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The Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe

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Our Outrage—and our Errors

Category: Bishop's Sermons

Speaker: The Rt Rev Mark D.W. Edington

Tags: acceptance, outrage

January 30, 2022    The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

The Parish of the Ascension, Munich, Germany

Text: Luke 4:29: “They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.”

Dear friends, I want to thank you all for coming out this morning to the town cliff, ready to carry out our righteous outrage against this dangerous heretic. It’s always good when so many of us gather together as a community in times like this; after all, what’s mob justice without a mob? 

Before we throw this troublemaker to a deserved end, let us do the work of righteousness by recalling together the reasons why our community has bonded together in rejecting this man’s toxic teachings. 

You all know that he has lived among us as child, and as a young man. You all know his family. They are respectable people. We mean no judgment against them, although it is true that some people have said there are questions about his birth certificate.

You all know that for many years he appeared to be a responsible member of our community, learning an honorable trade and attending our synagogue regularly. Indeed we wondered whether he might become a rabbi among us, didn’t we? He seemed to know the words of the law and the prophets even before he learned how to read, and we are still not quite certain how he did that.

But we all also know the very troubling recent history that has brought us to this point. How, months ago now, he simply disappeared from town, abandoned his family, left without any explanation. How we began to hear that he had traveled down to the area around Bethany and Jericho, all the way at the other end of the River Jordan, to join the
so-called “baptismal movement.” You know, a lot of people are saying that it’s a cult, or maybe even a group of extremists.

And still, we didn’t hear anything from him. He didn’t come directly home. We started hearing that he was showing up in other synagogues along the road. He was even showing up in other synagogues around us, here in Galilee! And he wasn’t just showing up, he was preaching there! Preaching, this quiet man who used to sit in the back of our synagogue keeping to himself!

I mean, they all knew he was from Nazareth. Didn’t he care about our reputation? About his family’s reputation? 

Well. At first maybe we felt a little pride that one of our own was gaining notice in the towns around. Most of us have never left Nazareth, except to go to the Temple for festivals. Where else would we want to go? I mean, you know what the people in Bethsaida say about us. 

But then we began hearing about what he was saying in those places. Crazy things. Things that dishonor our nation and our people! Teaching that our covenant with God is not ours!

And then, sure enough, this morning he showed up here. You all heard what he said. Elijah wasn’t sent to a widow in Israel during the great drought, but to a widow in Zarapeth—in Phoenicia! Elisha didn’t heal a leper in Israel, but one from Syria! How could he even mention these things?

How dare he suggest that God has shown favor to people outside Israel! What does he mean by reminding us of the faith of that widow in Zarapeth? Do we really think the Naaman, the head of the armies of Syria—people who were our enemies!—do we really think he could act in ways pleasing to the God of Abraham?

Well. Let us now join together in expelling these ideas from our midst by heaving this man over the edge and down to...down to...


Now, I know what you are thinking. We’re not that outraged mob. We don’t throw people over cliffs. Our community doesn’t react like antibodies when a foreign virus comes among us. 

Really? What was the outrageous thing Jesus had done? What was the transgession that made his own friends and neighbors so outraged they are out there on the edge of town, ready to destroy him?

Well—in the most direct terms, Jesus’s grievous error was to hold up as examples people his neighbors, indeed his whole nation, had been trained to hate. Their culture, their community, their faith taught them not just that there were people who were different from them—but that those differences had deep meaning, moral meaning. You know, God had acted to choose some people and not others. And those people were the others. 

Jesus is reminding them of the faith of that starving widow in a place outside Israel, who even though she is dying shares what she has with Elijah—and is saved. Jesus is reminding them of the humility of proud Naaman, the head of the Syrian army, who is a leper—and who does what Elisha tells him to do, in a way that reflects an obedience in faith that the people of Israel lack. And he is healed.

That is the outrage Jesus has caused. He has offended his own people by daring to tell them that their certainties about who God loves and who God leaves behind is wrong. He has bruised their egos by telling them that their God is too small—and so their imaginations are, too. 

He has dared to tell them something like the equivalent of something Desmond Tutu taught us: “God is not a Christian.”

Maybe we don’t think of ourselves as having those hard-drawn boundaries of identity. Maybe we don’t live with categories of clean and unclean—or at least we don’t think we do.

Maybe we say of ourselves that we are welcoming, or inclusive, or affirming. But we mislead ourselves if we forget that we human beings are hard-wired to notice what makes other people different from ourselves, and that we make the mistake of imagining those differences somehow reflect something about differences in the value, the dignity, the worth of other people. 

We do this all the time. Even those of us who are sure we don’t. In fact that’s a kind of danger for us—our certainty that we don’t fall into this trap makes us blind to the fact that we have.

What would it take to make you outraged this morning? What if Jesus came among us and held up as an example the faithfulness, the Godly obedience, of an unvaccinated person? Or of a Russian soldier? What if Jesus came here today to tell us that the highest example among us in the Convocation of a life lived aligned with God’s covenant was Mansour, the young Muslim man who runs the volunteer program at the Joel Nafuma Regfuee Center in Rome?

What if Jesus came among any of our Episcopal, English-speaking, Anglican churches in Europe and told us that what really matters to God is not whether that are special, or exceptional, or smart, or even churched, but that we act in ways that reflect an awareness of, and obedience to, the values by which God calls us to live? Not success, not wealth, not accomplishment, not credentials, but humility, forbearance, compassion, mercy.

I am telling you nothing you don’t know already when I tell you that every one of us has a tether that we sometimes get to the end of. I have known this congregation longer than I’ve known any other community in our Convocation, and I know that when I first came here a lot of you were at the end of your tethers—and that there were some folks whose tethers just gave way altogether.

But never forget this: When someone, or when some group of people, have got you out at the end of your tether—well, that is when you are out there at the edge of the cliff, ready to heave them off. And it is at just that moment that your God has become too small, not nearly capacious enough to imagine how God might be working through them just as much as you.

This is our season of light. Epiphany is our season in which the light of Christ is progressively realized, our season in which each of the stories we here reveal little bit by little bit just who Jesus is, not just to the people around him, but to us. So far it’s been easy going—a beautiful star, awe-struck shepherds, the wise seekers bringing gifts, a voice from heaven over the river Jordan, even what began as a happy reappearance at home. 

But now, we are turning a corner. Now, the things that are manifesting Jesus as God among us, the things that are revealing the true nature of who he is, those things aren’t comforting. They’re unsettling, They’re disturbing. they are troubling.

And they ought to be. Because there are people in trouble. There are people who are, or who think they are, outside the reach of God’s purpose of restoration and redemption. There may even be people we think are beyond God’s reach. And that is why we need to be troubled. Because untroubled people do little to help people in trouble.

So that is our Epiphany task. Our Epiphany task is to let ourselves be troubled when we need to be, and to imagine that God might be at work within it—rather than determine ourselves to put it behind us by throwing it overboard. 

And this, too, is our Epiphany task—to manifest Christ’s love, and God’s purpose, by sometimes having the courage to say and do troubling things. To accept those others reject, to look for examples of faithful lives in unlikely places, to remind ourselves and the world around us each day that God is always larger than our ability to imagine, and always more capacious in love and forgiveness than our ability sometimes to accept. Let that light shine through us, and the world will be a little less dismal. Amen.