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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  • Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

    There is a beautiful piece of seasonal writing attributed to the theologian and civil rights leader Howard Thurman that you may have encountered in Christmases past. It’s entitled, “Now the Work of Christmas Begins.” Take in these words from the author:

    When the song of the angels is stilled,

    when the star in the sky is gone,

    when the kings and princes are home,

    when the shepherds are back with their flocks,

    the work of Christmas begins:

    to find the lost,

    to heal the broken,

    to feed the hungry,

    to release the prisoner,

    to rebuild the nations,

    to bring peace among the people,

    to make music in the heart.

    Indeed, this is the real work of Christmas. This is the work we discover in faith when we follow the light of Christ, which the darkness has not and will not overcome. In last Sunday’s Scripture passage, Luke records that Mary and Joseph were amazed at what was said about Jesus when they encountered Simeon in the temple in Jerusalem. On account of the angel Gabriel’s visit, Mary knew in the beginning that the child she would bear would be holy, but I wonder if she knew that this would be the character of His holy work? What a proud mother she must have been. What a nervous mother she must have been, watching her Son challenge the status quo as He lived in obedient faith to God, gently shepherding God’s people! Yes, this holy child will lead us – the Church – in finding, healing, feeding, releasing, rebuilding, and bringing peace. His story is ours to discover anew in the pages of the Gospel, the pages we will turn together in worship in the months to come. 

    Although the real work of Christmas is ours to offer another, let us also take to heart that it is also ours to receive as blessing and gift. At times we are lost, feeling broken, or living and praying for peace of mind or spirit. At times we sense that our lives are in need of rebuilding. As the great Henri Nouwen has observed, our own wounds may serve as a source of strength and healing in our own work of serving.

    My heart is full this holiday season. As may be true for you, I am holding joy and sorrow in the same chamber. I rejoice in what I hold dear, in the embrace of my loved ones in the home, and in the privilege of worshiping with you through a variety of experiences this December. I grieve with families who lost loved ones to Covid or other causes in 2020, and most recently, Pastor Derek’s family. I find joy in new traditions and customs that this holiday season has inspired. I long for loved ones who are no longer with us and who I remember especially at Christmas. My faith is wide enough to embrace these differing realities, to hold joy and sorrow in tandem. I pray yours is, too. 

    In faith, we will find, heal, feed, and rebuild, because Christ has first found us and embraced us with His healing presence. He feeds us with His Word and at table, in our hunger for bread that nourishes and lasts. In the grateful words of Martin Luther, “to you Christ is born. For this purpose Christ willed to be born, that through him we might be born anew. Christ must above all things become our own and we become his. See to it that you make this birth your own and that Christ be born in you.”

    Dear friends, Christ is born in us, and His love will guide and equip our ministry together in 2021. Pastor Derek and I look forward with anticipation to a new year of ministry with you. Let us follow the light of Christ together!  With joy, Pastor Meg

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