If Only Jesus Knew When to Stop!

The following is only an excerpt of this sermon. The full sermon can be heard by clicking the audio link below.

Luke 4.21-30

In the spirit of true confessions of preachers when they hear other preachers: when I go on vacation and we go to another church and I listen to another preacher my first intention is to just be blessed by the message, to receive it. But I confess there is a little part of me, that when I listen, becomes the critic. What would I do with that text, what would I say? How… oh, he made a mistake there! Stuff like that. And if I were like that in that synagogue the day Jesus preached, my main word of advice for Jesus (and I have plenty of advice for Jesus) is: “Stop! Stop, right there! Stop, right about… oh, verse 21. That part we read last week. Stop. Jesus, you’ve got them eating right out of your hands.” All spoke well of him, it says, and were amazed at the gracious words that came out of his mouth. “Quick, Jesus! Get to the offering, quick! Whole communities are founded upon this moment, whole megachurches, with million dollar budgets are built on the moment you have just reached, on the Word you have just shared. The blessings of God, the transformative power of God, the victory of believers. Just stop right there.”

If only Jesus had learned when to stop. If he had learned when to stop, maybe he’d have made something of himself. If only had learned to stop, he made have led a popular uprising and thrown the Romans out of Israel. If he had learned to stop, perhaps he might have lived a victorious life, had a prosperous ministry, maybe he’d be rich. Maybe he’d be on TV. If only had stopped at a positive message, the non-judgmental one. If only he had gone the safe route, he might not have ended up on the cross.

But wouldn’t you know, Jesus doesn’t stop. He knows that midway through that sermon, he has not yet shared the whole word of God. The part of God’s word that was particularly on target for his hometown audience. Just as they were smiling and shaking their heads in affirmation, just as they were saying, “Amen!” Jesus provides the last little twist in his sermon, that ends up being oh so big.

The big question in this story is what exactly makes this adoring crowd so angry. What is it exactly that Jesus goes on to say that turns their appreciation into anger? How could he, within a matter of moments, turn a congregation that was so for him into a mob that wanted to lynch him? Perhaps we need to reflect on what the hometown people were expecting.

You see Jesus had shared a wonderful word with them, he brought them good news. Good news for the poor, release of the captive, sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, nothing wrong with that, we need a little of that, perhaps a lot of that, Jesus! Preach it, brother!

This is good news. It is a good news that comforts us, that comforts all who are afflicted. But as the famous, well-known saying goes, Jesus came not only to comfort the afflicted, he also came to afflict the comfortable. He came to preach a sharp-edged word to those who thought that as members of the hometown crowd, they had God’s blessings coming to them. Is not this Joseph’s son? Isn’t he one of us? That means that the blessings that he just preached, all the good stuff that he’s doing, the feedings and the healings, that’s coming in our direction. He’s one of us! Come on Jesus, give us some love!

But then Jesus, who didn’t know when to stop, brought up two stories from the bible. You’ve got to be careful when you go to the bible. Jesus mentions two stories of God’s grace and love, two illustrations of the good news that he was talking about from Isaiah. The catch is that both of these manifestations of God’s grace and love involve outsiders. That widow from Sidon is not a person from Israel. She’s an enemy. She’s an outsider, the ones that everybody hated. Not from Sidon, Lord! And that Na’aman from Syria? Enemy General. The one who was in the position to threaten the nation of Israel. Outsiders. Non-believers.

If any of the hometown crowd would draw a line demarking who was inside and who was out, who deserved blessing and who didn’t? The Gentile widow and the leprous enemy general who Jesus mentions here would certainly be on the outside.

But they are not the ones drawing the lines. God is the one who draws the lines. And Jesus offers the jarring truth that God’s blessing and God’s grace were not particularly for those who expected it. Or thought they deserved it. Those on the inside, like the hometown crowd. God’s grace, love and healing, Jesus says with these stories, are not for the ones who expect it, but for the ones who live it.

Jesus came to minister to those on the edge, on the margins of his world. To challenge those at the center of his world. He came to connect with the outsiders, the sinners, the marginalized, the rejected. The ones the world judged, Jesus would dine with them. The one shunned and shoved outside the city walls is the one that Jesus would go touch, pray with. The ones the good people thought were beyond help, beyond redeeming, these Jesus lifted up and made the focus of his ministry. Jesus lived out the good news that God’s grace is oh, so much bigger than we can imagine.

(To listen to the sermon in full, please click below)

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  • Breakfast Encounter

    Last Friday morning, I stopped by my GP’s office to let them draw some blood for a test and to get my flu vaccine for the year. Because of the blood test, I had to ‘fast,’ arriving for the blood draw without having any food that morning. When the phlebotomist had drawn the blood and given me the shot, I went to a nearby diner to get some breakfast. Little did I know I was about to witness something extraordinary.

    While I was eating my pancake, egg, and piece of sausage and reading a book about Oscar Romero, a young man went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t notice any of this, of course (occupied as I was with not only Oscar Romero’s life and ministry to the poor of El Salvador, but also all that butter and syrup…) until the young man started yelling at the woman behind the counter.

    “Swipe it again!” is what drew my attention.

    She did, and the card must have been denied a second time. She ran it again, and the look on her face told me the same thing happened. Denied.

    The young man was getting more agitated and saying things to her under his breath. I was paying more attention now, and she asked if he had another card she could try.

    “No! I don’t have another bleeping card!” he yelled at her. Except he didn’t say bleeping.

    Now I’m not a stranger to harsh words. I’ve said them myself. Usually when I’m trying to get a rusted bolt off an old machine and it finally comes loose, taking some of my knuckle skin with it. And I think I quietly swore under my breath in January of 1988 when the Washington football team beat my beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 42-10. There have been other times too. But never, ever at a person.

    Upon being sworn at, the young woman stared at the man like she didn’t know what to do (how could she?). Tears were about to appear. And the air in the room went real still. Like in the movies. I’m sure the background music was still playing, but it seemed deathly quiet at that moment.

    I was about to get up and walk over to the counter—not exactly sure what I was going to do once I got there—when another man who had been eating nearby wandered up real slow, eyes staring at the young man. He was a tall guy, with white hair under his old IFA ball cap, probably in his sixties. He asked the young woman, “What seems to be the problem here?”

    And that’s when the young man made what I thought was a fatal mistake: he answered when he hadn’t been spoken to. “It’s nothin’. My card won’t work,” he spat back.

    I thought a fight was about to break out, but the older man, his eyes searing into the young disgruntled one’s face, reached for his wallet and said to the cashier, “Aubrey, I’d like to pay for this young man’s meal, if that’s okay with him.” And after getting out some cash, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, not one of those friendly pats on the shoulder, but one of those firm grips that, well, made me think he was making sure the lesson was going to stick.

    I’ve had those kinds of hands on my shoulders a few times over the years. Perhaps from a coach, maybe from my dad once or twice; they happen when a boy or young man really needs to start paying attention.

    And after staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, the old guy said, “Be kind.” And then walked away.

    The young man left the restaurant and climbed into an oversize truck that was parked right out front, cranked up the volume on his radio, and left some rubber on the road as he departed.

    I went into the church office sometime later to finish my sermon, but I kept thinking about angry people and hurt people and kind people and people who teach lessons to those who could use them. I also thought about people who have a head full of kind words who refuse to tolerate ugliness.

    I hope I can be someone like that.

    I have a feeling Aubrey earned a whole lot of tips that morning. She deserved them.

    Be kind.

    That’s all for now.

    —Pastor Derek

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