Jesus was Rejected. By Us Too? (February 3, 2019)
I’m sure you’ll remember from last week that Jesus went to the synagogue, where he preached his first sermon. He read the appointed reading from Isaiah: “God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the message of good news to the poor, sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, to announce, ‘This is God’s year to act!’” (The Message)
Then he began to preach. “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Today was part 2 of the story—the people’s response.
It’s always interesting to me how people respond to a sermon. Often, I’ll think that the sermon I just preached is mediocre at best and people will say, “Great sermon!” Other times, when I think I’ve knocked it out of the park, no one says anything. Sometimes people will tell me what they heard when I’m quite sure I said no such thing. Occasionally, two weeks later, or two months later, or two years later, someone will share something they remembered, and for the life of me I can’t recall a single thing about it.
In fact, when I was in Edmonton a couple of years ago, someone told me that a sermon I preached there made a difference in their lives. That was 30 years ago!
So how did the people in Nazareth react? Well … they wanted to throw Jesus off the nearest cliff.
Just to be clear, I’m not recommending this. I don’t want to give you any ideas!
But here’s the thing. Sometimes the gospel is going to offend us. Sometimes it’s going to get under our skin and irritate the heck out of us. Sometimes it’s just going to seem like so much bull…. nonsense.
Because God’s gospel values are different than society’s values. Because God’s gospel priorities are different than society’s priorities.
You see, the gospel means to transform us. The gospel means to change us. The gospel means to help us see life in a whole new way. The gospel means to help us re–evaluate our priorities. The gospel means to shake the foundations of our lives so that we might live according to new values and priorities.
And sometimes we don’t much like that.
And we turn our backs and continue with our normal lives.
And we reject the gospel, just as Jesus was rejected 2000 years ago.
The Eucharistic Prayer we use today puts it this way, “Rejected by a world that could not bear the Gospel of life, Jesus knew death was near.” It’s a telling phrase … a world that could not bear the gospel of life.
It is hard for us, because the gospel is so countercultural.
Our society says, “Get all that we can while we can. The gospel invites us to give as much as we can for the good of all.
Our society says, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” The gospel says take care of each other without thought for yourself.
Our society says, “This is my stuff, my home, my land; I earned it and I deserve it.” The gospel says it is all gift, it doesn’t belong to us, and invites us to give it away.
Our society says, “Christian faith is there to comfort us and make us feel good about our white, middle–class ways.” The gospel says that I have come to proclaim good news for the poor.
Our society says, “Christian faith is useless.” The gospel tells us that our relationship with God is the very stuff of life.
And if that doesn’t scare you a little bit … then you’re just not paying attention.
American essayist Annie Dillard wrote the following about 25 years ago: “Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? … It is madness to wear [Easter bonnets] to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.” (Teaching a Stone to Talk).
Rejected by a world that could not bear the gospel of life …
So here’s the question for us.
Do we also continue to reject Jesus because we cannot bear the gospel of life?
Man that’s tough.
Some days I wonder about myself.
Some days I wonder about you, about us together.
Last week, someone said to me after my sermon, “You really do care about the poor and the victims, don’t you?” My response was to say that I don’t see how we can read the gospel any other way. Sometimes I wish we could.
But I can’t.
The heart of the gospel for me is that God’s love and compassion is exactly for those who can’t make it on their own. From Genesis to Revelation, the gospel is that in God’s economy, there are no outsiders, no one is beyond the reach of God’s love, every person has dignity and value, and all creatures reveal the power of God’s love.
God keeps drawing the circle of love wider and larger all the time.
And yes, that can be unsettling.
Because the gospel isn’t ours to control. It’s not up to us to decide who’s in or who’s out. It’s not our job to try and tame the gospel, to domesticate it, to make it somehow more palatable.
Our work is to see all those places where God is already acting in the world and then to join in with all our hearts.
And that will change us. That will transform us.
God invites us to live out as fully as we can the last line of our Mission Statement: “All are Welcome”, to be as inviting as we can possibly be in all that we do.
God invites us to see others … the homeless, the poor, the alcoholic, the drug addicted … to really see them and know that they are precious people in God’s sight.
God invites us to be as generous as we can be, to share all the blessings which fill our lives with those who have so much less.
God invites us to see that members of the LGBTQ community are precious people made in the very image of God, and that we refuse to condemn them to second–class status as the church has so often done.
God invites us to join in the difficult work of reconciliation, to join hands with indigenous people. Part of what that means is to recognize that we are living on land that legally still belongs to them, and we’re going to have to figure out how we can work it out for the welfare and peace of all.
I could go on with examples about the environment, about our tendencies to be consumers, about refugees and immigrants, about government and economic policy, about the life of the people in our small corner of the world. But you get my drift.
God invites us to make God’s gospel priorities the priorities of our lives.
As we live in this gospel way, as we begin to share the dream of God, then we will be changed, we will be transformed.
And the world needs that kind of change. The world needs people like us to proclaim it. The world needs people like us to live it.
To be people of peace.
To be people of compassion.
To be people of reconciliation.
To be people who live out God’s love in everything we do.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
February 3, 2019 (4th Sunday after Epiphany, Proper 4)
Luke 4: 21–30
1 Corinthians 13: 1–13
Jeremiah 1: 4–10