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Epiphany 4-C

  • To:
  • Subject: Epiphany 4-C
  • From: Grant Mauricio Gallup <grant73@turbonett.com.ni>
  • Date: Fri, 19 Jan 2007 14:50:10 -0600

H O M I L Y    G R I T S      EPIPHANY 4C

by Grant Gallup

January 28, 2007

Jeremiah 1:4-10 Predestination
Psalm 71 In te Domine, speravi
I Corinthians 13: 1-13
Luke 4:21-30 They drove him out of town

The story of Jeremiah's calling to serve God is the story of your own
calling to be an epiphany of God. Each of us is to be a manifestation
of the divine, to "god" as a verb, as Carter Heyward has taught us to
say. There's a scene in the movie "Out on a Limb" where Shirley
MacLaine dances on the beach yelling "I am God!" --even Oprah didn't
like it then, said Modern Maturity magazine. Shirley really believed
it, 'though and Oprah seems to have learned to. But it's not all
"self-help boosterism", for each of us is called to epiphanize the
Holy One.

The story of Jeremiah's calling shows that predestintion is to
service, not to salvation. Anyone of us who has lain awake at night
knows that it's a time for review, a time for worry, a time for
plotting the future. Monsignor Ronald Knox when he was a toddler 
suffered from insomnia, and was told that once he was asked how he
managed to occupy his time so quietly at night, when no one in the
family heard a peep out of him all those sleepless hours. He was told
that he replied "I lie awake and think about the past." You must
start early at that.  The word of the Lord comes to us in vigils, and
someone has noted that it may be the only time God can find us alone
and can get our attention for a chat. God comes to us in dreams, and
sometimes wakes us up to talk back. God bids us lie awake and think
about the past--and the future. The word of the Lord thus came to
Jeremy, and said, "I knew you before you knew yourself" and the word
there is yahdah, used in the Bible also for sexual intercourse. God
is there in everybody's immaculate conception, in the beginning of
every life, and sets each of us apart for God's purposes at that
time. Are you waiting for ordination? To election to the vestry? To
membership in the Guild? God says, you've no need to wait, each of
you has an appointment I made with you in the womb. You've been set
aside for prophecy, priesthood, power and joy. To be an epiphany of

Saint Luke's knowledge of the geography of Palestine was sketchy at
best. It probably wasn't taught at his local academy. Geography is a
subject not much taught in schools these days either. I suppose there
are few who could tell us where Burkina Fasso is, or that its capital
is Ouagadougou. I remember once in high school civics class when the
teacher asked where Tanna Tuva was and my hand shot up as I exclaimed
"It's in the mountains of Tibet." It so happened I had read the stamp
collectors' column in Sunday's Tribune, the day before, and so could
astonish the school. I hadn't learned it in school. Saint Luke was a
cosmpomolitan man, a world traveller, familiar with Greek cities, and
may have gone to Rome with St. Paul. He had been to Jerusalem, too,
but just as not everyone who has been to Chicago knows about Maywood,
St. Luke knew nothing about Nazareth. He tells us that Nazareth was
built on a hill, but if it was, it has moved since then. It's on the
slope of a hill, actually, and nestled amongst surrounding hills.
Luke is writing theology more than geography and his story today
about Jesus' rejection by hiw fellow villagers is a "preview of the
coming events" of Holy Week and Easter. There is not much time left
now in the Christmas-Epiphany cycle, and we are being revved up for a
change of gears that will come as Lent shifts in. Luke wants our
theology to be larger than our geography. We have come today to a
preview of Good Friday and Easter, and of the mission to the nations
after the rejection of Jesus as national saviour.

Jesus' teaching in the synagogue at Nazareth was the theme of last
Sunday's gospel and today we continue in course reading to find that
it all turned sour. His first reception by the people of his own
community was astonishment and delight. "All were amazed at the
gracious way he spoke." At once the surprise and esteem turn to anger
and envy: "Hey, wait a minute. Isn't this the old carpenter's son,
old Joseph with the child bride? Isn't this the woodworker turned
wonderworker from down the street? Where does he get all this? Who
does he think he is?"

Jesus'preaching there is not exactly calculated to make friends, or
to provide him with a pulpit in this town for very long. He says, "I
know what you're thinking. You're thinking of that old proverb,
'Physician, heal yourself.' We heard what you did in Tulsa, we saw
you on TV, but what can you do for us here in Gravel Switch?" They
taunted him with what  he was reputed to have done elsewhere, "You're
a healer? Heal yourself, then!" These are the same words used at tend
of all the stories when Jesus is hanging on a cross outside the
capital. "Healer, heal yourself."

And so Luke deliberately introduces the same taunt and jibe that will
be hurled at the crucified one. This rejection by his own friends in
Nazareth is the first of his crucifixions, and Luke speaks of the
brow of the hill to remind us of Calvary, and the threat of what will
happen on that hill. The commentators tell us that the hills
surrounding Nazareth are riddled with caves, and that this may
explain how it was that when the crowd surged to the brow of one of
these hills intending to throw Jesus from a cliff he was able to slip
away and hide, to "pass through their midst and go away." He simply
hid out in a cave, as he would again on Holy Saturday. So there is a
suspicion that Luke is again writing a theological statement, that
Jesus in spite of all the rejections and crucifixions,  he  now
passes through our midst serenely and out of our grasp and slips
away, when we have said No Thanks, and shown our choice for something

And this also is what Jesus preaches that day in the synagogue. He
tells two stories not calucated to make friends amongst a proud and
nationalist people, like the proud and nationalist Israelis atoday in
Tel Aviv, the arrogant hawks in the U.S. who rejoice that Bush is
recruiting patriotic psychotics for a massive "Surge" of destruction
in the world.  "What do you suppose God was up to, what do you think
was happening, dear friends, when back there in the days of Elijah
and the great famine which hit the land, Elijah was sent to a
starving woman in the land of Sidon, the widow of Zarephath, and it
was only she who got help from God's prophet." She got fed, an alien
woman, not one of our suffering own, not a church member with a
machine gun, not a citizen, as you might expect. But an Arab, a
Palestinian,  or a faithful Muslim at her prayers.     And how about
the time of the prophet Elisha, his successor, there were lots of
folks with leprosy right around here, in Israel, sick as dogs,
covered with sores, nasty. Pious people, God's own people, but God's
mercy went instead to Naaman the Syrian, covered with sores. And he
got the miracle instead of one of our own.

