"Brow of the Hill"
February 3, 2013 - After the Epiphany
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Church
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 hometown 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 hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up 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.
What makes for a good sermon?
I know, Ken: short.
But for the rest of you, what make a sermon really good?
Is it that it teaches you something about Jesus or the Bible?
Is it that it recharges your spiritual batteries and makes it easier to face a new week?
Is it that it makes you feel good for what you’ve been doing?
Or, perhaps, is it one that brings back fond memories of the past?
<Solicit responses from the congregation>
I know I love to hear people greeting me after the service with
“that was such a fine sermon, pastor Todd.”
I, too, have an ego
and I also like having it stroked.
Last Sunday we heard the preceding passage of today’s Gospel.
From the congregation’s point of view:
Jesus had preached the perfect sermon.
He read the prophecy of Isaiah
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he concluded his proclamation
with his one sentence sermon by saying:
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled with your hearing.”
“All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth”
is the equivalent of “Pastor Todd, that was a wonderful sermon.”
Truth be told, Jesus didn’t come to be liked,
or be told that he had an amazing sermon
and no pastor worth their salt
should preach for the purpose of being liked, either.
In fact, some of the best sermons are ones that are not amazing
or well spoken,
or filled with scholarly citations.
The best sermons are ones that tell the truth
and challenges listeners to live up to that standard of truth.
Truth telling is what makes a good sermon.
Sometimes that will make the listener feel good,
but most of the time
it will push you,
even irritate and anger you.
A good sermon might even, as Jesus discovers,
cause a listener to fly into a homicidal rage.
Good news to the poor,
sight to the blind,
release to the prisoners,
and a proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favor
certainly caught the crowd’s attention.
Jesus was informing everyone that he had come to turn their world upside down
to bring justice to the oppressed
and restoration to the broken.
I can hear his aunt Elizabeth in the crowd dabbing a tear with her handkerchief:
“That Jesus is such a good boy
and he has such high ambitions.
I’m so proud of him!”
Jesus didn’t come to be liked.
Today, he came to tell the truth.
One scholar I read this past week said,
“Jesus came to the synagogue to pick a fight.”
As long as justice and restoration was some aspirational hope for tomorrow
all was well and good.
But the truth that Jesus told
- that got him into trouble -
was when he began to challenge their assumptions about their God.
You want to know what would make a fundamentalist fly into a homicidal rage?
tell them that the Bible is the inspired word of God
and their belief that the Bible is the literal word of God is wrong.
Want to know what made Saul fly into a homicidal rage?
He was told God anointed David to become King.
Want to know what made Jesus’ own flesh and blood fly into a homicidal rage?
Tell them that God’s justice and restoration was not limited to Jews.
Tell them that Jesus came for Jew and gentile alike.
Elijah, Jesus reminded them,
could have eased the famine by going to good Jewish widows,
Elijah went to a gentile widow up in Sidon.
Elisha might have cleansed some good Jewish lepers in Israel,
The only leper that was cleansed was Naaman the Syrian -
Jesus’ family, friends, and hometown neighbors
just couldn’t bring themselves to envision a God outside of their tiny little world.
They expected a Messiah, God’s Son, to come and be a political savior,
to kick Rome out and assume the throne.
They expected God to restore the land
and the people
would live under God’s chosen designation.
They expected a return to old time religion
whose foundation was the Law,
and that was “good enough for me.”
So Jesus destroyed Nazarene expectations
when, filled by the Spirit,
he clearly removed the blinders from their eyes.
Any hopes of limiting the Spirit,
- what God was doing
and to whom God was reaching out -
was completely destroyed by Jesus.
Organized Judaism couldn’t hold Jesus,
he was going to reach beyond the Jews to the gentile world.
Temptation and sin would not hold the Spirit empowered Jesus,
he was going to destroy it
and the whole foundation of legalistic Judaism
by his death upon the cross.
Even their assumptions about death were going to be destroyed
by a Spirit filled Jesus who had the audacity to step out of a tomb.
What kind of God would do that?
This upside down world view
that left organized Judaism in the dust
is what drove family and friend into their homicidal frenzy.
Struggle with me for a moment
- sweat with me for a moment -
and envision what it would be like if Jesus came and spoke in a similar way from this pulpit.
What would he say,
that you know, deep down, was TRUTH,
yet, at the same time, would cause you to gasp and become enraged?
Jesus might start by saying,
the United Methodist Church proclaims
“Open minds, open hearts, open doors”
(leaving us to think, gosh, Jesus, that sounds like a mighty fine message)
then how would he follow it up?
He might say,
I reached out to children. Where are your children?
I reached out to people with disabilities. Where are your people with physical challenges?
I reached out to gentiles. Where are your people of different colors and traditions?
I reached out to the poor. Where are your poor?
I reached out to everyone. Why are certain people still excluded?
I can imagine Jesus standing at this pulpit saying,
Why are you bearing your load of sins?
Why are you caring the world on your backs?
Jesus might say
Give me your cancer, your addictions, your temptations, and your fears.
Give me your regrets, your guilt, and your shame;
because I’ve already died for you.
Jesus might ask,
Why do you fear death?
Why are you afraid of dying?
I walked out of the tomb
to give you eternal life.
A Spirit filled Jesus would say,
Life is a gift of God, not of this world,
and beyond this world,
your gift is eternal.
Like Jesus’ family and friends,
we so want to hold on to what we know is true.
We want stability, predictability, routine, and life to continue unchained.
We want to keep God in a box,
and to never let him out.
We’d like God on a half shell,
contained right here at Zion,
available only on Sunday mornings.
Yet, Jesus today, reminds us
the Spirit of God
knows NO bounds,
especially the bounds we’ve created.
The Spirit of God
is not intimidated by our artificial designations, denominations, or religion.
The Spirit of God
is our gift to be unleashed to a yearning and hungry world,
starving to be set free.
The Spirit of God
is like the wind,
we do not know from where it comes or to where it blows;
it just is.
Don’t waste your time trying to fight the wind;
rather, go with the wind,
and enjoy the journey where the Spirit is taking you.