January 23, 2016 - Luke 4.14-30

“Hometown Prophet”

Luke 4.14-30

January 24, 2016

 

14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:18“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,19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”20And 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.21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”23He 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.’”24And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.25But 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;26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.29They 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.30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

 

First Sermons – Calvin Miller’s 2 minute wonder; Greg Crowe at Student Day; my 8 minute masterpiece of dry mouth oration.  Most first sermons have a story to them that is funny.  Not Jesus’.

 

Jesus gets a big thumbs up from everyone.  They are proud.  Then he talks some more and they try to throw him off a cliff.  What?  Did I miss something?  You do not do that to your preachers!

 

For some reason this crowd – his church – moved from pride to murderous intent real quick.  Why?  What in the world did he say?  Whatever it was, it was more than a little shocking.

 

At a church affiliated college during Christian Emphasis Week, they got a preacher that they did not know except by his fiery reputation.  Only the “religious” crowd attended these things.  Preacher reads his scripture and then hurls the Bible out an open window.  He preaches a sermon on the difference between worshiping the Bible and worshiping the God that comes to us through the Bible. 

 

Jesus did the same thing at his synagogue.  He told them two stories from the Bible.  He said that “Prophets aren’t welcome in their own hometown – and then he told the story of Elijah and the widow at Sidon, (1 Kings 17) where he gave food (by miracle) to her in the middle of a famine, and the story of Elisha and the leper Namaan, (2 Kings 5) the man who got healed by dipping in the Jordan.  These people were not Jews.  He didn’t throw the scroll, but he did challenge his people by saying “Our God loves gentiles, the outsiders, and wants Gentiles to find salvation.  Do you worship our God, or just the way you read his law, and your religious practices?”  The answer to that question angered the crowd.

 

The miracles were done to outsiders.  God showed favor to someone other than the expected group.  God’s love is wider than our expectations.  God’s grace mercy and forgiveness are things that make us mad.  The gospel, with its forgiveness and love is a Flammable, Incendiary, and Volatile Gospel.  It really shakes things up.

 

Several years ago on a Sunday morning at a big church in a big city, the preacher was about to launch into his sermon when a man stood up and bellowed out, “I have a word from the Lord!”  Everyone gasped and did not know what to expect.  The ushers dragged him away.[1]

 

At Riverside Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, we had the same thing happen in 1995 one Sunday evening.  A man came in off the street, staggered his way down the center aisle 15 minutes into the service, when the preacher began his sermon, declared “God’sh done toldt me sump’un. God ‘sh been talking…tah me!” 

 

We come here, wanting to hear a sermon?  Yes.  A word from the Lord?  Are we really ready for that?

Jesus said to his home town crowd, “Today these scriptures have been fulfilled in your hearing.”  I am the Messiah.  And you don’t know diddley about God, or you would love more.”  The folks thought they knew God, and they KNEW they were God’s favorites.  Who is this kid to tell us that God loves those OTHER people?  Get rid of him!

 

It’s not God’s judgment that makes us angry, its God’s mercy.  God’s mercy is too big.  It’s too wide.  It’s easier to spend our lives licking our wounds and harboring hate towards those we dislike and resent than it is to understand God forgives all, than it is to try out kindness, generosity and love as big as Christ’s.

 

What is offensive about Jesus and his message is that God’s love is extended to outsiders.  Like Elijah’s ministry to a widow who was not an Israeli and like Elisha’s healing of a soldier who was a foreigner.  Jesus reached out to those who were excluded.  This is why his ministry aroused such opposition; this is why he was crucified.[2]  The prophets could not do the work of God among Israel, because they had closed off their hearts, so the prophets had to go to the outsiders to get it done.  If we close ourselves off, assuming that we know all there is to know about God, then we are just as guilty as they were, and God’s work will be done elsewhere.

 

They loved him – until he pointed out the truth to them.  Then they tried to throw him off a cliff.  They tried to kill him - his own church! 

 

Guest preachers can always say what “host” preachers cannot.

 

It makes us mad because God’s love and mercy and grace and forgiveness aren’t fair.  How do you feel about Jeffrey Dahmer?  He died in prison – beaten to death with a mop handle.  Did he deserve it?  Yes.  Did God forgive Dahmer of his sins?  Yes...he got saved in prison and was leading what looked to be a life filled with the fruits of repentance.  God’s forgiveness doesn’t seem fair, and its not, and its a good thing it isn’t.

