January 30, 2022

Marvelous Love and Grace

Passage: 1 Corinthians 13:1–13, Luke 4:21–30

The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel is a television series on Amazon Prime, which won the Emmy for outstanding comedy series in 2018.
The show stars Rachel Brosnahan as Miriam “Midge” Maisel, a Jewish New York housewife in the late 1950’s who discovers she has a talent for stand-up comedy.

The title uses the word marvellous…. “The Marvellous Mrs Maisel.”

What does marvellous mean. Let me give you three definitions found on dictionary.com

1. superb; excellent; great: like it was a marvelous show.
2. such as to cause wonder, admiration, or astonishment; surprising; extraordinary.
3. improbable or incredible

So, the Marvellous Mrs. Maisel uses marvellous in these ways.
Midge is superb, excellent or great.

But Midge is surprising, causing astonishment. She is a Jewish housewife and mother from an upper-class family, doing stand-up comedy in seedy nightclubs.

And maybe even more than causing astonishment, she is improbable.

While marvellous is often used as a positive word meaning great, it can be used more neutrally as astonishment or improbability.

Which leads us to Luke’s use of the Greek word thaumazoun from the root verb thoumazō or alternately the noun thoumazein.
The verb is to wonder and the noun is wonder.

Also translated to amaze, or to astonished, or to cause wonder. And according to Walter Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon it can be positive or negative according to the context.

Luke uses this word quite a bit.

Luke chapter 1 ...the people marveled that Zacharias was in the tent so long. And ...the people marveled when Zacharias named his son “John”
Luke 2:18 the people marveled at the story of the shepherds
Luk 2:33 ...Joseph and Mary marveled over Simeon’s words about Jesus
Luke 7:9 ...Jesus marveled at the faith of a centurion
Luke 8:25 ...the disciples marveled that the winds and waves obey Jesus
Luk 9:43 the crowd marvels at Jesus casting out a demon
Luk 11:38 ...a Pharisee marvels that Jesus didn’t wash properly before eating
Luk 20:26 ...scribes and chief priests marvel at Jesus’ responses to their traps
Luk 24:12 ...Peter marvels at the linens in the empty tomb
Luk 24:41 ...the disciples joyously marvel when the risen Christ visits them

Sometimes the marvelling is positive, like it is a wonderful thing. Sometimes it just astonishment; and sometimes is a little more negative as in the Scribes and Pharisees who are astounded by Jesus.

The verse in question is this Luke chapter 4 vs 22

All spoke well of him (Jesus) and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.

That is what is translated in the New Revised Standard Version.
It sounds very positive, and yet a few verses later they want to kill Jesus.

But I am wondering if the New Revised Version is actually adding something which is not in the original Greek.
To me and not to me only I think, but I think the NRSV adds a positive spin, because that is what they translators think the context is, but a more literal reading does not give a positive spin.

In the King James version. 22 And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph's son?

They didn’t speak well of him. They noticed him. That is a more literal translation. And in the King James, they wondered or were puzzled at his words.

JB Philips New Testament reads: Everybody noticed what he said and was amazed at the beautiful words that came from his lips, and they kept saying, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

Maybe I will try some other words here.
All noticed what Jesus said and were puzzled at the beautiful words that came from his lips, concerning the poor and they kept saying, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Isn’t he one of us? What is he saying?
All noticed what Jesus said and were astounded at the beautiful words that came from his lips concerning the poor and different and they kept saying, “but isn’t this a Jew like us?”
Or even
All noticed what Jesus said and were flabbergasted by the gracious words that came from his lips of Jesus about the poor, the prisoners and the oppressed, and they kept babbling, “Who does he think he is? Isn’t this some nobody from Nazareth?”

The gracious words that Jesus spoke were the subject of last week’s sermon how Jesus read from the Book of Isaiah about good news for the poor, release for the captives, sight for the blind and freedom for the oppressed.
And while you can read it more metaphorically, or have it pertain to one’s personal spirituality; and freedom from the oppression and captivity of sin, I believe that Jesus also had a more literal understanding, about this actually being good news for poor people, prisoners, those with disabilities, those under oppression and others who are excluded and left out.

