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 was written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He 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 favour.’
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 home town 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 home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for 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.
In the early 1990’s, it was popular to wear bracelets engraved with the letters WWJD. The bracelets served as a reminder for Christians to act in a manner that personified Jesus’ teachings. If you came upon an elderly person who had fallen down on Fillmore Street, the bracelet on your wrist served to give you pause and to think, “What would Jesus do”? You come across a child wandering lost at the Westfield SF Shopping Centre, “What would Jesus do”? A tourist finds her rental car broken into and all her luggage has been stolen, “What would Jesus do”? Everyday, we come across situations which call for an appropriate Christian response; WWJD serves as a convenient reminder that as Christians, we have a responsibility to do the right thing, the Jesus thing. If only every situation called for a simple and obvious response and solution. When we read the Gospels, it quickly becomes clear that Jesus found himself in situations, time and time again, that not only required a difficult response, but also a response that put his life on the line.
Today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke is twice as long because it includes the lectionary selection from last Sunday. As Joann explained in her sermon last Sunday, Calvary follows the lectionary as much as possible, week to week, in order to assure us that in a 3-year cycle, you will hear texts from the Bible in all its breadth and depth. It is a special day. Jesus has come home to Nazareth, making his way to the synagogue, as is his custom. His hometown folk are excited to see him because his reputation, especially his preaching abroad, has preceded him. Just as we follow the lectionary, by prearrangement, Jesus was handed the Isaiah scroll to read. The synagogue had no official readers; any competent male member could read one of the lessons. Here at Calvary, any competent member—male or female, young or old—could read the lesson. With the scroll in his hand, he found the place where the following words were written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He 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.” Then he sat down to preach. Initially according to Luke, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” Some had trouble believing that “This was Joseph’s son”! When I accepted the call to serve my home church, the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown, members of the congregation who knew me as a child, addressed me as, “You’re Mrs. Chinn’s son, aren’t you?!” By the end of the morning, instead of a potluck supper in the fellowship hall or a picnic on the lawn, things turned ugly and murderous. At the door, on the way out after the service, they don’t tell him how much they enjoyed his sermon. Jesus has enraged those who just moments before were singing his praises. They want to kill him, the story says. They drive him out of town and push him to the edge of a hill…
You see, “What Would Jesus Do”, is more along the lines of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s resistance against Hitler; or John Lewis’ description of “Bloody Sunday”—the tear gas choking the marchers and the beating that left him with a fractured skull. Lewis was among those who participated in the first of several attempts to march from Selma and Montgomery, prior to the one that finally succeeded. My parents did not want me to participate in the Selma March. My mother also warned me not to return home to serve my congregation in Chinatown. Doing what Jesus did means doing what needs to be done whether or not it is the right time or whether you are ready or not. Jesus began his sermon with the word, TODAY. “TODAY…this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” TODAY, Jesus has come to release and restore, to reach and redeem NOW! Not someday, not tomorrow, after a while, by and by, or in the not-too-distant future; but TODAY—“this is my mission and my ministry”—drawing a line in the sand and provoking a response.
Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” after southern white moderates criticized his non-violent protests as “unwise and untimely”. “Change”, King was told, “must come slowly”. They urged him to stop the sit-ins and marches for a while and give things time to settle down. They saw negotiation with the white power structure as the more reasonable path and advised King to be more patient in his pursuit of civil rights for all Americans. King wrote in response: “I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” The first word in Jesus’ sermon was “TODAY.”
And it was his first sermon. You’d think that like all of us are taught in seminary, save your inflammatory speech until you’ve taken the time to build trust, to win people’s affection, to contextualize your message. Instead, Jesus threw the book at them. Jesus tells his listeners that the people God favors are not necessarily the people we expect God to favor. “There were many widows in Israel”, Jesus notes—but God didn’t come to them, God came to a foreigner, a widow from Sidon. “There were many lepers in Israel”, but God came to a leper from Syria and healed him instead. God favors the alien, the stranger in the land, the person who has no homeland and needs one. On at least two occasions on the Warm Springs Reservation, I was threatened because I sided with the “other” family in the dispute.
The Old Testament lectionary reading for today describes the prophet Jeremiah’s call. I had a hard time choosing between the Old Testament and Gospel readings to be read aloud this morning; but. in fact, all 3 assigned texts for this Sunday are worthy of a sermon. Today, I would suggest wearing a bracelet that is engraved with the words, “…I am only a child”. Whether it is stepping into the pulpit to preach a sermon or marching in a demonstration; serving as an Elder or Deacon or Trustee; volunteering or ushering—we all have to work our way through a sense of inadequacy, of not being ready, of being unprepared. People don’t run for prophetic leadership as they do for public office; they are called, often against their will, to speak on God’s behalf in challenging situations. We see this throughout the Bible: Moses trying to get out of his call argues, “I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” “I’m am only a child…” A reluctant prophet may be the only one worth calling because he or she is likely to be the one who knows what is required to be a faithful prophet. God does not soft-pedal the magnitude of what Jeremiah is called to do. He is given authority over nations and kingdoms. He will pull down empires and plant new ones. That’s quite an assignment for a boy who knows that he is not good at public speaking.
A pastor in Texas wrote about a tall, gangly, self-conscious 7th grade girl in his congregation who was on the junior high girls’ track team. A Saturday track-meet was postponed to the next Saturday—when his church had scheduled a mini-mission trip that the girl had signed up for. She went to her track coach and told him about the conflict. When he told her, “Your teammates are counting on you and you can’t let them down. I expect you here for the meet”, she went home in tears. The next day she talked to him again; he responded, “You are either here for the meet or you turn in your uniform.” More tears from her that night. She went to him a third time, handed him her uniform and walked away. The pastor wondered about responses to this incident. A lot of people would have wanted to go whip the coach; and conservatives would have wanted to take over the school board and outlaw any school functions that conflict with church events. What happened was that many of the parents at the church were upset but willing to go along with the coach. So, they were surprised and even shocked when the girl said, “This is about God.” Their own teenage girl was choosing God and church over her track team, and the they were surprised even though that was the way the church had raised her. Now with this story, you’re thinking, “the track team is not like race relations, standing up against war, or ending up on a cross.” But prophets all start somewhere.
Last Sunday, Joann preached a fabulous sermon on 1 Corinthians 12, about the Church, the Body of Christ, in all its diversity, including the diversity of gifts and talents. The last verses read: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. AND I WILL SHOW YOU A STILL MORE EXCELLENT WAY.” Today’s lectionary epistle lesson from 1 Corinthians 13 speaks of that more excellent way… as LOVE. No matter what other powers, talents, wisdom or understanding we might have, without love they count for nothing. NOTHING! “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
WHAT WOULD JESUS DO? You will never go wrong, if whatever it is you do, you do it in love.