Sunday, January 27, 2013
He went on his way
Luke 4: 14-30, NT pages 61-62 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. The Lord 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 favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 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?” 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.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 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; yet Elijah was sent to none of them expect to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 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. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. Sermon Your true friend is the one who tells you when a piece of lettuce is stuck in your teeth, and today I am thankful for Joe Overton who has been a true friend to me. A couple weeks ago I was able to have lunch at the Bridge, a fine assisted living facility on James Campbell Boulevard. There live several members of our church, and I was glad to sit down with a group of them: Joe Overton, Rufus Ross, and Dr. Harold Pryor. As we ate Dr. Pryor mentioned our service’s radio broadcast, as this month our service has been on the air, not every other Sunday as it has been for years, but every Sunday. The rest of the group chimed in their appreciation, but Mr. Joe Overton said, “I have just one more thing to say about the radio before we move on. Now I’m not saying it, I’ve just heard it said, that First Presbyterian Church has two fine preachers, but one of them would not make a living as a paid soloist.” I’ve told this story several times since, and it seems as though Mr. Overton was kind enough to point out the lettuce in my teeth, but others have noticed it as well. A daughter said to her mother, “They must not teach them how to sing in seminary,” and Ron Neal told me that he liked the way I sing, saying, “you just go on and sing loud, whether you know the song or not.” I have decided to do a better job of turning off my microphone – that alone may increase the number of our radio audience – and I won’t leave the ministry for a career in music. I’ll leave singing on the radio to someone else like Sarina-Joi Crowe, a young woman from right here in Columbia, who will be flying to Hollywood to join 36 other contestants on the next season of American Idol. This past Saturday Ms. Crowe’s voice teacher, Susan Manning from Central High School was quoted saying, “[Sarina-Joi] is just a delight to be around, she’s not a scatterbrain. She’s got focus, yet she maintains the life of a teenager.” It’s a good thing she has focus, as to make it going from home in Columbia to broadcast on prime-time TV from Hollywood, is going to take a lot of it. There’ll be lights, cameras, and action – there’ll be screaming fans, criticizing judges, and while she may be starting this journey with her mother and her teacher by her side, the farther Ms. Crowe goes in this singing competition the more family members who she’s never met before will be coming forward, the more friends will want to catch hold of her coat-tails. They’ll be excited, they’ll be proud, but if they’re not true friends, you can bet that they’ll also want something, and this is the way it has always been. Jesus 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.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” This is a hard saying of Jesus, and it’s these words, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown,” that bridge two very different scenes in a single scripture lesson. On the one hand you have Jesus, the hometown boy who also happens to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy – the long awaited Messiah – and the people who he grew up with are filled with pride to be connected to him, to know him, and, possibly, to benefit from their association with him. If he healed the sick in Capernaum, than think how he’ll heal the sick of his own hometown – but Jesus 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’… 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; yet Elijah was sent to none of them expect to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” At the suggestion that like Elijah and Elisha, those two great figures in Israel’s past, Jesus was sent to serve the foreigners of Sidon and Syria before his own people – his friends and his family were filled with rage and led him to the brow of a hill that they might throw him off a cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. This is sometimes the case – that to go on his way – to be true to himself and his purpose, Jesus had to disappoint and leave behind friends he had known so long that he never remembered being introduced as though he had always just known them – neighbors who watched from windows to make sure he stayed out of trouble – uncles and aunts who doted on him and would never let him forget it. To go on his way – to become the Messiah – Jesus had to be something more than Joseph’s son. For Martin Luther King Jr., the same was true. Certainly he expected resistance from Governors and police officers and Klansmen, but his partners in this movement for civil rights, some of them called him to slow down while others told him to hurry up, and King had to learn that being true to the dream God gave him meant disappointing even his own people. When I was in 7th grade I began confirmation class with the group of friends I spent all my time with. They were the group that I sat with in the school cafeteria, the group I played baseball with, and the group I cared about being accepted by, so when they all decided to go out to the rail road tracks rather than go into the church for confirmation class when our parents dropped us off I had to decide which way I would go. Whose opinion mattered most? Risk my friend’s rejection or give up on confirmation class? Go their way or go on my way? “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown,” and Christ chose rejection by his own people to go on his way, honoring his purpose, true to the will of God. And that is the harsh truth for you – to go on your way, to honor your purpose, and to be true to God’s will may well cost the acceptance of people you care about. Maybe you have a dream to go off somewhere and do something that no one in your family has ever done before, but to do it – to go on your way might mean the distain of your parents so you’ll try to forget it. Maybe there was love, true but forbidden, and to go on your way, to follow your heart, means turning away from what you’ve always known, so you push it down and hope it goes away. Or maybe it’s doing what you know is right, but to do it, to stand up for it, could mean losing your job or losing your friends – will you keep your mouth shut for fear of being thrown off that cliff or will you go on your way? When Christ was true to himself and to the will of God, though the crowd sought to do him harm, he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. Now go on yours, and while the crowd’s acceptance is tempting, those who are bold to do the will of God will have their reward. Amen.