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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  • Sabbatical

    Well my friends, this is my last point of contact with you for the next three months, barring unforeseen circumstances. I am taking a sabbatical this summer, granted to me by you (through a congregational meeting some time ago). Clergy sabbaticals are designed for rest, recovery, and restoration. It’s a healthy thing to do, of course, and the Presbytery of Utah recommends that congregations grant their pastors a sabbatical every seven years (serving the same church, that is). It’s hard for me to believe, but I’ve been here in Logan for eight and a half years.

    The end goal for such a time is to provide pastors with opportunity for spiritual and mental rest and restoration, to help re-energize pastors, and to prevent burnout. Pastors have a fairly high rate of burnout, but providing time for spiritual, mental, and physical self-care is one of the best ways to prevent such things.

    It’s not only about rest, however. I’ll be studying and engaging in some healthy spiritual practices too. I will be worshiping at other churches each Sunday to experience the ways that other congregations praise the Lord, so that I might observe and consider new things for the ministry life of FPC Logan. I have a small collection of books I plan to read, including Canoeing the Mountains (a book about Christian leadership in uncharted territory) and One Long River of Song (recommended by someone at FPC), and a few others that I hope will inspire good preaching and pastoral leadership when I return. These readings will go along with daily scripture study. Due to the Covid pandemic I didn’t attend any continuing education conferences last year, but I plan to use part of this sabbatical time to so some individual continuing education. There is always something more for me to learn about my role as your pastor. I look forward to sharing some of this with you upon my return to First Presbyterian Church in September.

    Summer Worship—

    A reminder to you all that during the months of June, July, and August worship will be at 9am and 10:30am. If you show up at 11 you’ll miss half of the sermon!Masks will be required until Session determines otherwise, and worship will be in Bruner Hall for both services (this allows us to space out our seating). I have carefully chosen guest preachers for you on the Sundays that Pastor Meg won’t be preaching. They range from experienced pastors to seminary graduates, but I fell they will all bring a wonderful message to you each Sunday. Please give them the warmest welcome when they help lead worship.

    We have a system in place to live stream worship to YouTube, but there are a few technical challenges with this that I’ve been trying to work out over the last month (with audio and live streaming the video). If you choose to worship from home and the live stream is not available on Sunday mornings (because of some technical difficulty), we will try to post the recording for your viewing on Monday morning when the office is open. Please extend us some grace with this. I think it will all work out, but it’s not always a simple process and complications arise.

    Praying that you all have a wonderful, Spirit-filled summer. I’ll see you soon.

    May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ be with you all, —Derek

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