January 31, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Our gospel reading from Luke today is actually the second part of a very interesting account in the life of Jesus. If we had worship last week we would have read the first part where Jesus after having been baptized and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, began to teach in the synagogue. He stood up and unrolled the scroll where the Scripture was written and read from the prophet Isaiah, “ The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has send 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.” Then Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. Luke says, “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.”
The people in the temple were fixed on him alright. Jesus had gained quite a reputation as a dynamic teacher and preacher. Luke says he “was praised by everyone.” Everyone in Galilee. On that day in the temple, he was in his home town of Nazareth, the place where he grew up. He was Joseph and Mary’s son, a carpenter, the boy who ran with the other young boys, and went to the synagogue to learn the Torah. The youth who at 12 wandered away from his parents and was preaching those lessons in the synagogue. Everyone knew him. Everyone recognized him, but there was something different about Jesus that day. He picked up the scrolls and read with such……power.
The word power in Greek is dunamis. Sounds like another word doesn’t it? Dynamite. And we know dynamite is powerful. It’s a force to be reckoned with. You have to handle it very carefully because dynamite has the power to destroy things. It blows things up, it tears things down. Just like the power that was within Jesus. The power to blow people’s minds with his radical new ideas. The power to tear down the old temple and rebuild it in three days. Yes, that’s the kind of power of the Holy Spirit. That’s the kind of power that was and is released through Jesus.
And the people that day in the temple were so amazed at how this home-town boy now had such power. He was speaking with such gracious words, a powerful man now speaking with authority. They had heard about the miracles he had performed elsewhere. And now that he was home, certainly he would help them. With the kind of power he now had Jesus would fulfill all their expectations. Things were finally going to change; things were finally going to turn around. They had great expectations!
But just when things seemed to be going so great, it all turned bad really quick. And it was Jesus, himself, who made the change. Instead of reveling in the glorious accolades of the people, he started saying things that were sure to get them riled up. He told them what he thought they were going to say next. “Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” You see, Jesus knew these people. He knew exactly what they really wanted even if they didn’t say it. At first they were welcoming, but deep down he knew they just wanted him to do what they wanted. They wanted him to perform miracles just like he did for others. And Jesus could have done that. It would have been easier. But Jesus was here to do God’s will and not to make things easy for himself. And speaking the truth certainly didn’t make it easy for him. Jesus saw right into people’s hearts and it stirred things up. They started murmuring among themselves and asking what had gotten into Jesus? Instead of being glad they were beginning to sound resentful, angry, and eventually enraged.
They were enraged because they didn’t want anyone – least of all Jesus who knew them so well – to point out their flaws, to reveal their secrets, or to point out the things they wanted were not part of God’s plans. The words, ‘Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” sounds like good news. It sounds like all one’s hopes and dreams might finally be realized. I’m sure the people of Nazareth felt like finally, finally after all the years of praying “how long O Lord” that God was going to answer their prayers. They probably said, “Yes, our enemies will finally get what is coming to them and we will finally get what we deserve. Vengeance for them and prosperity for us. Yes! Preach it Jesus!”
But then…..Jesus reminded them from the Hebrew Scriptures of how the prophet Elijah was sent by God to help the widow of Sidon and not the widows in Israel. That was not something they wanted to hear – how all their widows needed help and the outsider, the Gentile woman from Sidon (enemy territory) was rewarded. Was that wise of Jesus to bring up that subject? And Jesus didn’t stop there. He went on to remind them of all the lepers in Israel who needed cleansing and how God sent the prophet Elisha to cleanse not them, but the Gentile Syrian commander named Naaman – their enemy. Seriously? Didn’t Jesus know this was really going to get the people in Nazareth angry? His hometown crowd wanted a victory rally, not a reminder of how everyone who hurt them and didn’t deserve it was rewarded.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise for Jesus that they were growing angrier by the minute. They didn’t want to hear their enemies – the people who didn’t even practice their own religion – receive favor from God instead of their own people. They were angry all right. So angry that they go up and drove Jesus out of town and wanted to hurl him right off the cliff. That’s some serious rage! And if we’re honest wouldn’t we be just as angry? It’s easy to get angry when we’re challenged to look at things in a new way. It’s easier to shut people out and build walls than to try and work things out. We don’t always want to look at things from Jesus’ perspective because that may mean we have to give up something.
But we’re missing the point. That’s what being a disciple of Jesus is all about. It means we are giving something up. We’re giving up our old life and taking up our cross and following Jesus. And that’s not easy. It means we have to change the way we want to do things and live the way Jesus wants us to live and love the way Jesus wants us to love. God’s love is for everyone. It’s so easy to blame people for our troubles, to get angry at someone and instead of confronting them to seek out the truth we turn them into our enemy, to try and always be right and in control instead of listening and being willing to admit our own mistakes. It’s easier to leave people out of conversations, and decisions, and plans rather than to include them, which may mean change. And most people would rather drive others off a cliff – including Jesus – than really hear the truth and be open to change.
Jesus was incredibly brave to speak the truth and he asks us to do the same – to speak the truth in love, always in love. St. Paul says in 1 Cor. 13 that love “rejoices in the truth.” It rejoices in the truth because the truth sets us free. Yes, it can be hard to hear the truth. It can be painful to admit we’ve been wrong, which is why repentance is a word people try and avoid. But if we can be open to the truth it will transform us into the people that God created us to be. Repentance means turning around and that is what Jesus wants us to do, to turn around and see the truth and let it set us free.
Back in September, Pope Francis spoke to the US Congress about repentance. He spoke about caring for the poor and the oppressed. He spoke against those who want to hold on to money at the expense of others. He spoke words of truth, and like Jesus, the people in Congress didn’t want to hear these things. They didn’t want to hear about all the money they were spending on things that were not helping God or others, but helping themselves. When the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, heard these words from Pope Francis it made the headlines because he cried. And even more than that, several days later he resigned as Speaker of the House. Now I don’t know John Boehner personally, but something unusual certainly happened as a result of Pope Francis’ address to the Congress. It was evident that the words of truth that Pope Francis spoke touched his heart and led him to look at his life differently. Speaking the truth in love – not keeping secrets -has the power to do that. It’s not the love of power that changes people for the better, it’s the power of love.
Love is the essence of who God is. Love is the heart of what being a follower of Jesus is all about. Love is what being a church is all about, and when love is our focus everything else becomes clear. Love needs to drive everything we do. If we aren’t living and loving like Jesus, we aren’t really being disciples.
That powerful Spirit will break our hardened hearts and allow us to be the means through which God will proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed if we don’t get in the way. May the Holy Spirit open our hearts to hear God’s truth, to love like Jesus, and to proclaim that love even in the midst of opposition, even when pushed to the edge. Amen!