Some time ago, a pastor created a huge backlash on social media when she left a note on a St. Louis Applebee's restaurant bill refusing a gratuity to a server. The patron identified herself as a pastor, scratched out the tip on the receipt and included the words, "I give God 10 percent, why should you get 18?” A friend of the server took a photo of the note adding the comment: "My mistake sir, I'm sure Jesus will pay for my rent and groceries." The pastor’s name was clearly seen on the posted receipt. The post went viral, with thousands of comments posted within hours. The pastor has since called the note on the bill a "lapse in judgment" which "brought embarrassment to her church and ministry."
Whatever you think of tipping, the comments and actions of the server, and of the Pastor, we leave in an age where our actions or words, with the slightest provocation, can go viral. Pictures meant for private viewing are shared for millions to oogle at. Microphones pick up words that politician's later regret. Jobs are lost, reputations ruined (or enhanced, depending how you look at it). Look at the huge #metoo movement which dozens of careers for right or wrong have been destroyed. Read Facebook and read how trolls and falsified and exaggerated stories abound. Telephone and security cameras capture fights, stealing, bullying, good deeds. Images and their stories, both good and bad, are daily news fodder.
What is the real truth underneath it all? We see only what the social media sites, the news channels, the stockholders, want us to see. We see dimly, because it is hard and takes integrity, to capture even the complexity of one simple story – or even one person’s life. We don’t know what was going on for the Pastor to leave the comment she did. We don’t know the server’s situation either. But we know there is more to this story. There always is. The biggest story is what if this server and pastor just met, face to face, and talked? Would it make a difference?
Our passage from Luke today is the second half of the lesson which began last week. Remember -- we called it Jesus ‘first sermon in Nazareth’ – this is the first public encounter of Jesus in the synagogue that Luke tells us about. Jesus selected a reading from Isaiah 61, which harkens back to the Law of Moses, the law of Jubilee, when rest and restoration was ordained for the land and society. God had anointed Jesus to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release of captives, recovery of sight of to the blind, let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. So in this special year, land allowed to rest, land returned to the original owners, the enslaved set free. It is a remarkable law, an impossible law, the law that has never been followed. Yet Jesus chose this humanly impossible law, and said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your midst.” Jesus asserts his ministry will be a ministry of Jubilee, a ministry of restoration, recuperation, healing and hope.
Yet the people of Jesus’ home town didn’t see this clearly. Jesus, the enactor of the Lord’s favor? Jesus, a prophet? This Jesus -- Joseph’s son, a mere carpenter? Is he deluded or what? The people of Nazareth heard the rumors on the grapevine, all the wonders Jesus performed in Capernaum. The miracles. The healings. Now that’s what they came out to see. Not this fantasy nonsense of a law that Moses was never able to enforce. Wake up Jesus. But Jesus raises the stakes. Look at the prophet Elijah, he says. There was severe famine in the land, in his day. But Elijah was sent to the widow in Sidon, a foreigner, not to Israel’s widows. Despite all the lepers in Israel, look at the Hebrew prophet Elisha, sent to cleanse the Syrian, Naaman. Another foreigner. Why?
Because God’s blessings are for all people. That’s not the image the people of Nazareth could accept. How dare Jesus insinuate they lacked faith. That their vision was dim. Limited. That Jesus could accomplish what no other prophet or politician ever had. What a tizzy Jesus created. Enraged, they drove Jesus, and planned to throw him off a cliff.
Paul tells us today in his famous passage on love that now we see dimly. In the ancient world, mirrors were made out of polished metal, and the image was always unclear and somewhat distorted. The city of Corinth was in fact famous for producing some of the best bronze mirrors in antiquity. But at their best, they couldn’t give a really clear vision. And that’s what happens with us. Our prejudices, presumptions and judgments cloud our vision. None of us have 20/20 spiritual vision. There are no glasses, no laser surgery that can give us the vision we are created to obtain someday. However, Jesus is that corrective lens that can bring our sight more in alignment with the divine vision. Through Jesus we can see more clearly, face to face, the kingdom of Love God has laid down, in the law of Jubilee, in the Law of Love in Jesus’s ministry and sacrifice on the cross. Like God sees Jeremiah – whom he has known since he was formed, knew his path before he was born. God sees clearly and seeks to correct our vision through Jesus.
Because of this, Paul uses this phrase of seeing God face to face to describe complete, unhindered fellowship with God, only accessible through the practice of love. It is not surprising that Paul’s words about seeing face to face crowns this beautiful passage on love. Because love is the polish that burnishes our lives. Love perfects how we see the world around us, to bring our sight, millimeter by millimeter, into alignment with the vision of Jesus. Love carefully polishes away the judgments we hold which get in the way of caring. Love removes the stains and dust that distorts the image of God, so that we can live as love dictates and mirror the attitudes and actions of Jesus. Seeing each other face to face chips away at presumptions we make until we can take in the whole person – just who they for, for whom they are.
This is what love does. The impossible. Love is the divine social platform, that tells the story, presents the facts, brings good news to us as God sees it. We face the impossible every day in our choices in front of us – like Jesus did. Jesus chose to see people, sinners, outcasts, up close and real. Face to Face. Jesus calls us to extend ourselves, especially when it’s hard. To see that caring transcends language, nationality, or any other barrier we can put up. Sometimes all we need to do to do is be open in the moment, and let the need arise. It is our choice. Will we push Love away, drive it out, enraged at the challenge? Will we stick to “fake news” whoever proclaims it, the titillating stories, the scandalous images that swamp us each day? Or will embrace the gospel vision, even if we see but dimly what is being revealed?
Let us do the impossible, as Jesus teaches us. Be a people of restoration. Recuperation. Bring rest to the weary. And meet each other face to face. And there, as we spend time with each other, with our neighbor, the stranger, we realize there is Jesus, his promise, a holy social media, that seeks to heal, to encourage, to upbuild, to show us what justice and peace look like, and ultimately fill us with images of gospel truth, fulfilled in our midst. Amen.