Jesus the Troublemaker

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Jesus didn’t seem to behave in the proper ways the religious establishment expected. His “troublemaking” changed the world, and continues to challenge us to do the same. John Weems will explore this theme, and Rev. Glenda Hope will share her story.

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This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

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[a] 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.


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As we head into the Iowa Presidential Caucuses, it is increasingly difficult to avoid topics like politics and religion. When I attend a dinner party and people know I serve as a pastor, they don’t seem content to just ask my thoughts on Two Corinthians, or even One Corinthian . . . private e-mail servers and voter database security breaches and birth certificates are all fodder for conversation.

What are we to do? Do we gather with like-minded individuals and watch news networks that cater to our preferences, or do we engage in a meaningful way?

The reality is that there is not an eleventh commandment for people of faith to avoid difficult conversations. It doesn’t mean that we called to be disrespectful or pick fights or dismiss the opinions of others. In fact, Daniel Migliore of Princeton Theological Seminary defines theology as “Faith Seeking Understanding,”[1] which is also the title of his theology text book. If we could spend more time seeking the understanding of the other—the person with different views on religion, politics, sex, wine or music—perhaps we could at least achieve enough harmony to take on a few of the world’s challenges. Sometimes we are called to take on difficult topics that challenge us beyond our comfort zones.

Jesus modeled this. In today’s Scripture lesson, it drove his audience in the synagogue to homicidal rage.

Please open a Bible or use your phone and look up Luke 4:21-30.

In verse 21, when Jesus says “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” he is referring to a scroll he has just read from Isaiah, including 61:1-2: The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.”

While we can read his audience’s response with a favorable tone “Is not this Joseph’s son?” and assume they were impressed or surprised that a man of low social standing had such knowledge and made such a bold claim, the reports of this incident in Matthew and Mark say “And they took offense at him.”

Why did they take offense?

Jesus quoted sacred Hebrew texts, but he didn’t interpret them in ways that affirmed the roles of the religious institution. He started with the inflammatory statement that “No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” (Luke 4:24). He reminded them when there were times of suffering in Israel, the prophets Elijah and Elisha revealed God’s hope and power not to religious insiders, but to a non-believing widow and a military leader used to fixing things himself.[2] This would have been like Jesus showing up in a Bible Belt town and telling the congregation that God was more likely to appear in a Las Vegas Casino, or Jesus showing up in Pacific Heights and telling the people that God was showing up in in the tent cities instead of the Super Bowl corporate sponsors. When Jesus speaks to us, or the Holy Spirit breathes through us, it can sting.

The crowd in the synagogue was filled with rage and prepared to hurl Jesus off a cliff, though he used his Jesus power to escape.

Jesus was really stating the obvious, but the congregation had apparently been reading the Scriptures through a rose colored lens that favored them.

How often do we do that?

How often do we read the Bible and assume that we are the contemporary country favored by God over all others? How often do we make Jesus our buddy who walks with us and talks with us and is more of a Marina bro than Emmanuel, God with Us, and the Lion of Judah who would not tolerate injustice?

Peter Gomes, Harvard Divinity School professor and pastor at Harvard’s Memorial Church until his passing in 2011, wrote an excellent book called The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s So Good about the Good News. When he released the book and Stephen Colbert interviewed him, Dr. Gomes explained that Jesus “Threatened our sense of well being, since Jesus challenges the status quo and most Christians are in favor of the status quo.”[3]

Colbert asked, “What do you mean he opposes the status quo,?” to which Gomes replied, “He likes to turn things upside down.”

Colbert deadpanned in his Colbert Report character, “He did, but then he put Christians on top and now it’s nothing changed.”

Jesus knew that left to their own devices, people would choose power, prestige and privilege for themselves. He knows that we can have those same tendencies. We want to be Christ’s hands and feet, but we are inundated with messages designed to give us a mindset desiring comfort and security.

When Jesus shows up, he is very likely to disrupt our lives, maybe even make some trouble. This can all feel overwhelming. Are we really supposed to follow someone who allowed himself to be crucified on a cross and had the audacity to forgive those who persecuted him?

In The Scandalous Gospel, Dr. Gomes writes: “The question should not be ‘What would Jesus do?’ but rather, more dangerously, ‘What would Jesus have me do?’ The onus is not on Jesus but on us, for Jesus did not come to ask semi-divine human beings to do impossible things. He came to ask human beings to live up to their full humanity; he wants us to live in the full implication of our human gifts, and that is far more demanding.”

