A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Open Hands Before God’s Call

Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue, James Tissot (1886-1894)

Epiphany 4C 2022
Open Hands Before God’s Call
Rev. Doug Floyd
Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71, 1 Corinthians 14:12-25, Luke 4:21-32

The Good News comes as a surprise and as a promise we could not have imagined. It is bigger than anything we can conceive. This is a good thing because we also think too small. Our natural tendency is to limit the Gospel to our limited understanding. This has been the trend throughout history. The ancient Israelites could not grasp the implications of God’s call on their lives. Neither can we.

We see through a glass dimly. We think through a glass dimply. We imagine through a glass dimply. From the earliest days of the church until today, various groups try to “box in” the Creator and Redeemer according to their expectations. They have wanted to domesticate God. But He always exceeds our expectations. This has happened in the Roman Catholic churches, the Protestant churches, and the Eastern church.

For instance, some Reformers rejected the miracle stories and saint stories of the Roman church. They advocated the doctrine of secessionism, meaning all the miracle stories stopped with the closing of the New Testament. Unfortunately for them, members of their own traditions began having miraculous experiences over the centuries. While the forms change, the encounters have continued.

We cannot limit God by saying what He cannot do. Or by saying who He must bless and who He must not bless. People can easily limit God by assuming He has exclusively blessed their church or country. Yet we know that His rain falls on the just and the unjust.

In our second lesson today, the Lord is distributing grace gifts to various groups in the Corinthian church. Each group is claiming a special status for their gifts and competing with other groups. They’re trying to limit God’s blessing to themselves. These grace gifts are given by the Spirit for us to serve and care for one another. They are poured out to bind us together as one body before the Lord. They are given to comfort, to strengthen, to exhort, to warn, and more.

As we begin to serve and care and help one another, we begin to live in such a way that opens the door to the surprise of God. When He moves in our midst, He is always breaking out the limitations we had set and revealing His love as ever new.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus enters a synagogue in Nazareth. Following the pattern of a synagogue service, he picks up the scroll and reads from the Prophet Isaiah.

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he sits down, for it is the pattern to sit and teach. Jesus delivers His Word, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” We don’t know what all the congregation thought. We do know that they marveled at these gracious words. For better or worse.

Jesus has announced the year of Jubilee, but then extends the promise of Jubilee to the Gentiles by talking about the ministry of Elijah and Elisha bringing the blessing of God to people outside of Israel. The people in the synagogue who hear Jesus read Isaiah’s prophecy and then connect it to Elijah and Elisha serving the Gentiles would have made this connection.

This infuriates the crowd who have been anticipating God coming in judgment on the Gentiles who are oppressing them. They rise up and drive him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.”

Of course, Jesus slips away.

God does not perform to human expectation. They wanted to limit the Jubilee promise of Isaiah to Israel and Jesus points out toward the nations. They cannot contain the promises of God. Neither can we.

The Lord breaks out of all the limitations we create for him.

We come before the Lord with open hands, yielding our dreams, our ideas, ourselves before the Lord. As we read this Gospel of Luke this year, may we be open to the surprise of God. I want God to burst out of the limitations we’ve set. May God open our hearts more deeply to His love. I would pray that we might all be open to the unexpected, revealing of God in Christ Jesus.

Our Corinthians lessons offer us practical ways we might open ourselves to God. Paul’s begins our passage with the exhortation: “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.” The gifts of the Spirit are all rooted in love. Here are four implications of Paul’s instruction on the building up the church.

First, when the Lord calls us, He calls us into community. We live in a country that focuses on our individualism, which is not inherently bad, but we must remember that when Christ calls us, He calls us into the communion of saints. We live out the reality of our calling with a group of people. While we meet in a building and name our churches, we are actually joining to people. Membership in the church is a formal way that say we are committed to this particular group of people. The name of the church is sort of a banner under which we as a community gather. Unfortunately, our modern church world is rooted in an individual experience that reinforce the loneliness of our culture.

Next we are called to love those around us in the community. Each of Paul’s letter spend time focusing on the importance of maintaining relationships within the worshipping community. Cultivating love requires time: spending time together, praying together, serving one another, eating together. It even requires conflict. Conflict strips away our artificial friendliness. If we learn to work through conflict, we become bound more deeply in love. Practically speaking this requires a time and place for relationships to develop such as small groups. Groups like the Monday night reading group, the men’s group, catechism, the women’s group, the children’s ministry, the musicians, and others. It is in these times where we might share more of our own lives. We might learn to pray for one another, encourage one another, listen to one another, begin to cultivate our God-gifts, and build friendships that extend beyond any meeting.

Thirdly, we as a community are called to love the larger community around us. Consider the church at Antioch. Their love for God and one another poured over with love Israel and for the Gentile world. They prayed and sent Paul and Barnabas out with a commission to raise money for the church in Jerusalem who was facing persecution. As these men went out to raise funds, they also brought the good news of the Gospel to the Gentile empire. Tithes and offerings are one way we practically express our love for the greater community. We are investing in the future of this community as well as affording our church community to serve the greater community.

Lastly, this community of Christ becomes a witness, a prophetic voice to the world. We do this in weekly worship. Consider the churches in the opening pages of Revelation. Each of these churches face distinct challenges in the cities where they live. As John mentions, temptations in their specific contexts. He reminds each community that Jesus is present to them and can strengthen and can faithfully face the local challenges by His Spirit. In this way, each community becomes a witness to their surrounding culture.

I pray that we all might consider our call to community in Christ, toward loving one another in Christ, toward loving this community around us in and through Christ, and to becoming a witness the resurrected Savior in our worship and live together.


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