- February 3, 2019
- 08:00 AM
Sermon for 3 February 2019 (Epiphany 4 Year C)
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: Jeremiah 1.4-10; Psalm 71.1-6; Luke 4.21-30
Title: Hurling Jesus Off the Cliff
“They got up, drove Jesus 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.” Luke 4.29
My sisters and brothers: what happens when our own hopes and dreams become more important to us than the dream of God?
Today’s Gospel reading is the conclusion to what we heard last week, when Jesus returned to his hometown and read from the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue. He read amazing words about the Spirit of God anointing him to bring good news to the poor.
And everyone in Nazareth was saying wonderful things about him, and praising Jesus for his wisdom!
And…then…suddenly…everything changed. Those people – people that Jesus had grown up with, had worshipped with for years, people for whom he had likely worked as a carpenter. All of a sudden, those very people turned on him, and whipped up in the frenzy of a mob mentality, they tried to kill him! To tried to silence him, to silence his words, by ending his life.
As it is stated so eloquently in the prologue of the Gospel of John, “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1.11).
This violent rejection at Nazareth is but one part of the Lord’s Passion. As the great English preacher and poet John Donne once explained in a sermon in the year 1626, “The birth and the death of [Jesus] were but one continual act, and his Christmas Day and his Good Friday were but the evening and the morning of one and the same day.”
And so on this one beautiful day which was the earthly life of Jesus, he experienced part of his Passion back home in Nazareth.
But WHY exactly did this happen? What was it that led those people who knew him best to try to end his life? Why did his hometown fans suddenly turn into haters? Why did they turn on their hometown son so quickly and so fiercely?
To be entirely fair and honest, we really do not know. We just don’t. The text of Luke’s Gospel simply reports the episode, but it doesn’t give us any much insight into why it happened.
Those who have studied and meditated on this text over the centuries have come up with suggestions and possible ideas, and perhaps that is the best that we can do today.
What does seem clear is that these people in Nazareth wanted God to be on their side. They loved their people, they loved their land, they loved their country. And as far as I can tell, that pretty much is the exact textbook definition of a patriot!
(BTW, it is SuperBowl Sunday and, of course, the New England Patriots are playing in this game!)
Most simply, a patriot is one who loves his or her own country! Now, it is true that the word “patriot” never ever occurs in the Bible – not in any translation, as far as I can tell. And yet, the idea of one who loves his or her country is certainly there. In fact, it is right here in today’s Gospel!
However, I am so sorry to tell you all this, in THIS incident, in today’s Gospel story, the hometown patriots come out on the losing side!
Don’t blame me – I didn’t write it! Don’t kill the messenger!
What seems to be the problem is that Jesus told them that God intends to do miracles of healing among the Gentiles – for the other team! – rather than among the their own people, the Hebrews.
That just as God worked through the prophets Elijah and Elisha to heal a couple of foreigners rather than the descendants of Abraham, so God was going to work through Jesus to bring healing to the Gentiles – to those outside of the nation.
Basically… what Jesus was saying, is that the patriots were going to lose! The hometown team no longer had any special advantage with God!
You see, what the folks there in the Nazareth synagogue wanted on that Sabbath is no different from what most religious people want. They wanted to know that God is on their side. Indeed, to be honest about it, they wanted to know that God was TAKING their side! That God was taking their side in the long list of complaints and injuries and grudges that groups tend to collect like crows around a trash pile.
They wanted to know that God favored them more than those other people, more than those foreigners living over there, across the border.
GOD was standing in their midst, but they could not see beyond their own ideas. They wanted to see their hopes and dreams fulfilled, more than they wanted to see God.
Now, I need to try and talk about this without getting into trouble. I am not looking for trouble – I only want to be faithful to what I hear God saying in these scriptures.
And what I hear is this: if you allow love for your people, your land and your country to become more important than the love of God, and more important than love for the dream of God for this world, then you have surely lost your way, just like the people in Nazareth on this day.
Look, I honestly do not care whether you lean to the right or the left in your political opinions. I don’t care whether you support the President’s vision for America or not. Sitting very close to you is probably something who holds an opposing view.
That is how it should be; that is what Church must be – a reflection of the broader community in which we live, and where all kinds of views are found.
So support whatever policies you believe to be in the best interests of our nation. Go for it! But this one thing we all must do.
We must seek first the kingdom of God and the righteousness of God. The dream of God!
Whatever your political views, make sure that your priorities are always in proper order! Make sure that God is first. And that God is the lens through which you see each and every human being.
It seems that the people of Nazareth lost this perspective. They saw the others, the foreigners, through the lens of self-interest rather than through the eyes of God.
My friends: if you see people who are desperately trying to come to this country in search of a better life as a problem or an invasion rather than as beloved children of God for whom Christ died, then you have lost sight of the heart of God.
Can we all be clear that God does not care about the borders of this country – or of any country? God does not see borders. And they don’t actually exist anyway.
What God sees are humans made in the image and likeness of God – humans of incredible potential who have been known and consecrated from the very beginning – like the young prophet Jeremiah!
And in the sight of God, it does not matter on which part of this earth any of us were born! For there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism. And there is one earth and one humanity. THAT is ALL God sees.
The great Quaker writer named Thomas Kelly, whose writings we are studying in my Sunday morning Formation group, said it profoundly in this way:
“The relation of each to all through God is real, objective, existential. It is an eternal relationship which is shared in by every stick and stone and bird and beast and saint and sinner of the universe. On all the wooing love of God falls urgently, persuadingly.” (A Testament of Devotion, Harper Collins, 1992, p.56).
This amazing love of God falls on all – without exception.
So hold on to your opinion about what our national immigration policy should be. That is your prerogative, and there is always room for a healthy and robust debate about the best way to move forward. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and to be respected for it.
BUT if you are one who intends to walk with Jesus in God’s way of love, then you must never allow anything into your heart except for the love of God for the foreigner, for the outsider, the stranger, the refugee.
This is not about policy, but about we see the other, how we speak about them, how we define the other.
The word of the Lord said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; and before you were born I consecrated you.” Very few of us are appointed to be prophets like Jeremiah, but each human, born on this earth, IS known and consecrated by our Creator for a good and beautiful purpose.
So what happens when our own hopes and dreams become more important to us than the dream of God?
After every football game, and even after today’s Super Bowl, a group of players from both teams will gather at midfield to pray. To give thanks to God for their safety on the field, to pray for those who were injured in the contest, and to recognize their unity in Christ.
They may have been fierce opponents during those 60 minutes of play, but they all know that they share a God-given identity far deeper and more real than the uniform they happen to wear.
No matter what tribe we belong to, no matter what flag we salute, no matter even what team we root for, we know that we share a God-given identity far deeper and more real than anything else.
O God, give us grace never to allow your dream and your vision to be clouded by what grows out of our own self-interest. Help us, O God. Amen.