Today we have the honor of hearing from the Rev. Glenda Hope, who has answered the question of “What would Jesus have me do?” in world changing ways. She is a role model to people of all walks of life for her Christ-like stands with helping prostituted women, the homeless, and any of God’s children she possibly can. I invited Glenda to share her testimony today. Glenda is one of my models in ministry, and in life.

Ladies and gentlemen, Rev. Glenda Hope . . .

Faith Journey: Rev. Glenda Hope – Troublemaking

Looking back on 80 years, I see a life expanded by surprises and wondrous adventures. I claim no virtue or particular charisma. Rather, I feel like a little pinball. Ever played a real pinball machine? God kept pulling the lever,sending me caroming from one post to another, sometimes going TILT, sometimes falling in a hole and an amazing number of times when God moved the machine and I hit the jackpot.

A Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher planted in a little girl the passion for a personal relationship with Jesus as well as the seeds of the radical Gospel of God’s Inclusive Love. Others watered and nurtured those seeds which finally sprouted while I was a student in Virginia, in the Presbyterian School of Christian Education. In 1959, with 3 friends, I went to the Dean and asked that we be allowed to arrange a meeting for our students with students from a nearby all-Black university to talk about a planned action for civil rights, but would understand if he thought it too risky for our school. He replied: “This school was begun in the Providence of God and it will continue in the Providence of God, but only if people like you follow God’s call.” Those words changed my life and started my involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. Jackpot!

Years later, I was a Dir. Of CE in a large church and some members grew angry about my political activities. One of them came into my office in a rage threatening to pull off his belt and beat me if he ever saw me on a picket line. We were alone in the church and I was terrified that he was going to do it then. The group of 4 started a rumor that I was a Communist sent to organize a cell in that church. You had to be there to grasp the gravity of this accusation.

But the pastor and elders stood up their young DCE. What if they had not done that? Jackpot.

In seminary in San Anselmo, a group of students became peace activists, just as Dr.King was linking Civil Rights with resistance to the war in Vietnam. We helped draft resisters on their way to Canada. Then a suicidal young GI slashed his wrists in the Presidio stockade and the next day asked a guard what would happen if he tried to escape. The guard said he would be shot. Minutes later, that happened. At roll call, 12 prisoners linked arms, singing “We shall Overcome” and they were charged with mutiny which carries a possible death penalty. The Commanding General of the 6th Army refused all requests for meetings with civilian clergy until I led 3 other women in a sit-in in his office. Twelve MPs came to arrest us. The next day, 3 clergy got that meeting and charges were dramatically reduced. Conditions were improved in that nasty stockade but those 12 paid a big price for their courage. They changed my life.

When Dr. King was assassinated, my cynicism rose and my faith failed. Walking behind that mule drawn wagon bearing his body, linking arms with people who had risked their lives for justice, hearing Mahalia Jackson sing “Precious Lord, take my hand” and my life was once again changed by people of faith. Jackpot!

Fast forward. After 3 churches said they only wanted a male minister, Old First Presbyterian took the risk of calling and ordaining a woman as Asst.Minister. No risk to me. Just another Jackpot. Sadly, some people left that church rather than have a woman in the pulpit.

Three years later, convinced that we were not going to get many unchurched young adults into the traditional parish, I resigned and with 8 people sat down on the floor of our living room forming a house church – the beginning of Network Ministries. No money. No institutional support. Just God’s call. I bounced around and in an odd way we became part of a non-denominational church which provided an office and $200/month each for 4 loyal staff members. Jackpot!

We caromed into another jackpot – a free space on Bush St. to open a coffeehouse – and the Tenderloin came up and led us back down the hill into the neighborhood which would be our locus of ministry for 4 decades.

Network bounced off some more pinball posts – beginning what would be over 1,000 memorial services for homeless and other poor people, giving the poor this final dignity – each service a deepening of our faith by experiencing the faith of the poor. A homeless gay man goaded me into founding the Tenderloin Aids Network which led to a sit-in in the office of the Director of Public Health and shaming the City into funding the Tenderloin AIDS Resource Center as a program of Network Ministries. From that we gained respect from the City for fiscal responsibility, which led into our gaining funding for the family apartments for which God gave us the vision. We knew nothing about building. Jim Emerson invited me to speak to the Downtown Rotary. I said we are forming a Board and need an architect, a general contractor, a real estate expert and someone who knows finance. In other words, we had no Board. It was like an altar call, they all came forward. Jackpot   Never hesitate to ask for what is needed for God’s work.