And I think what was surprising and even offensive was when he put down the text and pronounced that it was today that this prophecy of Isaiah was being fulfilled.

They were flabbergasted by his words of grace and inclusion to those whom they believed God has cursed and excluded and began to murmur to each other. Who does this guy think he is? He is just a Jew like us, a nobody from Nazareth.

So, I believe, the not so good reaction from the crowd happens right away. They were shocked and amazed by his inclusiveness and his reaching out to what they might have considered the dregs of society.

But it only gets worse for them. Jesus reminds them of two stories from our Old Testament, their scripture from the life of the prophet Elijah and the life of the prophet Elisha
The first story is that Elijah visited a very poor woman and her son who basically were having their last meal together before they would start to starve; and they decide to share it with the prophet Elijah, and the miracle is that the after this their oil and flour do not run out afterwards.
Now this woman is from Zarephath in Sidon, which means she is not a Jew. Not only was she not a Jew she was from the same place as wicked queen Jezebel. She was one of the enemy.
And then Jesus reminds them that in the days of Elisha that there were many sick with leprosy, but the only one that was healed was Naaman. Naaman was a captain in the Syrian army. Syria was at war with Israel, and in fact Naaman, the Syrian Captain had Jewish slaves taken in one of his victories over the Israelites.
And yet it is this enemy, this Syrian captain that is healed by Elisha and the captain wasn’t even that gracious about it, a good patient or filled with faith or doing good.
And yet he is healed.

They are stories of marvellous, or amazing or stupefying grace from the Old Testament of God’s grace reaching out to enemies and when Jesus reminds them of these stories and by implication that the grace and love that he has been talking about…
…for the poor, the blind, the disabled and the oppressed…not only include the bottom of the pile on the socioeconomic ladder…
…but includes one’s enemies….

This is just too much for them.

Everyone who was there that day knew about enemies.
The Jews had a whole history of terrible enemies. There was good old Egypt who tried to assimilate the Jews and then practiced a form of genocide by ordering the male babies killed.
There was the Philistines and the Giant Goliath that were enemies for years at the time of Judge Samson and then King Saul and King David.

There were the Assyrians who wiped out the Northern Kingdom of Israel and massacred a great deal of the population. Their capital was the city of Nineveh, where Jonah would preach.
There were the Babylonians who defeated the Southern Kingdom of Judah and took some 40,000 slaves back to Babylon. Again, thousands and thousands were slain, maybe even tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands.
There were the Greeks who after Alexander the Great came and desecrated the temple, starting a Jewish rebellion.
And then there were the Romans, the latest oppressors who were in charge at this very moment.

The Jews all knew about enemies and couldn’t wait until God wiped them out.

They could not understand, compute or accept a universal grace or love.
But Jesus had not come to replace Empire with a new Empire, a new group of people at the top and everybody who didn’t fit in kicked out, annihilated or banished.
Jesus had not come to legitimize violence as long as it is used against the enemies and the bad guys.

Jesus had come to set up something completely different. A world of love. A world with one human family that forgives and reconciles and values every single human life.
Jesus had simply come to love everyone.

Everyone. Even the enemies.

It is hard for us ourselves to wrap our heads around it. There is no “us” and “them.” No enemies.

And if you think it was challenging for them, it is challenging for us to think that Jesus loves Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Tojo, Qadafi, Osama Bin Laden, Pol Pot, and the Imperial Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan.
That Jesus loves terrorists, enemies, gang members, rapists, drug dealers etc.
Sometimes it is hard to wrap our minds around the fact that God loves liberals and conservatives, pro-vaccinators and anti-vaccinators, ultra conservative Christians and ultra-liberal Christians..
that God loves non-Christians as much as Christians, that God loves every one of the people that you think are worthy of prison, exclusion, banishment or execution as much as God loves you.

It is a very different thing to say that God or Jesus approves of everything that people do. He doesn’t. God doesn’t want violence or killing, or people to hurt each other. He doesn’t want people to cheat or lie or steal or kill or covet, or be greedy, or promote injustice or prejudice.
But God loves everyone and has brought us a way to deal with each other. Love for one another.