This preaching of Jesus is like telling U.S.A. denominational
Christians that God is as likely to bless an Imam as an Archbishop, a
Buddhist nun as someone from the Graham cracker family.  To look with
favor on a newborn in Communist China or in Blesséd Fidel's Havana as
he is to pass a miracle on a clergy widow in the Church Home for the
Aged. These alarming illustrations of God's universal love and
providence are not acceptable to people whose religion has made God
small enough to sit in their churches or synagogues, indeed small
enough to package and peddle at a charity bazaar. Most human beings
are content to settle for a God smaller than any of the ones in the
Bible, some of whom the prophets describe as portable and
potty-trained. Like shopping for a comfortble divan or lounge chair,
we first measure the space avilable in our living room, or our lives,
and then pick out something that fits between TV and stereo. The
folks at Nazareth were quite content with a Nazareth-sized God, one
who snuggled in as they did amongst the surrounding hills, and who
knew everyone there.

How does our religion compare with that of the folks in Nazareth? Are
we at all aware of the dimensions of our God when we look at and set
down the dimensions of our commitment to the gospel? In setting up
our budget for the coming year, have we already decided that the God
we are going to serve in the coming year is of necessity going to be
scaled down? One that will fit the budget? One that will fit our
middle class theology, our middle class agenda? A religion that will
indeed comfort in time of illness, provide an amiable preacher and
some prayers at sickbed? Pour water on the baby, rub healing oil on
granny, cast sterilized sand into a few graves? Is our God too small?
Jesus thinks so. Our little Galilees of local limitations send God
away. Is our theology only ready for miracles to happen somewhere
else, or in bibles or old books of the saints? Only those certified
by clerks in the Curia?

Paul's first letter to Corinth is, by God's will and the church's
lectionary, also an undated letter to us.

We are faced with a profound need of God's special blessing, for
miracles of providence and of healing, our larders and pitchers are
far from empty in north America, but our vision and imagination are
depleted. Our blindness to the world's pain needs healing, our
deafness to the cries of the starving begs to be cured.

The capitalist system--honestly, can"t you see it? -- is destroying
the very basis of life on the planet. We all contribute to it. Our
housekeeper, Silvia, a poor woman herself, was nevertheless upset
when she found Gracie the cat eating Purina chow from Mary the dog's
dish, and begged me to put Meow Mix on the shopping list. In her
economy, it isn't nice for cats to eat dog food.  Today I read that
the total expenses for pet food in the USA and in Europe are higher
than what is being spent to fight famine in the "third world". North
Americans spend 8 billion dollars every year on cosmetics, Europeans
11 billion dollars on ice-cream. More than would be needed to give
basic education, drinking water and toilets to two billion people.

An acceptable year, with eleven billions for ice cream for our
European neighbors, but not a cent for a little girl's supper in
Nicaragua? "Since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit,"
brother Paul writes us, "strive to excel in building up the people of
God." The people at Corinth's church had always supposed that the
"spiritual gifts" that they had were the chief ones necessary; they
got high in church--they spoke in tongues. They were ecstatics --
they "fell out"of themselves-- they were what I call  "crazymatics. 
Did they have beehive hairdos? That doesn't happen to be the kind  of
spiritual gifts we have around the sacristy table or the adult Bible
class over here in Ecclesia Anglicana. But the principle is the same:
almost every congregation assumes, like the people at Nazareth, like
the folks at Corinth, that their gifts (whatever they are) give them
a handle on what is necessary, whatever is really essential for the
church, and don't bother us with the fact that God may have another
agenda. But the world we live in here is a tiny corner of only one
remote universe, where there may be "a million alien gospels," as
Alice Meynell wrote.   In our miniscule universe, with its miniscule
religion, we can pray great prayers and send them to all the myriad
heavens:  "When wilt thou save thy people, Lord?  O God of mercy,
When?"  Paul speaks of the church of larger dimensions; indeed,
oikoumene--the inhabited world. And says that all the gifts are for
edification, for building; not the kind done through the building
fund, with its concern for roof and rafter, doorstep and dining
table, altar linens and paper towels. All housekeeping concerns and
many of them needful. But the central goal of all our life, "the meat
and potatoes" of our Christian life must be our concern that the
community we are growing is an inclusive one, expansive and exciting
and embracing. It is a heady task, a vocation that makes us tipsy to
think about, to realize that we are called to be more than custodians
of a lodge hall on the edge of bourgeois life. "Look, I have put my
words in your mouth" God said to Jeremiah, and so God says to us: "I
have set you over nations and kingdoms, to pluck up, to demolish, to
destroy, even to overthrow governments." We've managed to do a few of
those in the last decade, and are working on a few more. But even
here, in the midst of demolition derby, destruction and change, we
are called to scratch a space to plant. It is with these words that
the reading from Jeremiah ends, and our participation in gospel
starts: build and plant. Move on, and say AMEN to each other's
ministries and gifts, in the service of the God who is not too