Good morning, wonderful readers. Happy Friday to you. For today's post I'm sharing the sermon I'll be preaching on Sunday. It's quite a bit longer than most posts, so don't be alarmed. And don't feel pressured to read it if sermons have a tendancy to make you *yawn*. Tomorrow we will return to your regularly scheduled length of posts. If you do decide to read the sermon, be sure to read the gospel lesson first. If you click on the green link below, it will take you right to Sunday's gospel text. Or, if you have a Bible laying around somewhere, it might be fun to pull it out and look up the gospel of Luke in the New Testament section. The first few times I read through this gospel lesson, I thought it was really wacky and strange. Over the course of this week, it has become one of my very favorite sections of the Bible.

Have a delightful day.

Sermon for 1.31.2010
Text: Luke 4:21-30
“A Hill with a View”

A person’s first airplane flight is generally a pretty exciting experience! I remember the first time I flew on an airplane. I was in 8th grade, and it was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I remember getting the courage to finally look out the window a few minutes after take-off. What a view! The landscape of northeastern Iowa looked really different from up in the sky than it had looked on the ground. The corn and bean fields were perfectly plotted out in giant squares. The trees were like bunches of broccoli. The clouds were like cotton. My perspective was so much broader from up there in the sky. I realized that sunny afternoon that the world can look a lot different depending on from where you’re looking; the view is dependent on the point of reference.

Today’s gospel lesson has a lot to do with perspective and point of view. Jesus challenges the mindset and thinking of the crowd he’s speaking to – and it infuriates them! But before we get to the enraged crowd, let’s set the stage:

Today’s gospel text is a continuation of the last week’s story. Jesus is in the synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown. He’s just read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Everyone is gathered around him; these are probably a lot of the people he grew up with. And they are all completely in awe of Jesus. They are impressed with his intelligence and public speaking. In fact, verse 22 states that “all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” If you’ve ever gotten to meet your favorite author or hear your favorite band live in concert – you can imagine how the crowd felt! To put it in the words of one of my favorite sayings that I picked up since arriving in Stewartville: Everyone thought Jesus was the “bees knees.” They couldn’t wait to see the amazing miracles he’d perform among them! They were probably thinking he’d even do extra special miracles among them because he was in his HOME TOWN!

But then, in an instant – the mood completely shifts! Jesus immediately starts challenging the people’s assumptions about who he is and what he’s going to do among them. He’s saying, more or less, “You know what? You people don’t know me at all!” Instead of telling them about all the miracles and signs he will do for them, Jesus does quite the opposite. He talks about the miracles of the past prophets Elijah and Elisha. He tells the crowd that these two prophets reached out to outsiders. Even when Elijah and Elisha were surrounded by insiders – people of their own tradition who needed help – they went out of their way to help outsiders: a widow and an army commander instead. By giving these two examples, Jesus is flipping over everything these people want to believe about who is inside and who is outside God’s love.

The crowd is instantly filled with rage! The Greek word for rage, “thymos” is only used once in Luke’s gospel. It is a very intense word. It means the kind of anger that boils up fast and overcomes! In a very short span of time, the crowd goes from adoring Jesus to hating him. All of them stand up and start chasing Jesus out of town – out of his own hometown!

The crowd really does not like being reminded of how much God likes outsiders! They can’t stand this idea of a God who gives preferential treatment to the outcasts, the poor, and the widows. God’s grace and love can be very scandalous and infuriating sometimes – especially when it’s expressed toward unexpected people. And this makes the crowd so filled with flaming rage that they chase the golden boy of Nazareth out of town. Not only do they chase him out of town, they chase him up a hill! No longer are they speaking well of Jesus and his amazing words. Instead, they want to, quote, “hurl him off a cliff”!

