Sunday, 15 January 2017

Teacher Rejected - Sermon 15th January

Luke 4:14-30
Sometimes, the sermon appears, almost unbidden. The ideas come and the words flow.
Sometimes it doesn’t seem to matter how much reading, praying, contemplating and reflecting I do, the sermon stubbornly refuses to be written.

Today’s reading is tricky.
It is very challenging to us as listeners. And the challenge is hidden and easily missed.
On first read: Jesus has arrived in Nazareth; tales of his mission, his actions, his teaching had gone before him, and the people were delighted to welcome him home.
This was one of their own, coming home, his kudos would extend to them; his cachet would rub off on them. This was a time of civic pride in one of their own made good.
The shock comes not when he chooses to read from Isaiah, and then claim that the prophecy has been fulfilled. But after that, when he tells them in no uncertain terms that they were not fit to receive the blessing; not chosen to receive God’s chosen; not good enough for a blessing.
It really was outrageous.
It was like me standing here and telling you, there was going to be a great spiritual revival but that God was going to pass over Earlston because none of us is chosen. (I’m not saying that… not at all!)

I have been trying to work out what it was that Jesus said that triggered such a violent response; why were they so outraged? Why did their response lead to such an aggressive reaction? What did he say that so disturbed them? And what did they do to provoke Jesus’ challenge?
It is frustrating, because the text is sparse, and so much is subliminal, unwritten.
The first thing we need to remember is when and for whom this gospel was written. Luke is writing for the new “Christians” the majority of whom are Gentiles; he is writing from the perspective of one who has investigated thoroughly, interviewed witnesses and gathered as many of the stories as he can. And Luke, whoever he was, has not been a first-hand witness, he did not know Jesus, follow Jesus, hear Jesus for himself.
Luke is writing for these new Christians, the ones who come from other traditions, the ones who were not Jewish from birth. So, when Jesus reads from Isaiah, and then exclaims the scripture is being fulfilled the Nazarenes are cast as the unacceptable.
It is important to note that when it says Jesus sat down – this is because he is about to teach. The tradition was to stand to read scripture and then the teacher would sit to explain and expound on the scriptures.
The next part of his teaching is this: remember that when God was with Elijah, he sent him to the Gentile widow not the Israelites to feed them during the famine; when God was with Elisha, he sent him to the gentile king to heal him, not to any Jews who had skin diseases; when God sends me to teach and heal and work miracles, it is not to you, but to everyone else – you will not hear me and believe.
And this is why they were so mad!!
The implication is that God is sending him not to Nazareth, but from there to the rest of the “world” – the Isaiah reading is basically Jesus’ manifesto for the rest of his mission on earth… the time of grace, of jubilee is announced; but these first ones to hear it are rejected. It’s no wonder they were outraged, scandalised. And it is no wonder that the rising fury led to a mob of people determined to drive him away, out of their lives and out of their town, and more, to drive him out of life all together.
The image of the mob, pushing, shoving, closing ranks, moving like a tidal wave up the hill, hemming him in, ready to throw him off the cliff – is tangible, the atmosphere tense, the mood disturbed… and suddenly he’s gone!
No longer at the head of the crowd being carried along; suddenly he slips away, escapes, never to set foot in his home town again.
So, how do we, with the gift of hindsight and the distance of all those years, respond to this? What must we do to be sure we hear and act? How do we fulfil Jesus’ manifesto right now in our 21st century community?
That manifesto again:
Preach the Good News to the poor
Proclaim release to captives
Bring sight to the blind
Liberate the oppressed
Proclaim the year of Jubilee – God’s favour.

In our 21st century world; the rich get richer; the poor lose out; the land is over used; the forests burned; the air polluted; and God’s little ones are overlooked at best and abused and disadvantaged
What are we to do about it? because it all feels too big; too much; too impossible for us to tackle the reality.
We are not called to fix the whole world
We are called to fix our own small part. Because if everyone did just that, and truly cared for everyone they came across, the world would be a far better place.
The people of Jesus’ home had become complacent; they followed the rules and thought that was enough. They had become self-satisfied.
We cannot do everything; but we can do something.
What can you do?
We have many different ministries in our church: from coffee fellowship on a Sunday morning; to praying through prayer requests; to helping with worship or joining the Wednesday morning café; and, in future when we have other events or projects or start new things, come along – bring a friend, help us to grow.
I have been doing a lot of reflecting this past few weeks as we approach my sixth anniversary it is a good time for me to take stock, and for us to work together to begin to grow our church; time to consider new ways to reach out to those who do not have a live church connection.
We know there are plenty folks who feel a connection, but don’t actually do anything about it… so I want to look at ways of reaching them.
Also, they are many, many folks who have lost touch, who find Sunday morning isn’t the right time for them – and I’m wondering what we might do for those too.

I can’t do it all by myself; but I can be a catalyst for new things; for God-given inspirations that come in many shapes and sizes.
The Spirit of God is alive and working in and through each of us
The Spirit proclaims once more the year of God’s favour – it is for us now to hear and act.
It is for us to be God’s Church – alive and well in our community and beyond.
Those who heard Jesus had a choice – to respond or to reject.
And so do we – what will it be?
Do we respond and answer God’s call; can we build God’s church anew for our time and for our people?
 God’s manifesto of justice and grace is the mandate that stands the test of time
And it is for us to act and respond to that call
Right now in 2017. We can be God’s chosen ones!

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