“Wait, Is This About Us?” Luke 4:21-30

1888769It’s a plot line that it is cliché now.  You’ve seen it in hundreds of movies from the time even before there were “talkies”.

The scene is set, the lovers are faced across from each other at the table.  One fidgets, the other fingers her glass or moves a cup and says, “I just wish you’d tell me….”

There is more fidgeting, a hem and a haw, or a story is started.   “You remember when….”  Or “I never told you about…”   and suddenly the light bulb goes off for the other person across the table and they say; “Wait, is this about us?”   It is a moment of a great shift in the relationship, something is about to be revealed that will change how the characters move forward, and we watch to see what will unfold.

I gave you the “spoiler alert” last week.  This is part two of Jesus’ first sermon to the Hometown, and that it doesn’t go very well.

Last week we talked a little bit about the content of Jesus’ sermon, his reading from the Prophet Isaiah about the “The Year of Jubilee”… the year of great leveling where the ownership of land was to be returned, and the jails emptied, and we talked about the sacrifice that would need to be made to make that happen.  So, when Jesus says all of this is happening “today” it is a call to his hometown crowd to have them begin to live a life of discipleship, of following him.

That part was challenging enough.  But now we get to see the response of the home town to Jesus’ words.

While Jesus’ words are eloquent (all spoke well and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth) there is something about the revelation given that causes the hometown crowd to go from speaking well of him to rage.. the kind of rage that has them hauling him to the brink of a cliff to toss him off.

How does that happen?   What brings that about?

So we go back over what Jesus said and ask the question “what was so offensive to them?”

What was so offensive about the proverb, “Doctor, heal yourself?”

What was so angering to them about Jesus telling, of all things, BIBLE STORIES?    That’s all he does here you know.

There were no doubt a lot of widows in Israel, but Elijah was sent to the Widow in neighboring Zarapheth.

There were no doubt many Lepers in Israel, but it is Naaman the Syrian that Elisha ends up healing.

These Bible stories are told into the hometown crowd who had some unspoken expectations that because Jesus is “one of theirs” he will be doing the kind of things he’s done in Capernaum now among them now!

And then, like the light bulb that goes off above the star crossed lover, the hometown crowd has a sudden revelation.

“Wait, is this about us?”

Is this story about how you’re NOT going to do those things here, for us?

“Wait, is this story about us?”   Is this Bible story about Naaman a sign that we won’t be the recipient of God’s favored blessing, but that God has in mind to reach the outsider?

And then, as is the case so many times we’ve witnessed a scene like this played out, when the lightbulb comes on that this is about “Us” the mood turns dramatically, from sympathy, anticipation, or pensiveness… to rage, anger and indignation.

And we recognize immediately when we see this unfold in a movie or read it in a book that this is a moment that is going to tell us far more about the one listening than the one who is speaking!   How that person deals with the disappointment, or with the news that there is “someone else” or that the relationship is going to play out differently than what was anticipated tells one far more about the character listening than about the one who is at the moment telling the truth to them.

“Wait, is this about us?”

This Gospel lesson ends up being about the character of Jesus’ community.

Now, you would have thought that if anyone would have “gotten” Jesus it would have been those who knew him best, the ones who had watched him grow up, but that is not the way it turns out!

Which begs a question: “Do we fare any better?”

We who claim Jesus as our own, do we sometimes find ourselves angered, enraged really as what he has to say to us, or what he calls us to do as his followers?

Are we also ready sometimes to also take Jesus off and “throw him off our proverbial cliff” because we just don’t like what he has to say to us?

It think we may be far more willing to do that than we would like to admit, and – spoiler alert again—if you want verification of that you need look no further than the realm of politics in the current election cycle.

Pick a candidate, on either side of the partisan spectrum, whether it is Donald Trump being stymied at a Presbyterian Church, or Bernie Sanders having to back pedal his views on health care.   Ted Cruz spouting about Refugees or Hillary Clinton dogged with decisions.

All across the spectrum, when those who aspire to power run up against the Gospel call to follow Jesus, there is a moment of hesitation, or a moment of rationalization.

Sometimes we don’t recognize the words from their mouth as anything that would ever come from the mouth of a “Christian.”

Other times we find them conveniently dismissing the Gospel call, or misquoting scripture, or simply not knowing how to quote it…. generalities are spoken, not in depth understanding or struggle with it.

Jesus is an all too convenient acquaintance to pull out to appeal to the hometown crowd… but is just as quickly thrown under the campaign bus when an uncomfortable challenge to the candidate’s own views.

