Sunday, February 7, 2016

Homecoming King


This is the final installment of a series on the early life of Jesus.
Jeremiah 1:4-10, Luke 4:21-30
February 7, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry



Our first reading today comes from Jeremiah -- the prophet, not the bullfrog!
Jeremiah describes the event of his calling by God, while he was young and feeling unprepared for the work God had set before him. Let’s listen for God’s call in

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD." Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."

The gospel reading for this week follows directly on the scene from last week’s reading. Jesus is in his hometown and has gone to the synagogue, as was his custom. He reads from the scroll of Isaiah, the prophecy of the one who will free the captives, give sight to the blind, and proclaim the year of the Lords favor. After he sits down he announces “this scripture is fulfilled today in your hearing.” All eyes are on him, and they seem to approve. But then he goes on. Let’s listen for God at work in the word in

Luke 4:21-30

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 except 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.

Leader: The word of God for the people of God.
People: Thanks be to God.

You can’t go home again, the writer said. Anyone who has tried it knows that is both true and not true, especially those of us who come from small towns. You can go home again in many ways – you can go home to your parents’ house, if they are still there. You can return to the familiar landscapes of your childhood, if they are still there, You can go home in your memory, in reminiscing with those who were there with you. But you can’t go back to the days of your youth, and you can’t ever really escape your past – the hometown folks will remember – and whether you were a hero or a zero or a middling kind of kid, plenty of people will still see you that way, even when you are middle aged.

Maybe the young Jeremiah knew that on some level. Maybe Jeremiah didn’t really want to go down the road God was pointing out to him. Perhaps he had dreamed of being a farmer, or of growing olives, or of being a craftsman. It’s hard to see yourself as a prophet when you are young – not really a job most people consider when they are choosing a college major. We know that there were moments when Jesus was reluctant to claim fully the calling which God had given to him – he plainly asked God, “Take this cup from me!”

Who knows whether Jesus wanted to even go home to Nazareth?
Who knows whether he even wanted to go preach in the synagogue?
Maybe he’d have preferred to get an apartment in Jerusalem, take a gap year after his baptism and temptation, look around a little bit and consider his options.
But here he was, back at home, doing what God had called him to do.

Some of you know that this year, my high school class is celebrating our fortieth reunion. I haven’t been to one of our reunions in twenty years, and this year, I’m helping to organize it. I’m helping find people who were in my class, even those who didn’t graduate. Some of them don’t really want to be found. Some of them we are not sure we want to find. Some of them, when we find them, tell us in no uncertain terms, to leave them alone. Others are delighted to hear from us. Some of us are kind of nervous about going back to our hometown, back among the people who knew us at that time of our lives. We got the heck out of Dodge as soon as we could, and while we go back to visit family, we’re not so sure we want to see all our high school classmates.

The high school years are a mixed bag for most people. I think there are classmates of mine who look back on that time as a time of great happiness and exploration, of fun and freedom. They enjoy sharing their memories of the band trip to Pasadena, and even of the fundraising work they did to get there. They remember their classmates, the crazy pranks they played, the fun they had at football or basketball games. They are really excited about our plans for everyone to go to a Friday night football game together. That seems especially true of those folks who were the popular crowd, the athletes, the cheerleaders, the drill team, the class officers.

The large middle group - most of us – what one of my friends calls “the nobodies”- maybe not so much. We had a different experience. We may recall the fun and the delight, but we also remember the times we were excluded, the places we didn’t go, the friends we had, and then suddenly didn’t have.

At the other end of the spectrum were those who were well known, but maybe not well liked. They were the troublemakers, the people left out, the pot-stirrers, the kids who shook up the status quo or fought outright against it. They protested unfair rules, some of them,or went to – or even organized – demonstrations against wars or pollution. They might have gone to a football game, but only to circulate a petition. Others of them just broke the rules – if there was a rule, they broke it. Those were the kids who, when their names came up in the faculty lounge, teachers shook their heads and made those noises people make – mmmm, rrrrrrr ooooooohhhhh. They were the kids that if YOUR kid took up with them, you’d be concerned, maybe even warn your kids.

Who knows what kind of kid Jesus was – we know he was without sin, but did he speak up for justice and stick up for the underdog? Was he in with the in crowd, or was he a voice for the outsider? My guess is that he would not have been the quarterback for Team Nazareth.

My guess is that as a teenager, he didn’t get invited to the popular kids’ parties anymore than he did as an adult. He hung around with the outsiders.

