By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
February 3, 2019
Luke 4:21-30 (ESV)
And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.
I love the study scripture. The summer I spent teaching English to students in Ukraine, my fellow teachers and I would often discuss what our dream job would be. We were all in college and nearing our graduation, so these conversations were common. But it surprised me when I spoke up. First off, it surprised me that I spoke. I was hopelessly quiet. I would rarely give one syllable answers, and a complete sentence was nearly unheard of. But that summer I fell in love. You know spending an entire summer on a beach surrounded by people with intriguing accents it is hard not to be overcome with passion. I must admit I fell in love. That summer was the first time I spent time studying scripture. It was the first time I spoke and taught others about what I had read in scripture. And that summer I fell in love with Jesus.
I fell in love, but the relationship has been strained at times. Sometimes I cannot stop talking and other times I resort back to the monosyllabic person I once was. Yet the relationship grew. I think it grew because for the first time in my life I realized and recognized that God was less concerned with our legalistic conduct and more concerned with living a holistic life of faith.
That summer I began to interact with scripture in prayer. I began to ask questions and letting my mind and spirit wait for answers. And when the question was asked of me what my dream job would be, I surprised myself when I said I would love to read and talk about scripture all day. I am certain that everyone else in the group was just as surprised. That one conversation at the end of a summer. A summer that had challenged me beyond what I thought I was capable of God spoke to me. And I spent the next few years trying to convince God that he was wrong.
I mention this because I was comfortable in my life. I was just fine being the small farm kid. I was looking forward to getting a job selling bulk chemicals or seed. I had even worked for a time at the Kansas State research station, so I was considering the possibility of joining one of the research teams, many of who help finance the trip I had taken to Ukraine. I had my life planned out, it was going to be boring and uneventful, but it was going to be exactly what I expected. But then I fell in love. God had awakened in me something I had not really known was there, and every expectation I had was turned over.
I love Jesus, I love him for many reasons. Theologically I love him because he being God came to mankind so that he could bring God to man, and him being man could bring mankind to God. I love the theological wrestling we can have with one another about Jesus. But this wrestling although extremely entertaining for some is not what I love most about Jesus. I love him most because Jesus is real. He is authentic, he speaks in a manner that is filled with compassion and truth as well as condemnation and justice. Every story I read about his life causes me to pause. It causes me to reflect on my own life as I imagine what is going on as well as what I am going through. I often leave those times filled with various emotions. At times Jesus angers me, how can he be so stupid as to say some of the things he says. And I find myself on the side of the religious leaders if his day, wanting to stone him. While at other times my eyes are filled with tears, because I know someone who might have fit into the situation he is speaking about.
I love Jesus because he is so human yet not. He is the person I want to be like. And because he calls to me and all of us to follow him, and when we do, he opens before us a life and lifestyle beyond anything this world can even imagine.
As we approach today’s passage. I want us to really consider and imagine it. Imagine you are sitting or standing in a place similar to this. A meeting place where friends and family gather together to worship and learn. A comfortable place, the person next to you has stood there for years. You know them deeply. You know when they are going to chuckle when the worship leader mispronounces words. You know his children and his spouse. I say his only because in this room in the first century only men were welcome, wives and children were in a separate room, there but not. You know the person next to you. You know their business and how well they are at it. You know their political leaning, you know how Well they grasp the concepts presented by the rabbis. You know them, you know what to expect from them and nothing really changes. And if it does it is not too crazy.
But this week the carpenter’s son come home. He has been away for a while. He went to visit the crazy preacher in the Jordan, and he had not returned for over a month. You like this man. He was always fair in his dealings, in fact, you had never once heard anyone complain about the work he did. He was always forth coming and never had surprises. You liked him, he was just the kind of man you hoped your children would grow up to be like or marry. This week, Jesus, read from the prophet. You know the passage because you like every man present that day had spent time reading the scriptures your entire life. He read a portion of scripture that all the scholars agreed was about the future Messiah. You were kind of excited about this passage. And as soon as Jesus read your heart was filled with hope. You silently prayed, soon Lord, may it soon be so and restore the kingdom.
Jesus walked up. He reverently took the scroll. He regarded it with all the ritualistic honor as everyone else has and had for generations. He read, and all waited in expectation. Yet he stopped in an unusual spot and he rerolled the scroll and again joined the worshipers. Everyone turned and looked with expectation, because they had begun to hear stories.
They knew about the ministry of John on the edge of the wilderness. They had ever heard that their own Jesus had participated in some interesting stories as well. Everyone looked and listened, then Jesus calmly said, “Today, this scripture is fulfilled.”
Imagine what might be going through your mind. Imagine if the person sitting next to you announced the very thing you and everyone else had been anticipating your entire life. Imagine if this person, a person you have known for thirty years, says this with such confidence and authority, that something stirs in your spirit.
