Sermon   January 31 , 2016    Luke 4: 16-30    Jesus in Nazareth  by Rev. June Fothergill

I think of the poignant words of Rodney King caught in the chaos of a riot in LA.  “Why can’t we just all get along?”    Whenever I see people in conflict, especially on the edge of violence, my heart cries out the same thing.  I look to Jesus to be a source of peace and calm in the storms of life.    Yet, I remember one time during a bible study of the gospel of Luke, it hit me- Jesus engaged in conflict all the time!   He never resorted to violence other than disrupting the temple market place but conflict was a regular part of his life.   What this taught me is that as his disciple, I need to learn to deal better with conflict and resistance.   This touches my deep need to be accepted and liked.   I realize that sometimes following Jesus faithfully can mean putting that need at risk.  Today’s story shows Jesus experiencing the pain of rejection by his own home town folks.   In fact Jesus himself told his disciples- take up your cross and follow me.   Being faithful to Jesus and his way can be risky!

Luke’s version of Jesus first experience of rejection in his hometown gives us a story for our reflection.   The first part of the story we looked at last week.  Jesus has presented a challenging vision- a mission to bring justice and freedom from blindness and oppression, to bring the day of jubilee.   He tells the people that they can participate in this vision as it is fulfilled in their hearing.

AS the story continues in today’s reading, at first the people in the synagogue were impressed with this native son and all he has done and said.  Then someone reminded everyone.  “Is this not Joseph’s son.”   This statement seems to be a turning point in the story.  The trouble or the intriguing thing is that we don’t know how it was said.   Did they say it with skepticism like how could Joseph’s son be this great preacher or with enthusiasm-hey it’s Joseph’s son and maybe he’ll set up Nazareth as his center of operations.     We don’t know.   Perhaps it was a little of both.

Reminding everyone that Jesus is Joseph’s son reminds them that Jesus is one of them, so maybe not so special but also, maybe his fame and gifts could help out the hometown.   In those days someone with healing gifts like Jesus would set up shop somewhere and people would come to him for healing and teachings.  If Jesus did this in Nazareth, surely it would be a help to the town’s economy and life!  Surely there were expectations that the hometown son would have a preference for them!  In the systems of patronage and power of those days that is how things worked.

Yet, Jesus had a different vision about his ministry. In his temptation in the wilderness he had already resisted the temptation to centralized power, perhaps here in Nazareth the temptation raises its head again.  Luke is also writing to the early churches. Perhaps they too had to resist the temptation to centralized earthly power which could turn too easily into a new form of oppression.  The very opposite of what Jesus had just announced his mission to be.    Whether Jesus is resisting temptation or just seeing a lack of faith, he is clear with the people of Nazareth that their relationship is not an easy one of mutual acceptance.  He tells them straight out that a prophet is not accepted in his own town, that he will not be able to do the miracles there that he had done elsewhere.  Nazareth will not become his center of operations.

We can imagine that people were stunned by such talk; surely they had just acclaimed him and let him teach in their synagogue.  What was he talking about?  Then Jesus told them two stories from their own scriptures. Stories of how prophets in the past had helped people outside the community of Israel rather than people inside.  How God works with outsiders. This was the last straw, filled with rage the people drove him out of town and tried to push him off a cliff.  But he passed through them unharmed.    This was not his time to die. But Luke is showing from the very beginning of his ministry that Jesus walked a risky path. And sometimes – often times his ministry was on the edge.

What does it mean for us to minister on the edge with Jesus?

1.   We can be realistic, that when we do ministry with people who are forgotten and marginalized, when we reach out to people different from ourselves; it will not always be comfortable.  There will be resistance both from inside ourselves individually and as a community and from the outside from the wider world.

I have an old book of stories about early Methodist preachers, including John Wesley the founded of the Methodist movement in England in the 18th century.  He decided to preach out in the open which at times left him open to jeers and opposition from the people around him.   He was even banned from preaching in some sanctuaries of his home church.  When we join Jesus in ministry on the edge- we will run into resistance.   But the good news is we will not be alone.

2.  We can trust that Christ goes before us into the fray.  Jesus faced the mob and the cross. He knows what it is to face anger and rejection, resistance and risk.  So when we face these realities, we have him by our side.  Christ can help us to see beyond the crisis to the new life he offers. Christ can help us to stay rooted and grounded in love in the face of enemies and resistance.  We are not alone.

I think this is one reason Jesus creates the church community.  After his experience in Nazareth he went out and found people to walk with him in ministry.  In his death and resurrection, he empowered those followers to continue his mission- together.    This is why the church down through the centuries has renewed and dealt with changing times by supporting one another in the struggles of ministry.  Sometimes we think we can follow Jesus all by ourselves but when we truly join Jesus on the edge, we realize Christ has given us companions on the way.

I remember when I was a US -2  in Portland, Oregon, a young woman in a new job and new community I found a Mennonite Women’s Prayer group  that helped sustain me and undergirded my faith in a time of transition in my life.  I am grateful for their support and witness even today.

