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Time for the Jubilee
Drew Stockstill
January 24, 2016 - Luke 4:14-30

 

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Time for the Jubilee                                                              
Luke 4:14-30        

Rev. Drew Stockstill
Morningside Presbyterian Church
January 24, 2016

 

Luke 4:14-30 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18 “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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he 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?” 

 

This is the Word of the Lord…Thanks be to God.

 

Oh, wait. It appears the prescribed lectionary reading for today does something odd. The lectionary would like us to stop reading here at verse 22, like your bulletin says, but it seems this is only the first part of the story. It keeps going. That was just such a cheery ending; I’d love to hear more about how proud they are of him. It looks like over the congregation’s adoration and patting Joseph and Mary on the back for raising such a fine young man Jesus is trying to speak again. Yes, he’s going on:

 

23 <AHEM> “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. The Word of the Lord….

 

That’s a significantly different place to end the story, wouldn’t you say? I’ve never seen a sermon go so bad so quickly – Maybe this one? We’ll see.

 

Let us pray. Holy God may the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts be acceptable and pleasing to YOU, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

 

I.

I don’t know why the lectionary reading wants preachers to stop in the middle of the story. It’s like going to watch “Titanic,” getting to the part where Jack and Rose fall in love and then turning it off and saying, “Well that was sweet. I think I’ve seen enough. Really, what could possibly go wrong for such a lovely couple?”

 If you end the story where the lectionary does you miss Luke’s bait and switch. They love him and then after just five sentences they want to kill him. That’s impressive. Perhaps the organizers of the lectionary are trying to protect preachers from the fullness of the gospel. We don’t want congregations driving their preachers out of town and tossing them over cliffs. I can imagine the organizers of the lectionary picking the readings for today:

“Uh, Jerry,”

“Yeah, Steve.”

 “So, for the Third Sunday after Epiphany we’ve got Luke 4: Jesus’ friends and family drive him out of town and try to kill him after his first sermon…”

“Uh huh.”

“You think that’s a good idea?”

“Uh, huh; yeah, just back it up to verse 22 where all spoke well of him and were amazed at his gracious words. They aught to like that.”

“Great idea, Jer. And, uh, what do you think we do about the crucifixion?”

 

You do just kind of want Jesus to stop while he’s ahead.

Folks loved to hear about the year of the Lord’s favor back then. It was like talking about Christmas. In the Old Testament, it’s something called the year of Jubilee where, by law, according to Lev. 25, every 50 years all property is returned to its rightful owner, even if they were forced out (hello forced gentrification), all slaves are freed, all debts are forgiven, even the land is able to rest.

The congregation in Nazareth probably heard in Jesus’ message a call to return to the good old days when kids rode their bikes without fear and you could see a movie for a nickel and the Roman occupiers weren’t breathing down you neck all the time. But that’s not what Jesus meant. It’s the day of Jubilee: Good news for the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed. “Yay!!!”

“You aren’t those people.”

“Boooo!!!!”

            He could have just stopped while he had them in the palm of his hand, thanked them for the years of support and been on his way while they were amazed at his gracious words. But he never stops there. Even today, he never stops where it’s comfortable for us.

 

II.

For modern readers, while we know what Jesus says is clearly upsetting to these good kindly synagogue goers, why it is so, is not readily apparent. Elijah and Elisha were two of the most famous prophets of Israel. They play a huge role in the important stories people tell about their great nation; maybe a bit like referencing the so-called Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King for us. Elijah and his student Elisha, they are historical figures that loom large. But Jesus digs deep into their stories and pulls out two examples the lectionaries of his day would leave out. Of all the stories he could have chosen he picked two where God acts with love and generosity on behalf of individuals who were not part of their great nation: a widow from Zarephath, a rival of Israel, and Naaman the Syrian, we all know how people feel about them don’t we? Pay attention to the GA Legislator for a modern take.

Jesus’ stories show God acting on behalf of outsiders, the implication being that Jesus, God in the flesh, will have a ministry that is directed at those beyond the borders of his hometown.1 This is infuriating and insulting and unpatriotic and possibly treason and how dare he and GET HIM! And all he’s said, every word, comes right from the Bible, their Bible. Our Bible. How would this play out here, today with modern examples?

 

III.

Jesus should have stopped while he was ahead, but Jesus can’t stop while he’s ahead because, as he sees it, he’s not ahead until the poor, the oppressed and those who face physical, emotional and mental challenges are ahead. James Cone, the American Theologian known for his advocacy of black liberation theologian said, in Luke Jesus rejects any role that would separate him from the poor.2 Asking Jesus to stop meddling while he’s doing well in the polls is like Peter asking him to stop before he gets to the cross. You know how that goes. “Get behind me, Satan.”

This text is Jesus in a nutshell. Luke, who is also the author of Acts, shows this over and over again in his books. Jesus, full of the Spirit, is trying to bring a creation back into balance, the creation God made. In order to do so, he puts his finger right on the infected toenail causing the world’s great limp; unsurprising it has the putrid odor of racism, xenophobia and classism. In order to set things straight he names what’s gone wrong. There’s an imbalance in the society. Jesus points out that if you read the Bible, even in the Old Testament, God goes outside the nation of Israel and provides healing and wholeness regardless of status and race. Israel isn’t blessed so they and sit back and live in privilege and prosperity while others suffer, God tells Abraham Israel is blessed to be a blessing to other. Jesus makes this the thrust of his entire ministry on earth. In Acts the Holy Spirit keeps going, breaking down every conceivable human barrier as seen in the glorious scene of the Pentecost. For those who follow, it turns their whole world on its head, and finally back into the balance God intended from the beginning.

