February 3 2019 Fourth Sunday after Epiphany


Our story today about Jesus picks up from last week when he makes such a good impression on his local church that everyone is braggin’ about him. Why couldn't Jesus have left good enough alone? Why'd he have to go irritate people by telling them God's good news isn't just for them exclusively but could even leave them out if they are not careful.

That's basically what he tells them "remember those tough times way back when God sent Elijah to minister to a widow in Sidon not Jerusalem. Elisha healed a Syrian of leprosy not an Israelite. That's how God operates."  What the folks really wanted to hear was “because you're the first in line you'll get most of God's good gifts: grace, mercy, joy, love. Franchises will be established all over the place, but the royalties will all flow right to back here. We'll all be rich because we got on the gravy train first.” That would have been a popular message but it wasn't the truth.

Jesus wasn't interested in winning a popularity contest he was interested in fulfilling God's mission for his life- to love and save all creation. While this might sound good to our ears, we all have what scripture calls itchy ears- ears that are always listening for something new, different, easier, more popular. Il Timothy chapter 4: 3-5 “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.”

There's a story I think that illustrates this well- a cast away was finally found on a deserted island and it had been nearly 2 years since anyone had seen him. When they found him, they were impressed with his survival skills and noticed that he had, not just one hut, but three huts. One of his rescuers asked him why he had built three huts so close together? "Well it was awfully lonely on the island, so I found it comforting to talk to God a lot. I drew really close to God and I had my bible, so I thought I'd build me a church- so this hut is where I lived and this is my church." The rescuer asked, "So What's the third hut for?"

"Oh," said the cast away "That's the church I used to attend."

It's so human to want what is easy and popular that even left on our own, without the confusion and chaos of culture, we wander from the truth. We set up extra more likeable popular huts!! I wonder if you've stepped back lately and taken a moment to examine what "third hut" your building in your life. I know I've always wanted to build a third hut to be my sons' best friend rather than just be their parent. But I've had to listen to the truth that my children need the singular unique gift of a caring father far more than the excess of one more friend.

Perhaps guy's your building a "third hut" of success that says, "My love for the folks closest to me is only as much as the possessions I give them" instead of the truth that the love for those closest to you is only as much as you relate to them." I've seen too many marriages falling apart because the guy is so focused on providing that third hut, that they ignore the truth that loved ones want you the person, not you the possessions. It’s not much of a response in counseling sessions when loved ones state "He doesn't listen, give attention or anything genuine" and the guy responds "Well I'm a good provider!" You might be a great provider and that might make you popular, but it won't make you loved.

Women can you think of a "third hut", I may be off but I suspect from what I see in my office that the "third hut" in our culture is the "1 can do it all," woman!- "I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you're a man." I can design a Martha Stewart home, cook a Rachel Ray meal and keep my figure from when I was 18. That's some "third hut" when the truth is guys don't need a company girl that can do it all but a girl that is willing to be their companion.

Jesus could have succumbed to the dreams, expectations, threats and innuendos that his immediate culture, his hometown, his friends, family and neighbors thrust upon him. Yet he did not, even when this message to conform and give in was delivered with the threat of physical violence. He stayed the course because he knew the truth- God's love isn't for the perfect or for those with the most possessions, or the one with the most family connections- God's love is for all who have sinned and gone astray and want to come home.

Jesus knew this truth, preached this truth, lived this truth and as he proclaimed: "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. " John 8:31-32. All who believe in God's truth are free from the popularity contests and the unnecessary survival techniques of building "third huts." God loves you for who you are, as you are, and offers you the truth to set you free to love and live with health and wholeness, purpose and meaning.

Knowing God's truth prevents our "itchy ears" from confusing: popularity with quality of life, being liked as a substitute for doing right, what sells for what makes us well. When we have the truth, we are freed to pursue our creator's purpose for our life with confidence and gusto. Just as Jesus walked away from the crowd unconcerned about his popularity yet wholly consumed with his mission.

(Hold up bible) Some time ago the folks that publish the "top selling books lists" decided to drop this book out of the list because it was perennially up there on the list. It took up space that another lesser known, newer, shinier, book could use. I'm okay with that because this is God's word, this book isn't about a popularity contest. It doesn't matter if it sells 5 million or 5 its still truth and it still sets free.

May you be confident in God's love, grounded in the content of God's truth so that you may walk in God's truth and light and love. Amen.