Luke 4: 21-30 hidden love
I brought some beautiful roses along with me. Here, I will hand them out to you to hold while I give the sermon. The rose…beautiful, colourful and fragrant, what does the beautiful flower remind you of? Love;
Yet, as those who are holding the rose stem would attest, on the same branch as the rose blossoms, there are sharp thorns. What do the thorns remind you of?
(holding and pointing to either rose or thorns) How could God allow this to be? How could God create such beauty together with such ugliness? Two complete opposites co-existing together, like love amid pain; commitment in danger; hope in the midst of suffering; life in the middle of death: beauty and ugliness together make up the whole that make up the rose.
As we live our lives and go through the ups and downs of hopes raised and hopes dashed; experience the joys of new life and the sorrows of death, God can seem to us to be a rose flower one moment and the next a thorn in our side. One moment God seems to pour out his love upon us, blessing us with health, hope and certainty, the next moment, it is as if we have just grabbed the stem of a rose bush and have been pierced by the thorns; trouble, fear and suffering is all we experience.
We experience the same opposites co-existing together in our Christian life. One moment we seem to be full of faith, trusting in the certainty that we are God’s baptised child, secure in his love, living in his grace and forgiveness; we praise him and give him glory. The next moment we are gripped with uncertainty, doubt and fear because we cannot break free from an oppressive sin we know God is anger about. We lose our faith because we fear his justice and retribution for our wrong doing. Our praise for God quickly turns to grumbling. One moment we love him, the next we hate him. In fact, such is our experience of God, it seems easier to hate God than to love him.
Our experience of God as either a rose or a thorn is not new, the people of Jesus time, those who were touched by the presence of Jesus, who listened to his message of salvation and followed him around, constantly struggled to come to terms with his apparent contradictive nature. One moment he was to be praised for his message of hope, his miracles of healing, and his call to life, as shown after Jesus raised a widow’s son, ‘all were filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.’
Then suddenly, it seemed as if he turned 180 degrees and was out to bring pain on these very same people who were praising him. Like a thorn on a rose, he stung their lives with words of warnings, and actions that brought danger, suffering and even death. This sudden apparent turn about by Jesus made the hearts and mouths of those who once praised him, to curse him. Once, confused after Jesus criticised the religious people around him, they turned against him saying “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us.’ They had ears, but they didn’t understand; had eyes but they couldn’t see, as Jesus often warned.
Jesus was in his home town, teaching in the synagogue, the people who came to see and hear him, ‘all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.’ Knowing Jesus personally, and hearing of the miracles he had performed in Capernaum, they gladly praised him, especially after he read the prophecy of Isaiah and declared ‘today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.‘ Jesus was their rose flower, someone who brought life, hope and a future. He was their chosen one to set them free with the Lord’s favour. Then the next moment the crowds were furious with him. As Luke records ‘They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff.’ Jesus had told them the Gentiles were the recipients of God’s grace because of their unbelief.
It is very easy for many us to continue to have a similar ‘love/hate’ relationship with God throughout our whole life. It is very easy to remain in a constant wave pattern of love or hate depending on how we experience God; a constant flipping from hearing to not hearing. God is a rose to us today, but a thorn to us tomorrow because of what happens to us. Erasmus, a theologian during Luther’s time, saddened by his sinful state said ‘[God seems] to delight in the torments of poor wretches and to be a fitter object for hate than for love.’ (Bondage of the will: 54-55) He knew God is love, yet he often experienced the sting of God’s anger against sin.
Why is this? Is it because God is bi-polo and loves us one minute and hates us the next? Or is it that our love for God is dependant on the good or bad things that happen in our lives? Or is it our sinful nature that causes us to hear but not perceive, as Jesus warns “‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.’? If only we could know this mysterious God and stop our oscillating!
Thank God we don’t have to search the mysteries of God, because it is impossible for us to know God in his hiddeness and sovereignty apart from Christ, as St Paul writes in Romans 11 ‘How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? ‘. It is impossible for us to explain and interpret why God in his majesty does what he does. The good news is that Jesus entered into our life as the light of God to show us the heart of God; to demonstrate that he does truly love us, as St John writes ‘This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.’ Apart from Jesus, we will continue to remain oscillating between faith and unbelief. Christ, his life, death on the cross for our sin and resurrection for our justification, grounds our faith and brings certainty.
Jesus says ‘I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ This simply means that like a child we listen to, and receive God for who he is in Christ Jesus, and not attempt to explore his mysterious ways apart from Christ. St Paul also encourages us not to hate God when he seems to attack us, but to look to Christ in times of confusion saying ‘in Christ are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.’
Our joy, our hope, our future, our life, especially in the midst of fear, suffering, sin and death, is the rose of God, Jesus Christ and him crucified for you. Trust yourself to Christ; be humble enough to receive as God’s guarantee the word which God speaks to you in Christ, and trust yourself to Christ on the basis of that word however dreadful God may appear to you at times.
Faith trusts that just like roses are always found among thorns, God’s love will always be found even in the midst of sin and despair. Luther once said ‘If I could by any means understand how this same God, who makes such a show of wrath and unrighteousness, and yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith. But as it is, the impossibility of understanding makes room for faith…Now, the highest degree of faith is to believe that he is merciful, though he saves so few and damns so many.’
In those times when crowds around you become furious at God, and seek to condemn and reject you because of him, take hold of Christ and together with him, walk right through the crowd untouched; trusting he is God’s love amid pain; commitment in danger; hope in the midst of suffering; life in the middle of death: beauty and ugliness that come together in Christ is that which makes up the whole of faith, that which makes up the whole of life with our rose, Jesus Christ. Amen
And the peace which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen