Scripture: Luke 4:21-30
Imagery is important to many of us. We hear a voice and often times we create an image of what the person speaking would look. When John F. Kennedy debated Richard Nixon in the first televised debate, we had the first image-based election. Those that listened to the debate had one idea of who dominated where those that watched the program had a different idea. Why was there a difference? Imagery. The voice and the face do not always fit our imagery. In the case of Kennedy and Nixon, those that listened thought Nixon won and those that watched favored Kennedy, because of image.
Image has always been an aspect of our human thought process. We use image in choosing a spouse or a president, we want the image in our mind to fit with the person filling the role. The funny thing is that God could care less about image because image can be faked. The celebrities of our culture on the stage they have an image that they put forth, but when they are living their daily life it is something totally different, in many cases we would have a difficult time recognizing some of them without their makeup. God does not care.
When the people of Israel chose their first king, they chose Saul. Saul was a head taller than everyone else. He looked like a warrior, he was handsome and he portrait the image of a king. Saul did not act the part. When Saul was face with a giant problem, he like everyone else hid out in his tent, waiting for someone else to face the giant. The king that God chose to lead his people in the ancient days of Israel was different. No one expected him. David was the youngest of the family and to be honest the family was not that great in the nation. David was not very big, was not the greatest looking, but there was something about him that did set him apart. He was a man after the very heart of God. He did not care what others thought and instead he drove forward with God. David faced the giant that made the nation tremble because he had faith in God, not in the image.
Image is not everything even though that is what our culture would like us to believe. The ad campaigns we will watch on TV between football breaks, will all be focused on image. Very little will be on substance, because image sells the goods. For instance a few years ago a car was introduced to the market that had a great image. The Prius was the very image of green; it gets great gas mileage and has very low emissions, which gives it a great eco-friendly image. On the other side of the spectrum is the Hummer; its image was one of a different variety. The Hummer was the image of tough, rugged, and strength. It consumes fuel like a body builder consumes protein shakes. I read an article about the greenness of these two vehicles around the time the prices of fuel began to rise, in the article it stated that the actual pollution factors were not exactly what the image portrait, would you believe that in the total manufacture and use of the vehicles you could drive a hummer for over 10 years and not pollute the environment as much as a prius. Now this is older news and I am sure the statistics have changed, and I am not saying that I dislike the prius I actually like the prius in many ways. My son rolls his eyes when we look at cars because he looks at sports cars and I look at fuel economy. I would buy a prius over a hummer any day. But sometimes the image we see is not exactly the whole truth.
We have an image in mind for many things. The image that we like is wealth, power, and beauty. These are the things that drive our culture. These are the tools use in our economy. Yet just like the difference between Saul and David, the things that mater in God’s eyes are not what we would imagine.
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” Jesus says. The scripture that he refers to is that Messianic prophecy of the anointed one bringing the good news to the poor, giving sight to the blind, and freeing the captive and oppressed, and proclaiming of the year of the Lord’s favor, that we spoke about last Sunday. Today is that time, Jesus says. The terms year and today, like most units of time in Scripture can have a double meaning, it can mean one year or it can mean and an era, today or right now. In this case the year of the Lord’s favor is an era. Jesus is saying that today, or right now, is the beginning of a new era.
Can you imagine the excitement? They had this image of what was going to happen when that era began and this native son just said that that time is now. But wait, “isn’t this Joseph’s son?” In the very meeting of worship where the proclamation of a new era was being announce already people were beginning to see a differences between the image in their mind and the face before them. This is Jesus, Joseph’s son, the carpenter. The Messiah was to be a king, a warrior, not a handy man that you would call to help hang a door. They knew and were excited about the ministry their native son had in the surrounding area but seriously this is just Jesus, they knew him and as far as they cared he was nothing great. Their own children used to play with him, they went to school with him, and they had Joseph and sons do work for them. This is just a carpenter not a king.
Image is not everything. There is a reason it is difficult for people to come back to their hometown if they have made a name for themselves outside the community. It is because the hometown has not changed. If I were to go back to my old high school, I would find like many of you that the popular people in high school that did not move away from home were still the popular people in the community. If they held a class office they now hold a city office, and the football team probably forms the sheriff’s department. They hold their position because they have always held a position. Jesus’ hometown is like many small towns across America, there are the rulers and the people. Jesus is nothing great in their eyes because He is just the son of Joseph.
