Unrighteous Indignation – February 3, 2018

Unrighteous Indignation

A Communion Meditation by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Luke 4:14-30

February 3, 2019

Main Idea: We would see Jesus.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

On the back of this pulpit, where I can see it, but no one else can, is a phrase, “We would see Jesus.”  I think it was put here during the pastorate of David Heim. It is a reminder to whoever is preaching that the sermon should be about Jesus, not about the preacher’s personal opinions or issues.  It really is a good reminder for all of us to keep our focus on Jesus, on Jesus’ call and challenge to us, when so often we try to fit Jesus around our preferences and worldview.  Today’s text challenges us to see Jesus, as he is, not as we would have him be.

The story begins with Jesus returning home to Galilee.  As he travels toward his hometown of Nazareth, filled with the Holy Spirit, he teaches in the synagogues along the way and receives high praise from those who hear him.   By the time he gets to Nazareth, everybody is excited to hear what he has to say. We are told that once in Nazareth Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath “as was his custom”.  During the service he stood up to read (as was the right of any man present).  He was given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and he unrolls it to read,  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me 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.”  Then he rolls up the scroll again and hands it to an attendant and sits down.   Everyone in the synagogue is riveted, their eyes transfixed on him.   Then he gives one of the shortest sermons of all time; “Today this scripture was fulfilled in your hearing.”

The people like what they had heard about Jesus, even before he speaks in their synagogue.  They like that he is a homegrown star. They like that he speaks of their liberation. “They [hear] Jesus’ declaration of fulfillment as a promise of special favor for his own people and his “hometown”’ (R Alan Culpepper, NIB, Vol 9, p. 106)  They think “How very exciting!   We are part of his powerful mission.  Isn’t it great!  Jesus will free us, will bring God’s grace to us.  We will be famous!   Folks from miles around will come here and witness to how blessed we are.   Think of the tourists!”  They say to one another, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?  We are so lucky to have him here.”    They all smile and feel contented and a bit self-congratulatory.  They think, “We watched this kid grow up.  We taught him all he knows!”

But Jesus rejects their smug self-satisfaction and their hero projection. He says, “no, you have misunderstood.”  His sermon of liberation was not just for them!  In fact, he was not talking about them at all!  He was talking about people outside of their circle of concern.  He had spoken about the liberation of foreign widows, people below their concern, and the healing of foreign leaders, their oppressors.

The people are filled with rage. Their projection of him flips from hometown hero to selfish, deluded fool.  They now hate Jesus.  They think he is a traitor to his community. Why would he care about those people? They think he is dangerous; caring for their enemies.  They reject him so utterly that they become a mob and try to kill him by throwing him off of a cliff.  But Jesus passes through the midst of them.

How does he do it?  This is a curious piece of the story.  How is it that he can just pass through this mob trying to hurl him off a cliff?

It is because they cannot recognize him as he truly is.  They can only see their own projection of him. In the chaos of the mob, he has become unrecognizable.

He is not their exclusive savior, bringing blessings to only them. 

He is not a dangerous traitor deserving of death. 

He is Jesus, the Incarnation of God, bringing the Good News of God’s love to all of humanity, all of creation, and this they cannot see.

This morning we are challenged to hear Jesus’ words in our own context.  When we do that, the crowd’s response poignantly, uncomfortably, makes more sense.   We hear the words from Isaiah with hope and joy; – good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, the oppressed go free, we proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ How wonderful is that!  We shall be lifted up, our burdens will be removed, we will be healthy and happy and free!  Jesus brings us that.  He is our guy. He is why we are all here.   Everybody else is missing out!  Thank you Jesus for saving us, for blessing us. 

Jesus responds to us by saying “It seems that you want to bottle up all this grace.  You want to experience all the joy and power that others have seen and experienced and you want to keep it for yourselves.   But I tell you that no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town.   I am not here to just make you feel better.  To put his words in a modern context; “the truth is, there are many Christians in need across the United States but the prophet was sent to none of them, only to a Muslim widow in Syria. There are also many Christians who are ill in the United States, and none of them was healed, only a Military General in Russia.’ Of course this would make us confused, angry, and hurt.  This is not how we think of Jesus.  Why would Jesus heal those people before us?

We project onto Jesus our own preferences and concerns.  He looks like us, and thinks like us, and likes us best.  (A friend of mine has a sign that says “Jesus loves you but I’m his favorite.”) We like to keep him in our pocket and bring him out when we need him.   We project onto others our fears and insecurities.  They are strange, and scary, and not to be trusted. This projection onto others has reached fever pitch in our society where those with whom we disagree are demonized and those we do not know are diminished and discounted. We all believe that Jesus must be for us, and not for them!

The problem with this for those who heard Jesus in the synagogue and our problem as well is that “In the end, because they were not open to the prospect of others’ sharing in the bounty of God’s deliverance, they themselves were unable to receive it….. Those who exclude others thereby exclude themselves….. The paradox of the gospel, therefore, is that the unlimited grace that it offers so scandalizes us that we are unable to receive it.” (R Alan Culpepper, NIB, Vol 9, p. 108)

But the good news of the gospel is that Jesus is not our projection.  Jesus is the truth of God who cannot be destroyed by our fear, nor domesticated by our wishes.  Jesus walks in the midst of us and invites us to see him, truly see him.  As we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, may we see Jesus, may we hear him and feel him.  May we welcome among us all that Jesus welcomes. May we receive God’s blessing and may we share it, widely.

Let us pray, Amazing God, we thank you for your love, your blessing, and your challenge.  Inspire us to let go of our projections and our group boundaries. Help us to trust in your abundance so that we might see that there is not “them”, only all loved and valued and blessed. Amen.