“The Pesky Promises of God”
Rev. Jeff Long-Middletoton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
January 27, 2019
When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. Luke 4:28i
It happens so quickly we often do not notice the shift. One moment your children fill your soul with pride and in the next, you’d like to disown them! Am I right? And it doesn’t just happen with our children. At one moment your heart is filled with love towards your spouse and in the next you wonder why you ever got married (not that this has ever happened to me!). Or take your church. I know in my own lived experience I have vacillated between being awed by the incarnate love of God made real in the care the church has shown for others and in the evening I’d attend what one church called “the executive board,” and bemoan the fact that I was the pastor of such malcontents.
Just such a fate awaited Jesus when He went home to Nazareth. To get an understanding of the issue at hand, let us set the context.
- It was the Sabbath. Not just another day.
- It was in the Synagogue. I imagine most of the town was there gathered for worship. The honor of reading the scroll was given to this visitor in their midst. Why? He was famous. Folks knew of His miraculous deeds. It would, I suspect, have been a snub not to give Jesus this honor.
- Jesus is given the scroll of Isaiah. He could have read any portion of the text. However, we are told that Jesus found the place where the promise of God to bring release to the captives, liberty to the oppressed, sight to the blind, is written. He chose this passage and this promise.
- This is Jesus’ hometown, remember. They know Him. He is the hometown boy who had made a name for Himself.
- They knew His family. In the Gospel of Mark, this appears to be a problem (see Mark 6:1-6). For the folks in Mark’s gospel, Jesus is no better than they are so when He proclaims that He is the fulfillment of the promise, Mark has folks turn against Jesus. This is not what Luke is up to. For Luke, knowing Jesus, being familiar with Jesus’ family appears to be a benefit. They are filled with pride and speak glowingly of the boy who is one of their own.
The first thing Jesus does is define His mission and purpose.
- Jesus asserts He is anointed by the Spirit.
- Jesus is to preach the gospel to the poor.
- Jesus is to bring release to the captives and set at liberty the oppressed.
- Jesus is to heal the blind.
- Jesus is to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
We have explored the context of Jesus’ message and we have taken a cursory look at how Jesus defines His ministry. Note the reaction. Everybody loved it. They were ecstatic when Jesus told them that “today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” What a great message to bring to folks who have known a great deal of bad news, who have suffered under the oppressive hands of countless tyrants, who had long hoped that justice would right these wrongs and they would find vindication by the hand of God. If Jesus had just left it at that, all would have been well. He didn’t. Jesus tells them some troubling truths.
Elijah help to feed a widow in Sidon. What’s so bad about that? There were many Jews in Israel who were starving, too. Why feed this non-Jew when Elijah’s own people needed his aid? But Jesus has some more troubling news. Elisha helps cure a Syrian leaper. The same question must be raised – Were there no leapers in Israel in need of cure? I just hear the crowd in the synagogue saying in their minds, “What are we, chopped liver? We’re not good enough to have God’s blessing?” The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Deborah fulfills the promise. It’s just not the good folks in Nazareth who are going to get it. What a slap in the face. What an indignant, arrogant and ungrateful boy-wonder Jesus turned out to be. Try telling the good folks of Christendom, the Vatican, the Methodist, the Baptist and the United Church of Christ, that God is going to bring justice, liberty, sight and blessing to the Muslims!
What am I to do with all this? What does all this mean for you and me? Is it a story with no bearing on today – ancient history with no implication for modern men and women of the Church? It could be. One can argue that the good folks of Nazareth needed to hear these words from the lips of our Lord. We don’t, and I suspect that would be a safer place to leave it. Just move on the next Sunday.
But the Bradford Congregational Church is in search of a settled pastor and in these times of transition, churches are asked to ponder their mission and ministry. I turn now to that task. Let me lay this out.
- We are called to be followers of Christ.
- Being a follower of Christ means sharing in Christ’s mission.
- Jesus defined His mission and we find it in Luke 4:18-19.
- The time and the place where we bare witness to that mission changes.
- The mission never changes.
So we will be measured not by how large we become. God will measure us by whether we preached the Gospel to the poor, proclaimed release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, set at liberty those who are oppressed and proclaimed God’s love for all of God’s children. Look around you. Look beyond these walls. These are desperate times. We who proclaim to be the body of Christ are called this day to take up the mantle of our mission. For I am sure that should the Church fail to live out its mission, God will find another vehicle to achieve God’s ends.
When Jesus went home to Nazareth He set before those gathered for worship the mission of God. And He warned them that its fulfillment might pass them over. We must not ignore the warning of Jesus. Come, my friends. There is much to be done. Let us pray….
i Luke 4:14-30
14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 ‘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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ 23He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ 24And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. 25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ 28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.