These people seem to want to define you by past interactions at school, family functions, or superficial conversations. It is as if they have kept you frozen in amber. No allowance for your growth, transformation or change. No true understanding of what or who you have become.
In my personal experience, I notice the people who usually ask me this question are people who knew me, but never took the time to know me. I become like one of those prehistoric mosquitoes frozen in amber, and every once and a while I am held up to the light, so they could see right through me.
Primarily because of my ego, I become irritated with these people and their “since when” questioning. I often ask myself, “is that how they really see me?” I often wish they could see me through a different set of eyes and to really know me.
Today’s Gospel speaks of how Christ sees us with a different set of eyes. But more importantly, the Gospel allows us to see ourselves through the eyes of God. Jesus is in the temple where he was raised, and he chooses to read the passage from Isaiah. In a few brief sentences, he describes to the listeners this wondrous change that is occurring in the world, he speaks of a special love.
In the temple, there seems to be an air of disbelief. Imagine if you were raised with the notion that God only judges, God is distant and you have to meet prerequisites in order to be loved by God. Your response? Disbelief. We read that “all eyes were fixed upon him” In the next verse, they ask if this is really Joseph’s son. Now remember, this is Jesus’ hometown. Most would of known Jesus since he was a baby. Why the amazement? They had this image of Jesus, and did not allow for something new.
I am sure that some of said to themselves - “Since when did you become sooo religious?” “Since when did God make YOU King?” I sure these responses did not faze Jesus, he still hears the same questions today. Notice that Jesus did not speak of a strict, brutal or unforgiving God. He did not speak of worthiness or unworthiness, of sinfulness, self-interest or condemnation.
Jesus spoke of serving others; of hope for the poor, release for the oppressed, healing for the sick, including the excluded. Jesus told them of the all encompassing, indescribable love that God has for each one of us. That is why they call it the Good News.
This message of God’s love was revolutionary. For thousands of years, people knew God, but they did know God. It was extremely difficult for them to understand that God intimately loved them. Why? Because if they truly accept and understood this love, then they have to look at the world in love.
If they understood God’s deep love, they could not ostracize they could not ostracize those who were different. If they understood God’s love, they could not ignore the sick and poor. If they understood this love, they would welcome all to God’s table with love and without conditions. In the words of St. Paul– we are we are one body, and if one member suffers, we all suffer.
It was hard to recognize that deep love over 2000 years ago, and it is difficult to embrace God’s love today. Each Sunday, the deacon comes out in your midst and announces the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Deacon Jan and Deacon Judith read poetic language that describes this holy mystery of the Son of God, who gives, serves and loves. But what does it really mean? These Gospels mean that God holds each one of us close, God loves each one of us without reservation or conditions. So perfectly reflected in Jesus Christ.
And that is why Jesus walked toward Calvary with complete faith, because he knew of the great love God had for him. At times fearful, hesitant and even questioning, he embraced God’s love and then went out to the poor, the lost and the hurting. And then Jesus said there is nothing that will keep us from God’s love and no one, no one has to hide in the shadows. God does not push anyone to the margins we are loved equally.
This unconditional love is hard to accept. Because if we accept it, we must respond, and when we respond, our faith comes alive. It means that despite the challenges of our lives, the incredible joys and the devastatingly lows, you are deeply loved by God. This love gives us hope, and with hope, we can change the world.
Our faith, the Eucharist, this Church does not make any sense unless it is transformed into practical action. You cannot learn to dance by reading a book, you cannot swim by looking at the water, and you cannot love by watching a romantic comedy. You have to dance, dive in, and offer your heart. When we understand God’s love for each one of us, we move from thinking of how to love others, to a place where we cannot help but love one another.
While preparing this sermon, I read a story that describes the inherent call to love. Nicholas Kristoff wrote of growing up on farm. The most admirable creates were the geese; they mate for life and adhere to values that would shame most of those who dine on them. If one of the geese was sitting on her eggs, her mate would forage for food and if he found a delicacy, he would rush back to give it to his mate. Kristoff would offer males a dish of corn to fatten them up — but it was impossible, for they would take it all home to their true loves.
Kristoffs monthly job was to grab a goose for slaughter. The geese knew that something dreadful was happening and would cower in a corner of the barn, and run away in terror as he approached. He would grab one and carry it away as it screeched and struggled in his arms. Inevitably, another goose would bravely step away from the panicked flock and walk toward him. It would be the mate of the one he caught, male or female, and it would step right up to him, protesting pitifully. It would be frightened out of its wits, but still determined to stand with and comfort its love.
Jesus walked toward the cross because of God’s love, and we are called to step forward for others because of that love. Scared out of our wits, unsure what our steps will bring, we step forward because realize we are united to each other and God by this amazing, unconditional, divine love.
I do not need to tell you that the world is hurting. Haiti suffered an indescribable tragedy, but we forget that Haiti was suffering terribly prior to the earthquake. There is suffering in Africa, Central America, in the neighborhoods around St. Michaels. People are losing their homes, children are being abused, the sick are without health insurance, and millions are relegated to the shadows. Embrace God’s love and even if it is tentative, step forward in love and change the world for them.
In that temple 2000 years ago, Jesus shocked people by announcing that everyone matters, that God loves each one of us passionately. So when you are asked “Since when did you care so much about others?” “Since when did you start spending sooo much time at the church?” Feel the power of that love that burns for you, that love that burns within you and respond with a knowing smile - “Since right here and right now.”