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Epiphany 4C Sermon
Luke 4:14-30
3, 2019


Sermon Archives


Luke 4:14-30

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
When 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, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He 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?’ 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. 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. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us, in the name of his risen son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.

If you were a good Jew living in Nazareth in about the year 30 A.D., you would have gathered in the synagogue on the Sabbath much as we gather in this house of God today. The service would have begun with an invocation called the Shiva: “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one.” There would be no hymnals or bulletins since very few of the people could read. Most of the worship had a ‘memorized familiarity,’ including the prayers and the songs. And at the very heart of the worship, someone would take out a huge scroll, covered with some type of liturgical fabric, to be unrolled on the table. And then someone would read. Sometimes it was a person being ‘bar mitzvah-ed’ or a large contributor; sometimes on the anniversary of the death of a spouse. And when itinerant rabbis came to town, not only would they live and be fed at the synagogue, but they would read from the scroll on the Sabbath and then teach about whatever they read.

Our Gospel reading describes a day when the whole town was buzzing. Everybody’s talking about Jesus ... “the carpenter Joseph’s son.” After all, he was raised in Nazareth and was a member of this very synagogue. He had been away for a while, but the word is that he’s become a bright, capable, young teacher. Yes, Jesus is, “in the House,” and no one is surprised when the presider gives the scroll to Jesus to read. Jesus unrolls the scroll and begins to read a VERY familiar passage from Isaiah: “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, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Nothing shocking here. They all probably had this memorized as well. Besides, you were not shocked when you heard it a few minutes ago. It’s the stuff that we’re all supposed to do, after all, aren’t we called to be good scouts … “trustworthy, loyal, cheerful, kind, obedient, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent.” Someone once summarized everything they ever learned in Sunday School as child as “Jesus is nice, and he wants us to be nice too.”

After reading this familiar passage, Jesus sits down, not to indicate he is finished, but to indicate that he’s ready to teach. That’s the way it worked: they stood to read the scripture, and then when the rabbi was ready to teach, everybody sat down, including the rabbi. Jesus rolls up the scroll, sits down, looks directly into the eyes of the familiar faces he knew since childhood, who are looking back at him, and you could hear a pin drop as all eyes are fixed on him. Unblinking he says ... “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

What is their initial response? We read that all spoke well of him – they were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. This little kid who used to run through the streets, playing with friends, laughing at jokes and crying at stubbed toes, has reminded them of their privileged position as God’ people! Not only that, he promised that on that very day it has been fulfilled. What a glorious event to witness!

But things quickly go south. When my son was in middle school, he was part of a production of, “Into the Woods Jr.” Basically, the junior version of Into the Woods is the first act of the entire musical. If a person had never seen the entire production, they would have enjoyed it as a feel-good story of fairy tale characters working together to solve their problems until they all live happily ever after. But quickly in the second act things unravel as Prince Charming is not so charming, the child that the baker and his wife wanted won’t stop crying, and the wife of the giant, who was slain in the first act, comes down from her castle in the sky to seek retribution for her husband’s death.

This passage kind of fits in with that twist. When Jesus begins to teach, it is almost as if he can see into their hearts to what they are thinking about the Isaiah passage that he read. So, he starts talking not about their own privileged position with God, but about how the two most admired prophets in their history were sent to heal and feed people who had been excluded and left out of God’s circle of love – the widow at Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian. What did this mean? Why did it enrage these people enough to want to throw him off the edge of the precipice just outside Nazareth. And how did he mysteriously pass through in the midst of them, or, as a sign at the present-day site says, how did he jump off this mountain while fleeing his pursuers and live to tell about it?

Well, the promise of the fulfillment of this passage in their hearing was that the day of Jubilee was upon them. Jubilee was supposed to be a time when all debts were forgiven, and all land returned to the original owners or their heirs. A hope-filled promise, this was never actually put into practice. It seems that whenever people are on the “inside” or are part of the privileged, they see their status as entitlement, and more deserving over others. But that is not what privilege is for, and that is the root of the conflict that Jesus has with his former neighbors, family and friends.

Jesus calls himself a prophet. There is a little saying that, “Prophets comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.” Elijah and Elisha both comforted the afflicted, even though the afflicted were not part of the privileged people of God. Why? Because as a privileged people, we are called to comfort others not because of who they are, but because of who we are – privileged children who are called and blessed to be instruments of God’s love for all of humanity.

When the privileged see themselves as entitled above others because of their status, prophets are to speak in those situations to afflict that comfortable attitude and shake up those who see their status as beloved of God as the end all for their lives.
The prophetic voices in today’s world are supposed to be coming from the present day body of Christ, otherwise known as the Christian Church. We are called to speak words of love to all people, regardless of their age, class, race, gender, political affiliation, marital status, or whatever. What is so upsetting about that? Just start talking about racial justice issues and human rights in some communities, especially in the south, and see what the reaction is. Share a meal with Muslim neighbors as they break their fast at Ramadan and see what comments you get. Support those who live in sanctuary at the Mennonite Church up the street, or at First English Lutheran Church on Main street and feel the backlash. My sense is that the reason that people want to, “Make America Great Again,” is so that we can build ourselves up against those that we fear are threats to our status of privilege that we have as citizens of this country. My prophetic senses tell me to remind folks that if we are to be a great nation, it should not be for the purpose of becoming richer and richer, but for the purpose of feeding and healing and loving those we consider outsiders, because God has shown again and again that ALL are Children of God, and God has placed a priority on loving, blessing and healing them just as much or more than those of us who consider ourselves privileged.
Jesus’ appearance at his hometown synagogue was a prophetic moment. It began with words of comfort from Isaiah, and then concluded with words of affliction from his own mouth. Behind all of this was love – agape love – that we can only see dimly now, but one day we will see face to face, as Paul reminds us. Who is it that we as individuals and as a congregation are called to put aside our privilege and love, feed, heal or otherwise show compassion and comfort to in their affliction? It might start with putting a few dollars in a soup kettle this morning … or serving a meal at Faith Mission next week … or volunteering at a pantry or walking in a parade alongside LGBT folks … or somehow using your voice to speak out for those who have been made to feel like they are not loved by God or by others. The call to be prophetic voices might not always be popular, but it is the right way to live out our privilege as children of God. Amen.