About Me

My photo
Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Luke 4:21-30

“I’m Just Getting Started”

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Today’s scripture begins where we left off last Sunday. Jesus has returned to his hometown of Nazareth. He goes to the synagogue and delivers what we might call his inaugural address. He proclaims his mission statement.

'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

And the people of Nazareth, say, “Wow!!” After generation upon generation of waiting to hear this prophesy fulfilled, their own little boy – Joseph and Mary’s son – a native son they watched grow up in their own neighborhood – Jesus proclaims the prophesy is fulfilled in their hearing. All speak well of him, Luke tells us. They’re amazed at the gracious words that come from his mouth. Finally some good news in worship! Finally more than the same boring old preacher saying the same boring old things. Ordinarily it was, “Yes, we know, Rabbi. The Messiah will come someday, so we’d better wash properly. Yada, yada. Take the collection and let your people go to lunch.” Their religion was words and laws, and more words, and more laws. So when their little Jesus starts to preach, and not only preach, but preach with life and spirit, and proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is bursting into their lives right here, right now – the people pay attention. Luke uses more restrained words, but the gist of the congregational response is, “Wow!”

That’s where we left off last Sunday. Reese Wills, the other minister in the congregation, and I were laughing after worship, because we knew what was coming this Sunday. “If Jesus had just quit while he was ahead!” we said. First rule of preaching sermons – you’ve got to know when to stop. So many preachers get themselves into trouble because they can’t resist that one extra, “And, in conclusion.” And the people of God say, “There he goes again. He done quit preachin’ and gone to meddlin’.”) Surely, Jesus, as a preacher, would have known. He comes home, delivers his first sermon to the people who helped raise him. He has this moment where almost anything he says is golden. Almost anything. Bless the heart of this young preacher: he just didn’t know when to stop.

They, “were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’” They’re so proud of him they could just pop. And then, Jesus blows it. He says, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” Then, not only does Jesus criticize his neighbors and relatives, he insults them. He compares them to starving, widowed, leprous ingrates. He implies that foreign-blooded, idol-worshipping Sidonians and Syrians are more deserving of God’s mighty acts than they are. Well. The people of Nazareth might fall asleep during worship, but they’re awake enough to know when they’re being insulted. Insulted, no less, by the kid they used to invite to their homes for supper. The kid whose dad’s carpenter shop used to receive their hard-earned money. The kid whose clothes they had helped pay for. This is the thanks they get? So, thinking quickly, the people come up with an appropriate way to congratulate Jesus on this week’s sermon. They stand up right where they are, Luke tells us, chase him out the synagogue doors, and right out of town. Not only that, they chase him to the cliff at the edge of town, so they can throw him off, and maybe give him time to compose his next sermon on the way down. Let this be a lesson to all preachers henceforth: You’ve got to know when to stop.

The point where the rest of us might stop, though, is the point where Jesus is just getting started. This, in Luke’s telling, is how Jesus began his recorded ministry. Run out of town. Attempted homicide. From the people who were supposed to be his best friends. Is this any way to run a ministry? If, for instance, the presidential wanabees who are forming “exploratory committees” got this kind of reaction from their hometown constituents, how many of them would stay in the race? (And you’re thinking, “Hmmm. Here’s ONE way to narrow the field of candidates.”) But Jesus obviously isn’t trying to win any popularity contests. He’s not putting himself up for election. In theological terms, Jesus has already been elected, chosen, from the beginning of time to be the Messiah. The question isn’t, “Is he who he says he is?”; the question is, “How are the people going to react?” How do we react to Jesus as Savior? Are we fans or are we followers? By word and deed, are we preachers of his word? Or are we critics, spiritual Siskel and Eberts, giving a “thumbs up” to what we like and a “thumbs down” to what we don’t? How do YOU react to Jesus?

