3 February 2019
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Church
Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 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.
This Gospel selection from Luke is a continuation of
Last Sunday’s illustrative narrative
Of Jesus returning to his hometown of Nazareth,
Attending Synagogue on the Sabbath
And reading from the Isaiah scroll.
Selections from chapters sixty-one and fifty-eight.
“The Spirit of the Lord was upon me,” Jesus announced. (4:18)
The Holy Spirit was upon him, just as it had come to the Virgin Mary.
It was the same Holy Spirit that acted and spoke at the baptism of Jesus.
And it was the same Spirit that drove Jesus into the wilderness to face temptation.
Luke reports that Jesus begins his ministry
by returning to the region of Galilee,
filled with the power of the Spirit,
Teaching throughout the area
In the numerous small towns and villages.
The presence, power, and action of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus
Is prominently displayed in the Gospel of Luke
And becomes a defining characteristic of the Church that would follow.
Where there is Church there is Spirit.
No Spirit? No Church.
Like a good Jewish, young rabbi,
Jesus reads aloud from one of the beloved Hebrew Prophets: Isaiah.
It was a people’s favorite.
You or I might be intimidated by going back to our hometown to preach.
Family, relatives, neighbors – they can all be the worst critics.
Pulling the Isaiah scroll was a good call on Jesus’ part.
Who doesn’t like to hear the pronouncement of
The forgiveness of debts,
Justice for the oppressed, and
Healing for the sick?
Who wouldn’t want to hear this proclamation from Isaiah
Especially if you felt you were the victims of poverty, injustice, or ill health?
Apparently Jesus’ one sentence sermon went over pretty well
Because when he said
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (4:21)
Luke reports that “All spoke well of him
And were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” (4:22)
I’m guessing people weren’t pleased with the brevity of Jesus,
Though some might have been happy because they had a roast in the oven
Or they wanted to get into the restaurant before the lunch crowd.
My guess is that they viewed themselves
As victims, not the perpetrators,
As the exploited, not the oppressors,
As those who had been harmed, not the ones causing suffering.
It is precisely at this moment that the wheels fall off
And Jesus nearly veers off a cliff.
Light turns to darkness.
Acceptance is replaced with rejection.
What goes wrong? We are left to question.
Where is the Good News in a crowd rejecting Jesus,
Turning homicidal, and
Attempting to throw him off a cliff?
What are we to learn
And how can we apply what we learn
To our lives today?
A few thoughts.
1. The back of the sanctuary conversation
Turned on a light bulb for the hometown congregation
Of family, friends, and neighbors.
One (obviously distant) neighbor says
Hey! “is not this Joseph’s son?” (4:22)
It would be a mistake to read this
as if the questioner was filled with astonishment.
This isn’t confirmation of a hometown boy making good.
“Is not this Joseph’s son?” should be read dismissively,
With a dash of sarcasm and
A pinch of privilege.
“Is not this Joseph’s son?” someone sneers.
What lifts the veil is our Lord’s response to the people:
“And you will say ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” (4:23)
In other words
From Jesus’ point of view
The people thought they were better than everyone else.
‘We’re as good as anyone else,’ was the sentiment of the congregation.
‘Actually, we’re better than everyone else.
Treat us with deferential entitlement.’
The people were turned completely upside down
When they realized that Jesus came to their synagogue
As the fulfillment of prophecy.
He wasn’t there to make friends.
Yes, Joseph was his father.
But also, yes, God was his heavenly Father,
Which they failed to grasp.
The presence of Jesus was bringing divine condemnation upon them
For their privileged entitlements
At the expense of the poor, the oppressed, and the broken.
None of us like getting blindsided by Jesus,
Of having our system of beliefs completely pulled out from underneath us,
Of having our faith completely turned upside down,
Exposing all of our hypocrisy and sin
For the whole world to see.
If Jesus only taught in the abstract
And only brought judgment upon others.
Today, Jesus gets personal.
The people of Nazareth respond by rejecting Jesus and his message outright.
This begs us to ask the question of ourselves
When do I feel most confronted by Jesus?
What areas of the Good News do I reject completely?
What turns my faith into a rage of anger?
Is it the fact that we’ve hurt others, oppressed others, taken advantage of others?
How have we allowed this to happen?
What can we do to correct it?
Are we most uncomfortable when Jesus challenges our privilege,
Our entitlement, which we too frequently and conveniently deny?
Is it the fact that Jesus reveals each of us as flawed and broken?
Because he came to bring Good News and judgment,
Redemption and forgiveness.
Is it the fact that Jesus exposes our hypocrisy?
Out of one side of our mouths we agree with
“Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you,”
Yet, out of the other side of our mouths we say
“Jesus didn’t live in the real world.