This lent I invite you to find one or two companions with whom you can share your joys and struggles of faith and ministry.   We will be offering two groups on Sunday morning starting Feb. 14.  The regular Sunday school class and a second lent faith sharing group.  This mutual faith sharing and prayer support is what undergirds all our ministries with Jesus.

3.  Resistance can help us deal with our own tendency to think we are right, to deal with our own temptations to “set up shop”, to hang onto power, to let other people’s approval or disapproval define and control us and our ministry.    The church has gotten into much sinful trouble when we thought we had all the answers and sought worldly power and control.   This was a path Jesus resisted and his conflict with Nazareth was at least in part his turning away from that path.  Luke’s story invites us to see where conflict with others can help us clarify our own values and path.

I many of you know we sometimes get graffiti on our church building.  One graffiti recently said, “Stop Feeding Scum.”   We covered it up as best we could.  I was ready to leave it at that.  But a friend of ours who comes to the meals suggested another approach.  He invited us to reflect upon what our meals mean to us and the community.  The graffiti on our wall helped us to clarify that we are feeding people not scum, that we are doing this meals ministry to try to enhance the health and dignity of hurting people.

The reality that not everyone agrees with this led us to publically state our values in a video on social media.   Whether someone thinks the meals we serve are a good idea or a foolish one- we trust that God can use our authentic efforts to show Christ’s love.  We don’t know what difference it might make to someone to be treated not as scum but as a child of God with dignity and worth or to the unborn child whose mother receives a good hot meal on a regular basis, or to the older adult who is lonely and sees friends every Wednesday night.

The same is true for all the ministries we do with Jesus.  Whether it’s reading to a dying friend, or singing in the choir, or serving on the Stewardship team, visiting the homebound or organizing the finances, or running the sound system- all the different ways we give of ourselves for Christ.  There may be times when they are hard, when they challenge us or make us uncomfortable, when they involve conflict.  When those times come, I invite each of us to remember this story of Jesus in Nazareth.

For I have to end with one more point- #4   Conflict does not need to lead to alienation.  We can decide to stay in loving relationship with those with whom we disagree.  In a sense this may be one of our greatest witnesses in today’s age.  I am convinced that Jesus left Nazareth but he never stopped loving the people there.

This was an important learning for me.   For example in Matthew 23 Jesus blasts the Pharisees- he is not afraid to confront what he sees as hurtful practices among his people.  Yet, at the same time, he also expresses his longing over Jerusalem, that like a mother hen he would have them all come under his wings.   He loved those who opposed him!  This is the challenge of following him, of ministry on the edge!  To stay rooted in this love of Jesus no matter what!

So, when in your ministry with Jesus you run into conflict or resistance I invite you to remember:

1.  Ministry that matters can bring resistance- Jesus experienced this.

2.  Jesus knows and is with us, we are not in this ministry alone, and we can stay rooted in His love and community

3.   Struggle can help to learn and grow in life and faith, to clarify what we think, and

4.    Increase our ability to relate to people different from ourselves.  Jesus went on to spread his good news- the rejection at Nazareth didn’t stop him and even his own death didn’t stop his work of love for our world.

This who we follow and he promises to be with us always!  Amen.

Sermon   January 24, 2016

Luke 4: 14-21    Bring the Day of Jubilee by Rev. June Fothergill

Rabbi Bloom was getting quite a reputation for his sermons.  His synagogue was always packed because the congregation didn’t want to miss a single one of his words.  One Sabbath one member had to go to another synagogue to attend a nephew’s bar mitzvah. Because he didn’t want to miss the sermon so he asked one of his non-Jewish friend to go in his place and tape the Rabbi’s sermon. That way he could listen to it when he got back. When other member of the congregation saw what was going on, they too decided to ask their non– Jewish friend to go in their places to record the sermon.  They could then do other things such as play golf or go to football games. Within a short time there were over 100 non Jews sitting in the synagogue recording the Rabbi’s sermon. The Rabbi got wise to this.

So the following Sabbath he too asked a non- Jewish friend to attend on his behalf. His friend brought a recorder and played the Rabbi’s pre recorded sermon to the 100 non Jews in the congregation who then recorded the sermon on their own machines. This was believed to be the first incidence in the history of “ artificial insermonation>”   Of course today they would just stream the sermons on line!

Today I invite us to reflection  Jesus words in Luke 4 and what they tell us about his mission.

Jesus told his home town that he had picked up the mantle of Isaiah to bring good news, liberation and new sight to a hurting world and declare the Day of the Lord.  He  was anointed by God to the work of change, connections and celebration that bring God’s will   “ This scripture has been fulfilled in you hearing,” he told them.

