Summit Presbyterian Church
February 3, 2013
Luke 4: 16-30
I’m going to start with last week’s reading. It takes place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, not long after he was baptized and spent 40 days in the wilderness. Filled with the Spirit, Jesus had returned to Galilee and began teaching in the synagogues there. Luke says he was praised by everyone.
Listen to the Word of God, Luke 4: 16-22
If Jesus had just stopped there, it would have been such a nice day. He could have shaken hands with everyone as they made their way to the coffee hour, basking in compliments. Mary and Joseph could have enjoyed some well-deserved moments of parental pride, as people congratulated them on their well-spoken son. Folks could have talked about the sermon over their danish: Didn’t Jesus bring the words of Isaiah to life? Wasn’t it thrilling when he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing? Maybe he'll be the one to lead us into that blessed day when Israel is freed” For this humble assembly in hardscrabble Nazareth would have heard Isaiah's words as good news. Their synagogue would have included poor people and those who were blind. The people were suffering under Roman rule and dreaming of a Free Israel. If Jesus had ended his sermon there, they would have been comforted and inspired. They might even have been energized for a mission project.
But Jesus didn’t stop there. He kept going. And this is what he said next:
Luke 4: 23-30
So it wasn’t such a nice day. There they were – stranded on the top of the hill, wondering what happened to that son of Joseph. We don’t know what they did next, but they must have been confused. Upset that their plan had been foiled (but also relieved, for when mob actions get out of hand everyone’s sorry afterwards). But how did things turn so quickly? We must admit - Jesus was provocative, if not downright insulting. Perhaps he sensed that they heard the good news to be only about them, or about them first and foremost -- after all, they were the hometown. They had raised him. They deserved his loyalty, and maybe even some preferential treatment – especially since they didn't get it from anyone else, as the Jerusalem elites looked down on Nazareth. But Jesus says they aren’t going to get it. They can’t look to Capernaum and expect him to do the same thing in Nazareth. He points out that God worked through outsiders in the time of Elijah and Elisha. He implies God will do so again. Jesus knows that once he says those words, he can say good-bye to that hometown welcome. Prophets are never accepted in their hometowns. Prophets are always called beyond them.
So they drove him out of the town and tried to throw him off a cliff. We, the church, can identify with that. We try to get rid of Jesus, too. Since he's not with us in flesh and blood we can't take him to a bridge over the Schuykil; we must use other means. So we say "yes" to his teachings while passively resisting them. Or we soften what he says so that "bringing good news to the poor" begins and ends with a modest donation to One Great Hour of Sharing. The particular message that enrages or distresses us may be different from the one that angered those Nazoreans. (Athough Christians have also always been perturbed by the thought that God may be blessing and working through others). But Jesus raises our hackles. I believe the church in the United States has been trying to get rid of the Jesus who keeps saying we need to lose our life to gain it, for the church hasn't wanted to let go of those trappings of respectability and power that it enjoyed 60 years ago, when everybody went to church. Judging from all our stuff, we don't like it when Jesus says sell what you have and give your money to the poor. I don't know about you, but his instruction to turn the other cheek makes me wanna punch someone.
What Kind of Church Are We? Are we be the kind of congregation that can stay in the pew until the end of the challenging sermon that Jesus is giving (not to be confused with my sermon). Are we the kind of church that can get beyond our anger and grief at a difficult message and still talk - even argue - with Jesus at the coffee hour? Are we the kind of church that actually seeks to follow Jesus? Or do we try and throw him off a cliff?
Like all churches, I believe we're both. When we have our annual meeting today, we'll hear about ministries and read financial reports that reflect faithful discipleship and stewardship. Much faithful discipleship and stewardship. But I believe that in the coming months and years and decades we'll need to work through some some rage and grief as we listen to Jesus. As the climate changes, as inequality grows, as our infrastructure grows older -- both this church building and the infrastructure in our country - Jesus will be calling us to change. To let go of what we consider our "life" - whether it's money, possessions, beliefs we cherish, or certain ways of doing things.
And that will be hard. But it will also be joyful. For there's no deeper joy, no greater comfort, than following Jesus. There's no deeper joy, no greater comfort, than turning away from idols and growing in the love of God. There's no deeper joy, no greater comfort, than sharing in the life of Christ. As we will do at the table this morning. As we do every time we worship, and care for one another. As we do when we find Christ in service to others, and proclaim God's love fearlessly to all.