We have to arm ourselves to the teeth
And protect what we’ve got.”
The kettle begins to boil.
Perhaps that’s the point:
That which we reject
Deserves our deepest attention.
The Good News bites,
It kicks more than Tabasco.
Jesus turns the world upside down,
Igniting the flames of a new revolutionary world order,
Where the last become first
And the first become last.
We don’t like it anymore than the people of Nazareth did.
Pay attention to when the Gospel of Jesus is most revolutionary in your life and faith journey.
Instead of dismissing Jesus and throwing him off a cliff,
Dig deeper and examine how the Gospel’s bite
is an opportunity for spiritual growth.
2. Jesus pokes the hornet’s nest
When he probably could have left well enough alone
And slipped out the back door.
“The truth is,” Jesus lays down the gauntlet,
Elijah wasn’t sent to the chosen Hebrew widows.
God sent Elijah to Gentile widows.
Elisha wasn’t sent by God to the Israelite victims of leprosy.
God sent Elisha instead to heal Naaman, the Syrian.
In other words,
The Jewish Nazarenes probably heard Jesus say to them,
When compared to everybody else,
You’re not that special.
Yes, they’re precious and near perfect as a created children of God,
But their covenantal monopoly has just been broken.
They were unprepared and unable to hear
The exclusive covenant between the Lord and the descendents of Abraham
Was getting a messianic upgrade.
God was doing a new thing.
The age of the prophets had wound down
And the messianic age was dawning.
Jesus had come to save the world.
The whole world.
Jews and Gentiles alike.
Losing out on an exclusive contract hurts.
Consider, for a moment, how this might relate to you and me.
Do we ever find ourselves desiring the attention of someone special
Only to have them turn their attention elsewhere?
When others receive a blessing that we feel should have been ours?
Do we curse because we felt it was undeserved or given at our expense?
Allow me to use the Gospel to disrupt our world view for a moment.
How do we feel about the alien at our door?
This is my house, my land, my country.
Why should the bounty of our community
Be extended to people from different lands?
How do we feel about those on public assistance, Medicaid, disability?
I work hard to pay taxes,
Why shouldn’t everyone else?
Jesus comes to save the world,
Not just the descendents of Abraham.
Allow me to churn your faith a bit,
How does it make us feel about God’s grace?
When God extends grace to others,
Are there times we react with jealousy?
When God reaches out with mercy and love to people who are different than we are,
Do we experience a twinge of “Hey, when do I get my share?”
Does God’s grace cause us to become resentful?
Consider our less-than-lovely responses to God’s grace towards others
As a wake up alarm,
As a moment of epiphany,
A time when God breaks in and makes himself manifest, present, and active in our world.
Wake up when those internal alarm bells begin to ring,
For God is present and demands our attention.
Be intentional about self-awareness!
Listen for God to speak Good News!
Consider these moments as an epiphany
As an opportunity for us to drink God in, grow in faith, and
To draw closer and learn more about Jesus Christ,
And to journey further along the way.
3. Add these two dynamics together
And you’ve got yourself some homicidal hometown heroes.
Having walked up this precipice outside of Nazareth numerous times myself
I can’t help but wonder how Jesus was able to
Pass “through the midst of them” (4:30)
And go on his way.
The way isn’t wide enough.
The cliff, though not sheer,
Is steep enough to ensure anyone’s inability to escape.
Jesus was trapped.
There was no way out.
Certain death was the only possible resolution.
So how’d he do it?
And, why is it important?
Luke leaves the details of escape intentionally obscure.
What we do know is that Jesus wasn’t sent to the world
To die on a mountain in Nazareth
At the hand of a homicidal mob.
Jesus was sent to die on a mountain in Jerusalem
To take away the sin of the world
That all the world might be saved.
His escape was vital for the sake of the world and
God made it happen.
Are there areas of our life
From which Jesus needs to make an escape?
The American experience informs us that there should be a separation of church and state.
Jesus informs and influences our leaders,
At the same time, our leaders do not favor or exert control over Christ and the Church.
How about personally?
What are we up too that we shouldn’t be?
That would bring harm or discredit to Christ?
I suspect we all have time and experience where we
A part of the crowd who tried to fling Jesus off the cliff,
Not a part of the crowd who let him escape?
God has created us with the capacity to change,
Our God is one of second chances;
Take advantage of this Divine gift of grace.
Make way for Christ to fulfill his will
In the world and
In your life.
What can be found from this near-violent narrative?
The Holy Spirit empowers!
Jesus is the Messiah.
He’s come for the benefit of the world.
God shows no favorites.
Watch for God’s presence and action.
Make way for God’s will.
This works for me;
I trust it will work for you, too.