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Privilege - Sermon on Luke 4:21-30

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Jesus doesn't do his hometown any special favors, reaching out to those who are more in need. They got mad about it. Could there be some deep seated fear?

Please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The delivered sermon is often considerably different than the sermon notes which are included for convenience below.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

January 31, 2016 - Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

"Privilege".  Text is from Luke 4:21-30

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God. 

No sooner is Jesus speaking the good news that the fulfillment of all of the hopes and dreams of the people of Israel from the prophet Isaiah has come to pass, that those selfsame people of Israel begin to turn on him. And not just any people but the ones from his own home town, Nazareth, those who watched him as a child, watched him grow up and had him sitting in the temple teaching to them. Because while the prophecy of the coming salvation is all well and good, the idea that they might have to take a second seat to others. That the good news might not be to his home town folk first and then to others later.

Jesus has just gotten through saying that all these things were to come to pass, that he was proclaiming the year of reconciliation and restoration was to come to pass, that the captives would be set free and the blind made to see. And so the crowd is thrilled. They all see Jesus as having spoken well. And to top it off, this is someone who comes from their own world, Nazareth. How fortunate they are to be able to lay claim to his miracles for themselves. This miracle maker, this wonder of a man, he is here and he is ours! 

But Jesus has not arrived in Nazareth seeking the approval of those who knew him and watched him grow up. Jesus is not there to placate his ego, or engage in some kind of approval seeking behavior, to get the people of Nazareth to like him. He has already laid out the deepest desires of God, that all shall be free and all shall be saved. And now what comes to light is just what he means by all. 

If the people of Nazareth are looking for special favors from God by virtue of their connection to this great son of Joseph and Mary, they shall be disappointed. 

Now, it's important to consider some things about Galilee. Firstly, scholars have often wondered why Jesus grew up there, and not in Judea, where Joseph's family had been from. After all, that was the center of the Jewish world, even Bethlehem was close to the city of David, and that was where the true seat of power lay. Galilee was by some reckonings considered to be a cesspool. Kind of the armpit of the Jewish world. We need only look at Jesus' birth narrative to see that an innkeeper, spotting this uncultured, unlettered family from up north, readily decided "there is no room for the likes of you."

Secondly, Galilee had become, for several centuries fairly multicultural. And although in Jesus time, it was again significantly and overwhelmingly Jewish, there was a growing Gentile population, and it does stand to reason that the people of Galilee, where Nazareth is located, were beginning to become quite concerned. 

Mimi & Eunice - Privilege

So, after Jesus declares the good things to his home town folks, he lays it down on the line and says what is surely on everyone's mind which is "When are you going to do the wonderful miracles we all know you can do?" He is about to give them a dose of reality.

And operating under the fulfillment of scripture that he had declared, further warns them that they're probably not going to like where the conversation is going to go...cautioning the people of Nazareth by citing not one but two references from scripture in which famous and beloved prophets, Elijah and Elisha, both of Galilee, saved a Gentile widow and healed a Gentile leper respectively, while stressing that there were countless children of Israel who needed help at that time that these prophets evidently ignored.  What that must have felt like? 

It's a hard thing to learn that we have faults and selfish expectations. It's a hard thing to find out that the world isn't solely built for us and for our benefit. And even when we live our lives with what we think is love for our hearts for other people, I know how hard it can be to find out that we have prejudices that actively hurt other people and we don't want to admit them. I know how hard it can feel to be to feel like we're getting the short end of the stick, but when justice demands that someone else is getting benefited, that someone else is getting advantages it becomes really easy to get mad and point fingers. 

God is declaring a major crisis on the earth and when so many voices are crying out that we must do more for the least of us, and we must heal, we must free, we must give the land a break, so many people who have lived as the chosen people, who have received God's blessing on their houses and are suddenly worried about losing it, are running forward in fear and anger and saying, "You cannot do that at my expense! What about me?" 

Because there's this thing called privilege that people don't realize that they have, because in reality it is a lack of privilege that is obvious to people. Taking something fairly innocuous, like can you expect to go visit any place and find wi-fi access in most places in your country. Can you expect to visit any website you want to visit..  These are things that most citizens of the United States take for granted, even for many people living in poverty, because internet access has become so expected, so commonplace, and we are so turned off by censorship that we can find anything we want about anything. This may be called national privilege, because if you are chatting with a friend, say, Iran, for instance, and send them a link, there's a good chance it will be blocked. 

But there are other things you might want to ask yourself, and we find that different people have different privileges depending on their own personal circumstances. Are you able to travel freely in the United States, without fear of having to show your ID, do you have to work under the table and worry about being stopped by police, because you entered this country without documentation, and mass deportations are still commonplace?

Do you receive targeted advertisements online based on your gender that are actually appropriate for your sexuality, and are you okay to show affection to your loved one anywhere in the country, without fear that someone will make a scene, or worse, seek to do you harm?

When you're seeking a job, are you comfortable applying at places that state "must pass a background check" and don't hesitate to mark "No" when the job application says "have you ever committed a felony? 

Can you work in an office environment without people commenting on or complimenting you on your hair, your clothes, whether or not you've lost weight? 

Can you use a public bathroom without fear of being judged that you're in the wrong room, and have to constantly correct people who refer to you with the wrong pronouns?

Can you eat at a popular restaurant without looking around and seeing if people are the same color as you? 

If you had to look for an apartment in Berkeley, could you find one you could afford right away?

I doubt there is a question here that some of us would not answer yes to, and I expect that you answered yes to at least one if not several of them. For myself, there is only a couple of them that I would answer no to, and all the rest, I am privileged enough to not have to think about them constantly. 

But when I finally understood that things that I take for granted are things that other people have to think about all the time, and when I first understood this, I was devastated. For a lot of us, we have hidden fears that when people who normally don't receive privilege are given specific advantages because of that, it feels as if we are losing out. But how many of us would begrudge having handicap spaces closer to buildings, saying instead: "Why should they have better opportunities to get into the store than the rest of us?" But we do that with others all the time without thinking.  But it's why we need to have our buttons pushed and to push others into doing what's right. 

Jesus pushed buttons. When the crowd turned on Jesus, he expected it. But in the pushing their buttons, in their anger toward him, he has nevertheless safely navigated the treacherous way through. He said the right things, got the crowd fired up, and while the anger was directed at him, he managed to survive and was not hurled from that cliff. And some of those people, we expect and hope, will think on that a moment and see the wrong they have done.   

We affirm the witness of God by speaking honestly about where we are at fault and have harmed others, by our inaction or by our action. We do God's work by being his love and demonstrating his glory; and exercising it in all of our life doings. We are called by his holy spirit to lift up our sisters and brothers who are marginalized, who have disadvantages and lack of privileges. We are driven by the holy spirit to listen when we are failing to do so, when we inadvertently discount the lived experience of others.

And we remember the good news that God is love, and that unconditional love he has given us in the miraculous gift of his son, Jesus Christ, is a love that we are meant to share with all of his creation; that each and every human being may know the glory that God is.


Mimi and Eunice cartoon by Nina Paley, available for free to all. http://mimiandeunice.com/

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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on January 31, 2016 1:15 PM.

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