A movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.

Follow Me to the Cliff (February 3, 2019)

Scripture: Luke 4:21-30

INTRODUCTION.

Watch the Rams/Saints video
Did you watch that game—did you see that play?
There was definitely pass interference on the play.
Usually one play doesn’t matter—this one mattered.
Someone asked: “Does God pick favorites in football games?”
A friend said: “No—and this play absolutely proves it!”
“If God loved football, the Saints would be in the Super Bowl.”
But the Saints did not go marching on…

So we will watch Brady’s Bunch—again—and the new and improved Rams.
Today is one of the highest, holiest days of the year.
Diverse in nation, race, and tongue—we will unite as one.
We will rally around a common purpose and goal.
Some of the millions will actually be interested in the game.
Others will be more interested in the commercials.

Do you remember when a 30-second ad was a bargain?
For Super Bowl I companies paid less than $40,000.
This year a 30-second spot will cost over $5 million—$10 million a minute.
Is there something wrong with this picture?

Many people of faith think so—and we will be joining them in an alternative celebration called “Souper Bowl Sunday.”
Our children will be collecting an offering to feed hungry people in the community—let’s give joyfully and generously!

Speaking of football, many players know about fickle fans.
A well-known quarterback was interviewed by a reporter.
His team was hot—but had just lost at home to a lesser team.
Cheers gave way to jeers from the hometown crowd.
The reporter asked: “Do you ever get tired of the criticism?”
He said, “Not really. I’ve been around long enough to know that every week you are either in the penthouse—or the outhouse.”
Perhaps pro athletes and prophets and preachers have something in common?

AND THAT LEADS US TO THIS STORY FROM LUKE.

Speaking of fickle fans and alternative ways of thinking, we see both in this week’s lesson from Luke, chapter 4.
Last week we heard Jesus’ “inaugural address” in Nazareth.
He returned to his hometown to begin his public ministry.
This is the place where he had grown up with friends.
This is where Jesus worshipped and helped his father.
Joseph probably died when Jesus was a teenager, so, as eldest son, he likely took over the carpenter shop and cared for his family.
What better place to kick off his ministry than his hometown?
And the timing is right—Jesus’ popularity is rising.
He gets invited to read scripture and speak to his neighbors.
Even after he reads the scripture and sits down, the folks are “amazed at his gracious words” and say kind things about him.
But then something incredible and unpredictable happens…

At this point, I want to let you in on a professional secret.
Most preachers have a hard time preaching where they grew up.
I have experienced this on at least a couple of occasions.
I preached at a church where I had been an intern.
Although I was older and had years of experience as a senior minister, many of the folks still saw me as an intern.
I was also invited to preach at the church I attended during high school—our youth group was having a reunion.
Things did not go all that well then either.
I was still an awkward adolescent to some of them.
Who knows what they remembered?
That sermon just kind of rolled off the pulpit and died.
The custodian came by later to drag the corpse away.
And I confess that I said things in both of those sermons that…
Well, let’s just say that guest preachers sometimes say things that normally wouldn’t be said by the “regular” preachers.
You can speak the truth more directly—and get out of town!

We may experience similar reactions in other relationships.
The truth may come in ways that are hard to accept.
Think how often, especially during our teen years, that our parents demanded certain behaviors from us that we dismissed.
Later, we recognize the wisdom in what they offered.
We end up in the midst of the mess they warned us about.
Or have there been times when words of truth have come from friends or loved ones—or even our prophetic children?
It takes a special kind of humility to hear those things.
Maybe we can identify with Jesus—and his neighbors?

It is hard for preachers to go home—everybody knows you.
And it’s not like Jesus doesn’t warn us about that.
“No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.”
The people in the pews mumble: “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”
This question could be considered a compliment.
But the question could also reek of criticism and familiarity.
In the short span of a few verses, Jesus goes from being the hometown hero to being driven to the edge of a cliff.
You could say that at this point in the story it becomes a real cliffhanger!
And it is not about rappelling—but repelling Jesus.
It is not about high ropes—but high hopes of killing him.
What goes wrong—what does Jesus say that makes his neighbors become so very angry so very quickly?
This is an outright riot—from the religious folks!
The hometown people are not just unhappy or upset.
Luke says: “All in the synagogue were filled with rage!”