Prophets are not easily accepted in their hometown because prophets tend to shake things up. They bring out into the open and say that things are not as they should be, which is fine if you are talking about another place, but it becomes personal when you say those things about your home. Elijah and Elisha were pretty important prophets in the history of Israel. Jesus points out that of all the people that were in need from their own nation these guys said what they said and it was to outsiders that they ministered, because it was the outsiders that listened. A widow from Sidon received blessing during the famine, not because she was better than all the other widows but because she opened her life and doors up to Elijah when everyone else hated him for proclaiming that it was their sin that kept the rain from falling. And Elisha healed the Syrian king an enemy of Israel, right in the middle of turmoil. Israel rejected the prophets and the blessings went to those that listened and responded, the outsiders. The hometown people did not receive the blessing because they were too caught up in themselves to listen.
I wonder how we would respond to a prophet from our own community? If someone here were to get excited about a ministry of some sort would we support it or let it pass by because they are just someone’s kid, or maybe they are from a family that is not seen as being weighty? Image and truth, the image is what we look at, the truth is where God sits. The image is the Messiah coming in to bring about the kingdom of God in some mighty and victorious swoop; the truth is something the kingdom of God is already all around us.
The people of Nazareth went into a rage when Jesus said these words to them, they drove him out of town, and up onto a hill to through Him over a cliff. I wonder why they were so angry? The first answer is that he claimed to be the Messiah and his face did not fit the image that they had for the role. The second answer and probably the more applicable is that Jesus was telling them that because they were closed to change they were going to be left behind from the blessing of the coming kingdom. These were religious and devout men and Jesus was basically calling them worthless hypocrites. They were saying all the right words in the synagogue and playing the right roles, but in actuality they were no better than those ancient children of the Northern Kingdom that rejected God and were forever lost.
In God’s economy, the tools used to produce and measure success are quite different than what we use in the world. The ones with the most are often the ones that God will use the least, and the ones that have the least will often receive the greatest blessing. The first will be the last and the last will be the first, or the great will be humbled and the humble glorified. God does things differently than the world, because what matters to Him and what matters to the world is different. We tend to measure success in terms of power and wealth; in God’s economy those things are not important. In His economy, or in his Kingdom wealth is just a tool used to gain what is really important. Power or the influence over people is often measured by how many bodies we can convince to follow and serve us. In God’s kingdom influence is used in serving others. Our opinions and our money are just tools, in God’s eyes the amount of money you placed in the offering plate is nothing but some screws and wrenches used in building up the kingdom. We think it is important because that is what the world uses to deem our worth, but to God our bank account is of no greater value than the items in our junk drawers, which are only useful when they are put to use.
We are just like those people in Nazareth or ancient Israel. We are fine with a preacher saying how those poor people in Africa, Nepal, or Iran need the Gospel. We accept and understand that. While we pray for them our community is falling apart around us and we are just sitting around saying I sure wish Jesus would return and rapture us. By saying that we are actually saying that we do not believe in God. By even uttering words similar to that we are actually saying that we give up, that we do not trust that God can do what He says He can do. We are not supposed to sit back and wait for the Messiah to come, we are supposed to spread the Kingdom of God. Yet instead of focusing on the kingdom we get trapped in the world’s ideas of politics, economics, and philosophy. We watch the news and hear of Egypt rioting and we want to send drones in to level the nation instead of sending ministers. We hear of shootings and we want to ban guns instead of going into the city to help get kids out of or prevent them from joining gangs. The church is forgetting what is important in God’s economy. It is not about money or power but lives. It is not about controlling but serving others. It is not about letting the world rot in their sin but to minister to them and anointing them with the healing oils of Christ.
We often get caught up in the image of things, instead of getting caught up in the truth. We want a big thriving church because that gives us the image of a strong spiritual life. The image is just a mask if we do not truly have the reality. Our church will not grow unless we are true to ourselves and to God. We have gone too long trying to be something we are not. We are Friends, we have a history and a legacy that is beautiful; one that promotes simplicity of life, peace, integrity in word and deed, community, and equality of all people before God. I have said that our spiritual ancestors tried to distill Christianity down to the most pure and essential forms and in that process they found prayer, worship, and ministry to be that expression. Those are the activities Jesus himself participated in. He withdrew often to pray, He made it His custom to worship, and He ministered to those marginalized by society.
Those men 2000 years ago sought to throw Jesus, their King, off a cliff, and we ask why? It was because Jesus told them that they had the words all right but the actions all wrong. It does not matter if we have the correct theology if we are not willing to live that theology out. Jesus wants us to bless those around us, like the widow Zarephath. He wants us to open up our meetinghouses and bring healing to those that oppose us like Elisha did with the Naaman. This begins with recognizing what the image and the truth are, to learn the difference between the tools and the products. The Friends Church will grow in the future, but only when we open our lives to the Spirit’s leading and follow Him even when that leading seems like it is coming from the most unlikely of places from the least likely people. It will come when we become a people Loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living the Love of Christ with others.
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