The Gospel that hurts

sermon audio “The Gospel that hurts” by Martin Malina

The Epiphany won’t let us go without challenging us. This Gospel text should come with a warning label attached to it: Read at your own risk! It offers little by way of the warm fuzzies. There is confrontation. Baiting dialogue. There is even violence. Jesus is rejected by his hometown.[1]

But there is a nugget, or two, almost hidden from view. It is deep inside this text if we are willing to work for it. Dig it out. And that work is just like any good physical work-out will leave you feeling, with achy muscles. It is the Gospel that hurts.

The story is told about Michelangelo, the famous artist, painter and sculpter. He’d go to these huge quarries where he instructed the masons to cut out a gigantic piece of marble and roll it back to his workshop. There he’d spend a couple of years chipping away at it. He’d cut all kinds of things from those stones: People, horses, kings.

He’d bang away with a huge hammer and chisel, taking off large chunks. Then he’d come back with a smaller hammer, smaller chisel, maybe a file, then some sandpaper, and finally a damp, velvet cloth.

Admirers used to ask him, “How did you create that out of a chunk of rock?” He’d shake his head and say, “I didn’t. It was there all along. I just let it out.”

Inside of us is good just waiting to jump out, to be released. The hammer and chisel will hurt. It does. It’s painful to grow. We wish life didn’t have to work that way. But remember, the velvet cloth isn’t far behind.[2]

Jesus mentions the story of Naaman. [3] Here is the nugget in the text I found. It’s worth re-reading the orginal story in full, from 2 Kings 5. Naaman, like the Nazarenes reacting to Jesus, was incensed at what was asked of him and proposed to him, in terms of his salvation, his healing. 

Naaman was ready to reject the prophet’s instruction for his healing. But thank God for Naaman’s servants. His servants speak truth: “If you were commanded to do something difficult would you not have done it for your healing?”And all that was asked of him was to wash in the Jordan River.[4]Naaman’s expectations had to be pealed away from him to accept the truth, accept the simple truth. Not easy, but simple. And he was healed.

We are nearing the end days of the pandemic. Yet it doesn’t feel like the end is in sight. We may feel very guarded in our hope. Planning ahead, and anticipating how this pandemic will pan-out seems daunting, confounding and overwhelming. It’s hard to look forward to anything. To have hope. The only thing we have, right now and in the end, is the present moment. With ourselves.

And that relationship is harder than we think to navigate. Simple is not easy. And that journey, in truth, hurts sometimes. We would rather avoid that journey and place all our proverbial eggs in the external baskets of life. What’s out there. But only doing that and we miss something precious. And central to the Gospel:

Inside of us is a light. Inside each one of us is something good, of God—yes—something worth releasing to the world. To believe that right now, in the midst of everything, means everything and makes all the difference. 

2022 sunrise over the town of Arnprior (photo by Martin Malina)

Wherever you are, the light inside you—it may be small, it may be barely flickering, it may be gasping for oxygen—that light never burns out. The light inside is just rising, in fact, gaining strength. And the pathway forward is this simple awareness and acceptance. You are loved.

In the end, the Gospel that hurts is an invitation for us to grow into who we are, to embrace who we are from the inside out, and deepen our faith in the communion of all the saints in Christ. May this Epiphany season be for us a time to respond positively to that invitation.

[1] Luke 4:21-30

[2] The story is told by Charles Martin, Chasing Fireflies: A Novel of Discovery (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007) p.234-235

[3] 2 Kings 5:1-19

[4] Ibid. verse 13

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