17 [T]he scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Jesus, and Jesus unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
The Lord has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 And Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then Jesus began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of Jesus and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 Jesus 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.’ ” 24 And Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But 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; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove Jesus 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. 30 But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
Please pray with me this morning, church:
God of love,
Without love, our words fall flat.
Without love, our deeds and our actions are nothing.
Remind us again, this morning, the truth about ourselves.
That we are yours.
That we are loved.
Sometimes I have a bit of a short fuse. I try and catch myself, but I’m not always successful. It comes out a lot when I’m driving, actually. Like earlier this month, myself and everyone around me were all driving on our way down 59. I wasn’t the slowest car in the right lane, but I wasn’t the fastest in the left lane either. And this other car cuts across, like, 3 lanes of traffic to try and catch the exit they were about to miss. And everyone in all the lanes on the highway had to brake pretty hard as this other car was cutting across. And after I kind of shouted a few choice words that I wouldn’t be too proud to tell Jesus, I’ll tell you, church, that, like, ruined my day for, like, 5 minutes. Seriously…and in retrospect, it wasn’t really that big of a deal, but in the moment, you would have thought this person committed a grievous offense against me personally.
Sometimes that’s how much some of these incidents affect me. It’s like I get so angry at such a small, seemingly insignificant thing. It’s really strange, and it’s probably not very healthy, and I know this about myself so I’m trying to work on it, but still.
In the moment that kind of vengeful anger feels a little good, if I’m being honest. But when I reflect on that moment later, I know that’s not a healthy emotion.
Upon reflection, I feel convicted by the truth about myself behind that experience.
Sometimes the truth about ourselves has a funny way of doing that to us. So very often the truth exposes something about us that we’d rather not have widely known and it makes us uncomfortable. You work so hard to display how great your life is and how wonderful everything is to your friends and family and coworkers…we curate these displays on our social media pages, our facebooks and instagrams…we build up this beautiful façade…that when you start to see cracks in that façade or when you think that others can see right through the perfect veneer to the foundation that might be less than perfect, we feel shame about that. And shame is a powerful emotion.
Sometimes the truth about ourselves can do that. It can make you uncomfortable because it causes shame to rise up in you. “What if everyone can see this?” “What if everyone can see right past this and they knew that things aren’t quite as perfect as I make them out to be?” “What would they think of me then?”
Sometimes when you have the mirror turned back upon yourself in reflection, you don’t like what you see very much. The truth can be a convicting thing. And maybe you don’t like being called out on your stuff. Because maybe it means you were wrong once, or have been wrong a few times. And if you were wrong about this one thing, what else might you have been wrong about?
And so you get angry. It’s a defense mechanism…this defensive posture. It’s a form of self-preservation. You scoff, “I’m not like that!”
Our Gospel from Luke today picks up where we left off last week. Jesus is in the synagogue on the Sabbath and he gets up to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and Jesus unrolls the scroll to what we know as Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring Gospel—good news, eungelion—to the poor. The Lord has sent me to proclaim release to those who are imprisoned and bound up and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of Jubilee—the year of the Lord’s favor, every 50 years, in which all slaves are to be set free, all fields are to be returned to their rightful owners, all debts are to be forgiven.”
And Jesus rolls up the scroll, gives it back to the attendant, and quite authoritatively says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” And the whole assembly just kind of stares at Jesus wide-eyed, with their mouths slightly open, just astounded…”Isn’t this Joseph’s kid? The carpenter…? Such authority he preaches with!” It’d be like one of New Hope’s youth from like 15 or 20 years ago getting up here and preaching. You might be quite amazed at her authority, but some of you in the back of your mind would still be seeing that young Confirmation-aged and high school young girl. You’d still be seeing the young woman who grew up here, maybe even some of you had changed her diapers or babysat her before. She speaks and she preaches with authority…but that authority is just a little bit muted…because you remember the child that she was, and maybe part of you still thinks of her in that way…
So Jesus gets a little antagonistic, a little provocative: “No doubt you’ll say to me, ‘Physician, cure yourself!’ Do here in Nazareth what it is we heard you did in Capernaum…healing those people, setting those in captivity to their ailments free.” “You want me to do the thing, right?” Jesus goes on, “You want me to do the magic tricks. Prove it to you that I am who others say I am, right?” Jesus is needling them, egging them on. Jesus is getting under their skin. “Very truly I tell you, no prophet is welcomed in the prophet’s own hometown.” The hometown doesn’t want to hear the words of challenge that the prophet has for them. The hometown just wants the show, the magic tricks. “Give me all the goods and blessings, but spare me your words of challenge and condemnation and change.” The hometown crowd wants the healings and the blessings from God, but they don’t want to hear about how far they’ve strayed in their relationship to God.
