Today’s reading from the gospel of Luke is clearly a continuation of last week’s reading. The first sentence in today’s story is the last sentence in last week’s: Then he began to say to them: ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ Remember that Jesus read a proclamation from the prophet, Isaiah, and he assumed the role of the Prophet. He was speaking the words as if they were his own:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” The Spirit has anointed me to do this:
-bring good news to the poor
-proclaim release to the captive
-recovery of sight to the blind
-to set the oppressed free and
-proclaim the Jubilee—debt forgiveness, once every 50 years
Then, if you recall, he was silent for a time and all the eyes were upon him. And then he spoke: “Today, what you heard has been fulfilled. –Today! Now, here by me!” That’s what he said.
Today’s reading brings this story another forward and brings it to a conclusion. Today Jesus, through his words, steps outside again. He steps out again, but even further out. And, we, just like those listening to him there in that synagogue, that “house of assembly,“ we too , in our house of assembly , our church, are directed by those words to step outside, outside the synagogue, outside the church—outside forms, rituals, outside what is familiar and comfortable.
Last week—remember— we were exhorted to serve the poor, out there in the community, out in the streets of Nazareth. These loyal observant and committed Jewish men of Nazareth have gathered as they were taught by their fathers and the Law to observe the Sabbath— they observe the Lord’s commandments for the day of rest. They have put down their tools—no ploughing , no sowing or reaping. They will not light a fire a fire – no kneading of dough , nor baking or cooking, They have put down their styluses, no writing , no erasing. They have followed the law to observe the Sabbath. They are doing what Scripture and tradition tells them, but Jesus says—"No, just being good Jews, following the Law, is not enough—we need to go outside this place to the community. Meeting here in the synagogue is good, but it is not enough.”
Now in today’s scripture, it seems that they are getting the message. All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth (v.22). They are actually amazed that this wisdom is coming from one of their own. The home-grown kid who used to get under their feet when he was a tyke. The same boy that used to be so quick at learning and memorizing when he was preparing for his bar mitzvah. “We knew he was smart. But he’s really something. Isn’t he Joseph’s kid? Joseph, he’s only a carpenter. He’s not so smart. Where did the kid get those smarts? Hmm…? Where does he get the chutzpah to speak with such authority?”
Jesus seems to anticipate what is coming. He has arrived with a reputation. They, the old boys in the synagogue, will expect results, results that meet their needs. Jesus will not meet their particular needs. And when he doesn’t, he’ll be criticized and blamed. No one can, in reality, fulfill the
needs of this group of Nazareth’s finest citizens, who gather for Sabbath observance on this day. “Doctor, cure yourself,” says Jesus, predicting what they will soon say. And, “Why can’t you perform some miracle here, just like you did in Capernaum?” See, Jesus’ reputation has preceded him. In short, Jesus is telling them that he will not “perform” for them. He’s not a magician who will do some tricks.
Jesus is telling them that his mission is not for their particular and self-serving benefit. He is not running for the position of “citizen of the year in Nazareth.” He has a wider canvas to paint than the tight and tiny frame they have set in their minds.
He’s already told them about his getting outside. He will step outside into the world to serve the poor, the captives, the oppressed. He’ll be opening eyes to see—giving sight to the blind. “Step out of these four walls and go outside.” He has said that to them.
But now he is stepping out even further. He is going beyond Nazareth. He is going out into the world beyond these “insiders” and their world view—their limited world made up of the story of God’s chosen people, the children of Israel and Israelite history. He is going to the Gentiles. He has been sent by God the Father. His mandate is much bigger.
He gives two examples using Elijah and Elisha. Both were sent to Gentiles, despite the needs of God’s chosen ones. “Indeed”, says Jesus, “there were many widows in Israel. There were many lepers in Israel, but Elijah and Elisha were sent to a widow in Zarephath of Sidon—a Gentile, and Naaman a Syrian general, another Gentile.“ These fellows, his listeners, know these stories. And they begin to get the picture. Jesus is saying to
them, “I’ve not come to serve you alone. The message of hope for the poor, the captives and oppressed, is for everybody, Jew and Gentile.”