I offer this not as a comment on politics, but rather as a comment on the way the Gospel works, and what it will do to you.

The Gospel will make you squirm sometimes, and if it doesn’t, that says more about you as the one hearing the truth spoken than it does about the one who is telling the truth to you.

The same is true for the reading of 1st Corinthians for today.   We’re used to hearing that in the context of a wedding where it is a commentary on spousal love, but I had the reader give it an “edge” because in truth Paul wrote it to a cantankerous congregation who couldn’t get along with one another, who were arguing about which one had the “greater” spiritual gifts, and were time and again reticent about making good on a promised offering to the church in Jerusalem.    Paul uses the rhetoric of talking about himself, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong; a clanging cymbal….” but really it is a pretty thinly veiled commentary on their own community – what they “sound” like in their arguments and division.

This is written to the Corinthians about the content of their community.  It doesn’t matter how much good you are doing, Paul says by using himself as the example, if you don’t show love for one another even and especially in the midst of your disagreements, it is all for nothing!   What you do is useless!

“Wait a minute, is this about us?”  We might ask of Paul as we hear him say to us,

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.”

Yes, it is about us!  It is about how very much like the people of Nazareth we are!   How very much like the people of Corinth we are!   How very much like Jesus’ own disciples were in Gethsemane, or Peter was as he stood by the fireside when questioned as Jesus is undergoing trial and persecution and exclaims “I did not know him!”

Yes, more often than not we are all too ready to throw Jesus off the cliff when he calls us to action on behalf of others!

We are to welcome to the stranger, care for the widow, the orphan, the sojourner; that is the Gospel mandate in our sacred scriptures… but we have to keep our borders secure, and our streets safe, and the terrorist out…..so zoom!… off the cliff Jesus goes!

More often than not we are all too ready to throw Jesus off the cliff when he calls us to love one another.    If I had my way I’d kick a few people out of the congregation, or a few people out of congress, or surely Jesus didn’t mean I had to like or get along with the likes of that person…. So Zoom … off the cliff Jesus goes!

We are all too ready to throw Jesus off when it comes to politics, or personal choices, or activities.   “He’d understand my actions, after all, he’s one of us!”

But here is the thing, the miracle really in the story, … with our anger and our shock and our rage we’re ready to take Jesus right to the edge.  That is what the character of our community is.

But look at what Jesus chooses to do when pushed right to the edge.

“But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”  Luke records.  Which is to say that rather than running away, or abandoning, or turning aside to leave us behind, Jesus walks right through us….to show us a better way to go.

Now is the moment of truth, and this will say more about the character of our community than Jesus at this moment…do we stand here all ashamed, hurt, confused, still raging?

Or do we turn and follow a love like that?

What we do in the moment of disappoint with Jesus, when he’s clearly not going to do what we’d like him to do, expect him to do, says much more about who WE are than about who HE is.

“Wait, is this about us?”

Yes, yes it is.

It is about what Jesus, what love does even when we show our ugly side, and it is about what we will do next now that we watch Jesus walk through our midst, once again.

For you see, he’s on his way to Calvary for everyone, even and especially the very ones who would throw him under the bus.   Amen.

“Today” Luke 4:14-21

Now this is a Gospel lesson that should strike an immediate chord.    It is said that the most precious commodity of our age is time.      Money is far less important, less valuable, to us than time.    Don’t believe me?   Let me give you an example.

If you go to the supermarket you can get a bag of plain rice.   You can cook this in about 25 minutes, flavor it to your liking, using homemade sauces and ingredients, and in about 45 minutes combine it with meats and vegetables for a nutritious meal.

A bag of rice contains about 20 servings.  That would be 5 complete meals for a family of 4.    This bag costs about $1.68, or about 8 cents per serving.

But I have to confess that this little box is the one I am more likely to use.  It takes about 10-15 minutes to prepare, and comes with its own flavoring, which is high in sodium and preservatives. This little box of “Rice A Roni,” with its 3 servings, cost me $.99 cents, so 20 servings of this will cost me around $7.00, or a whopping .33 cents per serving.

But if you’re really pressed for time, this little bag of “Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice” will be ready in 90 seconds.   It contains 2 servings and cost me $2.18, or $1.09 a serving.

I am in other words willing to pay roughly 13 times the amount of money in order to save myself about 20 minutes in preparation time.

And if I really want to save time, I will call up the nearby “Lucky Dragon Chinese Restaurant” and they will gladly deliver an order of Fried Rice to me for around $8.00 a serving, so I’m really willing to pay closer to 100 times the amount of money for a singl serving of rice if it will save me all the time of preparation.

