“He passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”
“Without love, I am a Noisy Gong or a Clanging Cymbal.”
As I prayed with this text, I imagine Jesus—perched on the edge of a cliff—facing an angry mob of his family and friends—the people from his hometown—about to be hurled off the cliff—except the angry mob—the people—have become literal cymbals and gongs--
A mob of animated percussion instruments creating noise vile and violent enough to hurl Jesus from the cliff.
We meet Jesus in this Gospel passage after he has read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. What follows is his first sermon—or teaching.
And that’s when things turn sour. Fast.
The very same people—who moments ago were amazed by the gracious words that came from his mouth—were now angered by his prophetic teaching.
So, what does Jesus teach in the synagogue that is so offensive? And, why do people become so angry so quickly? And, importantly, how is this lesson speaking to us as Christians today?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus retells the story of two people:
By telling these stories, Jesus not so subtly reminds the people of Nazareth that the God of Israel is an inclusive God—that God always has been and always will be—a God of radical grace and love for all who are broken and wounded. Even for all who have broken and wounded others. God is for All who are widowed and made poor. All who are blind and who thirst for justice and restoration and reconciliation. Jesus reminds the congregation: The favor of the Lord is FOR EVERYONE not only for the people of Israel.
Jesus is for everyone, not just the people of his hometown.
There is nothing like a sermon on the radical grace of God’s welcome to send good religious folk to the edge.
And to the edge they go, chasing Jesus to the precipice of a cliff—you guys, they are ready to HURL him off the cliff.
It’s at this point in the Gospel that I image the people turning into gongs and cymbals. There is knowledge in the crowd. There is wisdom certainly in that crowd of faithful Israelites.
But, their knowledge and wisdom and faith is compelling them to push the son of God off a cliff, to condemn the one they’ve been waiting for. That’s not love. That’s fear.
Love doesn’t hurl anyone over the cliff—especially God. Only Fear does that.
And in that moment of fear, the people of God became noisy gongs and clanging cymbals. Their love uprooted by fear.
And then, something remarkable happens.
“Jesus passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”
Fear won’t stop—Fear can’t stop Love.
Jesus wastes no time trying to reason with fear. He’s got work to do.
Next stop Galilee: to teach with authority-- on the sabbath no less-- and cast out demons. Then to Simon’s house to heal Simon’s mother. Then at sunset, faced with throngs of people with all kinds of diseases healed and comforted and set free from suffering.
Love is patient and kind, yes. But love is also fluid. Love keeps moving. Fear stops us in our tracks. Keeps us distracted. Dizzy from the noise of the cymbals and gongs.
And I think this is a central question of the Christian faith:
How do we become ever more like Jesus—courageous enough to proclaim a God who is for all of us—not matter what—and move beyond fear—staying rooted in the love of God?
How do we keep from becoming noisy gongs and clanging cymbals?
I think it has something to do with moving through the noise—the clanging cymbals and noisy gong—past the crowds of people who are afraid—beyond the fear—theirs and ours.
And to mind our own motivations, too—to ask ourselves: are we motivated by love or fear?
I think to be rooted in love, and motivated by love, has something to do with being on our way. Just like Jesus. Not too attached to the outcome of our work. Or convincing everyone that God’s love and justice and freedom really is for everyone—we just have to continue on with the work—moving through the midst of those who want to hurl us off a cliff J
Ours is to Continue on. In love. To do the work of God, which is the work of Love because God is Love.
To not be distracted by the noise or the fear. To not become a part of the noise. To resist the temptation to reason with fear.
Like the prophets, like Jesus, like the disciples and the great communion of saints, we are called to do God’s work. To:
Bring Good News to the Poor
Proclaim release to the captives
Restore Vision to the blind
Let the oppressed go free
This is our work God has given us to do. And so, let us go now out into the world, rooted in love and be on our way to proclaim God’s favor, God’s grace, God’s love--God’s radically inclusive welcome—for all of creation.
The Rev. Anne K. Ellsworth
Epiphany 4, Year C
My Sermons (and other thoughts)
a sampling of sermons preached in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona and a sprinkling of other writings