31 January 2016
Grace is not just a “yes” to love and compassion and acceptance and forgiveness. Grace is also a “no” to hatred and apathy and condemnation and exclusion. The “yes” is often easy to speak and to receive, but the “no” is much harder, much more painful, and can lead us into confrontation and even conflict. Yet, the “no” is as important as the “yes”, for without either one, grace is not really grace at all.
May our liturgy lead us deeper into both the “yes and the “no” of God’s grace this week.
Jeremiah 1:4-10: Jeremiah is called to be a prophet, and God explains God’s knowledge of Jeremiah from his conception, and God’s message for Jeremiah to preach. Note both the “yes” and the “no” in the message Jeremiah is given.
Psalm 71:1-6: A prayer for God to protect and be a refuge from one who has trusted and praised God since the womb.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13: A celebration of the noble and godly characteristics of love, which lasts forever and is the greatest of all things. Again note the “yes” (love is…) and the “no” (love is not…).
Luke 4:21-30: After reading the “yes” in Isaiah’s scroll (last week) and claiming the prophecy for himself, Jesus confronts the people of Nazareth with a “no” because, like their ancestors, they are offended by the idea that God can work in and through “outsiders” and Gentiles, and they refuse to accept the teachings of the prophets. This offends the people, and so they attempt to kill Jesus.
REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
The two major themes in this week’s reading stand out in clear relief: Firstly, God’s grace is not always a comfortable and gentle thing to experience. Integral to God’s grace is the work of justice which distresses the comfortable and self-assured (the “no”) even as it comforts the distressed (the “yes”). Jeremiah is told that his message will not only build up but break down; The psalmist reflects on his vulnerability and the threat of evil in spite of his long life of relationship with God; The love that Paul speaks about is not an easy or comfortable way to follow, but challenges our self-centredness and lethargy toward others; and finally, Jesus makes it clear that his ministry is not “friendly” and non-disruptive, but a life-changing, all-inclusive confrontation of self-righteousness and injustice. Secondly, as with Jesus’ near execution in Luke, those who choose to follow Christ in his liberating work, must expect that they will find themselves in confrontation with injustice and those who propagate it. This will inevitably lead to great sacrifice and suffering. The work of grace is not all acceptance and healing. Sometimes it is a wounding battle – not least because we are called to love even those we challenge.
CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
“One day, he’s here, and the next he’s not, but you mustn’t press him, after all, he’s not a tame lion.” Mr. Tumnus, speaking of Aslan in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.
Like the people of Nazareth, there are still those who seek to “own” Jesus for themselves. By domesticating Jesus, and editing his message to fit our national, corporate or religious agendas, we tame the Gospel, and make it palatable, with little cost. But, as the people of Nazareth discovered, Jesus will not be tamed, and his grace, while offered to all, also challenges all that resists grace. As Matthew Fox explains, following Jesus means embracing biophilia (loving life and all that supports it and provides joy and enjoyment) and resisting necrophilia (standing against all that robs life, oppresses and abuses). This dual-character of grace is revealed this week in Epiphany. The Scriptures all call us to stand against any attempt to domesticate and “use” Jesus in our world, and, instead, to follow the self-giving, injustice-confronting ways of Jesus as Wilberforce, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. all did. It can be a tough balance to find, this embracing love of life and joy and “yes” of grace, while simultaneously embracing resistance to fear, oppression and injustice, the “no” of grace. But, if we are to live with integrity, and if we are to bring life and joy to others – especially the weak and vulnerable who most need it – we need to embrace both aspects of our call. If we embrace only the “yes”, we end up being naive about evil, easily deceived and manipulated, and our impact on injustice is minimal. If we embrace only the “no” we easily become cynical, judgemental and pessimistic, which also undermines our quest for justice and peace. So, the big challenge this week is to learn to speak and live both the “yes” and the “no” in the name of Christ.
As preachers, worship leaders and even Christ-followers, it is all too easy to seek to bring Jesus and his Gospel into service of our own desires and agendas. It is easy to accept grace for ourselves, but deny it to others – even in Jesus’ name. It is easy to remain silent when Jesus is used as justification for abuse, oppression, greed, hatred or arrogance. But, grace does not call us to silence, or to compliance with that which hurts and destroys. The strength of grace is to resist what keeps others from grace – defending the powerless, speaking for the voiceless and lifting up the downtrodden – all while still seeking to love those against whom we stand. Inevitably, this just (justice-focused) grace, will bring us into situations of confrontation and conflict, but they can be navigated with both strength and compassion, if we will learn from Jesus. Who, in your community, needs just grace to defend and heal them (the “yes”)? Who needs just grace to confront and disturb them (the “no”)? And where, in our own hearts, do we need grace to confront and disturb us?
RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Christ For The World We Sing
Ah, Holy Jesus
O Young And Fearless Prophet
Stop The Clanging
The Church’s One Foundation
History Maker (Link to YouTube video)
God Of This City (Link to YouTube video)
Everlasting God (Link to YouTube video)
Living For Your Glory (Link to YouTube video)