"Truth Is ..."
31 January 2016
the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches
Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ He 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.” ’ And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But 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; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They 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. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
Our Gospel lesson for this morning
piggy-backs onto last Sunday's lesson,
when Jesus returns to his hometown,
reads the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue
at the invitation of the religious authorities,
proclaims he is the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy,
and takes a seat.
This is where we pick up the story today.
They spoke well of him,
Yet, beneath their breath
The fire had already been set.
It is important to recognize
that the synagogue audience to which Jesus was speaking
was not a gathering of
or the intellectually challenged.
The friends and neighbors of Jesus and his family were learned Jews,
schooled in the rich traditions,
and language of the Hebrew experience.
The general lay person knew the scriptures inside and out:
the Law and covenant,
the Prophets, their warnings and call to repentance,
and Wisdom, such as the Psalms and Proverbs.
Though they spoke Arabic,
They were all literate in Hebrew.
The average lay person listening to Jesus
probably had a deeply felt understanding
of being a part of a specifically chosen people,
decedents of Abraham,
claimed by God,
given preferential treatment, security, safety, and assistance.
God chosen them for a reason;
and, just as powerfully,
God didn't chose others outside the Hebrew family.
Believing that you are
chosen, special, elite, entitled simply by birth
– can be a dangerous proposition,
without appropriate context and discipline.
A number of years ago,
I read a historical text about the rise of the British Empire, titled
“To Rule the Waves, How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World”
by Arthur Herman.
It amazes me how different western European cultures
would rise with a Esprit de Corps
and a perception of being chosen and favored
by a benevolent God,
only to reach their pinnacle
and to rapidly face decline and defeat.
It was the Italians in the 1400's.
The Spanish in the 1500's,
until they had their armada crushed
and their gold and silver trade with the West disrupted.
It was the Dutch who rose and fell in the 1600's,
and the French who attempted to extent their global influence
and harvest the benefits of the world's marketplace in the 1700's.
The British developed their own confidence and power,
coupled with their unique understanding of Protestantism,
spreading their Empire across the globe,
until it could truly be said
that “the sun never set on the British Empire.”
Truth is, the sense of elitism, being chosen, special, or entitled
also works on a personal scale.
Who here hasn't thought to themselves, at one time or another,
“I'm better than that fool,”
or “Thank God I'm a Christian, and not a Muslim or a Jew,”
or “Thank goodness I'm not one of those 315ers!”
Unbridled and undisciplined elitism is dangerous.
It can be the raw material of hate, discrimination, and even violence.
It is what fueled Arianism and the Nazi holocaust.
It is what fuels the Klu Klux Klan, and other hate groups.
Religious fundamentalist are naturally elitist.
It is what drives discrimination
– the mistaken belief that I'm better than you;
I'm above the law;
or God has given me the authority
to dominate you.
Up to this point
Jesus was doing fine,
reading the culturally appropriate text from Isaiah.
All spoke well of him
Though they probably wondered why he chose to read
The Jubilee text.
From their high-brow elitist tower
they were amazed
that such could come from the unlearned, uneducated Joseph,
the simple carpenter who had his shop in town.
After all, what does he know?
He’s just a kid.
Then, it all turns sour.
Someone from the congregation
spoke up and asked Jesus to do what he had done
just the other day in Capernaum,
a nearby village on the other side of the hill.
Undoubtedly, he was speaking miracles.
“Can't you do the same in your own hometown?”
Enough talk; let’s see some action!
Prophets are not accepted in their hometown,
He cites scripture – the sacred text of the faithful - to make his point.
Elijah wasn't sent to help the widows
from his own family suffering from famine.
God sent him to the Gentiles,
to those who weren't chosen or elite.
Elisha wasn't sent to heal Jewish lepers;
God worked through him to heal a Gentile man,
Naaman the Syrian.
Elijah and Elisha were sent to outsiders.
“Wait just one second, Jesus,”
the crowd undoubtedly thought,
“we are the chosen ones,
not those scum who come from up north,
not those Syrian immigrants from Tyre or Damascus.”
“When they heard this,
all in the synagogue were filled with rage.
They 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.
But he passed through the midst of them
and went on his way.”
Well, they got their miracle.
