Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – Luke 4:21-30 Sermon by Rev. Rolf Svanoe
This past week I discovered the Top Five Signs You’re In For A Long Sermon.
5. There’s a 6 pack of bottled water on the pulpit.
4. The ushers pass out extra thick padded pew cushions.
3. The organist pulls out a hide a bed from behind the organ bench.
2. The bulletins have pizza delivery menus.
AND THE NUMBER ONE SIGN YOU’RE IN FOR A LONG SUNDAY SERMON
1. The minister begins with the words, “Don’t worry, you’ll be home before the Superbowl.”
In our Gospel lesson today we have a sermon. In fact, it is the first recorded sermon of Jesus in Luke’s gospel. Jesus was just starting his ministry. He had been baptized and tested in the wilderness. He returned to his hometown and went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. People were proud of this local boy who was starting to become famous. Jesus was invited to preach, so he unrolled the scroll and began to read from the prophet Isaiah. As they listened, people nodded their heads in approval. He was going to be a fine preacher. But then Jesus rolled up the scroll and began to preach. He reminded them that God’s grace was for everyone. He told them two Bible stories of how God’s own people had missed out on God’s blessing which had been given to Gentiles. You have to understand that Jews did not associate with Gentiles. They considered them unclean. Some even insisted that God had made the Gentiles to stoke the fires of hell. Keeping that in mind, you can begin to understand why Jesus’ sermon upset the people of his hometown. He questioned their core beliefs about who they were and their status as God’s chosen people. By the end of his sermon people had gone from praising Jesus to being enraged and wanting to kill him. They took him out of the synagogue and were going to throw him off the edge of the cliff outside of town. Wow! I’ve preached a lot of sermons, but I don’t think I’ve ever had someone want to kill me because of what I said.
I want to share with you a story, a modern-day parable. While it is a fictional story, I think it can help us make some sense of this story from the life of Jesus. Lindsey was an Olympic gold medalist from a small Midwest town called Liberty. When she had left almost three months ago, she was virtually unknown. Now, the whole town seemed to know her. They knew which locker had been hers at the high school, and they decorated it. Just about everyone had a story about how they spoken with her in a hallway or at the grocery store. After the Olympics, Lindsey didn’t come home right away. Instead, she went to a number of inner-city urban areas, met with groups of children, where she encouraged them at school assemblies to work hard, reach and stretch themselves. Cameras seemed to follow her everywhere. Nearly every hometown resident had seen the footage of her visit to a Chicago hospital, visiting patients. Any disappointment that she didn’t come back home immediately after the Games was replaced by all the more pride that one of their own had “won gold.” Men firmly shook her dad’s hand and declared, “We’re sure proud of our girl, aren’t we?” Women were constantly around her mother, suddenly including her in everything. It was like the whole town had given birth to Lindsey, raised her and took credit for her hometown values and decency.
When she finally returned to her hometown of Liberty, there was a parade with the high school band. The whole town turned out. They paraded around the park where there was a huge twenty-foot tall exact replica of the Statue of Liberty. The crowd finished by gathering at the base of the bandstand, surrounded by its balloons and streamers. A few people carried banners and signs expressing their love for Lindsey. On the bandstand, she took her seat along with her parents and a couple of her former coaches. The mayor spoke a few introductory words. He finished by holding up a miniature Statue of Liberty, which he declared was as a symbol of their hometown pride, a pride they now extended to Lindsey. He gave her the statue, which she accepted and stepped up to the mic. When the cheering stopped, she read the well-known inscription at its base. It read:
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore; Send these, the homeless tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
–Emma Lazarus, November 2, 1883
There was silence. Coming from her, the words seemed to mean all the more. Even without a microphone, they had heard every word like they were new and believed every word like scripture. No one spoke until at last she lifted her eyes from the statue and looked out over the crowd. Only then did they erupt with applause, whistles and even heart-felt tears. Quickly, the applause and noise died down as they anticipated the words of their new young hero. She began by saying, “I suppose I should offer thanks to all of you for encouraging and raising me, for the values and the love that you’ve taught and shown me.” At that she lifted the statue just a bit as if it illustrated those values and that love. “But I’m not going to. It’s true, you are my hometown and you have taught me things. But too many times I have seen the way you shut out the world. I’ve seen the way you squint your eyes and cross the street to avoid any transients that come through. You eye newcomers with suspicion. Worse than that, I’ve seen the way many of you push people out of town who are different. You congratulate yourselves for the way you care for your own, but don’t care about the real poor in our world, the immigrant and the refugee, the minority and the oppressed. Instead of building bridges to welcome the tired and poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, you build walls to keep them out. You read the inscription on the base of this statue as if these words are yours. But these words have nothing to do with you. You are not described by these words. You are judged by them!”
While Lindsey spoke, mouths dropped. There were a few gasps, then a few angry shouts. She backed away from the microphone. The anger of the crowd was growing as her words hit home. Signs were torn, thrown down and stomped. Lindsey’s parents, nearly as shocked and confused as the rest, quickly grabbed her, and ran her off the back of the bandstand to a car a few yards away. Lindsey was never invited to speak at her hometown of Liberty again. Never a kind word about her was spoken too loudly. However, a few heard in her hard words something that rang true, and for them a door of understanding opened. (adapted from a story- author unknown.)
I hope this story, this parable, helps us to understand the extreme reaction of Jesus’ hometown. The Olympic gold medalist, like Jesus, returned to her hometown. Like Jesus, she held the people up to a high standard, a standard they all acknowledged, but ignored. Like Jesus, her message was rejected, but not by all. Those of us listening today need to hear Jesus again. His message is that God’s love is for everyone- EVERYONE. God’s love is given to us freely. Jesus gave us one command, to love one another, even our enemies. We are given a mission to share God’s love with everyone, no exceptions. We can’t put limits on God’s love, and when we do, God’s Spirit challenges our selfishness and prejudice, and pushes us out of our comfort zone to reach out to others, especially those who are different.
Jesus is still here today, still preaching his sermon to “bring good news to the poor, 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.” May we, his followers, also do the same.