See, time is more valuable to me than money.

So then, when Jesus announces in the Gospel that “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,”   We are first think that Jesus is really talking our kind of language!  That’s the way we want things.  We want it today, not someday; today, and not in the near future, and we want it convenient.    Whether it is our happy-meal at the drive through or our real-time stock quote on the internet, or our breaking news, or our rice, or the word that the Kingdom of God is breaking in, we want it today!

Or do we?

This is just the first half of the story of Jesus preaching in the home town.  We’ll get the rest of the story next week, the fall out of Jesus’ proclaiming that “Today this has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

And…. Spoiler alert!  The people are not really very happy to hear Jesus proclaim “The acceptable day of the Lord.”

We wonder why that is?  This seems like really good news that Jesus proclaims.

If you happen to be among the poor, among the imprisoned, among the blind, the oppressed, and those whose lives are connected to servitude or who hold no property.  Then “the year of the Lord’s favor”, the year of Jubilee, was great news, and you did want it to come “Today!”

The “Year of Jubilee” was to be the time every 50 years of great leveling, hitting the “reset” button on the community.

Slaves were to be released by their owners.

The time of Jubilee that Jesus proclaims was to be a time when land and property was redistributed equally among the tribes of Israel.

This is good news if you are sitting in prison.   You are going to be released!

This is good news if you are blind, your sight will be restored!

This is good news if you are poor.  You will be given a chance to start over with land and property!

But wait a minute.   What if you are a land owner?   Land doesn’t just appear out of thin air, if someone else is going to get some, it will have to come from somewhere, and the somewhere it will it have to come from are your fields!

Wait a minute.  What if you are the victim of crime?   Is it really good news to hear that the one who wronged you has had his sentence commuted because it is the year of Jubilee?  Hey, you mean that he/she will soon be on the streets again?

Hold on now.  I have nothing against the sight of the blind being restored, and if God is going to do that miraculously, Great!  But; what if this “year of the Lord’s Favor” requires my involvement in some way?

What if restoring the sight to the blind is about me helping to provide for the health care costs of others?

What if this release of the oppressed thing is not something that God is going to do by a divine zap but rather involves you and me working together to make certain that everyone has an opportunity for basic education, that they might live lives of self determination?

What if this release of the oppressed thing requires a minimum wage of $17.50 an hour be paid across the board because that is what it actually costs to adequately feed, house, and provide for yourself in this economy?

“Today” – that’s when we want things for ourselves, but for someone else?  Well, they should just have to have some patience.

Or, they will have to work for it.

Or, they will have to find some other means of doing things because it’s not coming out of MY pocket, not out of my accumulated wealth, not out of my familys’ hard won earnings and generational acquisitions.

If the “Year of Jubilee” means leveling, it’s not everyone getting everything, it is the kind of justice that the Prophets called for, the hills being brought down, and the low places built up, and it is when we realize that that we shout, “wait a minute!”

Time for us is the most valuable of all commodities.  It is precious, and at first when Jesus says, “Today” we are tempted to think, “Yes!”   That’s what we want, the Kingdom of God today.

But in the call for the Kingdom to come “Today,” there is also the call to discipleship.   Who makes this Kingdom come?   Who preaches this good news to the poor, the oppressed?  Who gives sight to the blind, release to the captive?

We do.

We are the ones who are called to follow Jesus and to do the things that Jesus did, and to work to redeem a world lost to sin and doubt, and you know what that is going to take?

That’s going to take our most precious commodity. That’s going to take our time.

It’s going to take your time.  It will take your most precious commodity, and your willingness to give of it, to make the Kingdom of God come near.

But in this call for this to happen “Today”, there is also another promise given.   Jesus says all this because, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon him”, and that is the same Spirit that is conferred upon you.

God is going to ask you to give of your most precious commodity.  But God empowers you to give that precious commodity because the power of God’s Spirit rests upon you.

It comes to you in Baptism.

It resides in your life, giving you the ability to do the things that you do.

That Spirit lifts up your unique gifts.  It helps you focus what you have to share.

This is what the Spirit of the Lord does.   It gives you the ability to do all these life changing, all these world changing things that you can do.

But it will take your time for there is no shortcut to that.

Do you want your children to know of God’s love and mercy for their lives?   That’s going to take time.   It will take time spent reading to them the bible stories at night.

Time spent teaching them in Sunday School.

It will take time for you to be in study yourself, so that you are steeped in those stories and they can roll off your tongue with ease and conviction.

