June 26, 2022
• Rev. Nicole Caldwell-Gross
Well Church. This is it. After approximately 4 years, 48 months, 208 weeks, 1,408 days and 2,102,408 minutes I have come to my last Sunday as a pastor at St.Luke’s. And I am going to miss this place. I’m going to miss the crescendo of praise floating over the chapel as the worship team sings. I’m going to miss the dodging of volunteers at Java joes as I take another cup of coffee on an IOU basis.I’m going to miss the swarm of volunteers in their serving shirts shipping out across the the city to make a difference. I’m going to miss trucks of supplies being loaded for refugees, or school supplies or diapers. I’m going to miss The donuts and chocolate, the sprinkled and the icing covered. I’m going to miss so many things about this amazing church but there is one thing I won’t miss at all: the lies. The deception. The outright misinformation that pastor jevon has given you about me in a number of sermons.
No I won’t miss that and I’m here today, to speak truth to power, and to set the record straight once and for all!
First of all:
I am not obsessed with purses. I am simply a follower of Jesus who of all the options available came to us as a carpenter- a creator of fine craftsmanship. I can’t help it if I too admire well made things that are made in France and come in a gold and brown box. You see? He’s just a liar!
Second: I did not lose my wedding ring on our honeymoon in Florence. I just wanted to add to the architecture! How many people other than Michelangelo, da Vinci or me can say that have a rock with their named engraved in it on Florence? You see? Lies More lies!
But last of all and pertinent to our sermon today: I did not stalk him nor was I obsessed with him. That’s not how it happened. In fact I told jevon I was not looking for a relationship.
And for weeks we talked everyday and every night, but I was clear on what this had no possibility of being. Until one night I got a series of texts from all my girlfriends saying get Online. You know the guy that’s not your boyfriend but claimed he wanted to be? He just changed his status on Facebook to: in a relationship.
Clutch your pearls ladies because I was shocked. I thought this was the proof as to why a relationship is was not a good idea. He’d found someone else and I’ve dodged a bullet. But then he called, this man in a relationship with someone else was still calling me! Again- who was stalking who? I pick up ask-so, who are you in a relationship with?
To which he replied, YOU! I’m in a relationship with you! You don’t have your change your status, you can make any decision you want but I am not going anywhere and I am with you!
Now why am I sharing that with you today? Is it because it’s my last Sunday, he’s not mic’d and I’ve been pettily planning this for months- of course. But that’s not the only reason.
I share this with you because I hope I can help someone whose been living in poverty. No, not the kind of poverty that we typically think of. You know, a lack of material needs like housing, food, clothing or health care. No, today I’m talking about spiritual poverty.
This kind of poverty you can’t see on the surface but is just as insidious, just as destructive and just as dangerous. Spiritual poverty: poverty is not just about limited material resources but limited mindsets.
Spiritual poverty was happening in my life when I I met I couldn’t see what could have been all those years ago when I met jevon but it’s also what’s happening in our text today. In Luke 4 we interrupt Jesus in one of his most well known moments in scripture. Jesus strides into a synagogue in Nazareth, he takes down the holy scripture or Torah and turns to the prophet Isaiah saying:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus then rolls up this scroll and boldly announces: today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”.
Now, forgive me but when I read this text, I imagine the scene a little differently. Jesus speaks but he has Morgan freeman’s voice. A soundtrack of suspenseful music swells as he reads. The lighting lowers lighting until only the light of his face can be seen. And I see the people- bowing down in adoration, tears streaming from their faces, deep throated hallelujahs and praise Gods escaping from their lips. After all these people have been praying for centuries for a messiah to come. They’d seen their temple destroyed. Their families exiled and even their children killed. But now, the messiah is standing right in front of their faces, so close that they could reach out and touch him and they…they.. miss it.
There’s no hallelujah. There’s no praise God. Instead, the people look at God made flesh and say, “isn’t that Joseph’s son?”
They don’t see a messiah they miss it and see the mundane.
They don’t see God’s anointed they miss it and see a carpenter’s son.
They don’t see the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God they miss it and see someone ordinary.
Because when we’re living in spiritual poverty the first thing we miss is the possibility of God.
Spiritual poverty dims our vision to only see what has been, instead of what is possible with the presence of God. You see, there is no other time in all of scripture where Jesus so clearly and unequivocally says “hey look at me! I’m the messiah!” In fact, in most scriptures he’s telling the disciples or those he has healed to keep any revelation of who he is to themselves.
But here, God isn’t playing hard to get. Like Jevon, Jesus publicly changes God’s relationship status with humanity and says clearly- I am with you. But they miss it!
Jesus is standing right in front of them but they still can’t see what is is possible with God. And sometimes- we can’t either.
If we’re honest, really honest- we can admit that we can sink into spiritual poverty too. We can look at people and see their problems but not their possibility. We can look at places, neighborhood and communities and see their lack but not their potential.
And yet, This text is God’s reminder to look beneath the surface so that we don’t miss the move that God is making!
Touch your neighbor and say don’t miss it! Don’t miss it!
But that’s not all this text teaches us. We learn that Spiritual poverty not only makes it difficult to see the possibility of God, but spiritual poverty makes it difficult to see that God is where we are because of where we are. The people of Nazareth reject Jesus as the fulfillment of these scriptures not because they know scripture but because they know Nazareth.
