Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sermon; 4 Epiphany; Luke 4:21-30

Epiphany, as I've been saying, is a season of revealings and beginnings.  The gospel passage for today, the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, follows this theme of revealings and beginnings.

Today follows directly after last week's gospel – the one that ended with, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  The gospel today begins with that very same sentence.

Jesus has read from the prophet Isaiah anointing him to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, and sight to the blind.  He read from this piece of scripture while attending the synagogue in his home town.  And before Jesus has an opportunity to clarify or elaborate on today's opening sentence, everybody there gets all excited and jumps on the Jesus bandwagon.

I wonder what might have happened if the people hadn't gone all gaga over him?  Would they have heard his message of good news?  Would he have called a person or two to be his disciples?  We will never know.

Instead he confronts the people with what will really happen.  What really happens is that the town, or at least the people in the synagogue, want to claim him for themselves.  They want what's known in sports negotiations as a home town discount.  They want the status that comes with being able to say, “He's our boy.”

To which Jesus responds with a foreshadowing of the crucifixion – Doctor, cure yourself – and an indictment of their attitude – Do here in your hometown what you did over in Capernaum.  He doesn't dwell on the first, but he definitely hits them with the second.  And when he does, they promptly escort him to the nearest cliff.

It isn't clear in Luke that Jesus was in Capernaum before this event.  Luke only tells us that he “returned to Galilee and a report about him spread throughout the whole countryside.”  This may or may not be a reference to Jesus in Capernaum – I can't say for sure one way or the other.  What I can tell you is that Capernaum was his next stop.  But regardless, Jesus is confronting them about their desire to see him perform miraculous works.

A few days before 2 Epiphany there was a video clip making the Facebook rounds among my clergy friends.  I didn't post it because I knew it would mess me up.  I barely got through the gospel without laughing as it was.

2 Epiphany was the wedding in Cana/water-to-wine gospel.  The video is of Rowan Atkinson, better known as Mr. Bean, doing a skit on that very story.  “The servants took the water become wine to the steward, and he did not know from WHENCE it had come.  But the servants knew, and they all applauded wildly.  And they enquired of him, 'Do you do children's parties?'  And the Lord said, 'No'.”

The skit goes on with Jesus bringing forth carrots and white rabbits and all the people praising him.

While this is funny stuff from an off-beat English comic, it reminds me of today's gospel.  Rowan's skit has the people pushing Jesus for more and more tricks – the highlight of which is sawing Mary Magdalene in half.  Eventually they get him to perform in Jerusalem, where “they absolutely crucified him.”  The skit isn't about Jesus and the good news; it's about people wanting to see magic tricks.  Today's gospel isn't about the people of Nazareth wanting to hear the good news; it's about them wanting to see the act – Do for us here what we heard you did there.

The people of Nazareth fail to comprehend two important points of Jesus.  First, this is not an act.  This is the in-breaking of God into our world in a new way.  This has to do with new life.  In other words, this is good news.

Second, what Jesus is doing is meant for a wider audience than just his hometown.  To make his point he references the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian.  Those are important references because the widow was visited by Elijah and Naaman was cleansed by Elisha, two of Israel's greatest prophets.  The catch, though, is that both the widow and Naaman were Gentiles.  God reached out across boundaries then, and God is reaching out beyond boundaries now.  And that, I think, is what really gets the people of Nazareth so terribly upset.

The people of Nazareth were being confronted with the idea that they did not possess God – God did not belong to them.  In a larger sense, this is what the people of Israel were confronted with when Elijah visited the widow in Zarephath and when Elisha healed Naaman the Syrian: God does not belong to Israel.

Before we get too judgmental about the people of Nazareth and the Israelites, remember that Christians are just as good at playing this game.  We have a good habit of proclaiming and labeling people as being outside the bounds of orthodoxy for not believing what we believe, believing what we don't believe, not allowing what we allow, and allowing what we don't allow in all manner of things.  How many times have we heard, “You/They can't be Christians because . . .”

What we are essentially saying is, “God does not belong to you.”

But what Jesus is saying, what Elijah and Elisha were saying, and what so many people refuse to hear is, “Everyone belongs to God – everyone is the Lord's possession.”

God is not ours, we are God's.  God does not belong to us, we belong to God.  As it says in the burial service (borrowing from Paul), “Whether we live or die, we are the Lord's possession.”

If you think about it, this lies at the heart of almost every religious disagreement we have.  Not all, but a lot.  When we exclude certain people we are essentially telling them that God is ours and we control who has access to him.  Fear of losing that control, fear of seeing God differently than we've always seen him, is one of the reasons we take Jesus to the cliff.

Epiphany is the season of beginnings and revealings.  Today's gospel isn't so much about revealing who Jesus is, as much as it's revealing what we think about Jesus and God.  The epiphany today is that Jesus/God is not yours, but that everyone, even people outside our boundaries, are the Lord's possession.  May we begin to reveal this truth as we proclaim, “You are the Lord's possession, and you are welcome here.”

And if some people want to take us to the cliff, so be it – we will be in good company.



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