Whatever You Do, Do It In Love
After Jesus was baptized, he spent forty days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. He didn’t eat during those forty days and the devil tried to convince Jesus to turn stones into bread to alleviate his hunger. Then the devil showed him all the kingdoms on the earth and offered to give them to Jesus if he would just worship the devil. Then he tempted Jesus to test God’s protection of him by having him jump from the pinnacle of the Temple. Jesus did not fall into the temptations of the devil, and filled with the Holy Spirit he made his way back to Galilee and started preaching in their synagogues. The people who heard him praised him.
I included last week’s reading with today’s reading because I think it sets the stage for today’s reading. It provides the context we need in order to understand today’s lesson.
Then Jesus went home, to Nazareth where he had grown up. He went to the Synagogue as he regularly did on the Sabbath. He read from the scroll containing the Book of Isaiah and told the congregation that the Scripture they had just heard had been fulfilled. The people again praised him.
He was home, in the town he grew up in. The people knew him and he knew them. The people were amazed at what Jesus was saying. Perhaps this was because they did know him as he grew up. He was different now. Isn’t this Joseph’s son? They knew him when he was young. They watched him grow up. Perhaps they watched him help Joseph do his work. But now, here he was, reading the Scriptures and preaching to them. Perhaps there was some pride on the part of the people. Here is Jesus, one of our own, Joseph’s son, and listen to him, he has become so wise.
But then Jesus continued. He told them things they did not want to hear. He told them things that offended them. He started interpreting the Scripture he had just read. He started talking about Sidon and Syria, Zarephath and Naaman. He points out that God went to them and that the Israelites didn’t. They then understood that he wasn’t just telling them that God includes outsiders in the circle of God’s care, but he was also pronouncing judgment on the insiders who have been excluding those different than they are, those who were not Jewish, those who did not look and talk and behave and believe as they did.
Jesus is letting the congregation know who he is, and what his ministry will be, and what his Church will be and do. What perhaps makes this text difficult for us is that we don’t understand just how far Jesus got in their faces. He basically told them they are not following God’s will. The congregation turned on Jesus. They went from being amazed to being angry. They escorted him out of town to the edge of the hill on which Nazareth was built in order to throw him off the hill.
The Good News is not always good news for everyone. The Gospel is not always good news to those who would divide, those who would oppress, those who would exclude. It is not always good news to those who would resist helping those in need, the widow, the orphan, or the alien among us.
But then again, the Gospel is good news for all. For those who are oppressed, for the widow, the orphan, and the alien, for those who are on the margins of society, there is hope. For those who oppress and divide, there is forgiveness. For the overriding characteristic of our Lord and Savior is love, love for all of God’s children.
Our reading from Paul’s letter to the Church at Corinth talks a lot about love. This passage may be very familiar to you. It is often read as part of a wedding ceremony. But the original context was not addressing a couple in love with each other who were getting married. The original context was to a Church in conflict, a Church that was divided because people in the congregation were worried about their status, whether their gifts made them the most important.
Paul addressed these concerns. He told them that their gifts, their talents, their skills mean absolutely nothing if they are not done in love. If one speaks in tongues but does not have love, they are just noisy. And if one has understanding and faith enough to move mountains, but doesn’t have love, they are nothing. And if one gives away all their possessions only so they look good and not out of love, they have gained nothing.
Prophecies will come to an end. Speaking in tongues will also come to an end. And even knowledge will come to and end. For what we know about Jesus is only a part of what there is to know. Full knowledge will be revealed to us at a later date, when He who loves us most returns. Right now, because we only know a part of what there is to know, we can only proclaim a part of what there is to proclaim. When Jesus returns we will have full knowledge, all of our interpretations of Scripture, all of our partial understanding will disappear and be replaced with full knowledge and understanding.
In the mean time, we have Scripture to guide us and teach us. We have Jesus commandments to Love God with all of our heart, all of our mind, all of our soul, and all of our strength, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We have Jesus commandment to love each other as he has loved us. We have Paul’s letter telling us that whatever gifts we have been given, whatever talents God has bestowed upon us, whatever resources God has blessed us with, we are to use them in love. We are told that love is the most important yardstick by which to measure what we do, or say. It doesn’t matter how smart we are, or how educated we are, or how skilled we are, we are all God’s children, we have all been given gifts to share for the good of all, and we are all equally important.
So, what are we to do with this? We all have the difficult task of living in the secular world while trying to live a holy life. We want to follow Jesus and we do our best to do so. But the world in which we live doesn’t always share our convictions. Public policies are made that do not follow Jesus’ commandments to love each other. Corporate policies are made to benefit the bottom line, not people’s lives. Many people we encounter are more concerned with themselves and getting and staying ahead than they are with their neighbor. And many people, who claim to be in need, don’t really want help and they take advantage of those who are willing to help, making them feel like they have been taken and they become more reluctant to help the next person.
When we make a stand for what Jesus taught, we may be criticized and made to feel like outsiders. When we make a stand to do what is right in God’s eyes, we are often met with resistance from people who are afraid. When we advocate helping those in need, those without shelter, those without food, those who have had to flee their homes due to war and violence, we are met with excuses of why we shouldn’t. These excuses are not made because of hatred, they are out of fear.
When Jesus told the congregation in his hometown, people who knew him and watched him grow up, that they were not doing what God wills, they turned on him. When we strive to do God’s will, people may turn against us as well. The best we may be able to do is to continue to work towards justice and peace in the world, continue to work towards ending hunger and homelessness in the world, and continue to spread the Good News of Jesus’ love for all people, and to use all of our gifts and resources in love. Perhaps the best we can do is to meet people where they are in life and let them see the light of Jesus in us.
There is a quote I would like to share with you from writer, Madeleine L’Engle. She wrote:
“We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”
The source of that light is Jesus, and when we do everything in love, that light shines through us and illuminates the darkness of this world for others.