 

We like to think that we are being good Christians if we can find room in our hearts to be tolerant of others that are different.  We think if we tolerate them, then we are being as good as we can – we pat ourselves on the backs.  Well, Jesus had a different take on things folks.  Jesus would scoff at our tolerance.  We are not called to tolerate people, we are called to love them, which requires a lot more than mere tolerance.  If you tolerate a strange dog wandering through your yard, you let it go and leave it alone.  But if you love a stray dog that wanders through your yard, you take it in, give it a home, feed it, and scratch its belly.  Big difference.  But we don’t understand God’s love until we realize that God has done just that for all of us.

 

Because we are human, we resent that the wideness of God’s love is wider than our understanding.  When we exclude others from the grace of God, we only end up excluding ourselves.  When we restrict access to God’s grace, we only cut off our own access to it. Case in point – As far as we know, Jesus never went back to Nazareth.

 

In Newtown, Pennsylvania, in 1997, a strange thing happened to the Markovitz family.  Jewish.  Celebrating Chanukah.  Rock through the window, and smashed their menorah.  Neighborhood was disturbed.  A Christian neighbor, Margie Alexander, wanted to help so she went to her 25 neighbors she knew to be Christians.  Three nights later, there were 25 menorahs burning brightly in their windows in the neighborhood.  They had extended the love of Christ to the outsider, and they provided a powerful witness to the love of Christ.

 

If you are going to love Jesus, you can’t do it without loving the outsiders.  If that makes you mad, you need to get over it and realize to Jesus, you are an outsider.

 

Story of a Methodist minister and his church – family had adopted a child from Mother Teresa’s orphanage in Calcutta – physical problems, paralyzed, partially blind, etc.  Had a box as her crib.  Had numerous surgeries to correct her ailments once in the states.  At 12, they arranged for her baptism.  The day of, they were running late.  They had to sit down front, so the family came down the center aisle.  The congregation had never seen this child walk before.  Because they were late, they came during the middle of the Bible reading.  Reading from Luke 7:22.  There wasn’t a person in that church that wasn’t looking at that girl, knowing that just a few years ago, she was lame, blind, poor and the equivalent of a leper – a complete outsider.  Yet the love of Christ, through this family, had given her sight, the ability to walk, and a family that loved her and a church that welcomed her.  Fighting back tears, the minister closed his Bible and said, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

 

Showing love for the outsider is showing love for God; and it not only transforms the outsider, it transforms us as well.  What a pity it would be if we waited until a “someday” to love others different than ourselves.  Jesus said that “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  Today.  Right now, right here.

 

If we leave here today thinking that someday Jesus will make the blind see, set the captives free, etc., then we haven’t paid attention.  If we leave here today, thinking that this is another “someday” text, then we have not listened to Jesus.  He said, “TODAY.”  Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.  Now, in other words.  Don’t wait anymore.  Look no further.  I am the guy.  All of this stuff is true.

 

The other great truth to understand here is this:  Perhaps you have felt like an outsider.  Perhaps you have never felt like you belonged in a church or would be welcomed.  Maybe you didn’t “get all the churchy lingo” or just felt weird being in church.  Maybe you just felt judged, like you were an outsider.  Hear this:  Jesus said that he came to free you from everything that would weigh you down or make you feel small.  Jesus gave his life to free you from all of those kind of things, and Jesus wants to know you personally.  Today, this scripture has been fulfilled for you.  The doors of this church and its arms are open wide for you today – Jesus has his arms outstretched for you this very hour.

 

Jesus says the Time is now; this is not “down the road.”  This is not optimism, it is observation.  This is not pie in the sky, this is bird in the hand.  This is not “when my ship comes in,” this is time to unload the boat.

 

Are you a captive?  Are you poor in some manner?  Are you blind to something?  Are you oppressed?  Do you have some secret little sin that won’t let you go?  Jesus came to set you free, and today is the day.  Not tomorrow. Now.  Today.  The question really is what are you going to do?

 

[1] Long, Thomas, Pulpit Resource, p. 18.

[2] Long, Thomas, Pulpit Resource, p.15.

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