Afflicting the Comfortable Nazareth Synagogue

Luke 4:21-30

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.” (Read the whole lesson)

Sermon

We are challenged today, our comfort is afflicted. Good News is meant to comfort the afflicted, but today the comfortable are challenged to change… and this is Good News. It is hard to hear, it unsettling and even rises up our anger, but it is still Good News. As we work and strive to find our place in the world, as well as our place in the pews here… all that is overturned right in front of our eyes.

For us it was last week, but for Jesus and the people of the Nazareth Synagogue, it was only moments ago that he stood before them and boldly proclaimed that the Spirit of God had anointed Jesus to preach good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed and forgiveness of debts in the Jubilee year. And then Jesus sat down and preached that “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. And today, we get to see and hear the response he gets – and its not nice.

After hearing Jesus’ nice sermon, the people are amazed, they are comforted in the midst of their cushy seats in the Nazareth synagogue. They marvel that here, Joseph the carpenter’s son has such beautiful words. They imagine beautiful scenes of their lives being eased, of the burdens laid down and their bumps and bruises soothed. But this is NOT the sermon that Jesus is preaching… he has not come back to his home town to sooth his friends and family. Jesus has come to preach about real suffering, about real change and about real people.

(Pause)

Grace was working her job waitressing job, about to take payment from a customer. The woman was frantically digging through her purse trying to find her wallet and money. Her child was tugging on her sleeve begging to leave. Grace gestured to the side and asked her if she wanted to take a minute while others paid, but the woman didn’t seem to understand and only got more agitated. The scarf that covered nearly all of the woman’s head but her face was beginning to come loose as she looked for something to pay her bill with. The woman looked up at Grace and started explaining, but doesn’t realize she was speaking Arabic.

Behind the woman, Grace could hear other customers complaining,

“These immigrants expect a free handout when they come here”

“Why does she wear that thing on her head? Nobody in this country cares if you see a woman’s head!”

“You should have to learn English to be allowed into Canada!”.

(Pause)

Jesus comes down on the people of the Nazareth Synagogue and he comes down hard. He has come to preach the good news to them also, but they cannot see past the energetic 10 year old running around town playing with the other boys and helping out with his father’s carpentry. They cannot see that Jesus is not Joseph’s son at all. And this is why Jesus comes down hard, Jesus is confronting their complacency, confronting their understanding of the world, and using strong and bold words to do it.

God provides food for Elijah and the widow. God heals Naaman in the Jordan river from his leprosy, just as Elisha said would happen. Jesus reminds the people of their own history, of the prophets who had already come to bring good news and Jesus reminds them of a condemning fact… Elijah was sent to a gentile woman, to a pagan widow and her son. Elisha healed a Syrian with leprosy, a solider and a conqueror. Jesus reminds the comfortable folks of Nazareth that God send prophets to heal outcasts and sinners, gentiles and the unclean… the Messiah is not just coming to make the lives of the righteous and chosen people easier.

Jesus would get us jumping out of our seats too if he were preaching here today. He would remind us that his own body and blood, that the bread and wine we share today, is not just to feed 5th generation prairie German, Icelandic or Norwegian Lutherans, but that Christ has come to feed the poor, the outcast, children, the old, the mentally ill and the sick. He would tell us that healing and reconciliation is also for immigrants, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, women, visible minorities.

But when Jesus afflicts the comfortable he doesn’t go halfway. Jesus challenges the people of the Nazareth and challenges us to see where, in our hearing, God is at work. Jesus is saying that God’s work happens with more kinds of people than imagine, AND also happens with us, amongst us, through us. Jesus demands our participation in God’s work. Jesus dares us see how we fit into the work of God right her and now. This pokes us in our comfort zone and makes defensive. We are the ones already here, what more does God want from us? But for Jesus being here is only the first step. Jesus sees the gospel working through us for the poor, the blind, the imprisoned, oppressed and indebted.

But this is not what the people of Nazareth came to hear, Jesus is challenging their comfort and they get enraged and they decide to hurl Jesus off a cliff. But he escapes. Yet, the rage of the people will catch up with him. From today onward, Good Friday is in our horizon as Jesus barely escapes execution by a mob. The rage of the Nazarites is the same rage that will shout “crucify him”, the same rage that will nail his wrists and feet to a cross. But that time is not yet. Resurrection is still coming and the people of Nazareth haven’t seen the fulfillment of God’s promises yet…God’s promises that include more than Ancient Hebrews and Prairie Lutherans. God’s promises that transform us, and we become less comfortable the more we hear them.

But the rage of righteous entitlement, the rage that believes it deserves God’s love and that is willing to put God to death for changing the rules… Today, this rage loses its power, and God’s power to free, to release, to heal, to feed, and to forgive steps out of the shadows and stands in our midst, it defies our attitudes, escapes being hurled into oblivion and continues on with its mission.

(Pause)

As the poor woman standing at the counter, realized that she had forgotten her wallet, the tears began streaming down her face. Voices behind continued to mutter and complain. And then all of a sudden two 20 dollar bills appeared on the counter, and a smiling face was standing next to her. Grace recognized Marlena from church at St.David’s

“Here take this, and pay for your meal.” Marlena said. “You don’t know me, but I have seen your family walking down the street, you are my neighbour”.

With tears still streaming down her cheeks, the grateful muslim woman reached out and took the hand of this kind stranger, thanking her profusely in arabic.

(Pause)

Today, the Good News hurts us, as we see ourselves in the folks of the Nazareth Synagogue. But its still Good News anyways, as we discover again that God’s love is not based in our comfort, in what pew bears the shape of our behind, but rather its based in God’s openness to a world full of imperfect variety. And God’s love is happening right here and now.

Jesus takes two stories of God’s great compassion and uses them in a new way. Jesus reminds the comfortable folks of Nazareth and comfortable Lutherans of the prairies that God’s love is so much broader than we can imagine. Jesus pushes our comfort zones and enrages us. And still despite our attitudes, despite our rage at being challenged, Jesus promises reconciliation and healing, for which we are given front row seats. For today Jesus has proclaimed that along with God’s chosen people, lepers and gentiles, widows and pagans, and immigrants to a foreign land…  we all are the beloved of God. Even if that makes us uncomfortable.

Amen. 

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