Keep on believing in something even if it means sacrificing everything (Jeremiah 1:4-10) (1 Corinthians 13:1-13) (Luke 4:21-30)
For the next 5 weeks starting today until the beginning of the season of Lent, we will explore the Gospel of Luke and reflect on some life principles that conform to the way of Christ. I hope and pray that our journey may be fruitful as the Holy Spirit empowers us to keep on following the Jesus way of life.
You might have heard his name several times since 2016, Colin Kaepernick, a football player who was once a quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers. He has become renowned and influential for his political activism. What he did was to kneel during the playing of the national anthem prior to NFL games. And he did it as a protest against racial injustice going on in the country. He says, he wanted to raise awareness of racism, social injustice and police brutality against “black people and people of color.” His action immediately set social media ablaze with debates. He was praised by some and denounced by others. And he hasn’t been signed by any teams since then. Last September, Nike made an advertisement campaign around Kaepernick. “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” he says in that ad. And no doubt, it sparked another flood of reactions from different sides of people.
Today, as a preacher, I am not here to tell you if Kaepernick is politically right or wrong, nor about Nike’s marketing strategies. But I’m here today to ask you to think about his belief—not the contents of his belief but its quality, its intensity. His belief must be so strong that it led him to act boldly even if he ended up losing his career. Have we ever had such strong belief in something and acted on it like him? Have we ever believed in something so firmly, even if it means sacrificing important things in our lives? We are Christians. It means that we are believers, the believers of Jesus Christ. But have we ever sacrificed something in our life because of our belief?
If we read today’s Gospel story closely, we see Jesus uphold his belief in something, even if it offends the people big time, and the people almost throw him off a cliff. Here, we shouldn’t miss that these violent people are not strangers to Jesus; they are people in Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown. They are neighbors of Joseph and Mary. Even so, they try to kill him! What’s going on? Earlier on the same day, Jesus preached at the synagogue. He was center-stage reading a beautiful passage from the prophet Isaiah and the people got impressed by his gracious words. They talked to one another, “Wasn’t this Joseph’s boy? The carpenter’s kid with the iffy birth story? Who would have imagined he’d grow up to become a healer! A preacher! A miracle worker!”Now, the hometown people assume, if their boy, Jesus, was willing to perform miracles to perfect strangers in other places, he would do a hundredfold back at home to his friends and neighbors.
But soon, their hope turns into frustration and their delight gives way to anger. From Jesus, the townspeople expect an answer like, “Sure, you got it!” But instead, Jesus tells them about the stories of God taking care of the outsider, the foreigner, the stranger. Jesus says, God sent Elijah to take care of the widow at Zarephath—not the widows of Israel. And Elisha healed Naaman the Syrian—not the numerous lepers in Israel. What does he mean by telling these stories? Here, Jesus makes a clear point to the people. “You have no priority to receive the good news from me. God’s love must reach beyond hometown walls, beyond homeland borders, and for this, I came to the world—to break down the walls. So, don’t take me for granted just because I was born among you. Don’t think you are the only chosen people. God saves whomever believes in me.” That’s it. And people get infuriated and try to shove him off the cliff.
In this story, I think, Jesus shows us the way of belief. And on this way of belief, Jesus teaches us, we may endure sacrifices and risks; we may upset some people and not be welcomed like before. “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” Indeed, this ad slogan well fits Jesus’ message for us today. But here, the question is, what is that “something”? As the followers of Jesus Christ, what do we believe in spite of sacrifices? I understand, even though we all are Christians, we may hold different propositions of belief. Our life experiences and cultural backgrounds are different. But there is one essential belief, which can’t be diverted. And without this belief, we can’t be even called Christians. What is this belief? This is our belief in love, in God’s unconditional love for us.
Because of his belief in God’s boundary-crossing love, Jesus was threatened to death. And because of his belief in God’s unconditional love for us, later, Jesus even sacrificed his own life on the cross. Following Jesus, many faithful Christians in history believed in God’s love, even if it meant sacrificing everything. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. firmly believed in God’s love that overcomes any walls of discrimination, even if it meant sacrificing his life. Our belief in the power of love…without this belief, we are nothing. In his Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul wrote these unforgettable words on love, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-2).
Now, sisters and brothers in Christ, do we believe in God’s love firmly and act on this belief even if it comes with hardships and difficulties in life? I know, sacrificing everything sounds too much to us. But can we at least give up our convenience, our safety, our comfort, our ego, our will, our pride, for our belief in God’s love? Look around the landscape of our life in this country. Can you see the wall of hatred, bigotry, and division? Can you see the swamp of anger, depression, and hopelessness? Can you see the wild fire of violence, injustice, and oppression? Can you see the shadow of selfish desire, greed, and materialism? Here, do you really believe that the power of love can change something now? We shall say, “yes,” to this question with no hesitation. The Christian answer to all the questions from the world shall be love. Without this Christ’s love, we are nothing. So, let’s proclaim together following Paul, “I believe in love that is patient and kind; that is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. I believe in love that does not insist on its own way; that is not irritable or resentful. I believe in love that does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. And I believe, this love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. And this love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). I pray, we keep on believing in this love, even if it means sacrificing everything. Amen.
Debie Thomas, “Leaving Home,” The Journey with Jesus (accessed January 31, 2019: https://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/2067-leaving-home).