An offensive gospel

Sermon for Sunday 3rd February, reading from Luke 4:14-30

Today as we consider this passage from Luke I invite you to enter the story – allow yourself to be one of those hearing Jesus.

What are you thinking?

How do your thoughts change as he goes on?

What do you notice about those around you?

Are they responding in similar ways to you?

Where do you find yourself at the end of the story?

How do you feel about yourself?

Jesus grew up just down the road, in a small house beside the carpenters shop on the edge of town.

Everyone knew him, he knew everyone.

Palestinian Children play in Beach refugee camp Western Gaza CityAs a boy he’d played with the other children, skipping along the dusty road, hide and seek, friendly wrestling with his mates, throwing stones at that old stump across the stream. He’d grazed donkeys, got water from the well, ran errands, stubbed his toes, scraped his elbows, and bruised his knees. He was just a kid, like all the other brown faced and slightly dusty kids in town.

But even as a kid he had been different; every boy learnt the scriptures but he listened and questioned like no other child – like he really wanted to understand and he did; his insight and wisdom for one so young humbled his teachers.

He had been a popular child, and as a teen he was level headed, understanding, quietly helpful in ways that showed up most others: adult and youth.

It was obvious that this carpenters son would never be confined to the workshop – don’t get me wrong he could have been a good carpenter; had the eye and hands for it, and he worked beside his father with obvious respect and potential but his vision was greater than the shop, greater than the town – his talk always of His Father – no not Joseph – his heavenly father: God.

He grew and matured: working hard he was respected and gained the admiration of everyone – yet everyone also wondered what would come of him?

Recently he’d been away and the gossip in town was full of his name. Apparently he’d gone to the prophet John and asked to be baptised – why he no one knew, he of all people did not need it.

And then he’d just gone off by himself – into the wasteland – disappeared for well over a month.

When he finally appeared again news about him was on everyone’s lips, and he began to teach in all the synagogues, even in Capernaum, with really authority – it was like the spirit of God was with him.

Everybody had always liked Jesus but liking had turned to pride.

The home town boy doing Nazareth proud.

Finally here he is: home – Mary his mother overjoyed, and it seems that everyone in town wants a piece of him.

When Sabbath comes everyone makes a point of being in the synagogue: there’s no doubt Jesus will be there, he’s never missed a Sabbath in his life.

It’s already been talked about; the rabbis have asked him to read the Scriptures.

So when Jesus stands the room falls silent – suppressed coughs but nothing more.

Taking the scroll Jesus unrolls it and begins to read from Isaiah 61.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,                                                               to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Sitting down he began to teach – his first sermon in Nazareth.

Everyone was listening – eyes fixed on Jesus, he spoke with such graciousness and wisdom.

When did he get so wise? The people wondered.

What would be the first thing he chose to teach?

They couldn’t wait; yet as he spoke something unexpected happened, the mood changed, what was Jesus saying? What was he on about?

Why is he referring to these old stories of the prophets of Israel doing good for despised enemies? We don’t need to be reminded of our shame.

But that’s exactly what Jesus does.   (1 Ki 17:1-15; 2 Ki 5:1-14)

“There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah the prophet,” he says, “when the heavens were shut up for three years and six months, and there were many widows who died of starvation, but he was sent to none of them, but rather to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon”.

Everybody knew now what Jesus was saying; for while people starved in Israel God had sent Elijah to this foreign woman, an enemy, a gentile.

It felt as if God had chosen our enemies over us, now generations later the pain of that memory was like a gaping wound.

Wounds into which Jesus rubs salt as he speaks of Elisha and Naaman.

Naaman was a feared enemy. He’d been the commander of the armies of the King of Aram, and had much success in battle against Israel.

Yet he was also a leper. Hated and feared; loathed and despised.

And Jesus has the audacity he tell the people that God chose to heal a man such as Naaman while many Israelites suffered and were not healed.

These are the stories that Jesus tells in reference to the fulfilment of the kingdom that will be seen in his ministry.

Stories of the blessing of the wrong people;

by implication stories of the bypassing of God’s own, Israel.

Neither the widow nor Naaman were Jews, they were not of the chosen. They were outsiders, different, unclean and unworthy: at least that’s how the people saw them.

How could Jesus – their Jesus speak in such a way, why dig up old wounds, and pour salt into them.

And like a dial being turned to full their anger is aroused – the gospel Jesus preaches offends them.

So much so that “all the people in the synagogue were furious” (vs 28), their blood boils, incensed they run him out of the synagogue, pushing and shoving, swearing and cursing they have only one thing in mind: murder.

What has got them so angry?

I suspect it’s the speaking of a truth that deep down they know – God wants to bless all peoples

The foreign, the different, the despised, the outcast

Those people in that synagogue are maybe not so different to us.

They had expectations as do we, and part of that expectation is that since we are basically good people, and we are living for God then we should be ones to get the benefit, to be blessed.

And we are blessed – even if we fail to see it.

But God is not going to stop with us; even worse he expects us to join him in now blessing others.

Here in the Wakatipu we are challenged in a similar way.

God is not interested in just blessing us – rather he wants us to bless others; to share the good stuff of life.

Our priority as church so quickly becomes ourselves – we see it in our budget, we see it in the expectations we place on our staff and the way we organise our life.

And Jesus says: I got news for you. The kingdom is fulfilled in the blessing of all people.

They should not have been surprised, they should have known this, because this is the heart of God; the Scriptures are full, from beginning to end, of the truth that God’s love is for everyone. That God is always reaching out to those outside the fold…and if a choice is ever to be made, the shepherd leaves the sheep in the fold to go after the one outside.

Today the task of this church, of you and I, is to go where Jesus goes; to the outcast, the lonely, the different, to those outside so that they may be invited to the embrace of their God.

That offends some people – I know that, Jesus knew that. But if it offends it is because our heart is not yet beating in tune with God’s – and his love for all the world has been denied.

We who follow Jesus, will, in accordance with God’s Word and the example of Jesus always reach out to the ones who need him most….

Arohanui - Ian


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