JAN 31 “… and the Reality”

SCRIPTURE            Luke 4:21-31    “Filled With Rage”

And (Jesus) 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.” 22 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?” 23 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.’ ” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 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; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 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. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

“Filled With Rage” Quiz (multiple answers are possible)

 1. After the sermon, what did the people of Nazareth do?

(a)  They had a parade in Jesus’ honor

(b)  They wept out loud, moved by Jesus’ message of forgiveness

(c)  They formed a mob to attack a nearby Samaritan village

(d)  They tried to kill Jesus

 2.  Why were they upset at Jesus?

(a)    He promised more than he could deliver  

(b)  He talked about their enemies favorably

(c)   He made fun of them      (d)  He preached more than 15 minutes

 3.  What does this story mean?

(a)  Speaking the truth can get you in trouble

(b)  Never preach in your hometown

(c)  Bringing up the subject of Samaritans is never a good idea

(d)  God’s blessings are not reserved for a few, they’re for everyone

(e)  Preachers should always have escape routes mapped out

(f)  Best to leave those old scrolls alone

4.  How would/could /should you respond to a preacher’s message?

(a)   Always greet the pastor after the service and politely say, “Nice sermon, pastor”, whether you think so or not

(b)  Silently seethe, and then explode at family members when you get home.

(c)  Write a short note to the pastor that helpfully mentions agreement and disagreement with different points raised.

(d)  It’s all “Offering Plate” – put in more or less depending upon your reaction to the sermon.

(e)  Take time, every so often, to chat with the pastor about the various Sunday messages.

(f)   Never say anything to anyone.

(g)   Other?

 1-d (preachers need to be very careful in Byron; there’s a bullet hole in the pulpit), 2-b (people in Nazareth did not care for Samaritans), 3-d (An FYI to preachers: there are three exits from the sanctuary, not counting windows), 4- to be discussed!

MESSAGE “… the Reality”    Rev. James R. Renfrew, Teaching Elder

I’ve been a preacher for just over 33 years, and I figure that works out to be over 1500 Sunday messages.  About half of them have been offered in this very place.

What has been the reaction?  Has there ever been a parade after the sermon, with joyful people lifting me on their shoulders and carrying me through the town.  Never, unless you count the time in Rochester that we had an Easter parade around the block after the service.  But that parade wasn’t about me, it was about Jesus, so no one lifted me onto their shoulders.

Have people been moved to tears by a message of hope and forgiveness in any of those 1500 messages?  I can’t really answer that for sure, but some.  One thing I do know is that when people tell me about those heartfelt tears it usually had very little to do with what I actually said that day; it was just the right time, they were ready for the Spirit to touch their hearts, and it did.

I know for a fact that I have never spoken in a way that has so vilified another group of people that a mob was stirred up by my preaching to attack them.  Thank you for so far not interpreting anything I’ve ever said in that way!

Has anyone ever tried to kill me because of what I’ve said in a Sunday sermon?  Any guesses?  How many think none?  No.  One?  No.  Two?  That’s about right.  One Sunday a man met me in the parking lot after the service and came very close to causing injurious violence.  I need to point out that he was waiting out in the parking lot, so he hadn’t actually heard the sermon that day.  I told him his anger was due to the elders on Session, not me, and that seemed to deflect the trajectory of his intended fist.  And then another time a woman threw a Bible right at my head with the intention of causing harm.  Fortunately I saw it coming, and I managed to turn my head enough that I only felt a slight breeze as the Word of God sailed past my left ear.

On that day long ago in Nazareth Jesus gave the sermon in his own hometown synagogue.  Good news for the poor, release the captives, sight for the blind, across-the-board forgiveness.  The message was all about God’s hope, but in the end they preferred to stubbornly hold on to their own fearful reality.  By the time he was done they chased Jesus out of the synagogue with the intent of throwing him over a cliff.  You can see an old picture of that scene on the cover of the bulletin.

Fortunately there are no cliffs near our church, so I think I’m safe, but my friend Colleen is the pastor of the Episcopal Church in LeRoy, which is perched right on the edge of the Oatka Gorge.  She might want to be a little cautious in her preaching!  Then again, how many churches could there be with a bullet hole in the pulpit like there is in our pulpit!  Maybe I’m the one who should be more careful, not Colleen.

What was it that made them so upset at Jesus?  Is it that people in Nazareth those days got angry quickly?  I’ll tell you this, I wouldn’t want to be preaching in Iowa this weekend.  I keep hearing about how angry all of the conservative Christian voters are.  They seem to be angry at everything and everyone.  I’ll stay right here in New York;  you folks seem a lot more reasonable and peaceful.

In Nazareth that day Jesus gave the shortest sermon in the Bible, by my estimation, not 15 minutes, not 5 minutes, not even 5 seconds.  Referring to the reading from Isaiah, he said, “This reading, as you heard it, has been fulfilled”.  Nine words, four seconds.  They don’t sound so anger-provoking to me!

Here’s what happened.  After the service, people went up and greeted Jesus like a favorite son.  “Aren’t you going to offer a special blessing to us, Jesus?”  But Jesus immediately noted how they were twisting Isaiah’s words to fit their own parochial agenda.  They wanted God’s blessings for themselves only and no one else.  So Jesus reminded them of how the prophet Elijah helped the hungry widow from Lebanon and the how the prophet Elisha healed Naaman, the Syrian, of leprosy.  In case you didn’t know, Lebanon and Syria were their enemies.  How could God possibly be blessing them?  That’s what got them boiling mad.  They were outraged!  Jesus cared more about people from Lebanon and Syria than his own people in Nazareth.  Like unthinking hotheads everywhere they came up with a plan:  “Let’s throw him off of the cliff!”

There’s no doubt that Jesus meant exactly what he said.  God’s blessings are available to everyone everywhere, not just to the few right here.  His is not a parochial, exclusivist, elitist, nativist, racist message.  So this story challenges us to always be widening the circle of God’s blessings, an appropriate challenge on the day of our Annual Meeting.  I hope that is the measure of our ministry, not to pile up blessings for ourselves, but to be looking for ways to reach beyond the circle that we’re in, in the ways we pray, in the ways we build up an inclusive community, in the ways we reach out in mission near and far.

Now for a bit of serious fun, to close out let’s take a look at the fourth question of today’s quiz.  How would/could /should you respond to a preacher’s message? Is there a right answer among these choices? (a)  I always like friendly greetings, but feel free to tell me what you think.    (b)  I hope that my messages don’t cause you to explode, but if your blood pressure is going up because of something I’ve said please let me know.  I promise not to bite.  (c)  I didn’t get a note two weeks ago, but I got a nice phone call from someone after my sermon.  Wonderful!  (d)  One church decided to put the offering ahead of the sermon!  Did that give me more freedom to preach to take it to the edge?  (e and f)  I always love to talk!

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