Wanting to help the poor close the digital divide, we searched for a place to house both our storefront church and a free computer center. We found the place but they wanted $1 a square foot and it was 1600 sq ft. No way. The Board said: try again. I said “we couldn’t go over $500” and the owners, TL activists with whom I had worked for years, said: “It’s yours for $500”.   Jackpot.   Be audacious in ministry.

There came one 3 month period during which I led Memorials for 5 prostituted women who were murdered on our streets and God said “my beloved daughters are dying. Get busy.” 7 months later, having caromed from one post to another we hit the Jackpot of the funding and the building which we opened 18 years ago as SafeHouse for Homeless Women Escaping Prostitution. We knew nothing about residential treatment for people who were traumatized by brutal experience and drug addiction but believed God would provide. And She has.

Interspersed with all this, many political activities, some quite disruptive. Picketing rodeos, circuses, and stores selling fur in protest of cruelty to animals. The cause I have espoused which still brings the most ridicule and derision is this: for the creatures, the poor, the planet, yourself stop eating animal flesh. Become a vegetarian as people of a gentle spirit led me to do 35 years ago.

In an effort to stop yet another war, I joined 40 people of faith in lying down in the intersection of Market and Montgomery in front of Feinstein’s office trying to get her to vote only for funding to bring our soldiers safely home. When Pelosi became Speaker, I organized a clergy group including Laird Stuart to press her for the same thing. We heard “you have to work within the system” many times, then Rabbi Pearce from Congregation Emanu-el expressed our shared faith: “Sometimes you put all that aside and just do the right thing.” YES.

Network Ministries staff entered into an extra-legal relationship with 7th Avenue Presbyterian Church to be their pastoral team in exchange for use of some space and $500/ month. Over our tenure of 11 years, the congregation grew from a faithful fifteen to 120 while the average age dropped over 20 years. Some became involved in opposing nuclear power plants while others formed the SF AIDS Interfaith Network operating from one man’s home phone. 7th Avenue openly defied the denomination by announcing that we would ordain as deacons and elders all to whom the Holy Spirit led us without regard to sexual orientation. When a church in Hayward sought to bring charges which could result in the presbytery taking charge of the church and stripping me of my ordination, the congregation stood in solidarity. And the condemning church backed down.

We sponsored a refugee family of 9 from Vietnam, became a sanctuary church – defying the US government’s efforts to deport refugees from El Salvador and hiding some refugees. That little congregation raised money and ordained members to go to Nicaragua with Witness for Peace then they did the same to send me to Chile in solidarity with the non-violent protests against Pinochet’s brutal regime. I met a seminary professor who had been imprisoned and tortured, accused of “teaching a theology which might encourage people to resist the authorities”. I wear this stole, a gift from that troublemaker, in his honor. Other Chileans – many of whom bore in their bodies the scars of torture and whose loved ones had disappeared – met with me and my companion, a nun, even though we were openly followed by Chilean police. “Go home,” they said, “get your government to stop supporting ours.” They challenged and changed me with their witness and faith.

The Civil Rights Movement has kicked into high gear afresh. A nationwide pattern of mass incarceration has developed, ensnaring a disproportionate number of Black and Brown people. It is dubbed “The new Jim Crow.” In San Francisco, a small group worked for 2 years to defeat our Mayor’s proposed new – and unneeded jail. We want alternatives to incarceration, esp. mental health care and bail reform. Three weeks ago, against all predictions, we won a unanimous No vote from the Board of Supervisors. Jackpot. Now Santa Barbara and San Joaquin County have followed our lead. This is how movements develop.

So much more but often change making is just tedious persistence – one by one by one. Sign our petition to qualify a November ballot initiative requiring the top 3 funders for any political ad to have their real names clearly on the ad: Charles Koch – Chevron. We must begin getting the dark money out of our elections.

Believe: when God calls, She is not kidding. Don’t wait until you know enough or are sure of where you are headed because you never will – get going and along the way pick up those who know what is needed. As my dance coach preached: “Don’t stop. If you forget the steps, keep moving to the music. Something will come to you.” Let us pray.


[1] Whether you are brand new to faith or have been around a while, Faith Seeking Understanding is an excellent resource.

[2] I encourage you to read 1 Kings 17 and 2 Kings 5 to experience the stories of Elijah with the widow and Elisha with Naaman. Whether you’ve read them several times or are just starting out, they are important figures in the Jewish and Christian faith.

[3] Colbert Report, September 1, 2008. Thanks to Peter Eaton in Feasting on the Word for the reminder about Gomes’ excellent work.

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