The thing about hometowns and expectations is there are some people designated as leaders and others who are not. We develop these expectations for various reasons. Maybe someone has gained favor in the eyes of the community because of past leadership or possibly because of their ability to contribute financially to various projects. Some people gain favor because of their willingness to serve and others are left to fade into the background. Some are vocal and others make the greatest contributions to causes with only few people knowing. Then there are those people who seem to have great weight in the wider community for some reason, and locally we do not know why.
We all deal with these interpersonal relationships to some degree. There are those people who seem to demand respect and others simply have it. When we look at Jesus’s interaction with his hometown community, we get a glimpse of something fascinating. He had respect, yet this respect did not hold weight. People liked Jesus, they might have even valued his opinion, but others within the community commanded more attention.
They listened to the words that Jesus spoke, they were impressed. I guess they must have thought his time abroad instilled a confidence that was not there before. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they ask. Do we understand this question? They were impressed with the confidence of Jesus, they were surprised at his authority. Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Can you hear the touch of scandal in the question? Clearly Mary and Joseph were liked, when there was a discussion about construction they might have been respected, but when it came to spiritual matters there was some hesitation. There was that question that elephant in the room as to the origin of Jesus.
Stories were beginning to circulate concerning Jesus. Maybe they were are the wedding at Cana. Maybe a relative had been at Capernaum? They had heard the stories and as Jesus spoke, they were amazed, but they just could not help their doubt. This is Jesus, Joseph’s son. A good guy yes but is he saying he is the messiah? Jesus knows their thoughts, he knows that they are unable to see past their previous experiences.
He then speaks to what is going through their heads. There were many widows in the days of Elijah, yet the prophet stayed and was fed by a gentile. There were many lepers in Israel, but it was a gentile king who was cleansed in the river. This angers them, it irritates them to the point they want to kill Jesus. Their hometown boy that everyone liked, but why? God does not do the expected. God does not always use the people we want or think he should. God just might do something unfamiliar just to make sure we realize that God is sovereign not man.
I began today speaking about how one summer changed the very direction of my life. It was unexpected and unfamiliar. There were very few people who knew me that accepted my call. Even my own mom who knew me the best doubted. But there was one person that knew even before I did. One person saw even when I was furthest from God that he loved me and was directing me into ministry. This one person endured my laughter and even my jeers. Yet within a year she prayed with me as I left for Ukraine. God does the unexpected.
We can plan, we can train and encourage we can make budgets and funds but at times God does something unexpected. Sometimes God calls the man who has a child out of wedlock to lead a Meeting. Sometimes God calls the divorced, he might even call the woman who had an abortion to speak about grace. We do not know what God will do because we cannot control the o e who created all things. We have seen him use the drug addict. We have observed him use the refugees to open the eyes of a community. We have recognized how one child in a meeting can reignite passion that was once cold
We see this all around us. We ourselves have experienced it. All of us have a past. Each of us struggle with sin in our lives. None of us are perfect. Yet each of us is loved. Each if us in some manner have rejected the ways of God, and yet He loves us to such a degree that Jesus decided from the foundations of time that he would leave heaven to be born a man, that he would live within a community and he gave his life to provide a way of redemption and reconciliation for us. This is unfamiliar and unexpected. None of us are worthy of such a gift yet he chose to do this for you.
Such grace has been given to us. So much grace, grace that we cannot even imagine renewed every single day we live. Every morning he renews the same offer to follow him and every day we chose once again to tread his path. But by eight in the morning something happens the alarm goes off and suddenly we struggle again. We repent as we dress and then we stub our toe going to the kitchen and curse the ground we walk on. We like the people of Jesus’s hometown think we are righteous but often before we interact with another human being, we have already done something that pulls our attention from God. We so easily stray, and we so often think we can judge those around us. All have sinned and fallen short. Each of us need to repent and turn back to God. And the more we repent the more we turn the more we see we need to turn and repent the easier and more gracious we become.
Jesus went home and shared the gospel with them, yet they rejected it because of who they thought he was. They could not see who he is. They turned their backs on the very God who loved them and called them his own, they attempted to throw him off a cliff, yet Jesus walked away. What did they do after that? They did what we all do, they either repented and realized that God can do amazing things even through unexpected people or they justified their own actions and continued down a path away from God.
As we join in open worship and communion in the manner of Friends, I ask us a simple question. Are we willing to see that of God in those around us? Are we willing to believe that God can use those people familiar to us to do extraordinary things? And are we willing to trust that God can use unexpected circumstances to bring hope to our community? The God we so often reject is calling each of us to return to him to turn from the ways and systems of human kind. He is calling us Each to simply trust and follow him, what is our answer?
(Thank You for taking the time to read the message presented at Willow Creek Friends Church this week. Please feel free to comment and share. If you would like to help support our ministries any assistance is appreciated.)