Luke 4: 21-30; I Cor. 13
The great theologian John Prine sings, “I just got kicked off Noah’s Ark. There was two of everything but just one of me.” I imagine Jesus must have felt a lot like that. It was not just who he was but what he said that seemed to leave him on the outside looking in. A couple of weeks ago we talked about John’s gospel introducing Jesus to the community through a wedding. Mary uses the powers of motherhood to have Jesus reveal his authority. Luke uses a different setting. The son of Joseph was asked to read the Torah at the local Synagogue.
Imagine how proud the parents must have felt. Imagine how impressed the Rabbi must have been when Jesus selected a favorite passage from Isaiah.
The spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because God has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the captives,
recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
I imagine his grammar school teacher beamed when he did not mispronounce a word. Folks marveled when Jesus slowly and carefully enunciated each phrase. The community rose as one acknowledging what a great job they had done raising this child of a carpenter. Some suggested Jesus should head to Jerusalem to enroll in rabbinical school. Certainly he was destined for greatness.
Then Jesus, for the first of many times to follow, gets himself kicked off the ark. He added one sentence to his reading of the text. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The Rabbi ran forward to inspect the scroll. He couldn’t remember those words anywhere in the ancient text. His teacher put her head down thinking to herself, “He always seemed a little too full of himself.” His next door neighbor spoke loudly enough for all to hear, “Who does he think he is? I’ve known him since he was a boy. This is no messiah. He isn’t even a very good carpenter.” Then Jesus spoke a second time, “No prophet is accepted in his hometown.”
I don’t care if you are living in the time of Jesus or in the year 2013 it is one thing to acknowledge a problem and something altogether different to decide to do something about it. Let me make this point by bringing up a current hot button issue. Everyone, excuse the pun, is up in arms about gun control. Recent tragedies have created conversations ranging from banning bullets to arming school teachers. I am sure each of you has an opinion. I’m equally sure if I used this pulpit to express my opinions many of you would be less than pleased with my words. And that is exactly what happened to Jesus.
Quoting Isaiah, Jesus proclaimed in the year of Jubilee all the poor would be elevated, all the prisons emptied, and all the oppressed liberated. Now any good Jew was well aware of the Year of Jubilee. It was an event that theoretically happened every fifty years resulting in the forgiveness of debts and the release of slaves. Of course that part was never observed. The year was celebrated and a lot of parties were attended. But slavery and debt remained pretty much intact.
Jesus, this son of a carpenter, stood up in the middle of church and had the audacity to declare he was going to prove there really was a Santa Claus. He was going to bring about a new age for all people that would no doubt wreck the existing status quo. The congregation, most of whom were hopelessly in debt and certainly enslaved by Pax Romana were incensed by his words. They leapt to their feet, and had every intention of throwing Jesus off a cliff.
Jesus had the boldness to take an old narrative and replace it with a new song. His neighbors loved to sit in the synagogue and tell stories of God creating the earth, of God’s liberating acts in Egypt, of God guiding the hand of David when facing a giant, of God bring fire on Mount Carmel, and of God one day sending a messiah. But they were unable to imagine God stepping into their narrative and transforming their world. I think the folks in Nazareth were a bit put off by the suggestion that the God whom they had come to know and love had become a God whose scope and concern was not limited to a select few. Jesus’ insistence that God’s intentions were bigger than just a few Israelites caught them a bit off guard.
I don’t believe we suffer from this delusion. I can not imagine you folks wanting to limit the scope of God’s mercy and grace to just a handful of folks. That said, I still think there are things God has planned for humanity that might be a shock to our system. Imagine the response if one day a person identifying himself as Jesus stepped up from the congregation, read the scripture and then followed with a few off the cuff comments. Would we jump to our feet and follow him? Would we shake our heads and just pass it off as another unusual day at Rockfish? I would like to think we wouldn’t carry him up to Humpback and push him off the edge. Hopefully we would have the courage to ask, “OK, that sounds really interesting, but how are you going to pull it off?”
I think the answer is as simple and as complex now as it was when Jesus really did walk this earth. What is it that Jesus has that should draw us to him? Is he smart? I would venture to suggest his IQ was off the charts. Does he understand the mysteries of the universe? I suspect that goes without saying. Does he have the power to move mountains? He certainly has the power to move the hearts and minds of anyone he meets. He fed the poor, healed the sick, cured the lame, and told stories we still tell to our children. All of that is amazing but it was not enough, if one element was missing.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels, but do not have love, I am nothing more than a noisy gong. If I have prophetic powers, all knowledge and the faith to move mountains but not have love, I am as nothing.” Paul wasn’t describing himself. He was speaking about the one who brings good news to poor, not as a sociological experiment but because of love. Paul was speaking of the one who would release the captives, not as an exercise in prison reform but because of love. Paul was speaking of the one who gave sight to our hearts and freedom to our oppressed souls. Paul was speaking of the one who personified the words, “Love bears all things; hopes all things; believes all things; endures all things.”
Long before the words of Emma Lazarus were engraved on the Statue of Liberty, Jesus loved “the tired, huddled masses.” Sometimes the cost for such behavior caused Jesus to be taken to the crest of a hill. Initially he walked away from the crowds. The last time he didn’t. This was his everlasting gift of love.
This is the gift that brings us to the table. For when we take the bread, we confess the love of God. When we sip of the cup, we confess the love of God. When we share the gift together, we remember the love of God.
And then we become….. the body of Christ,
we become…… the words of Christ,
we become …….the love of Christ,
even if sometimes it takes us to the edge of our cliff.