“The Hometown Crowd”
Luke 4:14-21, January 23rd, 2022
Sermon by Rev Tim Woodard
“Hear now these words of scripture from the gospel according to Luke, verse four, verses fourteen thru twenty-one.”
14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.
15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 “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.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.
21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
“Now that we have heard these ancient words of how Jesus spoke in his hometown, synagogue; let us consider how we might use this lesson in our lives today.”
“The Hometown Crowd”
Let me take a moment to thank our worship leader this morning for reading our lesson for the day. Our worship leaders play a vital role in our service each Sunday; and they are a reminder that we are all ‘called’ to participate, at some level, in this ministry which we are involved and requested to join in and contribute to. Thank you for being a part of our worship team.
Now, as we reflect on our scripture lesson, ‘it would appear that’ Jesus was being well accepted in his role as teacher and seemed to be a part of the ministry team at his hometown synagogues. And his message was a solid one indeed. As he read from the book of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus spoke the words of Isaiah as he proclaimed what was written. Verses eighteen and nineteen are very powerful words which Isaiah had written down long before the man Jesus was born. Listen again to those words. “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.” Very powerful words indeed. These words come from chapter sixty-one. Isaiah is prophesying to the remnants of the tribes of Israel, as they had been forced to live outside their beloved ‘promised land’ by their conquerors… at that point in history. As we consider all of this let us go a bit further into the scriptures and see how Jesus was received by the hometown crowd, after he declared in verse twenty-one that: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Listen carefully to the response of the crowd who had invited him to be part of the worship team in the synagogue that day.
Hear now the second half of our lesson from the gospel of Luke, chapter four, verses twenty- two thru thirty. 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. /Luke 4:22-30/ Not quite the response that one would presume they would have, is it? Ahh but they do not have the full story of Jesus as we do here in our time.
The Rev. Anne Sutherland Howard asks us, in her writings, to consider the newness of Jesus’ preaching. She invites us to, “listen with fresh ears to that brand-new Preacher in Luke’s story, who asks us to look beyond our tribe, beyond the familiar, to see God alive in our world.” Clearly, the gathering that day in Nazareth, they listened to the words of Jesus, and they were aghast at his newness, his brashness to point out their flaws, despite their agreement with the words of the prophet Isaiah. Rev. Howard is asking us to go past this scriptures response and reconsider how we fit into the gathered crowd. Can we see past our own familiarity as to the teachings of Jesus and see how ‘we ourselves’ might be taken back if one of our own team were to call us out for our own flaws? Flaws which may be holding us back from fully listening to the words, the challenging words spoken from the mouth of Jesus. His hometown crowd struggled with his words yet failed to consider their truthfulness for they themselves! Jesus’ words did not condemn the actions of Elisha and Elijah. Jesus praised their good works and honored them as prophets. He did infer that the people could and ought to have done more to work with the words of these prophets. Likewise, they could have done more for the widows in Israel and those who were hungry. The challenge for us is can we do more for those who are in need all around us. (?) We are doing good outreach work, yet this scripture is written to challenge us further.
David Lose, modern theologian, tells us plainly what we are hearing. “You see, it really is all Jesus’ fault – he goes and does the one thing you’re never supposed to do, even to strangers, let alone to friends and neighbors: He tells them the truth, the truth about their pettiness and prejudice, their fear and shame, their willingness, even eagerness, to get ahead at any cost, even at the expense of another. And so, they want him gone in the most permanent of ways.” Telling the truth can be a delicate act at times, we all know this. Spouses, understand this well; especially when their partners put on a new outfit and ask how it looks on them. Any answer can elicit a positive or negative response. Granted, tis a small matter in the light of things of greater importance than the style or coloring of your beloved one’s newest outfit. Yet, it does get us thinking that sometimes it seems polite to ‘not tell’ the whole truth about something. We moderns call it a ‘little white’ lie. In Jesus case, he was standing at the podium of the synagogue, the local one in his hometown of Nazareth. We might ponder as Rev. Lose does, that Jesus was breaking the code of silence as an honored quest. However, we view this, is of little consequence, as Jesus clearly tears into the history of the Israelites and says plainly, you could have done more for those in need! Note, he did not put the blame on the former prophets, he placed blame at the feet of those that we there at the time. The ancestors of those that were hearing Jesus voice that very day. Tipping over the sacredness of their history and their traditions as to how their leaders, and quest speakers, were to speak of the past. No, Jesus’ speech did not win over the hometown crowd that day, this is a documented fact!
Jesus not withstanding goes ahead and preforms a small miracle as he miraculously and mystically escapes being shoved over the cliff. “But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” /Luke 4:30/ The crowd was so-worked-up… they missed this phenomenon. Moving us toward the heart of our lesson, David L. Tiede, wrote for our ears to hear in his writings while at Luther Northwestern Theological School, back in1987. “The platform of Jesus’ mission and the content of his call to discipleship are filled with God’s passion for the outcast, the poor, the oppressed, and the lost.” The professor’s words compel us to go back to the lesson, which we asked our worship leader to read for us. Hear once more the words as recorded in Luke’s gospel accounting in chapter four, verse eighteen and nineteen. They remind us of exactly what Jesus was teaching! “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.” Jesus is clearly saying that the Spirit, the Living Spirit of God, the Spirit that the Old Testament speaks of… especially when recounting the prophets such as Elijah and Elisha! Jesus is saying that His Father’s Spirit is upon him. We hear this when we talked of Jesus baptism at the river Jordan by John the Baptist. Hear once again the words from Luke chapter three, verses twenty-one and twenty-two. ‘Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”’
We are: ‘charged’ to glean the remnants of this message today and use them to ‘fertilize’ our call to ministry in this community – to which we each have been-called to serve! This is a call to our “Outreach” efforts to those we serve. Let us be reminded that churches have more than one mission. Yes, we are ‘charged’ to share the old, old story of Jesus and his glory! Yes, we are ‘compelled’ to worship and praise our God, as-well-as proclaim and teach the lessons contained in holy scripture. We do this so that we all can have the opportunity to renew and refresh our baptisms on a regular basis, thereby refreshing the Spirit’s presence in our daily lives! We do this so that all will have the opportunity to know the good news of God’s love and God’s willingness to forgive our debts. We have a responsibility to share these teachings and lessons which are ‘contained’ within them, to the generations which follow us. Furthermore, we are expressly told, by Jesus himself, that we are to reach out to those around us. Meaning of course, to reach out to everyone as our hands connect to the hands of others, until the chain of helping hands reach everyone! Allow these words to sink into your very hearts. Our theology brushes on every aspect of the problems and the challenges of society – as we currently know them. Think about what this means. We need to stick with the teachings of our faith to answer the questions that we are faced with every day. Therefore, Jesus allowed his words to work up the crowd. He did it for us; all of us – of this generation – in this moment of time!