Messy Presence.

Luke 4:21-30

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[a] 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.

Our gospel lesson this am takes up where we left off last week.  Jesus has just finished reading the prophetic words of Isaiah, of taking care of the oppressed, release for the captives, and that God’s kingdom is for everyone.  

He then goes on to say that “today, the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing!”  Essentially that the biblical concept of the canceling of debts, of honoring relationships, of going after the marginalized and including them in community, those folks who have not had the same experiences in life that maybe many of us have had…that we are all called to be together as one people.  Big words, even bigger statement from Jesus at the end.

Now, we then notice that folks are amazed at his words.  The words of Jesus make them feel good that their hometown boy has done well.  They synagogue seats are filled, people are looking around, kind of proud.  

Jesus has given a great performance with elegant words and gave the people there some hope.  Probably a good day for most preachers.

But, then Jesus doesn’t stop…he keeps on speaking and quotes a proverb, “doctor, heal yourself”.  Jesus had probably also heard that folks in his hometown had some criticisms…had some things to say about Jesus.  They also had heard about the miracles that Jesus did in Capernaum and wanted to be “wowed” as well with some miracles.  Yet, Jesus is saying, you who criticize, start with yourself first…ask yourself the questions about your motives, your agenda…don’t look to blame others, but ask yourself how can I be cured, healed.  Miracles can only happen if people are willing to own their own predicament and want to change themselves first.  

I’ve often heard, and have said this myself, in couple’s counseling, especially when folks are thinking about getting married, that you can’t enter into a relationship and try to change that person.  You can’t be concerned about winning an argument or being right, you have to focus on working together and mutual understanding and humility in order to move forward.  

That’s true in every relationship, especially in a church, family, friendship, and neighborhood.  

I believe that Jesus is communicating something good for his hearers that day, develop personal and corporate agency.  When I say “agency”, I mean the ability to have responsibility and awareness of your abilities and confidence to be the person you’ve always wanted to be deep down, the person God created you to be.  I also found this quote on agency:

In social science, agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. 

Jesus doesn’t end there either, he keeps on stirring the point.  He quotes a time in Israel’s history when there was a great famine that lasted for three years.  Israel suffered greatly.  Jesus references this to the hardness of the hearts of the people of Israel.  They were stuck in their ways of doing things, in their pride and habits.  When God raised up prophets from them, they didn’t listen and Jesus even says that a prophet in his own hometown isn’t heeded or listened to. 

So, what does God do?  God simply goes outside of Israel and continues God’s work.  God blesses and works through a Syrian and a widow…a foreigner and someone who didn’t have a spouse.  God wants to find persons willing to step into growth, into their own agency.  

Hearing this reminds me of a book I’ve read:  Leadership and the New Science by Dr. Margaret Wheatley.  It’s a classic organizational book using Quantum physics as a science that informs organizational behavior.  In the opening it talks about the movement of atoms, neutrons, etc.  They are all chaotic, yet there is a sense of order and movement…relationship if you will.  You can’t stop them from being in relationship and creating something.  The author describes it as being like a river.  It starts with a drop, then a stream, then a river and even an ocean.  When the water flows, over time it shapes and reshapes things, but it continues to flow and create something.  You can put up a roadblock, try to cut it off, but you can’t.  Something is formed and reformed.

It’s the same with Israel in Jesus’ time, and it’s the same with the church today.  God’s work is flowing.  That flow is happening all around us, in our churches and especially in our neighborhoods where our churches have been placed.  God is going to bless our neighborhoods and build up our agency if you will.  We, the church, can either figure out where the flow is taking us and get behind God’s work and even encourage it, or we can try to go against the flow, or even simply stand on the banks and let if flow.  Those are our three options, only one leads to life.  

Not only is that true in the church, but in all of our relationships.  There is a flow, it doesn’t stop, we can’t cut things off…but, we can learn to live and adapt and grow in the flow.  

So, Jesus is saying to those gathered that day, that life passed by Israel and the good news of release and freedom was still being proclaimed though.  They could get on board or miss out on on God’s blessing, God’s flow…in their lives and in the life of Israel…  

What happened next was a huge shift in the mood of the congregation.  They had gathered hoping to feel good about themselves, but when they heard Jesus’ words about the time of Elisha and Elijah, their anxiety and fear came out in the form of rage.  They wanted to throw Jesus off the cliff!

Now, I’ve had some good sermons and some bad sermons in my 30+ years of ministry, but I’ve never had anyone push me towards a cliff after one of them!  

Jesus, somehow though, doesn’t give into the rage, doesn’t feel despair, but trusts in his words, his own agency, his true self, and moves through the crowd and leaves unharmed through the crowd somehow to continue his ministry of love and reconciliation for all people.  

A friend of mine asked me these questions about this passage a while ago, they might be good for us to ponder as well:

Why is it that the insiders (Israelites, the tiny community of Nazareth) would stand in the way of the Kingdom things God was doing?  Why are the outsiders more willing to receive the message of a new thing?  And where do we at Fleming Road UCC fit into this story?

Those are questions that we should let soak in to our thoughts this week.  

Friends, for now, this passage can also be an encouragement to us to move towards God’s kingdom of radically inclusive love for ourselves and others and to grow in our agency.  As we move towards being a church marked by God’s love for ourselves, others, and God.  As we own our own wounds and history and move towards healing and a new future, that we can become the Church God calls us to be.  There will be some who won’t understand, won’t listen, and simply do not want God’s Presence in their lives, God’s fullness.  They may rather stay where they are because it seems comfortable.  Yet, God’s love will continue to flow, forming new things in us and in our church. 

That flow is present in this “sacred act” of our sacraments, our relationships.  Sometimes that flow is messy, it overruns the dams and the banks of our lives that we have built.  And, that’s OK, actually, it’s good as it reminds us that God’s love flows as it will…in and through, all around us.  

 A friend of mine, Brian McLaren, reminded a group of us a while ago that the word sacrament simply means a “sacred moment”.  Our whole lives are sacred moments, not just communion and baptism, may we live into the flow, the mess, and be present with ourselves, others, and God.  

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