The Sunday Sermon – January 31, 2016
Scripture: Luke 4:(17-21) 22-30
The Rest of the Story Luke 4:21-30
Last week, in the gospel of Luke, the story of Jesus first act of public ministry began. In Chapter four, verses fourteen to twenty-one, Jesus began his public ministry by reading from the scroll of Isaiah. When he finished reading, you remember, he rolled up the scroll and sat down and proclaimed the scripture fulfilled.
Last week, I reminded us that we, too, are called to proclaim the scripture fulfilled in our lives. Our life is, or should be, a fulfillment of the “Good News of God’s Deliverance” for the poor, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed spoken through the prophet and through our Lord. In Jesus life, and because of him, in our lives, God’s kingdom is on earth. In Jesus life, and because of him, in our lives, God’s promises are fulfilled and God’s purposes have come to fruition. In Jesus life, and because of him, in our lives, there will be changes in the conditions of those who have waited and hoped in our world. The time of God is today.
I challenged you last week not to hear that as a proclamation made 2000 years ago by someone else, but to hear it as a promise made daily by you – not simply to you but by you as you accept your own role in revealing and more fully ushering in the Kingdom of God.
This morning, we’ll hear the “rest of the story” of Jesus first act of public ministry. The question we begin and end with is this: if, and as, we accept our roles as “little Christ’s,” how much more might God be able to do with us?
Let’s pray together … And let’s begin telling the rest of this story with this reminder from last week’s scripture reading:
(Jesus) unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 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?’ Luke 4:17b-22Keeping ourselves engaged personally in Jesus’ story, last week we found that – after making our own proclamation and acknowledging our own role in fulfilling the scriptural mandate to bring good news to the poor; to proclaim release to the captives, to offer sight to the blind; to let the oppressed go free, and; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, after making our own proclamation that the age of God’s reign is here, now in us, in the community that bears Christ’s name – everyone was, and is, speaking well of us. We did what we were, what we are, supposed to do: We claimed our identity as children of God and our role as agents of God’s shalom.
In Luke’s story, some may be a bit confused: Who would have thought that Joseph’s boy would someday be God’s prophet? But no one is hostile in this question. Maybe surprised, but they are speaking well of Jesus. In fact, they’re happy for themselves, because a declaration of the fulfillment of God’s promises are heard as a guarantee of God’s blessing on the community as a whole. There is a promise of special favor for the “hometown” in Jesus’ claim to be God’s anointed. Everyone in Nazareth can reap the benefits of God’s blessings through him without having to do much themselves. I know that there’s some of that here, too. I’ve preached sermons and heard this: “That was a powerful sermon this morning, Joel. I’m not sure what I can do about it, but I feel your commitment, so … you go boy!” The challenge is not just Jesus’ (or mine!), though. I’m hope I’ve made that abundantly clear in my years here, but still …
How tempting it is to roll up our scroll, sit down, proclaim fulfillment, promise special favor and stop right there, receiving the love and support of all: Money and fame and love. All are speaking well of him. All are amazed at the gracious words that are coming from his mouth! It’s working for him … why not us, too? We’re supposed to do what Jesus does, right? But then, beginning with verse 23, Jesus steps over the line:
He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town 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 home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for 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.’ Luke 4:23-28
The scene in the synagogue becomes difficult to interpret, difficult to understand beginning with verse 23, but we know that Jesus words to those gathered are ultimately offensive to them. The narrative takes such a negative turn at this point that we’re not at all sure what’s going on. Our own scholars, perhaps desperately trying to hold onto the love that feels so good, are wondering whether Luke has joined two visits of Jesus to Nazareth. Jesus own mention of things he did in Capernaum are out of place in this gospel. He doesn’t arrive in Capernaum until seven verses later. Can’t we just enjoy this mutual love for a little bit longer? Why doesn’t Jesus just sit and soak it in, give the people what they want!
