God calls us to stretch our hearts to include all those God loves, says McLaren


In this election season, what if a presidential candidate proclaimed that Black Lives Matter and exploded the myth of American exceptionalism and talked about American history in full, the bad and ugly as well as the good and noble?

The Rev. Brian D. McLaren posed that question in his 10:45 a.m. EDT sermon for the Sunday, Aug. 16, service of worship and sermon on the CHQ Video Assembly Platform. His sermon title was “Dismantling Supremacy,” and the scripture text was Luke 4:22-30 (NRSV) —

“All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.”’ And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”

McLaren called this scripture “a dramatic moment that few notice.” It is preceded by two stories. The first is about Jesus’ time in the wilderness fighting power, pride, pleasure and prestige. The second is the shortest sermon of all time, reading from the prophet Isaiah and telling the crowd that this prophecy was fulfilled.

“Instead of seeing today’s text as a postscript, what if we read the other two stories as warm-up acts for this climactic story?” McLaren asked the congregation.

This is a “local boy makes good” story. But Jesus, in telling about the work of Elijah and Elisha, is saying that Sidonian and Syrian lives matter. “God’s aperture is wider, God’s embrace more expansive than others,” McLaren said.

For his book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, The Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road?, about Christian identity in a multi-faith world, McLaren researched terrorism. He came across a story by a journalist embedded with a group of suicide bombers.

“The research made me shiver, because these people were not filled with hate for the other, but with love for their own people who were wronged and suffering. The act was not out of fury for the other, but protection for their own,” McLaren said.

He continued, “Love can be dangerous if its span is too narrow, if it is too restricted. Jesus dealt with this problem at the very beginning of his ministry. He was not here for the good of his own religion or economy. He brought God’s good news for all people.”

McLaren asked his daughter, a yoga instructor, to build a class for him that would deal with his bodily limitations.

“It hurt, but yoga is about stretching. What we don’t stretch, constricts. It happens with our hearts. If we don’t widen our embrace, our hand too easily becomes a fist,” he said.

He told the congregation that “we have to have the courage to do what Jesus did and to speak up for those being left out and adding our voice to their voices. In fact, we add our voices to God’s voice to say ‘these lives matter.’”

Don’t think you will get a “thank you” or a Nobel Prize, McLaren continued. “People will see blood and believe that you have betrayed an unwritten covenant.”

That covenant is “love us and remember who your enemies are. We are not like them and if you love them like equals, you are more dangerous than our enemies,” he said.

Every election season, there are politicians and their chaplains who hold up ideals to provide easy patriotism, cheap popularity and tell voters who to hate and who to exclude.

“We need to take from Jesus God’s love that goes beyond us and them, that is not constrained, that is not discriminatory, that is not based on worthiness, but on the well of who God is,” McLaren said.

Jesus’ revolutionary blood includes those from Sidon, Israel and Syria. “Jesus eats with those who don’t matter, heals those who don’t matter, listens to those who don’t matter and lets them touch him. They really do matter,” he said.

McLaren asked the congregation, “When your love gets shrunk, can you stretch beyond those who are like you, who think like you? Can you stretch beyond to the animal world, to the world of lakes and soil and climate?”

“Love-driven politics is disruptive and dangerous. You could get thrown off a cliff. Now go and do likewise,” he concluded.  

The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, vice president for religion and senior pastor of Chautauqua Institution, presided from the Hall of Christ. Joshua Stafford, interim organist for Chautauqua Institution, played the Tallman Tracker Organ. Michael Miller, a Chautauqua Opera Apprentice Artist, served as vocal soloist. The organ prelude, performed by Stafford, was “Inning” from Six Studies for Pedal Piano by Robert Schumann. Miller sang the gathering hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” The anthem was “For the Mountains Shall Depart,” fromElijah,” by Felix Mendelssohn, sung by Miller. The offertory hymn was “Tell Out, My Soul,” by Walter Greatorex, words by Timothy Dudley-Smith, and sung by Miller. “A Song of Freedom,” by Charles Villiers Stanford, was the offertory anthem with Miller as the soloist. Miller sang the choral response. “Lead me, Lord,” by S.S. Wesley. Stafford played “Toccata in D Minor,” by Charles Villiers Stanford, for the postlude. This program is made possible by the Edmond E. Robb – Walter C. Shaw Fund and the Randall-Hall Memorial Chaplaincy.

Today’s offertory anthem, “A Song of Freedom,” comes from the “Six Bible Songs and Hymns” of Charles Villiers Stanford. These pieces expand on the idea of Dvorák’s “Biblical Songs,” from which we heard a setting of Psalms 61 and 63 two weeks ago. With Stanford’s more elaborate scale, gesture and colorful organ accompaniments, these pieces suggest more of a miniature cantata than a simple Bible song. This setting of Psalm 126 tells of the Israelites’ return out of captivity, praying for and prophesying future prosperity. This morning, Stafford also played Felix Mendelssohn’s beautiful setting of “For the mountains shall depart” from the oratorio “Elijah,” to which Stanford had a peculiar connection: His father sang the role of Elijah at it’s Irish premiere in 1847.

Tags : American ExceptionalismBlack Live MatterBrian D. McLarenDismantling SupremacyElijahElishaIsraelmorning worshipMosesreligionSidonSyriathe Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road?Why Did Jesus

The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.