“I’m stepping outside, further outside.” Jesus rejects their limited understanding of his presence among them, and they become enraged. They turn on him in an instant. They get up, they literally “drive him”—they drove him out of the town and led him to the brow of the hill… so they might hurl him off the cliff (v.29). What an incredible reversal. From champion to chump. From hero to zero, even to a death threat—in a few short verses. The story could have ended here, but Jesus’ story has just begun. God has other plans for his Beloved Son, doesn’t he? And so we read: But he pressed through the midst of them and went on his way. (v.30)
It’s quite a story. How can we understand it? Let’s try this. We are Canadian. We know hockey, don’t we? Let me try a hockey analogy. There are many small towns in Canada where hockey is played by boys and girls from a very early age. Let’s take such a small town, let’s say Sicamous. In that town there’s a boy we’ll call him Danny. Danny really stands out. The team he plays on, “The Moose” is good, but his play is far and away above everybody else’s. At age 14, he is invited to play for a better team in a better league. He’s gone from his home-town for a couple of years. The locals follow his development.
He’s proving his skill and worth far and wide, in BC, in Alberta, in Saskatchewan, in all the places where young boys become men at Canada’s national obsession. He, like many other talented boys, is making a reputation for himself.
One day Danny comes back to Sicamous. He goes to the local rink, “the barn.” He steps onto the ice and joins a game. He dazzles everyone with his pinpoint passes, deft moves, rocket-like rushes. He scores a couple himself, but best of all, he sets up the other guys. One precise pass, and “boom”, it’s in the net. The Moose record a lopsided victory 9- 0 over the opposition. Everybody cheers and hollers.
“Now he’s back. Look at him go! Isn’t he Dan and Megan’s kid? You know, Dan, the guy who runs the tire shop. Where did Dan Junior get that talent?”
“Dan, his dad, played hockey but he was no great athlete. Hey Junior’s back in town. He’ll be back on our team. The Sicamous Moose will really go places. He can perform his miracles here. We will win the cup. This will be great!”
But Danny has other ideas. He’ll be playing on bigger ice than the that of “the barn.” He’s destined for greater teams than the Moose. He’s being scouted by universities; he’s being looked at by NHL people. European clubs have invited him to play. He’s going to a world outside, further outside the cold and cramped space of “the barn.” He’ll be playing on the world stage. And some of them, these locals, hometown men, are not happy about it.
Danny will not belong to them Danny will belong to the world. The world.
“For God so loved the world.” Where have we heard that before? Many of you probably know it by heart. Join me: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
For God so loved the world. Jesus did not come just for me or just you. Jesus came for the world. God’s incarnation, God’s Beloved Son came to the world.
Often, we want to contain our Jesus and own and hold on to the grace of God’s gifts of love and forgiveness. Sometimes, we want to make it so personal and so particular and so governed by rules and prohibitions that only we can possess this Jesus. Sometimes we are so concerned about our own needs, family and church, that we want to keep Jesus in this sanctuary.
We cannot. And, we must not. We, who are so blessed, we who have so much, so much has been given us, in every respect-- politically, socially, and spiritually. We are blessed to live free from want, free from oppression, free from personal threat. We have healthy, stable and secure lives. On a world scale, we are among the 1% of the world’s population that are the “haves” —the First World.
Jesus’ message today reminds us that we need to step out—further out. We need to step beyond our walls, our “house of assembly’ our building and our “sanctuary”, beyond our limitations.
Today is PWS&D Sunday. Presbyterian World Service and Development is active in dozens of counties around the world. I‘m not about to recite a bunch of statistics. But, I will speak from my personal experience. In 2003, a group of Presbyterians from West Vancouver Presbyterian Church went to Guatemala on a mission trip. I was part of that group of five. We went to Guatemala City where we repainted a school that the Presbyterians had built fifteen years earlier on a garbage dump. Because the people were squatters, the government would not build a school or maintain it. Presbyterians did that for those people, who, otherwise, could not afford schooling for their children. We spent two weeks among the people of Guatemala that PWS&D was helping. I wish everyone could have such an experience.
I saw Christ’s gospel at work among the poor, the persecuted, the grieving, the oppressed and the refugees, those fleeing from violence. I have many stories of grace and liberation I could share. We all can share in these amazing stories. On this PWS&D Sunday, we can make today a day where we can take a step out – further out, into the world. We can join in and help with our awareness and our donations.
What does Jesus say: Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.—Today.
There is some literature and an envelope form in your bulletin. Today you can make a pledge or make a donation. Today.
Jesus calls us to take steps of faith. We don’t always know where we are going. But as Christians, we know why we are going. We are going because we are followers of Jesus. Once again, we are stepping out with Jesus. We are stepping out again – further out. AMEN