A Reading from the Book of Jeremiah (1:4-10)
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
1 In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; *
let me never be ashamed.
2 In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; *
incline your ear to me and save me.
3 Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; *
you are my crag and my stronghold.
4 Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, *
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.
5 For you are my hope, O Lord God, *
my confidence since I was young.
6 I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother’s womb you have been my strength; *
my praise shall be always of you.
A Reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (13:1-13)
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 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. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (4:21-30)
[Jesus began to speak in the synagogue at Nazareth:] “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up 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.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
What in the world happened in the reading that we just heard? At its beginning, Jesus seems to have been received very positively by the folks in his hometown of Nazareth: “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” But just seven verses later, they were ready to “hurl him off the cliff.” What was it that Jesus said that made them turn on him so quickly?
There have been many interpreters over the ages who have asserted that it was Jesus’ affirmation of God’s work among Gentiles, non-Jews, like the widow of Zeraphath and Naaman the Syrian, that had angered the Jews. They supposedly did not want to hear about God’s care for those who were not Jewish.
But this interpretation just doesn’t work. It might say more about the speakers’ biases than it does about the text itself. The Jewish tradition, in general, has been much more open to God’s love and care for those who are not Jews than the outlook of certain fundamentalist Christians who insist that, in order to share the life given by God, everybody has to believe and think and act exactly the same way that they do. This story is not about a Jewish rejection of non-Jews.
So what is it about? A key to understanding it comes early in the reading when Jesus tells them, “And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” Now Capernaum was a town comprised of both Jews and Gentiles. It became Jesus’ base of operation during his ministry in Galilee. And Jesus apparently had done some healing works there.
The folks in the synagogue at Nazareth weren’t objecting to the assertion that God works also among non-Jews. They took that for granted. Instead, they were objecting to the fact that Jesus had begun his work by serving the needs of other people, of people who were not them. Their attitude appears to have been that “we have to concentrate on ourselves, at least first, if not exclusively.” They may have acknowledged, at least theoretically, the universality of God’s love and God’s concern. They might have been willing to join us in singing, “There’s wideness in God’s mercy.” But in practicality, their attitude was essentially one of “It’s first of all and really all about us. We have to take care of ourselves first; then we can expand that concern to caring for other people.”
But Jesus was inaugurating a public ministry that clearly took just the opposite approach. Jesus consistently looked to the needs of other people first, before worrying about himself. He lived his life as a person for others. And he taught his followers to approach life the same way.
His entire life was a life focused on and dedicated to the service of others’ needs, not his own. Yet so often throughout the church’s history, and so often in churches today, people totally ignore the priority that Jesus sets before us.
If you take even a cursory look at the life of many churches, of various denominations including our own, you can easily see that they and their church communities are the center and focus of what they do. Service to those outside the parish and outside the church altogether is a secondary thought, at best. They rationalize their approach by reassuring themselves that “we need to take care of ourselves first, and build a happy, satisfied group of people here. Then other people will come and join us. Then, after we have done that, we can focus some of our time and money and efforts on helping other people, too.”
For this type of church, service to the world outside their faith community is a nice add-on, a side consideration. To Jesus, it was central.
One of the main reasons that, nearly 20 years ago, I decided to leave my career in the computer services industry and the ministry that I was doing, supplying in many different area churches, was because St. Mark’s had a solid commitment to doing what Jesus did: putting others first. The heritage of this parish is one of a community of faith that sees itself, to use biblical images, as a light to the world around it, as salt for the earth, as the leaven that enables the kingdom of God to grow in the life of the wider community. It has treasured and nourished the bonds among its members, but it has always remembered that its primary responsibility is not to make a comfortable place for its members to gather and retreat from the needs of the wider world, but to be a center from which its members, renewed each week by Word and Sacrament, could go out to serve the needs of the world. It has sought above all to do the things that Jesus did, to follow the example of the one whom it affirms to be its Lord and Savior: to be people for others, a faithful minority in service to the majority.
As we gather today for our Annual Parish Meeting, we will have the opportunity to discuss together, with a small group of our fellow parishioners, how we can maintain that essential focus and what form we want it to take in the coming years. Continuing to live in that vision of the church is not a given; it is not something that is going to happen without a concerted effort to retain and renew it.
Our natural tendency as human beings is to focus on ourselves. That’s what young children do; they are the center of their worlds. But gradually, we help them to broaden their perspective to see their place in, and their responsibilities to, the rest of their family, then to their classmates in school, and eventually to the wider community and world; but maintaining that focus takes effort throughout our lives. And our natural tendency is to allow that focus to narrow once again and to place ourselves at the center.
That is one of the reasons that we, as a church, need constant renewal by the grace of God and by the word of God. We need to have held up before us over and over again the example of Jesus as one who lived, not for himself, but for others. We need to be reminded that it is not all, or even primarily, about us. We need to remember together that the very reason that we exist as a church is to serve God’s purposes in the world and for the world, by following Jesus and serving the needs of others.