For Jesus townspeople in the synagogue that day and Luke’s  early church audience these words from Isaiah reminded them of the promises in the torah- specifically in Leviticus of a year of Jubilee when debts are forgiven,  Jewish people in indentured servitude go home , the land rests and everyone returns to their ancestor’s land.  Everyone gets a chance to start over a fresh.  It’s purpose back then was to keep the just distribution of land given by God to the different tribes.  It was a way to keep one group from dominating all the others and set up systems of oppression.  We don’t know if it was ever actually implemented in ancient Israel but  its vision of a more just and equitable economy continues in the biblical narrative.  The book Nehemiah tells of  implementing a similar action to stop oppression among the Jews who had returned to their  land after the exile.  Isaiah  and the other prophets speak often of God’s good news of justice and freedom from oppression.   Jesus taking up these words of Isaiah remind us that we follow a savior who stands in this long tradition of seeking liberation and justice for those who are oppressed, seeking a world where people can live in peace and harmony with their basic needs met- to bring the day of jubilee.

What does this word of Jesus mean for us?  I notice that Jesus doesn’t say- I have come to do all this.  He says, it has been fulfilled in your hearing. When you, my friends take this message into your hearts, when you truly hear it- then it is fulfilled.  Thus, Jesus invited them and us, to hear and live ,to fulfill his message of good news and liberation- to bring the day!

I imagine three ways ( no surprise) we do this.

1. First we hear and fulfill Jesus mission by becoming Change agents. I decided to start with the hardest part, at least for me.  Jesus word is fulfilled in our hearing, when we join him in being agents of change to bring about liberation from oppression and blindness .  This means that we have to be open to change, to seeing in new ways, to let go of how we contribute to the oppression of others.  This is not easy.

For example I heard the other day terrible stories about slave labor in  some of the places in Ghana where they mine for the gold that is needed in all our cell phones.   It’s a shock to realize that slavery and intolerable work conditions still exist in our world and that we indirectly benefit from them.   Learning such things  invites us to no longer be blind but see and to explore how we can make choices about what we consume and use.  Our power as consumers can make a difference.  I remember when I was growing up there was a Nestles boycott because the Nestle corporation was pushing infant formula to women in poor countries,  People around the world pushed Nestle to stop their practices.

Being a change agent is a little scary- at least to me.  I don’t really like shouting logans or confrontation.  But there are many ways to be involved in change in our world.  It can be as simple as paying attention to the issues and writing our congress people.  It can be listening to someone in need and treating them with respect and compassion. It can be giving funds to organizations like our church that work for just changes.   And  no matter what  ways we become change agents, we do so grounded in the other two ways we can live out Jesus call-connections relationships with those we advocate with and in celebration of all of our gifts and contributions.  And most importantly, we stay rooted in Christ, remembering that it is his mission, it’s about God’s gracious will for our lives and world.

2 .For secondly we hear and fulfill Jesus mission through  Connections   We build community.  I believe that we are called to build relationships.  There are many problems in our world and many troubles that people who live with various forms of oppression and poverty face.    Jesus words move us to advocate for others. Yet, to do this with integrity to do it without causing harm, we need to have ongoing and respectful relationships with the folks who struggle.   This is what Jesus did.  He went out from Nazareth and built relationships with all sorts of hurting people.

I was inspired this week by the Martin Luther King Jr event in Springfield.   I was inspired because this year I didn’t go it alone but with some folks from Ebbert. Walking with these folks helped me realize one way to do advocacy is to build relationships of trust and look for gifts in each other. This way we can walk with each other in dealing with tough things. Like Paul says, we rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

An old friend of mine who had experience racism in her life reminded me when I posted this on facebook that we can’t really advocate for people until we know them.  Taking time and effort to build relationships make our work for justice connected to the real concerns, needs and gifts of people.

Finally, we hear and fulfill Jesus mission through   Celebration.  We take the time to celebrate the gifts and possibilities of those with whom we serve.   Jesus said that he had come to bring good news to the poor.  In the hard work for change and justice in a hurting world it is good to remember that we are bearers of a good word.  As one person who lives on a very low income exclaimed at Mon Bible study upon hearing this word- “ I feel so good, knowing that Jesus cares about me, a poor person.”

Celebration also means appreciation for the differing gifts and perspectives people of diverse backgrounds bring.   I was inspired at the Martin Luther King celebration in Springfield because it included the work done by many young people in our community who reflected on what it means to choose to do the right thing. The schools invited teachers and students to reflection upon a quote by Dr. King and produce artwork, essays, speeches and other things for a contest.  It was a celebration to walk about the cafeteria at Springfield high  and experience their many gifts and insights.

How important it is to look at our work with folks who struggle with poverty and oppression as discovering assets and gifts and finding ways to work together.  It’s not so much about us having answers for some “ them” as us together seeking a better world for us all.    Christ ‘s mission invites us to celebrate all that God is doing in our world and how we can be part of it.

I want to close with a song by Linnea Good about  Bringing the Day of Jubilee.   I invite you to listen and celebrate with her this extraordinary mission we have from Christ. As we hear in our hearts, may we fulfill it in our lives.     ( I invite you to go on line to fine this wonderful song, ” Bring the Day” by Linnea Good)

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