I’ll tell you why: because he’s not just a priest, he’s a prophet. He’s not just called to “heal,” he’s also called to transform. And right from the start, he does both: I’ll bring good news, I’ll proclaim release and recovery, and let the oppressed go free, but I’m going to do that everywhere, not just here in Nazareth and not just for the Jews. The priestly function is well received, the prophetic call is not. And the resistance to God’s Kingdom on Earth begins, clashing as it does with the protection of our own kingdom’s (small “k”) on earth. Jesus, you see, got radically inclusivee got .
The crowd’s favorable response to Jesus’ opening words from the scroll of Isaiah is clear. They are eager for him to do the works of God’s grace among them. They are ready to share in the benefits that might accrue in their community. But then he extends God’s grace beyond his community. There is more to God’s “message.” The Good News he will continue to proclaim, the Good News we are all called to proclaim, goes beyond those gathered in front of him, beyond those gathered here, beyond any one religious tradition. In fact, our own religious traditions and those that practice it often stand in the way of God’s promise, as we exclude and condemn those outside our walls.
Jesus uses the community’s own scripture to claim that God is “bigger” than anything they, we, human beings, can create, even religious border lines, in this case, Judaism. With the community’s own stories of Elijah and Elisha, he recalls God’s love and grace at work in and through outsiders: the widow at Zarephath in Sidon and Naaman the Syrian, Gentiles both. It’s hard to hear the truth in the midst of our certainty, and it’s harder yet to hear it through one’s own tradition, in the words of one’s own scripture. It is, perhaps, the fact that these two stories were their own that the crowd grows so hostile.
The community’s resistance, anger, and ultimate violence are invoked upon one who dares to make God’s love inclusive and God’s grace boundless. To take God’s favor beyond the boundaries and limits we have erected, in our reading’s case beyond Nazareth and Judaism, threatens our profound sense of entitlement and security and now a mob attempts to stone Jesus. Anger and violence are the last defense of those who are made to face the truth of their own traditions, so long defended and embraced.
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. Luke 4:28-29
Where in our world today do we find the most anger and violence? Exactly where there are nations, communities, or individuals facing the truth of the absolute need for cooperation and trust and railing against it, instead, as they instead to instill fear and encourage isolation. We see it in the geo-political conflicts around the world. We hear it from the podiums of those seeking election to our countries highest office. We feel it in our own bones as we hear, over and over again, the words of our own scripture calling us to a more perfect way.
But … we claim to be Christ’s followers. And as we did last week, I’m going to ask you to consider what you are going to do. Here we sit back at verse 22… with all eyes fixed on us … having made a profound proclamation for ourselves and our church. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon us!” Now … what are we going to do? There is anger and violence in our future as we commit to following Christ and doing God’s will. But we must continue to bring good news, to proclaim release and recovery, and to let the oppressed go free. That’s what Jesus did …
… He passed through the midst of them and went on his way. Luke 4:30
The Word of the Lord … Jesus didn’t go elsewhere because he was rejected. He was rejected because he went elsewhere. No less is expected from you and me.
It is because of passages like this one, beginning at verse 23, that we most often, or always, leave it to Jesus and to God and don’t pick up our crosses and share in the cost of discipleship. We know God’s grace is never subject to the limitations and boundaries of any nation, or group, or race, or church and that scandalizes us! We know there are no historical or ethnic boundaries that contain or limit what God is doing and what God is about to do, and that terrifies us! The captives will be released, the blind will see, the oppressed will go free, and the poor will hear good news. That proclamation was established last week! It’s not a question of if, but when and by whom? Are we, like Jesus, ready to speak to and for those bound up with mistrust and suspicion and oppressed by fear and doubt? Are we, like Jesus ready to speak louder than those who offer anger and violence?
When we are … and I think we’re closer (drip, drip, drip) … but when we are and as we, like Jesus, each “go on our way,” then only one question will remain. The one with which we began this morning:
How much more might God be able to do with us? How much more?
Now you know the rest of the story. All that’s left is to live into it. Amen.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / January 31, 2016