Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Sermon: "Hard Grace"

“Hard Grace”
1stCorinthians 13
Luke 4:21-30

            When I meet with couples planning their wedding (preparing for marriage), I like to use an inventory called “Prepare.”  
            I always make sure they know it’s not a ‘test”, and it won’t predict whether their marriage will succeed or fail.  
            But it gives a snapshot of their relationship at a moment in time, and measures what they call “Relationship Strengths,” and what we called “Growth Areas” (because it sounds so much nicer than “Weaknesses.”)  
            And some of the possible strengths are things like Communication, Conflict Management, Financial Management, Relationship Roles,  Family and Friends, Spiritual Beliefs, Children and Parenting, etc, and also something called “Marriage expectations.”  
            And I have met couples who have strengths in almost every area, and I commend them when we meet and have conversations together.             But I have to say that I can’t think of even one couple who has had a strength in one particular area:  “Marriage Expectations.”  

            Yep.  You heard it right.  EVERYONE, it seems, has unrealistic expectations when they are preparing to get married.  
            At least according to this inventory.  
            Everyone thinks (for example) that they could never doubt their partner’s love, that they will always feel the same way they do now, that the romance will never fade.

            Why am I thinking about this?  
            It’s because of the reading from 1stCorinthians, one of the most well-known passages of the Bible.  
            Because I hear it, and read it, so often at weddings.  “Love is patient.  Love is Kind. Love does not insist on its own way. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.”  

            These are beautiful words.  These are true words.  And – these are hard words. 
             Because love is beautiful, and love is heady, and love is wonderful and sometimes – love is hard.  
            And what I mean by that is – sometimes love requires us to do hard things.  Doesn’t it?  
            Maybe they don’t seem hard, when we are first in love.  
            But Love requires us to clean up messes, stick around during hard times,  go places you may not want to go.
            Love requires us to hold someone’s hand when they are dying. 

            Love is hard.  Not always, of course.  
            And it’s true that sometimes, when you love someone, hard things don’t seem so hard.  But not always.   But that’s not our expectation when we get married.  

            That’s the tricky thing about expectations.  
            And I think that’s also what is  going on in Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, when he goes there to preach.  
            Because it’s hard to understand how everyone goes so quickly from praising Jesus’ gracious words to wanting to throw him off a cliff.        It’s too bad, really, that we heard part of this story last week – and part this week.  
            Because if we hear the whole thing at once, it sounds so strange.  How in the space of a few minutes – the people in that synagogue go from love – to anger.  
            From praising Jesus’ gracious words to trying to kill him.  And I think – at the heart – it’s about expectations.   
            The people in that synagogue love Jesus – and they have expectations.  Because 1) he’s from Nazareth, and they know him (they think) and  because 2) they have heard about all of the wonderful  things that he has been doing.  
            Healing people. Giving the blind sight.  Making the lame leap for joy.  

            And why wouldn’t they have expectations?  They love Jesus.  
            Jesus loves them. And they need healing just like everyone else.  
            If you are tempted to judge, think about it.  Don’t you need healing?  Don’t you need a miracle – at least sometimes?  
            I know I do – actually – all the time – and I tell you – week after week – that the body of Christ is not just given – but that he’s given for YOU.  
            That’s a miracle. And you need it.  I need it.  We all need it.  Every single one of us.  No exceptions.  

            So they love Jesus. And Jesus loves them.  That’s the truth.
            But he doesn’t do what they expect him to do that day.  
            Which is hard.
            And he doesn’t tell them the things they want to hear that day.
            Which is also hard.
            Instead of telling them that they are special and beloved, he tells them about other people who God loves – he reminds them that there are others that God loves – and that God has healed – who are not of their tribe.
            The widow of Zarephath, whose son Elijah raised from the dead.
            The Syrian general Naaman.  Healed of leprosy by the prophet Elisha.
             This was not the message that they were expecting.  And they tried to throw Jesus over a cliff because of it.

            I saw a t-shirt a few years ago.  I still remember it because it made me laugh, and then it made me think.  The front of the t-shirt said, “Jesus loves you”, and the back said, “but I’m his favorite.”

            Right?   It’s funny – and sometimes – it’s true.  All the jokes about heaven – and how one Christian group or another think they are the only ones up there.  
            And Jesus loved them, but not just them.
            And Jesus loved them, but he had a mission even more expansive than they were able to imagine.
            Offered to more people than they could imagine.
            And a healing deeper than they could imagine.
            Not just making the lame walk, making the blind see, cleansing lepers.
            Not just feeding people for a day.
            But life that never ends.
            Love that never ends.
             Love is hard.   Because sometimes you have to do a hard thing, for someone you love. 
            You have to clean up messes.  You have to stick around when you want to leave.  You have to go places you don’t want to go.  You have to hold someone’s hand when they are dying.
            Sometimes, you have to die, for someone you love.

            Love is patient and kind. Love does not insist on its own way. Love does not rejoice in wrong, but rejoices in the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

            Love never ends. Even though you try to throw him off a cliff, even though you turn your back, even though you shout “Crucify him!”, love never ends.  This love never ends.

            And this is grace. 
            Hard Grace.
            Grace for you.  
            This is the place where I want you to know that – there’s grace for you.  Every single one of you.  No exceptions.  
            There’s healing for you. There’s life for you.  
            But not just you. For people who are not here yet.  
            For people we don’t know – and people we might not even like.  
            For rich and poor. For friend and stranger.  For liberal and conservative.   For babies and 100 year olds.  
            Whoever you are -- There’s grace for YOU.  



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