Sermon for 4th Epiphany -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
Perhaps nowhere is the radical nature of Jesus’ life and ministry as clear as it is in today’s lesson from St. Luke’s Gospel.
After reading lines from Isaiah promising release and redemption and healing for those who have been cast off by this world, Jesus’ audience seems well pleased by his words, even proud of their hometown boy made good. But then Jesus keeps going. It is as if he is saying, pointedly and rather clearly, “When I talk about God coming to free the oppressed and bless the poor, I am talking about God blessing the people you cannot stand, the people you do not want to be near, the people you think are your enemies.” Jesus reminds his listeners of a couple of stories in which God blessed not Israel, but Israel’s enemies. This makes his hometown crowd angry, boiling mad even, so angry that they are ready to get rid of this so-called prophet!
I have just returned from one of the world’s walled cities, Jerusalem. No, I am not referring to the ancient wall around the Old City of Jerusalem. I am referring to the wall built over the last 10 to 15 years, the high wall the Israeli government has built to separate Israelis and Palestinians, walls often built on Palestinian land, separating Palestinian families and towns and farmlands.
In the past I’ve been to other split and walled-off cities – Nicosia, Cyprus where a wall divides Turks and Greeks and, in the not too distant past, Berlin where a wall divided Berlin into communist east and capitalist west.
Jesus’ hometown congregation would understand these walls. Walls, after all, keep you safe, mark off important boundaries, and keep less-than-desirable things at bay, whether they be wolves from sheep, a hostile neighbor from your home, or fear-inducing refugees from your homeland. They would even understand, I believe, the appeal of US presidential candidates calling for even higher and larger walls between this country and our neighbor to the south.
But Jesus disagrees. When you live into your identity as one of God’s beloved children, there is no more need for walls to keep the enemies out, because, and this is what is so radical about Jesus’ teaching, there are no more enemies! Walls, and with them all the ways we define, describe and bracket out the “other,” walls run against the purposes of God’s kingdom.
And that, of course, is hard to hear and even harder to live. It is easier to build walls then to get at the heart of the problems which make us feel that walls are needed. After all, we live in a fearful and dangerous world where walls and locks and laws seem absolutely necessary to keep us safe and bring a modicum of peace and order to our world.
But Jesus asks us to question this assumption. It is far too easy to fall prey to a deep-seated insecurity that marks the human race and prompts us to overestimate risk, to fear those who we do not know instead of welcoming them and to resort to violence far too quickly when we feel at risk. Walls and separation are not what God intends or desires for us. And, as Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber has said often and so well, whenever you and I draw a line between who is in and who is out, we will find Jesus on the other side of that line!
Here’s the tough good news in all of this – God came to redeem everyone. Redeem – that’s wonderful news. Everyone – that can be a bit more difficult because everyone includes those who have done wrong to us, those who frighten us, those who are different from us, those who seem unnatural or unhinged. Everyone includes those outside of the walls we build in our lives, whether those are personal or societal walls.
You see, God’s love for everyone means just that. And, this love comes without us deserving it. We do not, no one does not, deserve this redemption. It is a free gift from God, coming to us through and because of Jesus Christ. Therefore, with Jesus, there are no longer some deserving and some not-deserving of God’s love. Deserving, like walls, simply no longer can have any place in our lives.
Jesus calls us in this text not to put our security in walls and fences, but to fall freely into the hands of a merciful and loving God who, time and time again, shows us this love no matter how we try to block it or fence it in.
God’s love is for everyone, those who we feel deserve it and those who we may feel do not. That’s just God’s nature. God came in Christ Jesus to redeem everyone, to redeem us all. There are no walls, no boundaries, to this love.
Thanks be to God!
(Thanks to the Rev. Dr. David Lose for ideas and text used in this sermon)
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Walls and Redemption
Sermon for 4th Epiphany
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
January 30 & 31, 2016
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California