Sunday, January 28, 2007

Jan 28 Sermon: Letting Jesus Through

Sermon Texts:
Jeremiah 1: 4-10
Luke 4: 21-30

For the second week ago, our lectionary reading takes us to this uncomfortable scene in Nazareth. We find Jesus preaching to a rather doting hometown crowd. You can tell that the crowd is impressed with Jesus—“Hey, isn’t that Joseph’s boy?” “Sounds like we’ve got a home-grown Rabbi here!” When Jesus reads the portion from Isaiah, you could hear a pin drop. Luke describes the mood of the room by writing, “The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.”
When Jesus announces his calling to the life of a prophet by referring to Isaiah and saying “these words have been fulfilled in your hearing,” the place was raucus! People spoke well of him, Luke tells us. We can imagine that the townsfolk might have been clapping each other on the back. “I showed him how to fish!” “I taught him how to read, the old Rabbi may have been thinking to himself—and now look at him! That old stigma that ‘nothing good will ever come out of Nazareth, well we can kiss that goodbye!” They spoke well of him because in doing so they were speaking well of themselves, and everyone likes to do that.
What kind of community does it take to raise a prophet? A minister? This church knows! We have seen members of this community grow into God’s calling on their lives. This church has watched and participated in the growth and maturity of Zach Zink—who is now a minister with young people at a Methodist Church in Paul’s Valley. We celebrate his efforts there, and we pray that his ministry continues to bear fruit as he seeks to walk the path that God is laying before him.
We have seen a ministry bloom here in our midst in the past year and a half with the emergence of our Grief-share ministry. Lives have been touched by the healing presence of Christ through this vital and vibrant ministry.
Tonight you will have the opportunity to come and hear what this group is about. I invite you to be here at 6pm to watch one of the video presentations that introduces us to this ministry. Even if your life has been blessedly free of grief and loss up to this point, as members of the community that has birthed this ministry, we should all be equipped with a little more knowledge than we presently have about how to reach out those who are at a stage of grief that would be fertile ground for an invitation to this group. After a year and a half together, the group has discerned a renewed calling to reach out to those who might receive God’s embrace through this ministry.
Yes, we too are like Nazareth. This church has nurtured the seedbed of God’s activity in our presence. This church has tilled the ground, making it ready for God to plant His calling. This is a reflection on the attentiveness of this community to God’s word and presence.
Things go a little awry in Nazareth though—Jesus seems to pick a fight. Yes, much like the folks in Nazareth, we were probably getting pretty used to the idea that “we” have a lot to do with the ministry that comes out of this church. We like to think of what a great job we do on behalf of God because, well, it makes us look pretty great! Now, as the crowd in Nazareth begins to swell with pride at the marvelous things that this home-boy has accomplished, Jesus sticks a pin in the balloon.
And he said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Caper'na-um, do here also in your own country.'" 4.24 And he said, "Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. 4.25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Eli'jah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; 4.26 and Eli'jah was sent to none of them but only to Zar'ephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 4.27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Eli'sha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Na'aman the Syrian." 4.28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 4.29 And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. 4.30 But passing through the midst of them he went away.
Hmmm….. It doesn’t feel so great to be Nazareth after all, does it? Jesus seems to instigate this fight. He breaks one of the cardinal rules of marriage counselors everywhere—he puts words in their mouth—he tells them what they are feeling. But, this is Jesus, after all. Unlike us, Jesus can see into the deepest darkest shadows of our hearts and egos, even when we are turning the blinding light of our pride and exultation in his face.
Jesus speaking about a prophet not being accepted in his own home town is not just a unique critique of Nazareth though, it is something core in our human natures. We can’t accept the prophets that we raise. They may be accepted elsewhere—they may turn eyes toward God in neighboring communities, but the scriptures say that even Jesus could not work miracles in his hometown of Nazareth—because the people there lacked faith. We have too much invested in our home town prophets to be able to see that it is God’s grace that shines forth from them. Jethro may have taught Jesus how to fish when he was 6 years old, but it is God who is fishing through Jesus now! We have a hard time separating our heritage passed on from God’s activity at work through the lives of those in ministry.