Do you want the world to be a better place for your children?   That’s going to take time.  That’s going to take you giving of your time, not volunteering, because it’s not really an option to serve, it is a calling.   It’s going to take your giving of time to tutor, or to work on servant projects, or to lead a task force.  There is no way around it.

Do you want the Kingdom to come and your church to be part of that?   That’s going to take time too.   Not sitting around waiting for something to happen time, but rather active involvement time.

It takes time for setting up for worship, and filling glasses for commuion, and setting out flowers, and preparing this place for those who offer here their worship and praise.

It takes time to maintain the building and make this a pleasant place for those who come seeking God.

It takes time to rehearse the music, to plan the lessons, to set up the programs and prepare the meals.

It takes time planning neighborhood outreach, starting small group bible studies to invite friends and new people to attend.  There is no way around it.

“Today the Scripture has been fulfilled”  Jesus says, and it sounds like good news, and it is.

But understand this.

For this scripture to be fulfilled, for this Kingdom to come, Jesus calls us all to a life of service, and he does that “Today.”

He calls us to give of our most precious commodity, time itself, and as we do it combines with it his Spirit poured out abundantly, and things begin to happen.

Today the scripture is fulfilled in your hearing, the Kingdom comes, and the year of Jubilee starts, but it isn’t God proclaiming it as if it comes by Divine Fiat, it comes because those who hear him make a decision to give in order to make it happen.

Not all are willing to do that, as we’ll see next week.

It isn’t going to be easy.  But it is going to change the world, your world.

It’s Discouraging to be an Encourager. Luke 3:15-22

Have you ever considered how discouraging it can be to be encouraging?

We are to be encouragers to one another.  Paul in his letters gives that instruction eight times to five different congregations.   Peter and Titus do the same.  “Encourage one another.”  That is what we are called to do as followers of Jesus.

You cannot believe in Jesus in isolation.  He calls us all to community, and with the call to community comes the call to interact with other people, to encourage one another.   But it doesn’t take long in the world of dealing with real people before you find out how hard that is!

The world tends to get you down.

People, whom you are supposed to love and encourage, can get cranky, or upset, or quite unpleasant to be around.  When such things begin to happen it is always our first inclination to try to isolate ourselves.   “I don’t need this….” We say to ourselves, and walk away from the person generally ticking us off.

At the same time, we begin to doubt whether God is really around or not, whether God knows us, and is there for us.   “Why would God put me in this crappy position!  I don’t want to deal with the world and its hassles, I’ve got problems enough as it is!”

But the witness of Jesus is that it is when you most want to isolate yourself that you are called into relationship.

Jesus calls people out of their darkness into relationship with him, and into relationship with one another.   He calls them to lean into his arms and into the arms of the community of faith, that there they may find strength to believe in the promises of God together.

Do you see the problem?    That means to be an encourager to someone in their darkest hour will often set you up to be met with their core response of rejection!

“Go away, don’t bother me, leave me alone!    I don’t want to hear your words of encouragement, I just want to be left alone!”

Just when the community of faith should be at its best, rallying around someone, and supporting them, giving to them, and believing for them when they cannot believe on their own, — that is when the  core response is to push it all away.

It can so discouraging to be an encourager at such times!

Disciples of Jesus also know that their job in this world is to encourage those who have never met Jesus to come and see and taste what God has to offer in this relationship.

It should be a task filled with wonder and excitement and joy.   We read in the book of Acts how on one day 3000 were welcomed, and on another day 500 were baptized, and how eager the people were to hear the Word of the Lord, and so imagine that all of our evangelistic efforts should be met with same great enthusiasm and warm reception.

But if you have been doing that work of encouraging someone to come to church; someone to come to worship with you, to hear of Jesus, you know the reality.

You may invite them, but they often reject the invitation.

They may do so politely, “I just can’t come this week.”

They may do so tacitly, by not following through, “Yeah, I’ll see you Sunday.”  but then they don’t show up.

They may do so with venom, talking about how all the church wants is their money, or how they can worship God better on the golf course or on the ski slopes than sitting in an uncomfortable pew and listening to some long winded preacher.

It can be discouraging to be an encourager.

The new testament knows about this, recognizes it as well.

For as often as Paul is hailed and welcomed for his message; he is also hauled out and beaten and thrown out of town.

For as often as his words are clung to as a pure promise, they are also met with skepticism and criticism.

We don’t often think about what happens in Jesus’ baptism, or our own, in these terms of encouraging, and discouraging, but it is all there.

For a moment put yourself into John the Baptist’s shoes.

Here he is on Jordan’s banks with all of Judea coming out to him, people filled with expectation, their hearts filled with questions.

