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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  • A Season of Resurrection

    Resurrection day has arrived. And with it the reminder of eternal hope because of Jesus Christ. Spring has also arrived here in Cache Valley, and while it’s not over, the end of our year-long pandemic seems to be approaching, thanks be to God. I hope this day finds you well in spirit and body, and also vaccinated (or soon-to be). I saw a sign the other day that reminded me while we’ve all been through the same storm in this last year, we haven’t all been in the same boat. Some people have weathered this storm fairly well, others have struggled mightily in one way or another. In spiritual terms, economic terms, emotional terms, and in health. And of course, not everyone has made it through the storm. I am worried that recent progress in this pandemic could be lost, but I’m thankful so many vaccinations are underway. As I’m sure it has been for you, this has been an emotionally challenging year for me as well. It seems to have contained more “downs” than “ups.” But my belief in God keeps me hopeful. Having spoken to many of you, I am thankful that a large portion of our congregation has received Covid-19 vaccinations or are in process of doing that now. The better our state and local community are doing, the sooner we’ll be able to worship in the building together.

    We’re beginning to worship together (outdoors, for the moment) for the first time in over a year. Your elders and Worship Committee have been hard at work making plans for us to transition from online worship back to in-person worship. I’d like to share with you how this process will work. To begin, we will continue to have online worship in some form, even as we get back to in-person outdoor worship (and eventually indoor). This allows anyone who wishes to continue worshiping from home to do so. We will be purchasing a special camera that allows us to livestream a worship service (which means what we do in worship goes straight to YouTube, with no long hours of editing required).

    Details for May are not yet determined, although we are making preparations and plans for indoor worship, for when Session feels it is safe. Session and the Worship Committee have approved the following plans for April:

    April 4th (Easter Sunday!)—we will worship together outdoors, in the Peace Garden and along the East side of the sanctuary, at 11 a.m.  We will hold this outdoor service (with members of our choir leading us in song) no matter the weather, so bring an umbrella or rain jacket if necessary. Masks will be required. YouTube worship will also be available.

    April 11th—we will worship via YouTube on April 11th, with a sermon delivered by an outstanding preacher named Rev. Brian Ellison. Brian is the Executive Director of the Covenant Network, a national group of church leaders working for a church that is simultaneously faithful, just, and whole, that seeks to support the mission and unity of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and to articulate and act on the church’s historic, progressive vision and to work for a fully inclusive church (particularly concerning the LGBTQIA+ community). FPC Logan is a member of the Covenant Network. Meg and I will lead the service, but Brian will be our preacher.

    April 18th—we will worship together outdoors at Trapper Park in southwest Logan, at 11 a.m. This Sunday is dedicated to Earth Day, and after a service (with music from our Praise Band) you are invited to walk the wonderful Logan River Trail with us. Materials will be provided to collect trash along the trail. There is a pavilion at Trapper’s Park. We will hold this service rain or shine (come dressed for the weather). Masks will be required for the service in the park. A YouTube service will be available for those who wish to stay home.

    April 25th—we will worship via YouTube on April 25th. Going back to YouTube this Sunday allows us to evaluate the recent outdoor services and make plans for future services, which may be outdoor, or if we are fortunate, perhaps indoor.

    I thank you for your grace and patience during this long year, and in coming months. It’s been a difficult one for your pastors and church staff too. I am thankful that we’ve had YouTube worship, but I’m very much looking forward to getting back to seeing each other in person and worshiping the Lord together.

    In this season of resurrection, may your hearts be filled with grace, peace, and joy.

    —Pastor Derek

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