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Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

    Feb 03, 2019

    Passage: Luke 4:21-30

    Preacher: Rob Donehue

    Series: Sermons for Year C (2018-2019)

    Category: Epiphany


    Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (2018)
    February 3rd, 2019
    St. Anne’s Episcopal Church (Lackey Chapel at CCU) 

    Jeremiah 1:4-10 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 Luke 4:21-30

    This Sunday’s Gospel reading picks up right where we left off last Sunday. We even get a snippet of last week’s reading to get things started. If you recall, last week, the Gospel was about how Jesus was in his hometown of Nazareth, and when he went to the synagogue, he read a selection from the prophet Isaiah about bringing good news to the poor, the blind, the captives, and the oppressed. And after this reading, he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And that’s where the story ended last Sunday. This morning, we get a short reminder of what Jesus said in the synagogue, and then we get to hear about what the reaction was. And, I hate to say it, but the reaction was pretty much what you might expect: after Jesus challenges the community’s notion of what’s both normal and acceptable, the community comes together to drive Jesus out of town. As the Gospel tells it, they even tried to throw him off of a cliff. 

    On the surface, this story about Jesus angering his hometown community and then escaping their attempt to kill him might not seem to contain much in the way of “good news.” But if we look more closely into what’s going on in the episode, I think this morning’s reading tells us a great deal about what the good news of Jesus really is.   

    First, let’s begin with an obvious truth: human beings are social creatures. We live in communities. Whether it be a small family, or a neighborhood, or a church, or a city, or a county, or a state, or a country, or the world, we live in communities. And usually, we inhabit many communities all at once. Within our communities, the expectation is that we will all get along with others in the community.  And we have various ways of rewarding good behavior that promotes the welfare and honor of our community. And this is all well and good.   

    But within our communities, things inevitably come along that disrupt our common life and can seem to threaten our community’s social cohesion. Often, it’s someone or some group of people within the community that causes the disruption. But the disruption can just as easily be caused by someone or some group already perceived as “outsiders.” Whether the disruption comes from within or without, or is done on purpose or by accident, is not all that important. The fact is that disruptions happen.   

    And usually, as soon as the wider community senses that there has been a disruption, the search begins for who is to blame. Sometimes it’s obvious. Sometimes it might take a bit of digging around to discover who is the source of the perceived problem. And once that person or group has been identified, the community solidifies its cohesion by coming together to drive the offender out - whether by some form of social exclusion where the offender is made to feel unwelcome in the community, by physical exile, or by literally killing them. It’s a common pattern of behavior that has applied across the ages. 

    And the Gospel lesson fits this mould: Jesus’ hometown community of Nazareth welcomes him back, and the people speak well of him because he’s articulate and has developed a good reputation, and they think his presence among them will promote the welfare and honor of the community. So they reward him by inviting him to read one of the lessons in the synagogue. But instead of fitting the community’s expectations of getting along with everyone, Jesus says that his mission is to serve those who don’t usually have an important part in community life: the poor, the blind, the captive, the oppressed. And he drives home his point by giving two examples of outsiders who received God’s blessing. In short, Jesus says he hasn’t come for the benefit of his hometown community; rather he has come to help those whom his hometown community would probably exclude. 

    What he says is a major disruption. And, quite predictably, the community becomes angry with Jesus for this disruption, and they band together to get rid of him. This story fits the common pattern of human behavior.  

    And we’re meant to see that there’s something wrong with this pattern of behavior. There’s something wrong with a communal identity that is based - whether implicitly or explicitly - on the exclusion of others; especially the violent exclusion of others. And Jesus’ mission is to upend this pattern of behavior. That’s why I think the tail end of the Gospel story about Jesus passing through the midst of the crowd trying to throw him off of a cliff is not just a fanciful detail about Jesus miraculously slipping away from them. It’s there to show that Jesus’ mission is to frustrate the pattern and result of blame, exclusion, and violence that exists in human communities. Jesus’ mission is to create a new pattern of human community. 

    And it begs the question for us here. Because the church is a community. When Christians gather, we gather in the expectation that we will all get along with others in the church, and we have various ways of rewarding good behavior that promotes the welfare and honor of our community. Which is all well and good. But when disruptions occur, we are faced with the question of how to respond. And that’s where we discover whether we’re striving to pattern ourselves after Jesus or we’re falling into the normal pattern of blame and exclusion. 

    The question can play out in the very terms that Jesus used to define his mission. If you will, imagine a church where most of the members are relatively wealthy. And in this church there’s the unspoken assumption that the poor wouldn’t want to be a part of this community anyway, so there’s no need to be too worried about inviting and welcoming them. But then one day, a poor person comes to church. Though perhaps not extreme, their mere presence is a disruption. If the normal pattern holds, then eventually the community will find a way to drive that poor person out. But if the church is striving to be like Jesus, then even though it might be uncomfortable at first, the community will find a way to include them.  

    The same can be said for the blind, for captives, and for the oppressed. If the church isn’t a place where such people will be welcomed, then the church will only be another exclusive community. But if the church is a place where such people can be welcomed - even if welcoming them causes disruption - then it will continue to offer an alternative pattern for forming human community.  And this is not just theoretical stuff. 

    The church - even today - is constantly faced with the question of where it draws the line on inclusivity. Some of you here know the story all too well. Some of you have been told that your presence in the church is too disruptive or that you’re only partially welcome. And some of you know what it feels like to be blamed, excluded, and driven out. This is a source of deep sadness, and it is evidence that we in the church have a long way to go in patterning ourselves after Jesus.  

    The good news in all of this is that we do have the example that Jesus sets before us. So if you find yourself wondering if you fit in or if your presence in the Christian community is disruptive, I hope you’ll take some comfort in the knowledge that our Lord himself faced the same question and challenged his hearers to think of community in a different way. In time, I believe that we all will discover that the way of Jesus really is the only way that true community can last.        








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