A popular bumper sticker or church marquis sign these days is the question, “Got Jesus?” It’s a play on the very successful marketing campaign of the American Dairy Farmers Association. The farmers painted white mustaches on every celebrity they could hold still and asked, “Got Milk?” They couldn’t look more wholesome, which, if you’re a celebrity these days is a good thing. In no time at all, the Christian marketers came up with, “Got Jesus?” As if Jesus is something you can get at the store, and then, I don’t know, keep fresh in the refrigerator. Jesus becomes our “personal” Lord and Savior. Like our “personal” computers, or our “personal” banking relationship, or our “personal” thousand other things. Time Magazine put a mirror on its cover and proclaimed, “You” are the Person of the Year. It’s all about you. You – got Jesus? Which version? Has there been an upgrade? You – don’t want to be left out, or worse: left behind, in the apocalyptic sense. Don’t got Jesus? Well, you’d better get yours before he – or you – are all gone.

When did the people of Nazareth get mad? They got mad when their Jesus misbehaved. They tried to pack him up and send him back to the maker. Their Jesus wouldn’t have said those rude things. Their Jesus would have respected the people who made him who he was. Their Jesus would have been about… them. Got Jesus? No. They didn’t get Jesus at all. Jesus wasn’t about to let himself be voted this year’s, “Nazareth Idol.” He was just getting started with something new.

How many people do you think give up on Jesus just at the point when he’s just getting started? They read something in scripture, or they hear someone say some religious thing they don’t agree with, and they think, “My Jesus must not be working right.” Did you ever get a gadget where one little feature doesn’t work, but you think, “Aw, it’s not worth sending it back”? You learn to do without, or ignore the irritating part. That’s what a lot of people do with Jesus when he doesn’t perform to their expectations. Instead of throwing him in the garbage (which was, by the way, most often at the bottom of the cliff at the edge of town), they just ignore the part of Jesus that doesn’t work right (in their opinion). From the standpoint of faith, it’s hard to know what’s worse: crucifying Jesus, or ignoring him when he says something you don’t like.

So where do you get the real Jesus, the whole Jesus, and nothing but the Jesus? Where do you start?

First, scripture. It’s no surprise that Jesus started telling the people of Nazareth who he was by reading scripture. Jesus started with scripture, and so should we. Pick up the Bible and read it for yourself. But even there, we have to be careful to get the whole picture before we start drawing conclusions. There are four Gospels in the Bible – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – and they’re all different. Jesus is too big even for one gospel writer to get him right. If you want to know about Jesus, the starting point is scripture.

The second place to find Jesus is trickier. The people of Nazareth wanted Jesus to stop before he said something against them. We can also find Jesus by figuring out where he’s not. Is there anything Jesus could say about you that would make you angry? Are there parts of you that not only resist Jesus, but actively wish him away? Sometimes we learn about ourselves by listening to the people who make us maddest. Sometimes our friends love us enough to tell us what we don’t want to hear. The solitude of prayer – and remember, Jesus said prayer is supposed to be an act of solitude – he said to lock yourself in your closet if you have to – in the solitude of prayer, we often hear the Holy Spirit whisper the things we don’t want to hear in public.

And finally – and I really mean that – the third place to find Jesus is in the middle of other sinful people. I was always puzzled by how today’s passage ends. When the people chase him to the edge of the cliff, Luke says, “But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” I guess I’ve always had this image of Jesus doing Emmitt Smith moves through the crowd that’s trying to tackle him. Or maybe he just magically disappeared. But then it dawned on me: Where does scripture say Jesus is? It says, he’s passing through the midst of them. A church, a congregation, is a place where we’re all trying to grab hold of a piece of Jesus as he’s dancing through the midst of us. Jesus is way too quick for any of us to pin him to the ground. But you can grasp part of him, you can get another, and someone else will grab another, and if we talk to each other and share what we know, maybe we can find Jesus in the midst of us, instead of wondering where else he might be going.

So. In conclusion. Whether in scripture, in our prayers, or in the midst of all we do, Jesus just doesn’t know when to quit. We can get annoyed, maybe even angry at him. Or we can learn to love him. Don’t stop now; you’re just getting started.