They get Jesus all the way to the top of this hill on which their town is built. It’s a cliff. And on the other side is a big drop-off and certain death. Only Jesus doesn’t fall off the cliff and die. Instead, he passes through the crowd and moves on this way. And all that’s left is a big, angry mob standing at the top of a cliff. Jesus could have passed through them and went on his way when they ganged up on him in the synagogue. He could have passed through them and went on his way at any point. Instead, he waits until they get to the top of this hill. And then he moves along.

These infuriated people – filled with rage – are left with quite a view. They are left at the edge of a cliff - looking out at the world that stretched beyond Nazareth. I wonder what they were thinking at that moment. I wonder – as they looked out over that cliff – as they looked out as far as their eyes could see – if perhaps their perspective changed a bit. It seems like there must have been some people in that crowd who paused for long enough to recognize how ridiculous they were being. Some people must have thought to themselves, “Why are we always trying to put God’s grace in a box?” I wonder what they were thinking as they walked back down the hill.

I would imagine we’ve all had instances in our lives when we’ve been really, really mad. Like perhaps during last Sunday’s football game. Or after a big argument. Many of us have probably even been a bit like this crowd: mad at God, mad at Jesus, mad at the church. I was mad at God for a semester back in seminary.

I was taking a class called “Ministry to the Incarcerated.” It was a course focused on how the church can help prisoners, ex-convicts, and their families. Mostly, I took it because it fit into my class schedule. The class met once a week for 3 hours. For the first few weeks of class, I was pretty internally mad. I was mad because the class really challenged my thoughts on insiders and outsiders. I certainly believed, in theory, that God loved everyone. But deep in the darkness and sin of my heart, there were some people who I didn’t really think deserved God’s love. I had a hardened heart when it came to people society labels as “criminals.”

Throughout the course we took a fieldtrip to a halfway house and we had different speakers like a prison warden, a guard, and several rehabilitated ex-convicts. And still, my heart was hardened. I was chasing Jesus up a cliff – mad because I thought maybe his love extended a little too far.

And then, I was at the edge of the cliff. I couldn’t chase Jesus any farther. Jesus left me at the top of that cliff to soak in the view for awhile.

That’s the day Charles spoke to our class. He’d been released from an Illinois prison only weeks before. Charles spent decades in prison – from the age of 17 to 38 - for a crime for which he was later exonerated. As he spoke to our class, it was like I was standing at the top of a hill getting a whole new perspective. I couldn’t believe how wrong I had been. I realized at that moment why the class had been making me so mad. It made me mad because deep inside, I knew I was wrong to try to limit God’s love. Charles and that course really and truly changed my heart – the DNA of my spirit. But it wasn’t until I reached the top of pretty steep hill.

Sometimes in life, we all get mad like that crowd. We get mad because there are big hurdles and challenges in our lives. Financial stress. Job stress. Family stress. And sometimes we direct that anger at God. God makes us mad for lots of reasons – often because He reaches out to unexpected people and also because his plans for us can be confusing.

Jesus gives us the space to be angry. He allows us to chase him up a cliff of bitterness because he knows that once we get to the top, we will probably see things differently.

Today’s gospel lesson is an invitation to let go of whatever anger and rage we’re carrying around inside. We are invited to look out over the edge of the hill where we are standing and see a bigger picture of God’s kingdom of love and justice and compassion. Today’s gospel lesson ends by telling us that Jesus “went on his way.” Jesus is a man on a mission – and that mission is to share the good news of God’s love and forgiveness. Nothing will stop Jesus from continuing that mission. And we are invited to be part of it. We don’t have to hold on to all the negativity and rage and bitterness that holds us captive. Jesus will take all those burdens so that we can join him in sharing the gospel.

Praise be to God for always expanding our vision – for never giving up on us - and for always journeying with us as we come to know the bigger picture of his grace and his love.


1 comment:

  1. "God changes our view": That's what I would have written in preaching class. Great sermon Pastor Emily, I'm glad you went M.Div; you have a gift! Gave me a lot to think about and was spot on. Thanks for sharing your insight and yourself!