AH…THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME.

We have heard it said that “home is where the heart is.”
Sometimes it is also true that “home is where the hurt is.”
Last week we thought about positive memories about “home.”
Many of us also have painful memories of times at home.
What makes Jesus’ Nazareth neighbors become so enraged?
Well, it seems that he makes the mistake of speaking the truth.
He shares a Bible story that folks know—but don’t talk about.
You might call this “scripture passage interference!”
He dares to mention the unmentionable—and reminds them that at times God’s mercy and love are given to unexpected people.
Jesus messes with their myth of having favored status with God.
And the fickle fans cry out—and a penalty flag is thrown!
“How dare you tell us parts of God’s Word that we don’t want to hear!”

So…if Jesus preached to us today, what would his message be?
What are our myths and prejudices that must be challenged?
Do we believe we have favored status with God?
Do we think our affluence is proof that God loves us more?
Do we keep too much and give too little?
Do we still wrestle with racism and issues of justice?
Are we pretty certain about who are the insiders and outsiders?
Do we beat people over the head with the Bible and use it selectively to support our personal opinions and perspectives?
Will we, as followers of Jesus, hear what he has to say?
Jesus got in trouble for living on the edge and moving the margins.
He got in trouble for being a boundary buster and border crosser.
He made folks mad because he widened the circle of God’s love.
He hung out with all races, creeds, colors, sexes and sinners!
And sometimes well-meaning people of faith want to push Jesus out of the picture if the circle gets too wide.

Keith Aultman is recruiting people for another Habitat build.
Some of you know of Clarence Jordan and Koinonia Farm.
The vision for Habitat for Humanity may have originated there.
Jordan started a peanut farm and tried to run it like Jesus.
He believed in taking care of the land and those who work it.
He believed that all people could work and stand together.
But the folks at his church disagreed with his way of thinking.

Once a student from Florida State University visited the farm.
The student was from India and said: “I’ve never gone to a Christian worship service—I would like to go.”
The presence of his dark skin chilled the hot air in the church.
After worship the pastor told Jordan: “You can’t bring somebody like that—it causes disunity in our church.”
But he kept bringing guests—and folks kept getting madder and madder.
He was eventually brought before the congregation and grilled.
Jordan handed a Bible to a man and said: “Can you tell me what sin I have committed by bringing a guest to church?”
The man shouted: “Don’t give me any of that Bible stuff!”
Later Jordan received a letter: “Mr. Jordan. You are no longer welcome in our church, because you keep bringing the wrong kind of people.”

I am thankful for you—because you love the wrong kind of people.
You go out of your way to welcome the guests in our midst.
You offer hospitality to the poor and lonely and outcast.
You are not afraid of people with problems who need help.
You widen God’s circle of love and make people feel at Home.
You move the margins and cross the borders as you participate in efforts like Kentucky Refugee Ministries, Habitat for Humanity, Fed with Faith, St. Matthews Area Ministries, Pedal Power, Family Scholar House, prison ministries and on and on.
You make sacrifices to go on mission trips, like the ones we have planned to Guatemala, Heifer International and Alabama.
Stories from 50 years ago have been in the news as we recall the civil rights movement—and how far we have and haven’t come.

One that still stands out for me is the one about Ruby Bridges.
At the time she was a 6-year-old African-American girl who was the first person to integrate the schools in New Orleans.
Every day the federal marshals escorted her through the offensive and defensive lines of irate, hateful, screaming people.
Robert Coles, a Harvard psychiatrist, volunteered to help her.
On the news one night, he noticed her walking up the sidewalk—people were screaming and throwing things.
But suddenly she stopped and said something.
Coles noticed and asked her what she said to the marshals.
She said, “I was not talking to the marshals.”
She said, “I was praying for those people.”
“Mama said that when people speak mean, you pray for them just like Jesus prayed for the people who spoke mean of him.”

I wonder if Jesus did the same for the furious folks at Nazareth?
They got up, drove him out of the synagogue—out of town.
They led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.
But this wasn’t the time…this would not be the end.
Something within Jesus caused them to back off.
There was a spirit, a strength, a power about him…
He walked through the crowd…with no pass interference.

And now, friends, the stakes are higher…
But we are still called…to follow him.