This is the sermon I preached on January 15, 2017 at First Presbyterian Church in Red Wing, MN. The text is Luke 4: 14-30. This was my first sermon in this new call. Last week at the end of the service we invited you to take a star with a word on it. A word that you were asked to reflect on for the coming year. We want you to place this star somewhere you will see it, whether that’s the refrigerator, your car, your mirror, as a book mark,...somewhere you will see it. Currently my star is sitting on my desk next to my computer, where I am, a lot of the time. The word I received is “readiness”. I thought, “what am I going to do with that?” Then I read this week’s scripture.
I hope and pray that this sermon ends differently than it did for Jesus. I hope you don’t get up and drive me out of town, leading me to the top of Barn Bluff ready to toss me into the river. We really like it here. Also, our old cat, Joe might not be able to take another move.
For me this word readiness, fits right into today’s passage from the Gospel of Luke. Jesus, having been baptized is sent unceremoniously into the wilderness where is tempted and then returns to the region called Galilee, to Nazareth, his home town. He goes to the synagogue, as was his custom, and he reads a familiar passage from the prophet 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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
This would have been well known to the folks in Nazareth, this is one of those passages that is uplifting, hopeful, a good rah-rah passage. Jesus puts the scroll away and says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” In Eugene Peterson’s contemporary rendering of scripture called The Message, it says, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.”
The people were pretty impressed. They say, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”
At this point I imagine the crowd all patting themselves on the back, smiling, and saying “Wow, isn’t that Joseph’s son. He’s grown to be such a good boy.”
Then Jesus gives them a word that they are not ready or willing to hear.
Prophets don’t do well in their own town. He expounds on the story of Elijah saying, “You know there were widows in Israel when famine struck but Elijah wasn’t sent to any of them he was sent to a widow in Sidon. There were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha but it was only Naaman of Syria that was cleansed.”
In the retelling of those stories, Jesus is reminding the gathered, the in crowd, the haves, that God has and will always be on the side of the least of these.
Jesus is bringing Good News, but as Rev. Jose Morales, Jr. says, “Good News is not always nice news.”
On this weekend in our national calendar, this story of Jesus bringing a hard word to the in crowd seems appropriate. Jesus’s readiness to deliver a message that he knew wouldn’t sit well with the crowd, but needed to be said is apparent. Martin Luther King, Jr. was known for saying some hard words, that he knew wouldn’t sit well but needed to be said, too.
On this, our national holiday celebrating his life we remember the beautiful, soaring, and inspiring words of his “I have a dream” speech, we remember the hopeful words delivered in Oslo, Norway during his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Martin Luther King, Jr. has become a sort of talisman whenever we want to talk about equality, he is remembered as this sweet, loving, kind pastor who everyone liked. But as a student of history I know that this was not the case. It seems that at times we have not been ready to hear the Good News in Dr. King’s message but we have chosen only to hear the nice news.
This week I was reminded of the words from his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail. These are words, I do not like, I do not find comfort in them, they are not inspiring. They are convicting, they are real, they are most certainly GOOD NEWS.
“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
Every time I read this letter, I am pulled up short here. I have yet to be ready to hear these words.
I feel like, I am a person of good will, it seems that you are all people of good will. The people in the crowd that Jesus was talking to were people of good will.
It seems as if the people of Nazareth were people of good will but they weren’t ready. They weren’t ready for the not so nice, Good News, that Jesus was proclaiming. They weren’t ready to hear that they didn’t get any special treatment from God or Jesus because they were the children of Abraham or from his hometown.
The Good News, but not nice news, is and was that the “year of the Lord’s favor” was for all, Jews and Gentiles alike. The Good and nice News is that God loves you, just as you are, no strings attached. The Good and not so nice news is, that love extends to those outside the in crowd, those people you might not like very much.
The people in Nazareth got angry, got violent, because Jesus told them something that they were not ready to hear, that the God’s love wasn’t only for them, God’s justice wasn’t only for them, God’s love was for the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed, the immigrant, the Jew, the Muslim, the unbelievers, those in the LGBTQ community, those of all races, those people whom we might find to be unforgivable. God’s love extends to all. This is the Good News of the Gospel.
May we be ready not only to hear the Good News, but let us be ready to live the Good News, even if it isn’t nice news.
May it be so.