Rev. Danielle K Bartz February 13, 2022
Luke 4:16-27 “The Kingdom of God is…now?”
Christian author Diana Butler Bass recently wrote an essay entitled “Is There a Doctor in the House: Home Improvement as Political Theology.” In it she creates a metaphor of what it means to repair, or save, the world by thinking of it through the lens of a new television show on HGTV called ‘Bargain Block.’ These home repair shows are incredibly popular, and, as I understand it, often feature someone from outside the community coming in and ‘flipping’ a house – taking a run-down house, repairing it, beautifying it, and then selling it at a profit. What’s different about this new show, Diana Butler Bass writes, is that the flippers aren’t coming in during the day, hammering a few nails, and then going home to their own lovely house. They are living in the very houses they are repairing, in this case in run-down, abandoned homes in Detroit. Sleeping on air-mattresses and contending with leaky roofs and bad wiring until they can fix it. They use recycled materials and second-hand items, and then sell the homes at affordable prices to local Detroit residents, attempting to create neighborhoods, or re-create neighborhoods, in places they once existed.
I am not an HGTV watcher, and I have no particular interest in home repair television shows, (and I should say, I have never watched this show) but I resonated with the metaphor. Claiming a broken space as shelter and repairing it from within, as opposed to an outsider with no real lived experience coming in and attempting to fix things, is a beautiful way of thinking of what it means to be a Christian in a broken world. Diana Butler Bass says it this way: “Perhaps the emphasis shouldn’t be on the word broken. Perhaps the emphasis should be on the word in. We’re in the brokenness. Not above it, not beside it, not beyond it. I don’t think that things will change much until we realize that we live in the house that needs repair.”
I love0 this metaphor because it illustrates how I understand Christian mission, but I want to take this metaphor a step further. What if this home we are living in, this broken world we live in – with all of its leaks and bad wiring and lead paint – what if this is in fact the Kingdom of God, the very same Kingdom of God that we pray for every time we say the Lord’s Prayer? What if the very Kingdom of God we have been seeking to find is in fact the same broken world we are living in right now? Can God’s Kingdom be both the blessed future of justice and liberation we long for AND be our current broken home filled with all its broken people?
I need to be clear, this is an idea that makes me uncomfortable. It doesn’t sit right with me, but it was where Jesus’ lesson from today’s Gospel led me. And, I have been trying to hold on to a pearl of wisdom a friend quoted to me recently. He said, “If you aren’t periodically offended by Jesus’ teachings, then you aren’t paying close enough attention to what he is trying to teach you.” So, by holding on to that, I have chosen to lean into the discomfort of today’s lesson and invite you to do the same.
Today’s scripture is a recounting of Jesus’ first sermon. He has been baptized by John, tempted for 40 days in the wilderness, and has now returned to his home community where, according to our translation, he was ‘nurtured’ while growing up. He goes to synagogue and reads from Isaiah’s prophecy of one who will come to liberate and declare the time of God’s favor has arrived. Jesus reads this scripture, looks into the eyes of those who have known him his entire life, and says, essentially, ‘that promised for future you have been waiting for is now.’ Your liberation is now, Jesus says. You are free from the bondage of what has been holding you back now. God’s Favor, God’s promise is being fulfilled now. “Now” is the subject of Jesus’ first sermon.
Not only that, Jesus goes on to say, but that hoped for future that has arrived is for everyone. Everyone. You, me, the neighbors down the street, and the enemies across town. Not only has the future of God’s favor arrived, but that favor is extended equally to the people you love and the people you hate. Jesus explains this by once again turning to scripture and reminding the people of stories of God’s blessings being extended to the very people those he was speaking to considered enemies. God’s future has arrived and it is for everyone. Jesus taught a lesson of both immediacy and inclusivity. But, the people don’t like. In the next few verses it is said they tried to throw Jesus off a cliff. But, what was so offensive to them?
To help us understand, imagine this: Jesus stands at this pulpit and says, “2022 is the year of God’s favor. Everything you have been praying for has now arrived. Everything you have hoped for has been already been granted. God’s blessings abound. And those blessings are for everyone. God is blessing you. God is blessing your family. God is blessing your favorite neighbors. God is blessing the Taliban. God is blessing the Christian Nationalists. God is blessing the alt-right and the politicians who claim a deadly riot is genuine political discourse.”
How does that sit with you? Speaking for myself, I don’t think I would try to throw Jesus off a cliff, but I would likely mumble, in much the same way as those he was speaking to in the scripture from today, “Who does this guy think he is?” Maybe I would even shout back, “You clearly have no idea what is going on! 2022 cannot possibly be the hoped for future we were promised. There is too much violence, too much hate, too much injustice. Racism is exists. Homophobia still runs rampant. Hate speech is becoming common, not going away. And the very people you are saying share in this blessed future with me are the people I hate.” Now that I think about it, if Jesus caught me at the wrong moment with that message of immediacy and inclusivity, I might try to throw him off a cliff.
And this is exactly what Jesus was teaching in the scripture. The context is different, yes, but the lesson is the same. But, my friend was right, if we aren’t periodically offended by Jesus’ lessons, then we aren’t paying close enough attention to them. I can almost sorta wrap my head around the lesson that God’s favor is with everyone, including the people I hate. I can almost get there in my heart and I will keep praying for God to help me get all the way there. But what I really struggle with is the idea that this world today is the world that I have been praying for. This world of hate, and fear, and pandemic, and climate trauma, this world cannot possibly be one of God’s favor. Things are too broken. But, if I lean into my discomfort and really listen to what Jesus is teaching, then I have to look at this broken world and claim it as God’s Kingdom. And that is why the metaphor of God’s Kingdom being the broken-down home in desperate need of repair that we live in now, is helping me.
There is a temptation to sit in a broken-down home and hope someone will come along and give you the keys to a gleaming new dream house. There is a temptation to ignore the leaky roof, the bad wiring, and the rotted floorboards; and instead simply dream about a home we have always wanted. That temptation can lead us to live inside our imaginations of something better, even as the house falls down around us. But what if instead we looked at the home we are in now and got to work in making it into our dream home, the one we have always longed for. We learn how to fix a leaky faucet and invite the neighbors over to help with the roof. Then we go across the street and help the same neighbors fix those loose floorboards. Pretty soon all of the neighbors are working together and that once broken-down neighborhood has become a place of joy and light and hope.
Jesus is asking us to look at this broken world and live in it. Live in it, claim it as our own, see God’s face shining back at us, and get to work. Jesus is asking us to stop praying for the miracle of tomorrow and instead asking us to get to work on the miracles for today. Because this is the time of God’s favor and God’s blessings abound. Rather than being offended by this message, let us lean into it and allow it to propel us forward. Amen.
God of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,
We are taught to pray and to work and to never lose heart.
But frankly God there are times that wear us down and we feel fainthearted.
We feel weary and close to giving up.
There are times Lord we lose hope and give up.
It is times like these that we need to hold each other up in prayer.
It is times like these that we need to encourage each other.
It is times like these that we need to be there for one another.
It is times like these that we need to cry out to God for those in need.
But God it is not just for those in need, it is also for justice that we cry out.
We plea for those who can not speak up for themselves.
We stand up for those who rights have been violated.
We seek peace with justice for those who need both.
We pray for justice for those who are the weakest.
We thank you for your justice at work in this world.
We thank you for hearing our prayers and answering them.
We thank you for your showing concern and protection.
We thank you for your mercy that you pour out with your justice.
We pray in the way we were taught, raising our voices together not just in hope but in praise of promises fulfilled, by saying…Our Father…