I think it is safe to assume that he wasn’t the most popular boy at Hebrew school. I think it is also safe to assume that he was not teacher’s pet – at the age of twelve, he was challenging and questioning teachers, and amazing them. The people of Nazareth were amazed, too, when they heard him. So Jesus comes back, the hometown boy, the smart kid, and he teaches in the synagogue – he reads the scroll of Isaiah about freedom to the captive, sight to the blind, the year of the Lord’s favor. Then he sits down.

They like this. The hometown boy makes good with the home crowd. “Way to preach, Jesus!” But he isn’t finished yet. He could’ve just left it there, but this is Jesus, the son of God, the Messiah. He goes on to say “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Well. Hmmmm.

At first, they spoke well of him. At first, they were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. But then they remembered who he was. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" He answered 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.'" You want to see me do some signs, don’t you? You want some proof, don’t you? And though he does not say it outright, the implication is that he is not going to do tricks to prove something to them.

This hometown boy is not going to try to live up to the expectations of the hometown crowd. That was not the Nazareth Main Street booster speech they were expecting. The director of the Nazareth Chamber of Commerce drew a line through Jesus’ name on the brochure she was writing about famous people from Nazareth. The committee that was going to restore his boyhood home and give tours disbanded right there on the spot. The leader of the synagogue was regretting that he had asked Jesus to keynote that day. But Jesus wasn’t finished yet.

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 except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.” Now, not all of us remember that story, but those folks at First Synagogue of Nazareth did. The prophet Elijah, on the run from a murderous king, during a famine, sought help from a woman with a young son, a widow who was destitute, planning to eat her last cake and die. But Elijah, the prophet of the God of Israel, came to HER. She was not one of them, not one of God’s chosen people, not a daughter of the covenant. You can almost hear the gasps in the crowd gathered there.

And Jesus still isn’t done yet! He is stirring them up, overturning their assumptions that he has come for them, to care for them and minister to them and them alone. He gives them another example from the scripture: “There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." The SYRIAN! God cleansed Naaman the Syrian, but not those Israelite lepers! The SYRIAN? Really? Now they are bristling.

Why is Jesus bringing up the Syrians during worship? He’s a hometown boy, and he should be glad to be here, he should feel honored that he was asked to speak. Why is Jesus getting all political? Why is he stirring things up with this kind of talk? What is Jesus getting at?

He is saying that his ministry is to the Jews, to God’s people, but it is not JUST to the Jews, not JUST for the sons of daughters of the covenant. The people are outraged. Who does this kid think he is?

That’s the trouble with trying to make Jesus the homecoming king. He just won’t conform to our expectations. He is never mainstream. And whatever side we are on, we think Jesus is going to join us, but Jesus is always on the side of the outsider.

We want to elect Jesus as president of the booster club, make him our spokesperson for our point of view, or our politics, or our judgments. But he won’t do that – he won’t wear the crown we want to give him, the high school homecoming king or the prom king. We want Jesus to fluff us up and make us feel better about everything, and he wants to talk about starving widows and children at the brink of death. He wants to talk about Syria and the people there. I think if he were here, preaching this morning, he would show us clips from the drone video of Homs, Syria, with its streets of bombed out buildings, the rubble and devastation going on for block after block after block.

We might not like that, sitting here on a Sunday morning, with the young people leading worship, and our Scouts here with us. It would make us uncomfortable. Not much different from back then. “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 this is Jesus, not some aging quarterback or fading cheerleader. He passed through the midst of them and went on his way. Presumably, the disciples went with him, probably wiping their brows with relief.

It isn’t always easy or popular, following Jesus, or following God’s call. The hometown crowd may not be very impressed by it. The wonder of it, the joy of it, is that none of us have to try to get elected, or be popular, or be the homecoming king or queen.

We already have a Homecoming King, and his name is Jesus,
the one who feeds us at his table, giving us the strength to act in his name.

We already have a Homecoming King, and his name is Jesus, 
the one whose team will ultimately win the day, 
and whose goal is righteousness, and justice and truth.

We already have a Homecoming King, and his name is Jesus. 
His love is from everlasting to everlasting,
and his grace and mercy extend to all people.

God’s playbook, our Bible, calls us to speak up for the outsider. "Now I have put my words in your mouth,” God says. And the voice of God that calls us, the voice of Jesus whom we follow, says to us

“Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you.”
“Do not say ‘I am only a girl’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you.”
"Do not say I am just a kid from Sterling, for you can do what I ask!"
"You shall speak whatever I command you."
“Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD."

And when it comes time to return the presence of God with all the saints and angels, we can trust that Jesus will be there to welcome us home, and to give us that robe and crown that really matter, for that final homecoming, saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Thanks be to God that Jesus is our Homecoming King! 

 Amen.





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