They know that Nazareth is not a place where prophets, saviors and messiahs are born. Nazareth is what one biblical scholars calls a “one camel town’. It was home to less than 300 Jews who were primarily illiterate farmers and tradespeople. The reputation of this village was so inconsequential, so unimportant that when Philip invited Nathaniel to meet Jesus assured that he was the messiah, Nathaniel famously quipped, “can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Now, most sermons and commentary I’ve read in this scripture suggests that these people
rejected Jesus because he was too familiar, a neighbor, someone they saw grow up and so they couldn’t see the God in him.
But I’d argue that that it’s not that they couldn’t see the God in him, but that they couldn’t see the God in themselves!
They were so spiritually impoverished that when they looked at where were from- the dirt paved roads, the crude houses made of mud- they missed that God would choose to be right where they are. The people of Nazareth rejected Jesus because deep down they rejected themselves.
And they’re not the only. There are people sitting here today, people watching online that have never been to Nazareth physically but you’re right there spiritually. You think you’re too insignificant, your path to ordinary, your pedigree too unremarkable for God to want to be where you are.
But if you remember nothing else today remember this: God is wherever you are. You may be from a place that’s been written off, a place that’s been written up or a people whose name no one knows. You may be from a family that’s well known or one that’s known for all the wrong reasons. But God wants to be where you are. God wants to be in the mundane, ordinary, unfiltered places of your life.
Somebody say, God is here!
God is here!
Hod is here!
Why do I know that?
Because you are. You are. You are here and wherever you’ve been, wherever you are, wherever you’re going, Jesus wants to be where you are.
And knowing that, saying that. Believing that today is the key to overcoming spiritual poverty. Because spiritual poverty tells us two lies: that nothing more is possible and God is not right where we are. And when we accept that lie we also accept limits.
We know -that throughout Jesus’ ministry He performed miracles for Jews and gentiles, on boats and dry land, for men and for women, for children and adults, rich and poor. In other words, there was simply no context where Jesus was unwilling to go and make an impact in the lives of people. And yet, here in Nazareth, jesus is recorded as saying mark 6, “that he could do no miracles there.” So what’s the difference? What’s so incompatible between Jesus and these people?
The only difference between the people of Nazareth and the people Jesus healed, resurrected and transformed were limits. Because the final and most tragic consequence of spiritual poverty is that it confines God’s power to our limitations.
Let me see if I can make this more plain. Don’t ever go out to dinner with jevon. Also, check on me next week, I hope I’m still married. But even if I’m not, I’m trying to help somebody today- don’t got to dinner with Jevon . First, you may end up as a sermon illustration. I’m leaving, a vacuum has been created and your next embarrassing moment could be his next “slice of life” on Sunday morning.
But the most important reason you need to avoid dinner with him is the ordering process itself. In the Caldwell-Gross household we love good food, and we especially love prix fixe menus- you know the ones- where you get to sample the best of a restaurant’s menu. And most prix fixe menus have 3-4 courses, an appetizer, entrée, dessert but they also have printed in bold lettering at the end of the menu :no substitutions.
Now most diners, patrons, humans that have ever been anywhere or who care not to embarrass their wife know what this means. It means jevon, that the menu is fixed and that other items cannot be replaced. It means Jevon that there is a hard and fast limit to what is being served.
And yet, somebody say- and yet- and yet, no matter where we go, no matter what style the cuisine, no matter how hard I kick him under the table- jevon always, always sees no substitutions as a recommendation rather than a rule.
I’ll just ask he’ll say.
You never know- he says.
They know me here, he’ll say and then proceed to attempt to charm the waiter or waitress into letting him move beyond the limit that their restaurant has set!
And worst of all- it usually works!
You see, For jevon the limits to what can be served are not predetermined.
There may be more. It could be better than this-you never know. And so he always anticipates that if he just asks, seeks or inquires there are no limits to what is available. And I don’t know who I’m preaching to today but I’m not talking about menus this morning I’m talking about miracles.
Spiritual poverty confines us to a limited menu of what God can do, where god can do it and who God can do it with. It limits us to a life where are substitutions are not allowed. Where miracles are myths and nothing greater, nothing different, nothing better is possible.
But on this, my last Sunday at St.Luke’s, I’ve come to testify that there is More on the menu. More hope is being served. More love is available. More joy is an option. More grace is on the table.
How do I know? I’ve seen up close and personal the more that Jesus can do.
When I came here we were serving 1000 children through back to school Extravaganza now we serve more than 4000 on two continents
When I came here we were serving 20 to 30 families through benevolence but now we are serving more than 150
When I came here we served 300 meals on Thanksgiving day but now we are serving more than 750
When I came here we were looking to be a diverse church now we are becoming an anti racist and fully inclusive church with more than 1,000 trained people in how to fight racism
When I came here we gave resources to partners who provided summer camps now we are doing more by hosting our own freedom school with 100 scholars and 180 volunteers
St.Luke’s it has been a blessing to serve you for four years but the greatest blessing has been witnessing the more miraculous, more impactful, more relational, more justice seeking work that Jesus can do when we see him, when we serve him where we are and when we take the limits off.
May you overcome spiritual poverty today and everyday as you inherit the most valuable asset in all of creation: the hope of Jesus Christ.
For the unsearchable riches of Christ!
Wealth that can never be told;
Riches exhaustless- mercy and grace,
Precious, more precious than gold!
Let us pray.