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Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C
Today’s gospel story takes place in a synagogue and brings to mind the gravity of the recent hostage siege in the the Beth Israel synagogue (Colleyville, TX). Such calamities occur in houses of worship way too often.
We remember the 2015 massacre of nine worshipers during bible study inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (Charleston, SC).
Archbishop Oscar Romero was gunned down in 1980 while celebrating liturgy in the Chapel of Hospital de la Divina Providencia (San Salvador, El Salvador).
Historically speaking security breaches in sacred places are not new. In January of the year 825 Scandinavian Norsemen raided the Irish Monastery on the British Isle of Iona. They murdered the monks at the end of the liturgy.
How do we maintain hope, a feeling of safety, and a sense of our own worth as we worship in our own sacred spaces? How do we deal with the hate-filled crimes that are rampant today in our schools and streets? Where is the love of humanity? Psalm 71 for today suggests we can complain to God about our troubles and then plead for help. But is this enough?
Jeremiah the prophet (1:4-5, 17-19) needed assistance as he faced trouble in his mission to all "the nations." He preached individual repentance and community compliance to the Babylonian invasion in order to avoid total national destruction but the Israelites rejected him.
God said to Jeremiah, do not worry, I am with you all the way. It is hard to believe God is still with us when there is so much suffering in the world. The question is this: are we still walking with God?
In Luke’s gospel (4:21-30) we read that Jesus himself was rejected in the synagogue right in his home town of Nazareth. During worship he upset everyone when he spoke about caring and loving all people, even outsiders. The congregants were so outraged they tried to throw him off a nearby cliff.
Jesus did not accomplish his vision for all of humanity. He was hunted down and nailed to a cross for what he believed to be his mission — advocacy for vulnerable people. United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon wrote that “things were just fine in Nazareth … until Jesus opened his mouth.”
Life is full of imperfections but that is not all. There are joys and miracles. There is wonder and happiness. The late Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh taught mindfulness as a palliative for suffering and a formula for loving others. He claimed that happiness and suffering do go together in life but he also offered ways to endure and respond to the pain.
As an influential peace activist he believed in the importance of practicing love: “True love has the power to heal and transform any situation and bring deep meaning to our lives.”  In order to bring happiness to others, he wrote, it is essential to accept yourself, love yourself, and heal yourself.
Award-winning author Dara Horn affirmed the monk’s advice in her recent and penetrating book on the lack of respect for Jewish lives: “The freedoms we cherish are meaningless without our commitments to one another: to civil discourse, to actively educating the next generation, to welcoming strangers, to loving our neighbors. The beginning of freedom is the beginning of responsibility,” Horn wrote. 
Last week’s letter from Paul to the people of Corinth suggested how we might carry out our mission. He listed the many gifts we can use to make the world a better place. The passage today describes at length one of those gifts — the power of love. Paul stresses the importance of love in everything we do. Succinctly, “If I have faith to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13)
We can push back the blatant deprivation of human rights that has occurred over the course of human history. But because we are complex creatures, with individual opinions and goals, getting along is not easy. The result is that we become vulnerable to the weaknesses of our own making.
If we do not do something these defects will stifle and snuff out our joys, our hopes and visions not only for ourselves but more importantly for our children. History and the sacred texts of all faith traditions clearly speak to us. When we practice love toward one another, and care for one another, regardless of who we are or what our differences might be, we bring happiness into the world.
1. Thich Nhat Hanh. How to Love.” Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2015, 16.
2. Horn, Dara. People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present (Norton 2021).