscionable? That racism and white nationalism often lead to violent action against people of color?

Do we have to be reminded that Jesus, who eschewed violence, also said things like:

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

[from Luke 12]

He’s talking about values, of course. We all have values we treasure – whether as individuals, families, like-minded associations, communities, even nations.

Where is our “treasure” as a country? What do we value more?

Do we value more our ability to buy weapons that are intended solely for killing human beings – or do we value more the life and well-being of a child who is shopping for back-to-school supplies and becomes the victim of gun violence?

Do we value more the President’s tweets and rhetoric against black- and brown-skinned people (some comment that he doesn’t really mean what he says, or that people take his comments out of context and twist them to their own purposes) – or do we value the lives of real human beings lying injured or dead in a store or at a festival or on the street because of the color of their skin?

Where is our treasure? What are our values? Where are we investing our money, other resources, time, energy?

Jesus always makes it clear that humanity is where we should be investing. As a matter of fact, loving God and loving all humanity are the only two things that really matter.

We must realize as a nation that violence and racism are not partisan issues, but are issues we have to confront head-on in order to stem the fear, bloodshed, and hatred. Turning a blind eye, making excuses, or lack of caring – all these actions (or inaction) coolly demonstrate where our hearts are, where our treasure is, what our values are.

We can change this. We. Must. Change. This.

Investing in humanity – all humanity – is the only value, the only treasure we have as a nation. Let’s not squander that investment.

© Melissa Bane Sevier

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | July 29, 2019

Lord, feed the hungry

What does it mean when we pray some version of “Lord, feed the hungry”?

Are we expecting that those who need it will be magically fed by manna from the heavens? Lord, YOU feed the hungry.

Do we have some assumption that the people we want to be fed should be somehow “deserving,” whatever that means? Lord, feed SOME of the hungry—those who’ve earned it.

Is this a plea for spiritual food or actual food? Lord, may spiritual needs be met.

Who will do that work of making sure people are fed? Lord, may someone else feed the hungry.

Questions of food, economics, and money often occupy our modern discussions about what kind of society we want to be. Questions of food, economics, and money often surface in the gospel of Luke, and particularly in the parables of Jesus.

And Jesus said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’ [from Luke 12]

In a clear condemnation of greed and its accompanying actions, Jesus creates a story about a man whose excess has no boundaries. This man is  already wealthy, and he has a bumper crop. All he wants to do is keep the crop for himself, to the extent that he would rather go to the expense of not just building new barns, but tearing down the current ones to make room for better ones. He’d rather do that than share, or even sell, the surplus.

Hoarding, as you know from TV shows about it, can be an illness. Hoarding resources among a certain group while keeping them from another group is a societal illness. The selfishness that surrounds keeping money, capital, and even the basics for one sector of the population while maintaining willful blindness toward the needs of another sector is a travesty.

In our country there is a proposal under consideration that would remove more than three million people from receiving food stamp assistance. Why? To save money. Additionally, some school systems are refusing to feed children whose school lunch accounts that haven’t been paid in full, including one school board in Pennsylvania that recently threatened that children could be placed in foster care if parents don’t pay up.

What does it do to the soul of a nation when that country doesn’t care for those who experience food insecurity?

In Jesus’ parable, the man with the big crop and the barns ends his life with nothing gained, and much lost, by his hoarding of goods. What of his neighbors who could have benefited from that food? What of the widow who walks by and sees the new barns, full of grain, while she has no way of making a living? What of the child whose parents choose between food for the children and food for the grownups? What of the rabbi who wishes he had food enough to give away to those who need it?

Abundance versus scarcity. Too much abundance for a few creates scarcity for so many more.

Well, God’s people will say, we’ll pray for the hungry.

Here’s an update on the Pennsylvania school system I noted above. Originally, the school board declined a benefactor’s offer to pay off all student lunch debt. After backlash over that decision, the board relented and accepted the gift. Since then they have qualified for and offer free breakfast and lunch for all students.

What we must remember is that if God is to feed the hungry, it will only be accomplished when people do the feeding. Not magically. Not other people. All people.

It’s that simple.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2019

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | February 11, 2019

Blessed are the… wait, what?

          Luke’s beatitudes (chapter 6) are strikingly different from the ones in Matthew (chapter 5), though Matthew’s are more often quoted. For good reason, because Matthew’s are nicer. Whereas Matthew’s are part of the sermon on the mount, Luke’s come as a sermon on the plain. The elevated Jesus words are distinct from the level-with-humanity Jesus words.

          We like to remember Matthew’s version, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” because that includes every human being. Anyone who is at all self-aware feels that poverty of the soul and longs for more. And we all like being called blessed.

