There is Good News! But Being Favored Isn’t It (February 3, 2019)

01 Feb

Luke 4:21-30

Then [Jesus] began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 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?” 23 He 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 he said, “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 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. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Last week was Jesus’ first sermon recorded in Luke back in his home congregation in Nazareth. Today’s text continues, even overlaps a verse, and includes the congregation’s response to it. In a word, it wasn’t a great response.

I can’t imagine going back to my home church in Salt Lake City right after seminary and preaching my very first public sermon ever. And the congregational response is to drive me out of town and try to throw me off a cliff. I think I’d likely rethink this whole preaching thing as a career choice.

But we need to look at why they tried to throw Jesus off a cliff. He was their hometown hero at this point. His reputation as a preacher and teacher had spread throughout Galilee already. Everyone was amazed at him and they all praised his ability.

So the bar was high when he comes back to Nazareth. Things start out just fine. Everyone was amazed at what he was saying. They liked his emphasis on God’s good news coming into the world. They beamed with pride, “Yup, this is Joseph’s son, he’s one of us!”

And then someone shouted, “Hey, Jesus! We’ve been hearing about some things you did in Capernaum. How about doing one of those miracles or something here?” And everyone else chimed in too. “Heal one of our sick, cast out a demon from one of us. After all, we’re your people. We’re like your family. We’ve always supported you. We deserve something from you.”

That’s when the wheels came off. Instead of showing favoritism to his family and friends, Jesus took the opportunity to make a bigger point. “That’s not the way God’s reign works,” he said. “If God shows any preference, it’s for those who are on the outside, the poor, the oppressed, the migrant, and the prisoners. You’re not entitled to better treatment and bigger miracles because you know me.”

Then Jesus gives them two examples from their own scriptures. In a famine which lasted 3 ½ years, God’s prophet Elijah wasn’t sent to his own people in Israel, but to a poor Gentile widow from Sidon. And later, God’s prophet Elisha was sent to heal only one leper, and that wasn’t someone from Israel, but a man from Syria.

Jesus found out that apparently, people get mad when you say they are no more deserving of God’s power than anyone else. Apparently, they are enraged when you let them know that their enemies are at least as favored as they are. And apparently, they try to kill you when you tell them God doesn’t tip the scales in their favor.

Let’s not get too judgmental about these hometown folks in the synagogue in Nazareth. Because that attitude of being God’s favorites, of being more entitled to God’s salvation, and more deserving of God’s help is still pretty prevalent among us.

For the people in Nazareth, they feel more entitled because they know Jesus. For us, we feel more entitled because . . . we know Jesus.

We’re Christians, we believe in the Triune God, which includes Jesus. We know the Lord’s prayer, we confess Jesus as Lord, and we are good moral people—in his name. We honestly try hard. That’s gotta be worth something, doesn’t it? If God is going to help anyone, it oughta be someone who knows God’s son, right? If anyone is saved, it should really be those who know Jesus, shouldn’t it? Don’t we still kind of believe that we as Christians (especially as Lutherans; and even more especially as Americans) are somehow favored? That we’re just a bit entitled? That we should get God’s attention first?

Think about it. We trust that we who go to Christian churches are destined for heaven, but aren’t so sure about those that go to the Mile Hi Church of Religious Science on Alameda. We are in favor of converting non-believers, but not so enthusiastic about loving them. We pray for the safety of American troops, but rarely pray for the safety of enemy troops. We welcome educated European immigrants, but put up walls to keep out poor Central American ones, and bans to keep out Muslim ones.

And what does Jesus say to us? The same thing he says to his hometown church. Jesus says, “The truth is, there were many Christians who are suffering loneliness and despair; yet my disciples are sent to the Hindus and the agnostics. There are also many Christians who are hated and persecuted, yet my disciples are sent to welcome the Muslims and the non-religious.”

In Nazareth, people thought Jesus was great when he said things they liked. But they were ready to kill him when he said things they didn’t.

We can listen to those parts of Jesus’ teachings that we agree with and that seem to be good news for us personally, e.g., you’re forgiven, I go to prepare a place for you, today you’ll be with me in paradise, those who believe and are baptized will be saved, etc. It’s easy to find Jesus amazing!

We also need to hear the parts that are hard, and trust that since they’re coming from Jesus, they’ve got to be good news too. E.g., love your enemies, forgive everyone, serve the poor, protect the immigrant, and accept the reality that we are not more favored because we know Jesus. Like the folks in Nazareth, it can be hard to follow Jesus when we hear these things.

But the good news is Jesus. Not just some of his teachings, but Christ himself. In this crucified and risen one is God’s vision for us and for all creation. This Christ is present and comes and calls and invites all of us into God’s redemptive work in the world. He brings it—all of it—into our hearts and into our lives. The good news for the world is Jesus—all of him. Jesus has come. Not just for us, but for the whole world. As Jesus said to those in Nazareth, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Christ has come into the world, and has come to us. Whether easy or hard, it is good news!

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Posted by on February 1, 2019 in Sermon


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