And what is it that Jesus references to seemingly prove this point? He points what he predicts will be their eagerness to see miracles and healings worked among them, and then gives them a history lesson. Will Willimon writes, “Luke wants it understood: The problem with Jesus is not between the new and the old, between the known and the unknown, but between the people of God and their own memory. Between the known and the known. Jesus, hometown boy, Joe and Mary’s son, addressed Israel from her own scripture, her own past, her own authoritative texts, the familiar prophets, a text they already knew. “The Day of the Lord is here!” he announced. “Amen!” they shouted. There was an excited stirring among the Chosen People at Nazareth. “Amen!” All of our waiting for deliverance, is over at last. The Lord is coming! At last he is coming to redeem his own! People lifted up on their crutches, old men wept for joy, the oppressed raised their faces filled with hopeful expectation. “Amen!” “Now, when the Lord came earlier, as I recall, there were lots of poor hungry women in Israel, but God chose to help a foreign widow, instead. You know that story.” says Jesus. There was silence. “And speaking of old, familiar stories,” continued Jesus, “You all remember the one about how Elisha healed an army officer, a Syrian — rather than all those poor deserving lepers in Israel.” And you could cut the congregational silence with a knife.. When the Lord came to deliver us, Jesus says, remember that he came to human need beyond the bounds of the Chosen. It’s in the Bible, Jesus said. You know the story of Isaiah, Elijah, Elisha. And a chorus of “Amens” becomes a thunder of silence. It is the silence of judgment, when an exciting, new sermon suddenly becomes recognized as an old story we already know and wish to God we could forget. Proximity to and familiarity with the persons and texts God chooses is a privilege that also blinds, dulls, impedes. Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? We know him. “Yes” says Jesus continuing the sermon, “pagan Ninevah will get to judge this place because Ninevah repented when Jonah preached to them. The Queen of Sheba went across the world to hear Solomon, and yet, here among you is one greater their either Jonah or Solomon. (Luke 11) At the judgment, you will claim your privilege as free passes, recalling the evening you had dinner with Jesus or when he preached in your town (Luke 13:26-27), My family founded this church. I have been in this congregation my whole life. But to no avail. Judgment begins with God’s own house.”
Sometimes it is difficult to hear God’s plans. There might be a moment of clarity, a moment of the Spirit brushing past us—but then the waters might seemingly be muddied—but hold on God, that’s not what I want! That’s not what I need! That’s not how you’re supposed to be, God.
So, we’ve wondered what kind of community it takes to raise a prophet: What kind of community does it take to reject a prophet? The answer is—the same kind of community that raises a prophet! It may be our community. It may be God’s chosen city on a hill!
That is how our story ends today—we hear that the townspeople are so angered by the words that Jesus has spoken, they are so filled with rage as Luke tells it, that they drive Jesus to the edge of a cliff so that they might cast him off of it. Why are they so enraged? Because Jesus reminded them of what they already knew—that God cannot be bound by our feeble imaginations and our inability to conceive worth and preciousness in those who are radically different from us.
But there is hope for us yet-- Thanks to the story of Jesus’ own rejection, we have the opportunity to listen to the prophets in our midst. Or, if nothing else, we have the opportunity to let these prophets pass through us, as Jesus is shown going on his way even though Nazareth would like to drive him to the edge of a cliff. We have the opportunity to let Jesus pass through our midst—and even if we are too stubborn to hear what he has to say, even if we aren’t at the point where we can let him change us, if we only step out of the way and let him through—he can go on to others who are ready to heed his call. By letting him walk through us, Christ will walk…through us. Sometimes it simply takes a letting go of what we expect from Jesus for us to begin being used by Jesus. As the saying goes, “Let go and let God.”
So tonight, you have the opportunity to step aside and let Jesus through the crowd. We host a ministry of Christ in a particular way. It isn’t the only ministry of our congregation, but it is one that has borne fruit and is ready for new growth. Christ has empowered those in the group who feel that calling to a ministry that is needed and is heard about from Okemah to Muskogee. God is blessing those who may not come from our particular community. But as Jesus told those at Nazareth, this is our heritage! God is bigger, and works in ways that always stretch the boundaries that we tend to put up around us. When God knocks down those boundaries, we feel uncomfortable—but if we make the decision to live in our boundary-less world in God’s presence, we have nothing to fear!
So, come tonight so that you can share in this particular ministry—perhaps you have nothing personally to gain—but perhaps God will work through you to bring someone else to this ministry! Or, perhaps God is calling you to participate in a community of sharing loss and grief. We never know unless we put it in God’s hands.
Another thing we might do is write a note of encouragement or appreciation to Zach—a person who has devoted his livelihood to ministry with young people. He may no longer be in ministry to our community, but God has empowered him through his experience in this church. We have God to thank for the ministry that Zach is sharing with our young brothers and sisters in Paul’s Valley.
If nothing else, think twice before joining the crowd on the figurative “cliff.” We have not stopped killing our prophets! God can and does use those whom we least expect. Open your hearts to the possibility that God might want to use you—or your enemy. Or perhaps Jesus just needs you to step aside and let him through.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I hope there are no "cliffs" around Morris!