Rev. George Miller
“Widows, Lepers, Captives and Poor”
Feb 3, 2013
Today’s message “Widows, Lepers, Captives and Poor” has to have one of the most depressing sounding sermon titles ever.
A far cry from Advent when each week we had pleasant, peppy titles like “Hope”, “Joy”, “Peace”, and “Love.”
“Widows, Lepers, Captives and Poor” does not proclaim “Dance Party USA! Get up and get happy!”
Knowing this, I planned on starting today’s message with a joke. Something Rev. Lawrence would approve of.
Before doing so, I checked on my kitties; they were both asleep on the porch, basking in the morning sun.
The computer was turned on, a cup of coffee poured and my copious notes were out.
I decided there needed to be some music. Instead of something sedate and serious I opted for something fun.
Chaka Kahn’s “I Feel For You” came on, and I admit, I felt a little dance come along.
That’s when one of my cats, Sterling, came into the living room, expectantly sat down, giving me the look.
His brother Jesse followed soon after, and I quickly realized what was happening.
Over the past year the cats must have learned that when I play a danceable song and move quicker then usual, I usually pick up one of their toys for a time of play.
Sterling and Jesse came into the living room because they were expecting me, almost demanding me, to spend the next few minutes playing with them.
Which I did.
As Chaka Kahn sang on, we went from room to room with both of the cats hopping, twisting and turning while trying to nab the feathers on a stick.
Afterwards, they ate their snack and then went back to the porch to continue sleeping in the sun, content.
My cats have been conditioned to equate their Dancing Daddy with a time of play and canned food.
Which led me to wonder: just how attuned were they to my other behaviors? Were they aware of all my moods and actions?
If they knew Daddy dancing meant “Let’s play” was there anything I said or did that signaled “stay away”?
This realization led to another:
For the last two months I’ve played Beauregard, a kind character in which every word he utters has a positive connotation:
“Fine-looking”, “Christmas present”, “charm”, “family”, “big-hearted”, “higher” and “lucky.”
Night after night for 2 months, I said those words again and again, on stage, at home, in the car.
…and it felt good.
Living in a society in which criticism is common-place, coming from New York state in which sarcasm is the accepted form of conversation, it was transformative to speak words that were complimentary and sincere.
I believe being Beau has transformed me into a better person who has discovered that kind words and a kind demeanor do more then I realized.
Which leads to the next thought: what happens when the words we use are not so kind or not so pleasing to the ear?
What happens when calling someone “fine-looking” is replaced with “foul” or “ugly”?
When “lucky” is replaced with “unfortunate”?
What happens when “family” is replaced with “foe” and “Christmas presents” is replaced with “debts” and “You owe me”?
If speaking kindly words have the power to make one feel and act kinder, what happens when the words spoken are riddled with judgment, anger or society’s sense of pecking order?
They almost hurt just saying them, let alone seeing them as a sermon title.
But there they are. So what do we do with them in a way that is faithful to the scripture yet does not make us want to block our ears or gouge out our eyes?
First thing we do is acknowledge them. These are the words that were used. They were the “fig trees” people found themselves placed under, often against their will.
They were the words used to describe the people who were most often neglected by society back in the day.
People lived in a culture of class divisions in which everyone had a place where they belonged. The lower you were the easier it was to ignore or mistreat.
But what does Jesus do?
According to Luke’s version of the Gospel, the first words of Jesus’ public ministry allude to the idea that Jesus will:
-Bring good news to the poor
-Proclaim release to the captives
-Let the oppressed go free.
Further down, Jesus recalls how God showed favor not just to a widow and a leper, but to a woman and a man who were of a different nationality and faith-background.
What is Jesus basically saying here?
That God has “enough” love and grace for all, no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey.
That God has “enough” grace and love to shine a light into everyone’s lives.
That God has “enough” grace and love to find you no matter what fig tree you are situated under.
And what is the result? The people try to hurl Jesus from a cliff, a reminder of just radical his message is and what it really means to follow in Christ’s footsteps.
Why are the people so angry at Jesus? One reason is he basically said to them that God cares for everyone, not just them.
The other is because Jesus’ first recorded act of public preaching is a statement that he will overturn the way things are and that distinctions meant to divide will be null and void.
A freed woman is a captive no more.
A seeing-impaired child with sight can no longer be called blind.
A poor man who is filled with good news can no longer be called dumb or lazy or a free-loader.
A leper is made whole.
A widow is loved.
With this advent, new words, new behaviors come to be.
What happens when through Christ we no longer define the social stratosphere by “widow”, “leper”, “captives” and “poor”?
In Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, we use anointed words like “friend”, “neighbor” and “Child of God.”
What happens is we start to move from words like “hopeless” to “hope.”
From “pointless” to “worthwhile.”
From “undeserving” to “blessed.”
What happens is that as the words our mouth speaks begin to change, so do the actions of our hands and hearts.
Instead of only worrying “What’s in it for me?” we begin to ask “What will it mean for others?”
Instead of providing care to just those we know, we reach out to the community in ways we can not even begin to imagine.
Instead of using a kitchen to feed only ourselves, we use it to feed as many as we can.
It means that when God’s Good News makes us want to get up and dance, we are not dancing alone and others will take notice.
In conclusion, because of Jesus Christ the widows have a name. The lepers have a name. The captives and the poor have names as well.
Jesus has already proclaimed to them the Good News.
It is now our time to live the Good News, to dance the Good News, to speak the Good News, no longer keeping it just to ourselves, but to show and share it with those we meet.
Amen and amen.