Sometimes the truth gets a little too close for our comfort. Sometimes the truth gets a little too close to the actual truth. And those feelings of shame creep up, and anger creeps up. And how dare this person whose diapers I changed challenge me, and tell me how far I’ve strayed from God. And who do they think they are anyway? Who gave them the authority anyway?
But Jesus keeps on, “The truth is, people—oh you who think you’re so great, oh you who think you’ve got it all put together, oh you who think you’re so beyond reproach—the truth is there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, and yet, Elijah was sent to none of them except the one in Zarephath in Sidon…you know, the non-Israelite, the outsider, the one who wasn’t part of the covenant. There were many unclean people in Israel in the time of Elisha, but Elisha wasn’t sent to any of them, Elisha was sent to Naaman the Syrian…the non-Israelite, the outsider, the one outside the covenant. Don’t you see God’s preference here? Don’t you see God’s preference for the outsider, the ones who aren’t the hometown crowd, the ones who don’t have their perfect façades, or at least are honest and upfront about the cracks in the foundation?”
Don’t you see, church?!
Well if you don’t have your hackles up by now, if you haven’t yet started bristling at Jesus’ words, you certainly are there now. Ready to throw Jesus right off that cliff along with the crowd from Nazareth.
If Jesus’ words in scripture haven’t bothered you, if there aren’t Gospel messages that have deeply convicted you, I’m not sure you’ve been listening.
Who among us hasn’t wanted to throw Jesus off of a cliff for having the audacity to say something true? Something true about me? Something true about how I haven’t been living up to God’s standards, those standards and that way of living that I was called to in my baptism?
I have a colleague who, about this time 5 years ago, got up to read the Gospel appointed for that day, from the Gospel of Matthew: “Jesus began to preach, ‘Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are the ones who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers.” My colleague sat down and the congregation continued on with the Hymn of the Day. And later my colleague got several emails that they were being too political and they needed to keep that stuff out of the Sanctuary.
We heard that Gospel here in this Sanctuary, too, by the way, on that same Sunday. It was the Gospel appointed for that Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary. I got a couple of those emails, too.
Prophets don’t tell the future. Prophets in the biblical tradition tell the truth about God and the truth about God’s people. It’s the unenviable task of the prophet to tell people, to demonstrate to them, how far they’ve veered in their walk with God and what it will take to bring that back.
Prophets tell the truth.
And sometimes that truth gets a little too close to home. Sometimes that truth is a little too true. And shame about just how far you’ve wandered starts to rise up. And anger starts to manifest. And that truth can make you angry.
Which is why it’s important to remember what we’re created for. We are created for community. To be in relationship with one another. A relationship, as St. Paul describes it in First Corinthians, rooted in love. “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I’m a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and knowledge, and have faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
Without love…these words…are nothing. Apart from a relationship rooted in love these words are nothing. We can’t hear the truth about ourselves outside of a loving and mutual relationship. Those truths will fall flat. Doesn’t mean they’re not still true…just means that we can’t hear them.
Church, we are called to be a community that’s honest, a community that tells the truth, about ourselves, about our neighborhood, about one another. And we are called to do so in a relationship formed in love and mutual care and affection.
We are called to recognize the numerous times in scripture that the word of God came not to those on the inside, not to the ones who said they had it all figured out or put up a shiny veneer, but rather came to those on the outside, the outcast and the marginalized, the ones thought of as less than. the ones who don’t pretend that there aren’t some cracks in the façade.
Because while there might be some cracks, while the veneer might be dull and less than perfect, the foundation’s still good, the bones are still good.
Next week we’ll hear all about how we can keep building on this foundation and these bones. Next week, at the long-awaited kickoff of our Capital Campaign, we’ll hear a vision that we’ve talked about for a number of years now about how this foundation and these bones still have a difference to make in our neighborhood and our community. Join us next week for worship as we celebrate all God has done here at New Hope and all God is calling us to well into the future.
Come join us for worship next week as we continue Building on Hope.
Here’s what else is true about you, church.
You have strayed. We all…have veered.
But God constantly and continuously seeks us out.
The Holy Spirit never stops trying to blow us back on course.
There are cracks in your façade. But God loves that imperfect veneer.
God knows it’s not all perfect. But that’s not what God is interested in anyway.
God’s interested in your foundation, in your bones, and in your heart.
You are beloved.
That’s what true.