Saturday, 2 February 2013

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 3rd February 2013

Readings: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30

We pray: may all that is said, all that is heard, all that is understood be to your glory O God so that we might be your people in this place.  In Jesus name  Amen.

‘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 favour.’ [1]
So we heard in the reading for last week, the words from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah that directly lead into the reading for today.   Jesus had been baptised by John, entered the wilderness for 40 days and nights, and began to teach in the synagogues to great praise.  And so he came to Nazareth, to speak in the synagogue there.  And then he preached from the text, (we don’t have the detail here, probably because there was nothing unfamiliar to the people of the day) - but what would have made them sit up was when he said that the scripture has been fulfilled this day. Yet they seemed not to have been phased - as we hear: And they were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.  Is this not Joseph’s son?” [2]  they said. 
It is interesting to know that commentators today disagree over whether the phrase ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’ is meant to be a put down,  said with derision, or an awakening, said in awe and wonder.  I go with the second – it seems to me that there is a sense of the listeners being blown away by what has been said, and from this a local boy. 
The response, whatever you deem it to be (and we will explore that a little bit more in a minute), illustrates an important thread in Luke’s gospel writings – one that emerges time and time again – that of acceptance to the unacceptable. 
Luke tells us that the mission of Jesus is to bring salvation to the people, that he comes fulfilling the promises of God made known through the prophets, he comes to convince us of the extravagance of God’s love and offers a timeless unconditional forgiving grace that allows us, in our very humanity, to walk with God and be part of building the kingdom here in this place. 
I am in the process of reading the Gospel of Luke, accompanied by a book called ‘The hospitality of God: a reading of Luke’s Gospel by Brendan Byrne who is a Catholic theologian from Australia.
Luke, suggests Byrne, sees Christ’s ministry as one of acceptance, hospitality rather than vengeance or judgement, and that then and now is a time when Christ offers God’s hospitality to all - the hand of Christ is held out to the afflicted, the trapped and the bound, accepting all into the hospitality of God.  Judgement is not to be forgotten and will come but for now we live in a space of salvation history which Luke calls ‘the acceptable year of the Lord’ - that is, God’s hospitality offered to all the world.[3]  And, says Byrne, do we accept or reject this acceptance of God?  It is worth noting that in just about all of the moments where Jesus offers this new way to people in this Gospel, there are those who are convicted and there are those who reject it. 
Holding those thoughts, let’s return to the passage for today.
“And the people were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth”.  Maybe today we would call this a building up sermon – no surprises, great rhetoric, inspirational hope and fulfilled promises. The people acclaimed him and his preaching and his claims to be the messiah.  Special moment.
What did Jesus do with it?  He deliberately and most provocatively broke the mood – he upset virtually everyone in the synagogue by challenging their assumption that this message was for them alone – he literally forced their faces to the world and suggested they open their eyes to see that the world was larger than them and God was greater than their understandings.
Jesus was not prepared to be boxed in – to be contained by anyone groups assumptions or needs – his way was bigger and bolder and less comfortable than that.  He talked of God’s accepting love for the heathen Gentiles – and this was just too much.  The mood changed dramatically – saying they became a lynch mob would not be stretching the truth at all - at such outrageous teaching.  They went to throw him off the cliff – an angry mob reacting to this threat to their very understanding of their God.  A choice was made – to reject.     There one more small but very important sentence at the end though that can kind of get lost – it is a word of endurance and hope in the midst of the rather violent human reaction to his uncomfortable message - the last verse says ‘But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.’[4]  He was rejected but the rejection was not the last word –the last word was Jesus continuing on his way despite all that was thrown at him, continuing on through what was to be the worst the world could throw at him - rejection of the cross - to the resurrection.
So here is, in Jesus, a new narrative for the Jews to consider –  where the old narrative became refreshed in Christ in a way that challenged and shook the very foundations of what they had thought was their exclusive story.

What capacity do we have for hearing the ‘new things’ of God in our midst?  When offered a new often challenging insight into what it means to be a people of faith, how do we respond, do we accept or reject? 
There are some obvious parallels that we can draw I suspect.
Firstly are there things we do that box God in? In our imagining of God do we allow that there are ways that we don’t know, purposes that we can only touch the edges of, mysteries beyond our comprehension?  I suspect that many of us do this in ways we don’t even realise, that we find it hard to, for  instance, reconcile in any meaningful way the immensity of God with the intimacy of the Spirit and absolute humanity of Christ – and that what we don’t understand we find difficult to accept?  
Do we hold God in Christ close to our chest so to speak?  Unwilling to share if it means our views might be challenged and we might be forced to rethink and realign who it is that we believe God to be.  One thing that usually happens when you allow other perspectives in is that your own changes and grows as well – either that or you go to your corners in the ring and come out fighting until one knocks the other out! 
Do we allow that there might be other ways to do church, to be a person of faith and to be with God – not that those ways would necessarily be for us but rather recognising that we don’t have an exclusive hold on what is truth?   Do we allow others to gather with us round the table accepting them as they are rather than feeling we have to integrate them into ‘the right way?’
And here is one – straight from my heart.  Do we feel uncomfortable with what God is asking of us – at least some of the time?  Because I reckon if we know only comfort in God’s call on our lives then we might need to have our understandings of faith and of Jesus way challenged just as Jesus did in the synagogue.  For, as Simeon said, Jesus would be a sign of contradiction and discomfort for many who were comfortable.  He would accept the  unacceptable – whether people or ideas or ways of living – in the name of love.
So when Jesus stretches our understanding of what it means to be a transformed people of God, tells us again that God’s hospitality is for all people, and that there are forever new ways of doing this which will surprise us, how are we going to respond?  With amazement at the grace of God or hostility and rejection. 

Margaret Garland

[1] NRSV Luke 4:18-19
[2] NRSV Luke 4:22
[3] The Hospitality of God by Brendan Byrne.  Strathfield, NSW: St Paul’s Publications, 2000 p.50
[4] NRSV Luke 4:30

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