the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

03 February 2019

Luke 4. 21-30
Christ and Church proclaim life to those who need it.
Period.  End of sentence.

Last Sunday, we read the first part of a story.  A story that was – that is – according to Luke, the first in Jesus’ ministry.  It’s entitled, aptly enough, “The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth.”  But, like I said, last week, we read only the first part.  Jesus comes to the place he’d been brought us.  And as usual, on the sabbath, he was in the synagogue there.  They hand him a scroll and he reads a verse or two from Isaiah.  He rolls the scroll back up, returns it,, and sits down.  “Today this scripture,” he says, “has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  The gospel of the Lord.  Thanks be to Christ.  And I tried my hardest, did my best, to stay focused only on those dozen-or-so words.  Not to jump to the second part of the story, the part we read just a few minutes ago.

If you remember, I said that Jesus’ sermon was all about love.  No fire.  No brimstone.  No damnation or hell.  Jesus, even, left out, left off the part of the passage from Isaiah that spoke of the day of vengeance.  And by the second verse, this morning, I guess I wasn’t too far off!  “All spoke well of him,” we’re told, “and were amazed at his gracious words!”  At his charitable, loving words.  To say the least, they were impressed!  Pleasantly surprised!  Jesus!  Joseph’s son!  The headline in the morning would be, “Hometown Boy Makes Good!”  And if he would only have stopped talking.  If he’d have only stayed quiet.  The story would have ended there.  But, unfortunately, he didn’t.  And things went from good to bad, and then, from bad to worse.

You see, today, Luke’s Jesus says something that Matthew’s Jesus would never say.  Push come to shove, Matthew’s Jesus would tell people that he came ONLY to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  According to Matthew, Jesus would have told the group in the synagogue, that day, it was all about them!  And “those” people were the exception, not the rule.  But Luke’s Jesus says just the opposite.  Those gracious words?  The ones that came from his mouth?  That amazed neighbors and friends?  They were words intended not for them – for the people gathered together there in that synagogue, that day – but for the others!  For all the people who weren’t them!  And the people were hurt!  Hurt and frightened!  And they were filled with rage!  There were livid!  Furious! 

Jesus told them that he had been anointed to bring good news to the poor!  He told them he’d been sent to proclaim recovery and release to the blind and the captive!  To proclaim god’s favor!  God’s sympathy and support!  And with the very next breath, he said it was not to them, but to their enemies!  To their oppressors!  And they snapped.  Of all the nerve!  Of all the audacity!  It was just too much.  And the people who, only moments before, were singing his praises turned on him.  Turned on him.  Just.  Like.  That.  Not because they were bad people.  Not because they were evil.  But simply because there were hurt and scared.  That’s where anger, where rage, comes from.

You see, they just didn’t understand what Jesus was telling them.  They just didn’t understand what he was saying.  They thought when he said he was going to “those” people, the would be left behind.  They were just us when our little brother or little sister is born.  We had to learn that love isn’t limited.  We had to understand that love isn’t finite.  And when you love someone new, it doesn’t mean we stop loving another.  When Jesus said, “I’ve been sent to them,” they thought he was saying, “You’re no longer important; you no longer matter.  And so, they became angry.  They were filled with rage.

What they missed – that sabbath day, in the synagogue, at Nazareth – that Jesus got was that they already belonged to god!  What they missed – that sabbath day, in the synagogue, at Nazareth – that Jesus got was that they were already loved!  They’d already been given the good news!  They’d already heard release and recovery and favor!  They had already been set free!  And none of that could be taken from them!  Not even by Jesus!  They were Israel!  They were Jews!  Called!  Chosen!  For over a thousand years!  Those people, that day, in the synagogue, in Nazareth, couldn’t become anything more than what they already were!  And they couldn’t become anything less.  Jesus knew that!  But the people, those people…  well, they’d forgotten.  And now, they were hurt, scared, and they wanted Jesus – Jesus of all people – to know it. 

“Blessed to be a blessing!”  That’s how god put it to Sarah and Abraham.  Blessed for the purpose to less the world!  Blessed in order to bless the entire creation!  That’s why Israel, why the church, is here, at all!  But the people had forgotten.  They thought it was all about them.  Loved, simply, to be loved.  Forgiven, just to be forgiven.  Released merely to be set free.  But Jesus remembered, as well.  Jesus knew.  Jesus understood.  It was only the beginning.  It was just the start.  God saves so that those what are saved may, in turn, save, as well!  God comes to us, so that we can go to others!  God picks up our cross, so that we can pick up theirs!  That’s what it is to be created – to be recreated – in the image of god!

But the people had forgotten that.  The people, that sabbath day, in the synagogue, in Nazareth.  They’d forgotten just like we forget.  We’re not the goal.  We’re not the reason.  We’re the ways and the means.  Jesus comes not for the sake of those who already.  He comes for the sake of those who don’t yet.  And when Jesus sends us, it’s, always, to the same.  Not to the already, but to the not yet!  The widows in Israel Jesus referred to?  They were already called!  They were already chosen!  The widows in Israel already had Israel!  But that widow in Zarephath in Sidon had no one.  Had nothing.  So Elijah was sent to her and to her son.  The same is true for Naaman, the leper from Syria.

What upset those people, that sabbath day, in the synagogue, in Nazareth, is what we call ministry.  We’re anointed, inspired – just like Jesus – not to bring good news to those who already have it!  We’re anointed and inspired to bring it to those who lack it, who need it!  We’re not sent to proclaim release to those who have already been released.  And we’re not sent to proclaim recovery to those who already can see.  We’re not here to be church for those who are already church.  But to those who are still captive and blind and on the outside looking in.  Nothing is taken away from those who already have.  But all that’s taken for granted.  It’s believing that god is here for us, so that we can be there for those who don’t yet believe.  For those who can’t yet believe.  God loves us!  Loves us to the cross, to the grave, and beyond.  And the truth is, my friends, god loves them just like that!  God anoints Jesus, inspires Jesus, sends Jesus.  And just like Jesus, god anoints and inspires and sends us!  And god trusts that we’ll remember!  Trusts that we’ll understand!