Sermon, February 3, 2019

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 4th chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord.

21 Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." 22 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?" 23 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.' " 24 And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. 25 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; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 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. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


Today’s gospel is a very difficult text. I promise you, every pastor remembers this story and accepts the invitation to preach in the church they grew up in with great fear and trepidation. Pastors do not like to think that preaching can make people want to push even Jesus off a cliff.  This is a reminder that the gospel is dangerous and hard to hear sometimes.  Good news isn’t always received as good news.  


So, what’s the issue here with Jesus’ sermon?  Why are they so upset? Don’t we come to worship to hear a nice message? We want some good news that reassures us, something that makes us feel better, something that makes us feel loved by God. 


I think it’s very easy to identify with the people of Nazareth because they have a point.  Haven’t you heard the expression, “Charity begins at home.”  I mean, why doesn’t Jesus heal a couple of people there?  There must have been somebody in town who needed healing. There must have been hungry people there. He is Jesus, after all.  How much trouble would it have been?  He could have gotten a lot of good will out of doing a couple of small miracles. 


Jesus does things we don’t understand.  Sometimes other people get good news and we don’t.  Sometimes the answer from Jesus is “I’m God and you’re not” - which doesn’t feel like a satisfactory answer to us mortals. We might worry that God is rejecting us. After all, we know ourselves well enough to know we are sinners. 


It is very hard to be rejected.  Nobody likes rejection. I think of all the times I wasn’t chosen for the softball team on the playground and the captain who picked last had to take me.  Actually, that was all the time for every game. I learned to tell myself it didn’t matter since I didn’t like playing sports anyway.


I remember trying out for regional band and making last chair flute when my younger sister made first chair saxophone.  I remember many times of applying for jobs I didn’t get.  


You have your own rejection stories.  That time you didn’t make the team or the cheerleading squad. Or you didn’t get into the college you applied to.  That time you didn’t get the job you wanted, or you didn’t get a promotion you deserved.  That time your boyfriend or your girlfriend dumped you.  


Or you remember your divorce.  You remember how difficult it was to share the bad news with your family.  Maybe they didn’t take it too well, maybe they rejected you, too.  


Maybe your business isn’t going as well as you hoped.  The people at work don’t respect you or appreciate your ideas.  


One of the places I worked when I was between calls quite a few years ago was a very toxic work environment. I was mostly on the sidelines, as an observer, since I didn’t work directly with the people involved. I was sad about it because I realized I couldn’t fix things. The boss was in on it and the administration didn’t care. 


Some of the staff members formed a clique and they decided whether they liked a new person or not.  If they didn’t like a particular staff member, they tried to push them off the figurative cliff.  They worked hard to undermine that person, to get them fired or make them quit. 


They took turns individually going to the boss and telling her about mistakes the new person made.  They bullied the person, saying things like “I don’t think you are going to make it here. You are making too many mistakes. This work is really hard and you aren’t smart enough.”  


This clique all took their breaks at the same time leaving the new person alone on the floor to work, then alone to eat lunch.  They had a sense of entitlement, the idea that they could choose their co-workers.  The idea that being there for a few years meant they didn’t have to work with anyone they didn’t want to.  The idea that they deserved certain privileges.  That they were special. 


This clique had a lot of power.  The boss was afraid of them.  She didn’t want to be their victim.  She didn’t want them doing to her what they did to several others.  She didn’t want to be thrown off the cliff next.  So she tried to be their friend.  I was very happy when I could quit that job.  


There will always be people who think they are special and that they deserve certain privileges.  Jesus found that out.  Do a few miracles and preach a few good sermons in other places, and the people of Nazareth want to know why they don’t rate even better than the others got.  Don’t friends and family deserve some preferential treatment? Those are the questions they have for Jesus. 


The truth hurts sometimes.  Jesus went to Nazareth and he preached the truth and they didn’t want to hear it.  They were his family and friends so knowing this famous rabbi should make them special.  


Jesus told them the truth.  God blessed them so that they could be a blessing to the whole world.  Including everybody!  But especially including all those people that you have been leaving out.  


Including the foreigners, including the ones from the countries you consider your enemies. Including the people you are afraid of.  Including people of different races. The ones with the different religions. Including the ones whose sexual orientation or gender identity is confusing to you. 


Including the people who need extra help, who don’t do things as easily as you do.  Like the little girl who can’t catch a softball.  You have to let her play on your team.  You can say, “But Jesus, maybe we won’t win the game. And our whole team will look like a bunch of losers.”  


Jesus says, “yep, still gotta include them.” He says, “you gotta include the new coworkers who aren’t as efficient as you are with your ten years experience.  You have to be patient and help them learn the job.”  You say, “But Jesus, that will take more of my time and if I am nice to them my friends might reject me, too.”


That’s part of the problem with rejection.  When you are rejected, people don’t know what to say to you.   I worked at hospital for a while that went through staff restructuring every year or two, and people would be laid off each time. The first few times it happened, I avoided people who were laid off. 


Other people treat you like it is contagious.  I know that’s how I felt when it was my turn to be laid off. It seems like the people who are closest to you should be the most supportive, but that is not how it always works.  I had to keep reminding myself that God chose me even before I was born, claimed me and named me at baptism, and would now call me to something new.


As the prophet Jeremiah says, "Don't be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you."  Once God calls you and names you, it is forever.  No matter how often you are rejected in this world, God still sends you out to love your neighbors.  You will always be a baptized child of God.  


Jesus knew what rejection felt like.  He was rejected in his home town when he preached the truth to them. The truth that God's love includes everybody, and that means the people that the rest of the world rejects. 


We will all experience rejection in life.  Jesus shows us how to act when that happens.  He doesn’t act spiteful.  He doesn’t repay rejection with rejection. He just keeps on going on his way, doing what God called him to do.  


God had a mission for Jesus’ life.  That mission led him to the cross.  That mission was to save the whole world, everybody, including those who tried to reject him, including the ones who are themselves rejected.  


God has a mission for your life, too.  It won’t be easy and there will be rejection along the way.  Just keep going forward.  Don't be afraid.  God is with you. God delivered Jesus from rejection and death. God will deliver you, too.  Amen.