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4 Epiphany - 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30

If you want to understand a story in Luke, read the story right next to it.

Luke is a literary sommelier, pairing stories to bring out the rich flavors in each.

So Elizabeth's pregnancy is coupled with Mary's; the so-called good Samaritan is immediately followed by busy Martha and studious Mary; and you will hear more marvelous pairings throughout this year of Luke's gospel, which itself is paired with the book of Acts.

To see this synagogue episode in a fuller light, consider the story just before it.

Jesus is alone, tempted in the wilderness.

Satan tests him and then departs until an opportune time: the next story.

Now Jesus is home, tempted in the synagogue.

Years after writing The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis revived his title character to give a speech at the Tempter's Training College for young devils.

Seasoned old Screwtape shared this demonic wisdom with his hearers:

All said and done, my friends, it will be an ill day for us if what most humans mean by "religion" ever vanishes from the Earth.

It can still send us the truly delicious sins.

The fine flower of unholiness can grow only in the close neighbourhood of the Holy.

Nowhere do we tempt so successfully as on the very steps of the altar.

The wilderness didn't snare Jesus, so the tempter tries worship.

In the first story, there were three temptations: turn stones to bread, exchange worship for political power, throw yourself down from the temple to prove you are the Son of God.

Immediate comfort, total control, spiritual certainty: Jesus sidestepped all three.

Now, in this second story, come three new traps.

Doctor, cure yourself, or, as we often spin this lie, Charity begins at home.

One sentence into his sermon, the crowd is buzzing with supportive excitement; he has them in the palm of his hand.

He has the beginning of a following, a community ready to invest in him: he has power to write his own ticket if he keeps the truth to himself.

The tingling ears are already pulling him into their rabbit hole of entitlement: Do here in your hometown...we're your people, your posse, your friends, remember where you came from.

We deserve special treatment doesn't matter why, it's a lie.

You can be family.

You can be God's chosen people.

You can attend worship every week.

You can be better than everyone else in the room and able to prove it.

You can have more money, more prestige, more likes, more followers, more achievement, more of whatever it is you like to use to measure success.

Jesus is not tempted by entitlement, or connections, or convenience because God doesn't care.

God doesn't care about your claims because God cares about you and about others just as

much as you, so members don't get special treatment and big donors don't matter any more than anyone else.

This sounds okay in theory until God starts behaving like it's actually true.

Plenty of widows and lepers at home, in the family, got bypassed as the prophets moved to enemy territory to heal foreigners.

Plenty of dollars in the annual budget are ticketed to mission support, helping people and funding programs from which Shepherd of the Valley will never benefit.

We won't get new members or special services; we're giving without getting because the church, the community of Jesus, does not exist for itself.

We are not here to bring in people with money; we are here to send people out with love.

And Paul lists all kinds of characteristics of love that sound both noble and naive.

Impractical, unrealistic, maybe even stupid.

But first, before he gets to that list, he names three Corinthian community core values and exposes them as temptations.

The people of Corinth prized rhetorical eloquence, extensive knowledge, and public generosity, Paul takes each to its glorious extreme and names them noise, nothing, and more nothing if they do not have love, which rubs against all our instincts and sensibilities.

When was the last time you sat back and reflected, America is patient?

California is kind; social media is not envious or boastful or rude.

Success does not insist on its own way; stars are not irritable or resentful; politicians never rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoice in the truth, just like those good folks in Nazareth.

Our patient, kind, thoughtful, tender society, mindful that this brief pandemic is barely half of the famine in Elijah's time, bears all things, trusts all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

It all sounds so sweet and romantic and utterly unrealistic.

Yet love is what's standing at the end.

Every time we throw it off a cliff or into a grave, love escapes and survives, and we will not.

Our idols of money and property and power and security and reputation will all be left behind for others to fight over as we go empty handed into the darkness.

Then we will see face to face.

Then we will know fully, even as [we are] fully known.

Then all the distractions, temptations, ego delusions, and clever lies will be gone.

And all we will have is hope, and trust, and the crazy, impossible, beautiful, misunderstood, abandoned, betrayed, denied, tortured, crucified Love, who sees every last hungry, leprous, desperate, selfish one of us face to face, and knows it all ... and smiles, and saves us.

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