People are gathering around him, seeking him out to inquire what they should do with their life.  John has his own set of disciples.   He is at the height of his career, with everything going for him, John has to become an encourager.

John takes that long finger, (so often seen in portrayals of John in works of art,) that long finger that he has been pointing at the people of Judea, calling them to repent– he now has to take that finger and point it away from himself and toward Jesus.   He has to become an encourager.    “I baptize you with water, but one who is more powerful than I is coming……I encourage you to follow him.”

John’s life will end in a prison cell, still pointing to someone greater than himself, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

He wouldn’t have it any other way because for God’s Kingdom to come, he must decrease that Jesus might increase.

He wouldn’t have it any other way, for John eventually sends his own disciples to Jesus, to first question him, “are you the one?–” and then John sends them to follow Jesus.  He has to encourage his own followers to leave him because the future is with Jesus.

It can be discouraging to be an encourager.

I wonder if we sense that as we bring our own children to the font for baptism?

There is a blessing found here in the water and Word.

In bodily form the Holy Spirit descends upon us in the Waters of Baptism.  I get to stand here and represent God touching the child’s life, entering into it. The water rolls off the head, but also soaks in, it is God’s Spirit entering, infusing itself into the spirit of this child, as that Spirit entered into our own lives.

Here, as parents, we hear the call to become encouragers.

Will you teach your children the creed, the Lord’s prayer, and the ten commandments?  Will you bring them to worship?  Will you instruct them in the Christian faith?   Will you encourage them to take up the promises and cling to them as their own?     If at no other time in your life you consider it, when you are a parent or a baptismal sponsor, you are being called to be an evangelist, an encourager to bring someone to the faith.

It can be discouraging work to be an encourager.

Any parent will tell you that.   They will recite for you the litanies of “do we have to go to church today?”  uttered by the child over the years.

Any baptismal sponsor will tell you of how they stood up there with the parents and made the promises but are now dismayed that they parents aren’t following through, and so they fret about how to reach out to the child from a distance.

Or they muse about how they stood up here and made the promises, but don’t have the slightest idea how to carry through with them.

And so parents sometimes drag their kids to worship, and sponsors sometimes twist the arms of their siblings and send those prayer cards and bible story books, as awkward as it makes everyone feel,

It is done because we know that the future is with Jesus, but it can be awfully discouraging work to be an encourager when no one welcomes your advances or efforts!

Here at the font, life and death are collapsed together.  We commend our children to God’s promises, and to God’s keeping.  We do that, and every once in a while have to acknowledge in doing so that we really won’t always be there for them.

God promises that God will be.

We are confronted with how little influence we will have someday, and how much will we have to depend upon the promise of God for these little ones we love who will grow and leave us.

God will be there, as promised, but how those children will receive God, know God; that’s what we can’t be sure of, or control in any way.  We have to let it go.

To baptize a child, or to be a sponsor for a child or an adult, is to bring a new one to faith, and there is joy in that.   You promise to be an encourager of them in the faith.

But to do that will sometimes be discouraging, because you finally have to point away from yourself to Jesus.   That’s where their future lies.  I won’t always be here, but God will be, and I so want you to know that.  That’s why I bring you for baptism.

I wonder if we sense that in our own baptism?

It can be discouraging to be an encourager, because once we have been claimed by God, declared beloved by God, our lives change.   We can no longer simply care about our own wellbeing.   We cannot simply be about looking out for # 1.   But now, baptized and called by God to encourage others, we have to spend our lives pointing our fingers outward to someone else.

I’m really not that important, even though God has called me beloved, claimed me as his own dear child, given me grace sufficient for each day, the forgiveness of sins and salvation.  In the end, with all those precious gifts, I’m not the most important thing in the world.

Jesus is, for the future is with Jesus.

And so, as discouraging as it can be at times, my life is not fulfilled until I have told you about Jesus, whom you will accept or reject or forget about or ignore or fall away from or embrace—you might have all kinds of reaction to my action of encouragement to follow Jesus.

And though you may reject my invitation, or in your pain try to withdraw from my outstretched hand offered in love, I am still compelled to do it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, because that’s what a disciple of Jesus does.

As discouraging as it can be sometimes, God is well pleased with me when I get this, that I’m not the most important thing in the world, –God’s Kingdom is, and proclaiming it to others..

As discouraging as it can be at times, I will once again remind you of who and whose you are, though you are prone to forget it.

You, child of God, have been marked with the Cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit…. Forever.

That’s my encouragement this day.  Remember who and whose you are, and live into it.  Be the encourager in the faith that you are meant, and called to be.