Too bad, it came as the result of intolerance, hatred, and rage.
So what is to be learned from today's Gospel?
It makes for a great action scene in our biblical mind's eye,
but, what can we learn?
How can this less-than-flattering family narrative
serve as a useful tool
we can apply to our discipleship?
Five observations are apparent to me.
1. First, it is impossible to predict the future action of God.
God had claimed the Hebrews as his own chosen people.
Then God reached out to Gentiles.
If we could predict what God is going to do,
then we would have the mind of God,
and we would be God.
Yes, it is possible to review past history of God's intervention,
of God's transcendence with the human condition.
We can reflect upon our own experience of God's Holy Spirit at work in our lives.
But, like the stock market,
past performance is not a guarantee of future events.
2. This leads us to the second reality;
God's agenda is God's own.
It was God's intent to reach out
to a Gentile from Tyre and another from Syria.
We don't command, direct, or tell God to play fetch.
We don't choose where, when, or the why God should intervene or act.
Only God is in control.
As much as we would like to be the one who is in charge,
it is the other way around.
God is the master.
We are His servants.
God tells Elijah to go,
and he is simply to go.
3. Which leads to the third observation about God's relationship with our world:
we don't know God's larger plan.
It has to come to us as a matter of trust
that there are other concerns that God considers.
There is a larger picture than what we can understand.
Likewise, God's timetable considers years, decades, beyond our lifespan.
God's world extends beyond our little reality.
There is no way any one of us
can consider every element of God's larger plan.
It must be sufficient to us to simply trust.
Trust God for all the why's, where's, and what for's in our world.
4. Fourthly, our perspective is limited by our values, beliefs, our culture.
No matter how culturally competent
you or I might believe we are;
no matter how sensitive we might believe we are towards others;
the truth is that growth and development has given each of us
a unique set of beliefs and values,
of what we have come to believe is right and appropriate,
to the exclusion of others,
and their beliefs.
We are the product of our DNA and our childhood;
the good, the bad, and the ugly;
and no amount of intervention can completely remove the ugly.
Two things can help break us out of our cultural near sightedness.
One strategy begins with introspection.
Recognizing those ugly elements in our own life
can be the first step in building bridges with others.
Make a list of personality characteristics
that have caused pain in the past.
Ask for the input of trusted others.
Pray about your list.
Come up with a plan to address each item.
Another way to expand our world view beyond our own horizons
to force yourself to immerse yourself
in the culture of someone else.
This is a huge benefit of engaging in international missions.
Go with a sense of adventure, with an open mind, with curiosity.
The world and its inhabitants are all made by God,
and they have much to teach us.
You will be stunned and awed by God’s incredible diversity.
5. Finally, we can look to Jesus today
and recognize that there is divine power and serenity
from maintaining discipline and self-control,
even in the face of homicidal rage.
It is a sad reality in today's world that rage is all around us.
Whether it is the other guy who cuts you off and flips you the bird,
a boss that berates and belittles you,
or another who throws down ultimatums, threatens, or yells,
the only Christian response to rage
is the response of Christ
– to quietly, calmly, with disciple and self-control –
To counter violence with violence,
to stoop to the level of the perpetrator,
to resort to an “eye-for-an-eye mentality”
is to belittle yourself,
to disgrace Christ,
and results in the whole world being made blind.
There are enough angry people in this world.
Don’t be one of them.
Like Jesus, we are called to turn and walk away.
Wipe the dust from your feet
and move on to other opportunities for ministry,
other places where God can use you
for God's greater purposes.
Unfortunately, we can't wish away the rage in others.
But we can control our own emotional response.
Jesus gives us the example,
and God gives us the strength.
This strategy steals rage of its oxygen
and allows it to fizzle out on its own,
effectively limiting its growth and reach.
Great calm and confidence comes to those who are faithful to God;
to those who trust that God is in control;
to those who believe that God has a greater plan;
to those of us who recognize our own human limitations.
Calm and confidence comes to those who look to Christ
and to those who trust that God will provide the same power and authority
to walk through the crowd,
to walk away seeking other kingdom opportunities.
Dearly beloved, take heart!
Remain calm and disciplined!
Do not engage in rage.
Wipe it like the snow from your boots and move on,
all, to God's greater glory.