This doesn’t end up being a very comfortable sermon for the beloved gathered to hear their boy next door. Being comforted is something we place a high value on isn’t it? We like to be comfortable so we buy sheets with a high thread count. We want to feel comfortable as we fly down the highway at 80mph so we get the nicest, safest car we can comfortably afford. We tend to like to hear and read things that make us feel comfortable, that support our ideas and ways of thinking. Jesus tends to disrupt that. It’s not a sin to have wealth and comfort; but how can we truly be comfortable while others suffer?

            Finley Peter Dunne was an influential newspaper writer and humorist in Chicago in the late 19th century. He wrote that the job of the newspaper is to, “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Jesus does a right fine job of that in this sermon. They were rather comfortable hearing the reliable good news the same way they’ve heard it time and again, but it changes when they hear it through Jesus.

 

IV.

I hope you will go home and read the rest of this book because then you’d see that not everyone who hears Jesus wants to kill him, only those who have relative power and comfort. When Jesus talks like this to those possessed by demons, they are freed, when he talks like this to those who are sick or paralyzed or have disabled hands they are healed, to those who are trapped in the sex industry, they are honored and embraced. For the folks on the outside, of the congregation and of the society, Jesus’ words here are welcomed good news. But one person’s good news is another lynch mob’s blind rage. Note white America’s complicated relationship with racial equality from 1619 until January 24, 2016. Let’s just say Jesus’ sermon wasn’t inline with the #alllivesmatter movement, though you might have heard it chanted by the crowd that carried him to the cliff’s edge.

 

V.

We have a mission committee who is spending the next 6 months in prayer and Bible study, seeking God’s wisdom and word for this community of disciples here at Morningside. We are asking the Spirit to fill us and show us what God’s mission is. We want to be part of God’s mission rather than making up our own mission and hoping God comes along for the ride and gives us the gold star of self-satisfaction when we’re finished. If mission in this congregation is not transforming our hearts and lives by our mutual relationship with those who suffer then the mission is not God’s. That’s not mission, that’s philanthropy and volunteerism, both worthy causes. God’s mission, however, while through us, is also to us. God’s mission is to have us give Christ our whole selves. Guess what that looks like? I’d just as soon toss the man off a cliff than change my whole way of life so that everything I think and do is with the hopes of glorifying God. I’d just as soon walk away than give my heart to God by giving myself to the poor and oppressed the way Christ does. If I were you I’d be quite interested in what those folks on that mission committee are up to as much as they are asking God to guide them and asking the Spirit from this story, the very same one, to lead us to where Christ is.

“Jesus was not simply a nice fellow who happened to like the poor. Rather his actions have their origin in God’s eternal being. They represent a new vision of divine freedom…God’s will to not let his creation be destroyed by non-creative powers.”3 A Baptist preacher and theologian named R. Lamont Smith said that.

Christians have a remarkable history of completely undermining this message or, like the lectionary, only hearing what we want to hear. When Jesus is expected to give a reliably uplifting sermon, Jesus, in his first sermon, says to his country men and women, when there was suffering in your land and you weren’t doing anything about it God blessed the outsider and not you. When there was suffering and inequality in your land and you made excuses out of self-interest God blessed the Syrian and not you. Want to experience God’s blessings? Be God’s blessing for the outsider and the poor and those who face emotional, physical or mental challenges. We must become the blessings.

Jesus doesn’t stop while he’s ahead, because he doesn’t think he’s ahead until everyone is ahead. That’s good news for those who will define his ministry of preaching and healing, that’s good news for the famine stricken widow of our day, that’s good news for those Syrians fleeing wars in our day. In fact, we who claim to follow Jesus should be out amongst those with whom Jesus is already living and bring his sermon to them, even if folks try to run us out of town.

Today Jesus has come to be our Scripture reader, he’s asked for the scroll of Isaiah. He’s unrolled it and he declares, “Today I have good news for the 1 in 7 Americans who rely on pantries to put food on the table and to the Georgians who are forced to hard labor to support their families and are paid a minimum wage of $5.15 an hour.4 5 I’m here to proclaim release to the 30 million children of God living in slavery today, forced to work in the mines that produce our smart phones and jewelry, to those trapped in homes and forced to work the streets. I’m here to proclaim full access to participate in society without shame or embarrassment to those who have struggled with emotional, physical or mental challenges. I’m here to proclaim liberty for those who are oppressed because of where they were born, their race, their gender, their orientation, or their religion.” Jesus’ message today is no different than it was 2000 years ago, now that we’ve heard it, our reactions can be. Do we take him to edge of our souls and toss him out of our lives or do we follow?


1With help from Working Preacher. http://www.workingpreacher.org/wp_print_all.aspx?lectionary_calendar_id=624&print_type=comm&is_spanish=0
2 James Cone cited in “Preaching To Improve an Economic Deprived Community,” by R. Lamont Smith, II. 72
3 Smith, R. Lamont, “Preaching To Improve an Economic Deprived Community,” 74
4 http://www.acfb.org/facts-stats
5 http://www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/state-minimum-wage-chart.aspx

Last Published: February 5, 2016 4:28 PM