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REV. JODI BARON – January 31, 2016 – 4 EPIPHANY, YEAR C: LUKE 4:21-30


“When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.” In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Good morning.


Today is a very interesting day, in the life of a church. Especially our church, and most other Episcopal Churches (at least at some point over the last few weeks). You see, this is the time of year when Office Managers, Financial Secretaries, Rectors, Commission Chairs, and Wardens compile all of this wonderful data that humans generate over a period of time.


The data could be financial giving reports, participation reports, attendance reports, stories from ministries, and the like.


All of this data is then woven into a story that helps us look back, as a community, over this past year and what God has done through the assets we’ve been blessed with and offered for the good of the whole.


This story not only helps us capture the story of God’s LOVE we shared this previous year, but it helps us dream of what that story of God’s LOVE could be for this coming year.


And for Grace Episcopal Church, this coming year is one that has quite a few transitions to anticipate.


We have a few who will be finishing up High School, or college…

Some going on much needed sabbaticals…

Some facing uncertain challenges like job change, moving, health, and financials.

Each of these transitions hold different emotions for us, as a community and as individuals. Which is a pretty normal human response, I would think.


Some look forward and feel a little trepidation, some feel excitement, some feel sadness.


It seems to me that emotions are a tricky thing.


They have the capacity to help us navigate complicated situations with dignity and grace, and to cause rippling effects of further complications.


Emotions even have their own intelligence measurement.


Apparently one is “emotionally intelligent” when they have the capacity to not only identify, or name, the emotion they are experiencing, but to be able to “manage” their emotions and the emotions of others. I read that EI includes three skills:

  1. Emotional awareness, including the ability to identify your own emotions and those of others;
  2. The ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving;
  3. The ability to manage emotions, including the ability to regulate your own emotions, and the ability to cheer up or calm down another person.

These are actual skills being taught now in classrooms as early as second grade, or maybe even earlier.

It’s not just for “professionals” anymore; you know like counselors, pastors, and hostage negotiators.


Experts are finding that the more people who hold high levels of emotional intelligence are actually assets to community building.


Which, when I think about it, makes quite a bit of sense.


Especially when you are the one hearing news that produces a deep emotional response.


Having someone in the group who knows how to identify what emotion you are feeling and help you apply that emotion to specific tasks like “thinking” and “problem solving,” seems like that would be a pretty important skill to have in our midst, right? That means they can help you navigate the complexity of what you are experiencing before you act on it. In some circles, this skill is called “diffusing”, referring the the charge that is sometimes amped up when stakes are high. Having someone with High Emotional Intelligence in the room can actually reduce the anxiety in a room rather than fuel it.


Emotions, then, are apparently very powerful tools humans have, and knowing how to use them or navigate them seems to be equally powerful.


If you were to list the names for emotions, how many do you think you could identify, off the top of your head?


Now, I’m definitely not an expert, but I think it’s safe to say that emotions are pretty complex.

Perhaps that is why Philosophers, Anthropologists, and Psychologists have been debating this question,  some sources state at least back to Aristotle, in the 4th century. Likely even longer though, I imagine.


From what I could find, current thought tends to land in the camp of somewhere between four to eight universal emotions that humans experience. Some recent research into how the muscles of our face contort according to the emotions we are feeling suggest there are really only four irreducible emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, and fear. Everything else we “feel” is a variation of those four that has evolved over the millennia, those some 7,000 facial expressions we see beginning to develop in infants that seem to peak when they hit adolescence (smile).


That is quite mind-boggling, to me. And fascinating on a sociological level. That so much of our human behavior, the things we do, stem from the emotions we feel.


A favorite social phenomenon that I studied in Sociology was this thing called “Mob Mentality.” Where you group a bunch of people together and get emotions high and all of the sudden you have those same people banning together for a common goal. Those same people, individually, would quite possible never act out that way, however. It is something in the anatomy of that crowd, or mob, that suggests overpowering urges to conform and join in with what the rest are doing.


It reminds me a little of story from this morning’s gospel. If you recall, last week we were in Galilee, also in a synagogue, and the people were amazed with Jesus…remember? In Chapter 4 vs. 14-15 we read, “Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.”


Then the story moves to his hometown and, all of the sudden, we read “When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.”

As in violent, uncontrollable anger.


But some psychologists would disagree. They say that “Rage” is an emotion that we feel first. But without mature pathways through that emotion it becomes behavior. And the behavior of RAGE that we read about in this morning’s gospel.


If we zoom into this pericope for a few minutes and take a deeper look at the dynamics that were leading up to this moment of “rage,” that compelled the people to run Jesus out to the edge of town, to a cliff (which he thankfully slipped away from), we may just see a window into the nature of the radical message of God’s Incarnation through the birth, life, and ministry of his Son, Jesus Christ.


So, what is going on here?


We have a synagogue of folks gathered for their ritual hearing of God’s word and a teacher of the law explain it.


And then, just a paragraph later we see something much, much darker. Jesus began interpreting scripture in a divergent way from what they had been taught to interpret.


You see, prior to this, they had heard the scriptures be interpreted as God’s exclusive covenant with his people, a promise of deliverance from their oppressors.


And Jesus’ teaching did reveal deliverance, but not that kind.


Jesus just basically told them that God’s kingdom was being radically cracked open to breakdown the human boundaries created to separate us through race, class, gender, or really ANYONE who experienced poverty, oppression, and marginalization.


Jesus was teaching that God’s deliverance was radically inclusive! radically open! radically…beyond their wildest imagination!


God was manifesting, through Jesus, his inseparable LOVE for humanity!


You know, the LOVE that was present at creation, and in every salvific act in Biblical History.


The LOVE, infact, that Paul was teaching about in his first letter to the Corinthians. That beautiful and completely mind-blowing passage about what REAL love really is, does, and is capable of.

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”


Love, is a theological term, applied to human experiences and emotions. But English just does a downright pitiful job of capturing the complexity of this rich term. Seriously. I mean, in Greek there are four words to describe our one word for love. Paul used at least 8 ways to describe what Love Is and 8 ways it is NOT.

So if we back away from trying to pin this down to definable, explainable, and measurable data…we may.. be able to embrace this force that is quite mysterious in nature, quite lovely.


Italian Theologian, Thomas Aquinas, said Love takes up where knowledge leaves off.


And love, according to what we read this morning, is a radical, hospitable, open, and more important virtue than faith or hope.

So this letter to the Corinthians, this Gospel according to Luke, they weren’t messages intended for beginners. They were, and I would argue continue to be for us today, messages of good news, of reconciliation in the face of deep, deep, conflict.


The kind of conflict that causes separation, war, end the severing of relationship. Jesus was cracking open the covenant to all of God’s creation…and Paul was calling the Church to practice LOVE in the face of these obstacles.


That’s what we say we’re about when we call ourselves Christ-followers, that and so much more….but never hate. never rage or calling for the murdering of someone. There’s no room for that in love.


We are committed to being radically hospitable, loving, caring, accepting, and at the Table…THAT table, where we break bread and ingest the body and blood of our Lord; week after week after week. For solace and strength. For unity and new eyes to love and serve the world.


We are the hands and feet of Christ, Grace. And we have work to do in Holland, West Michigan, and beyond.

We are known to others by the way we LOVE.


So tonight, as we gather to eat and give thanks for this past year and look forward to another beautiful year of mission and ministry to the world and with each other, the people of Holland and beyond, my prayer is that we love with radically open arms, Grace. Arms that are willing to stretch out and embrace all that embodies the image of God.