          Then there’s Luke. “Blessed are the poor.” I have heard preachers say that what he means to say here is “poor in spirit.” Because he means to include us all. Of course. That makes sense.

          Um, no.

          It’s hard for people who aren’t poor to see that Jesus has a particular preference for those who are. That just seems backwards. Isn’t it obvious that God rewards hard work, investment, savings, capitalism? Again, no. The gospel is often completely upside-down compared to how we see the world, so it’s tempting to mold its meaning to our already formed opinions.

          And in today’s Western culture, practically no one thinks the poor are, or should be, blessed.

          Isn’t the ultimate blessing by God expressed in wealth and material possessions? Isn’t the release from poverty the result of prayer and hard work? Shouldn’t we look to the smartest capitalists among us to run our country and make our laws? And shouldn’t those who are poor be required to earn any blessings like health care, employment, housing, even food?

In a (gospel) word: no.

          The economic values of our capitalist society are limited and often skewed. Jesus values are often different from those of capitalism, socialism, communism, or any other ism. We’re invited to examine our own social and economic structures with gospel eyes, and to reach new conclusions.

          One other difference between Matthew and Luke: Luke’s blessings are immediately followed by a list of woes. The first one? “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”

          In the Jesus economy and social structure, the rich are the ones who should be disparaged and the poor are the ones who should be seen as models.

          That really is the opposite of what we’re doing and seeing, isn’t it?

          The poor aren’t to be pitied, to receive charity, to help us check something off our religious to-do list when we give away clothing or serve a meal in the shelter.

          Blessed are you who are poor, because yours is the kingdom of God.

          The poor are our examples of kingdom living. They are honored, celebrated.

          The poor are our teachers.

          The poor are blessed.

© 2019, Melissa Bane Sevier

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | February 4, 2019

The gamble of fishing with Jesus

          There were two conversations consuming most of the people gathered for coffee before worship on a recent Sunday at Grace Church in Podunk.

          One conversation was about Roger Hughes, present and laughing along with the rest. A bunch of church guys, including Roger, had attended a fishing expo the day before in a nearby city. What happened at the end of that expo is the reason Roger is the brunt of their jokes.

  Roger is a single guy in his 40s. He lives alone in a small house, parts of which he built or repaired. Other than work, his main love is fishing. He has a nice little john boat and a collection of rods and lures. He tells people he specializes in bass fishing, but what he really likes to do is just go out and sit in the boat, throwing in a different kind of lure every few minutes, with different weights of sinkers and even different kinds of floats. Sometimes he uses live bait, sometimes even kitchen leftovers. He likes to change it up because, as he always says, “You just never know what you’ll get.” That’s the way he likes it.

  At the end of the fishing expo, door prizes were announced. Roger had won a prize. All the guys went with him to booth #104, assuming he’d won something boaty like a motor. It turned out that this particular booth displayed items for stocking your fishing cabin.

  Roger had won a stove.

  Everyone at church gave Roger a really hard time over his prize, because it’s well known that Roger doesn’t cook, except in the microwave.

  Actually, Roger does use his stove but chooses not to tell anyone. On really cold mornings he uses the oven to warm up his underwear. There was one unfortunate incident when he left the underwear in too long, but he’ll certainly never disclose that story. Thank goodness for smoke alarms.

          The other conversation at church was about Buddy and Leona Mason. This talk was made in whispers.

  Retired teachers, the Masons live in a big, old farm house. They’ve sold off most of the farm and their four grown kids want them to sell the house and move into a condo. Buddy and Leona miss having children around. They’ve been investigating becoming foster parents. Their kids are completely against it. “You never know what you’ll get!” they say. “Those kids come with problems.”

          The Masons have heard about a couple of brothers who need a home, and they’re considering it. They do have problems—both in school and in the current foster home (their third in two years). Their social worker friend thinks Leona and Buddy can help the boys settle into a new, secure life.

          The sermon that particular Sunday was about fishing for people, and how going fishing with Jesus produces unpredictable results. During the “joys and concerns” part of the service, Buddy announced that he and Leona had decided to take in two boys. Some in the congregation looked at them with concern, some with appreciation, some with both.

          And Roger suddenly knew what he was going to do with the new stove.

          When it’s delivered to the Mason home later in the week, Roger goes to set it up. Leona is so excited, because she hasn’t had a new stove in some thirty years. The boys have arrived, and Buddy mentions the house needs a little upgrading, like a shower in the boys’ bathroom. Roger begins spending one or two evenings a week over there helping Buddy and eating Leona’s cooking. Some days he calls early in the day to tell her he’ll bring pizza or chicken or Chinese takeout so she doesn’t have to cook. And he starts getting to know the boys, Roman and Jesse. They are twelve and eleven, and they are inseparable. They are still acting out, but they seem to be settling in at the farmhouse.

