Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Luke 4:21-30
on January 28, 2007 at Batesville Presbyterian Church
Last week we learned a little about Jesus first sermon. We learned Jesus delivered this sermon shortly after his baptism and subsequent temptation by the devil in the desert. We learned he went back to his hometown to teach in his home synagogue on the sabbath. He took the scroll and read from the prophet Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor." (Luke 4:18) We heard how Jesus then sat down and began teaching, saying, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your midst." But last week we did not hear the amazing story of what happened next.
For as his friends and family listened to Jesus' first sermon in his hometown synagogue, at first the people were full of pride in their hometown boy, this Jesus, son of Joseph the carpentar, son of our own Mary, who is an up and coming prophet in the region. But as they listened to Jesus explain his interpretation of the text they became alarmed. For Jesus was saying what none of them wanted to hear. Jesus was saying something to the effect that Israeli's are not God's only special people. God loves Syrians too and sometimes Syrians demonstrate more faith in God than Israelis do. Jesus reminded his hometown congregation about how the prophet Elijah did not feed a single Israeli widow during that terrible famine that lasted three and a half years but instead Elijah helped a widow from Iraq.
I suppose if Jesus had chosen a hymn for the congregation to sing after his first sermon it would have been "God bless the people of every nation" instead of "God bless our home and nation." The hometown congregation was enraged. They cried: "How dare he sell us short?" They wondered where his loyalties lay, certainly not, they thought, with us. They suddenly did not recognize him anymore. He was not one of them. Even though he had grown up there and played with their kids and worked in their houses he was not one of them.
Jesus had been away from the community for 40 days and nights and he was no longer one of them. He had spent time in the desert fighting with the devil and he wasn't the same person when he came home. He knew more than he knew before. He knew things about himself and about his family and about everyone he saw. His horizon had expanded and broadened. He clearly saw that God's love and God's grace and God's plan included more than just this, it also included Syrians such as Naaman the Syrian, who received healing grace from God.
Jesus had crossed a line. The quiet congregation suddenly became a raging mob. They grabbed Jesus and dragged him to the top of the highest hill in town. They were going to throw him off the cliff and kill him but Jesus slipped away. He wasn't that easy to catch and hold onto. Never was. Never will be. Jesus walked away from the hometown crowd and continued his ministry among all God's children. He lasted about three years. Talking this way. Teaching this teaching about God's love. He lasted about three years until he was finally cornered in the Garden of Gethsemane and this time it was the appointed time and Jesus submitted to God's will and he was taken to the hill called Golgotha and there he was crucified, dead and buried.
We know that is not end of the story. For on the third day God raised him from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father almighty. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. Jesus, you see, was more than his hometown folks could grasp. He is more than we can grasp, too. Perhaps it is better to pray that we may instead be grasped by him. For even when Jesus may not be in our immediate plans, rest assured we are always in his. God never gives up on us. Let's not give us on God. Let's not give up on ourselves.
There is hope for us as well. Although God does not love us exclusively, God does love us decicively and if we can ever submit to that or somehow get ourselves attuned to it, we'll learn to replace our resentment with something far sweeter and stronger and more satisfying than the bitter taste of ire. That would be the love of God that includes each one of us along with every person, plant, rock and tree on this and every planet. Let's open ourselves to God's Spirit within. Then we may learn the secret that Jesus learned in the desert. The secret that his hometown never learned. We, too, may discover the secret of the incredibly inclusive and expansive love of God.