The people in the synagogue could not accept universal love that day. Not for any perpetrators and their families or races who used violence and genocide against the Jews.

And it is not just the Jews that day who will have problems with universal love. Jesus was almost killed that day, but he escaped, but Jesus will be executed later as a blasphemer and a traitor.
We all have problems with love for everyone. It is just that in Canadian society in relative safety and prosperity we don’t have to deal with it so much up in our face, but if you watch the news, prejudice, violence, enemies, wars, and all sorts of conflicts, political, economic, social, geographical, national, environmental, racial, cultural, and religious are being waged all the time.

The answer is love, but how hard it is to do. To love one’s enemies, and the ones who are diametrically opposed to your most cherished beliefs.

I think we are all flabbergasted with the kind of love that Jesus exhibits.

Today we read the love chapter in 1 Corinthians. I read part of it in most of the weddings at which I officiate.

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I remember the movie Wedding Crashers where two mediators crash weddings in the hopes of meeting and picking up women.
At the beginning of the movie, they are going into the wedding and they bet each other as to the scripture that will be read. Will it be from 1 Corinthians 13 or Colossians 3?
I actually also use Ephesians 4:32. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

But if I were to bet, I would probably bet that I Corinthians 13 is the most often read scripture at weddings.

But the crazy thing is that Paul didn’t write it in reference to Weddings and people all gooey-eyed and passionately in love ready to promise their whole lives to each other.
He is writing it to a bunch of people who can hardly stand each other.
Paul wrote it to the Corinthians which seem to be one of the most dysfunctional churches ever.
The church is a church split into factions fighting over their favourite religious leaders. They fight over doctrine, diet, circumcision, celibacy, women, and what to wear in church. Some are taking the freedom of Christ to mean they can sleep around, or get drunk and gorge themselves at communion, while the poor who get there late go hungry.
Instead of honouring each other, and helping each other and building each other up, they are tearing each other apart, and Paul is writing to them to teach them about love.
But it isn’t just that love means they shouldn’t do all the bad things they are doing.
Even the good things they are doing are meaningless if they are not loving one another.
I quote from Debie Thomas’s column on the webzine, Journey with Jesus.
Spiritual gifts, Paul writes — beautiful, life-giving, church-enhancing gifts given by God himself — are worthless in the absence of love. Prophetic power — the ability to discern the Holy Spirit’s movements in the world, and unveil the hidden truths of our time — is meaningless without love. Knowledge — a deep and comprehensive understanding of all that we consider mysterious or esoteric in our cosmos — is garbage when divorced from love. Faith itself — that much-touted gift the writer of Hebrews describes as, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” — is “nothing” without love.
The question is whether we actually believe it ourselves.
Do we really believe that loving each other is more important than being right, having right doctrine, being wise, having power, or wealth or knowledge?
Is love more important than worshipful liturgy, beautiful music in our church and amazing sermons?

Will we really love our enemies and those with whom we have the most serious disagreements and fallings-out?

Strangely the one who wrote this love chapter himself was an enemy of Christ.
Paul, was Saul, a self-righteous murderer and purveyor of hate crimes. He was an enemy of Jesus and yet Jesus reached out to him and knocked him over with the light of love.
And Paul experienced marvellous grace and love.

And so too, have you and I.
We who have done wrong, have hurt others, have not forgiven as we have been forgiven…
…we know what it is to receive marvellous love and grace.
And it is marvellous to us because it is good, wonderful, superb, excellent, great….
It is amazing.

But God’s grace and love is marvellous in the surprising way too. God marvellous grace and love can be astonishing, leave us shocked, flabbergasted, because it is so improbable, so beyond belief that God would love not only the best of us, but the worst of us. Not only us, but our worst enemies as well.

There’s an old hymn that goes:
Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!

But not just your sin and my sin, but all sin for all people.
That is how marvellous the love and grace of Jesus is. Wonderful, surprising, sometimes even shocking.
Grace that is greater than all our sin.