  One day Roger sees the boys eyeing the fishing poles in the back of his truck and asks them if they’d like to go fishing sometime. Their eyes light up, but they’re also a bit afraid. They’ve never been fishing before.

          When spring arrives, that’s exactly what they do. Every Saturday, if the boys have had a good week at school, Roger takes them fishing. They’ve not missed a single week, because their behavior has been steadily improving, largely because of the stability of their new situation.

          Whatever the church people thought in the beginning, they are now all about helping out with these two boys who are in church every Sunday, making friends, and, for the most part, happy.

  One day the pastor shows up at the Mason home to deliver some groceries from church. Roger Hughes is at the farmhouse, helping Buddy fix a leaky faucet. They invite the pastor to stay for dinner, and what she witnesses is amazing. Two rambunctious boys talking, laughing, fighting, learning manners. Buddy and Leona looking young. Roger more talkative than she has ever seen him.

          She sees fishing poles standing in the corner and asks the boys if they like to fish. This opens the floodgates of conversation. They talk about bait, what type of fish are in the river and local lakes. And they talk about how Roger tells them you can try just about any kind of bait and it’s okay. Because the best thing about fishing is that when you throw your line in the water, you just never know what you’ll get. “That’s the most exciting part!” says Jesse. “But it’s also a little scary.”

           “Ain’t it the truth,” she thinks as she looks around the table. Here sit five people who’ve been changed by taking risks, by dropping their lines (nets) in the water, and by waiting to see what happens. Their results have been crazy, unexpected, scary, and enlivening.

          Fishing. It’s a gamble.

© 2019, Melissa Bane Sevier

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | January 28, 2019

Over the cliff

          In a few lines in Luke, Jesus goes from beloved hometown boy to dangerous stranger, from welcomed to feared.

And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 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. [from Luke 4]

          At the beginning they listen to him, and they like what they hear. At the beginning.

  Then Jesus preaches to them about a couple of faith stories from the tradition. Everybody likes to hear a good story. The problem for his hearers is the particular stories he chooses to tell.

          Story #1: Elijah preached during a time of terrible famine, but God didn’t send him to the people of Israel who were in great need. God sent him to a widow in Sidon (modern day Lebanon). God didn’t heal an Israelite. God healed the son of a poor, Gentile widow, from Sidon. Decidedly not a person of God in the belief system of Jesus’ hearers.

          Story #2: God could’ve healed one of the many lepers of Israel, but instead God used Elisha to heal this Naaman character. He was more than just a Gentile. He was an enemy. Worse, he was an officer in the enemy’s army.

  Lebanon and Syria were the same enemies of the people of Israel then as they are now. They had a history of warring and enmity then as they do now. The people of Lebanon and Syria had killed innocent people. Many, many times. They worshiped other Gods. They spoke other languages.

          Is Jesus trying to make the people of his hometown angry?  Maybe he is. They have tried to own him as one of theirs, then disown him when they think he’s crossed a line. He tells them about how God not only cares about their enemies, but sometimes seems to prefer some of those people they categorize as “enemy.” Ouch.

          Do Jesus’ hometown friends welcome this message of the magnitude of God’s love?  Nope. They want to push his message, and him with it, over the cliff.

          Any people of faith get into deep problems when they think that they and people like them are God’s favorites. Jesus does away with all of that. But that’s the message we want to ignore, the message we’d like to push toward the cliff’s edge.

  In my country we’re (still) talking about building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Of course, everyone understandably wants border security. But the problem comes when we speak of people on the other side of the border as “less than.” Less deserving. Less moral. Less… white? One argument I often see on Facebook is “We need to take care of our own.”  Well, we don’t always do a good job of taking care of our own (reference government shutdown that has hurt so many Americans). But, for Christians, we must remember that everyone is “our own.”

  Look at the example of Jesus. He doesn’t spend a lot of time demonstrating great love toward the people who “deserve” it. He show mercy to a woman caught in adultery; he touches the skin of lepers; he eats with sinners and outcasts; he forgives his friends even when they desert him; he heals people he doesn’t even know; he talks to people he isn’t supposed to deal with.

          Jesus is all about shocking people into examining what real love looks like, by examining what the love of God looks like.

  The people try to throw Jesus and his message of love over the cliff, but he passes through the midst of them and goes on his way.

  God’s love will go on its way, whether we are the agents of that love or not. I’d like to hope, though, that we won’t be the ones trying to push the message over the cliff.

  Let’s be the ones who help Jesus pass through the angry mob to take his message over the world.

© 2019, Melissa Bane Sevier

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