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Luke #13 A new Vision For Church

A New Vision For Church

Reading: Luke 4:14-30

Introduction: In her devotional book entitled God Is No Fool, Lois Cheney asks the question,
Who would I be? If I were then?

Would I stand on the curb and watch him go by? Would I have knocked off for the afternoon to see what he had to say? Would I have raised my eyebrows and wondered what all the excitement was about? Would I have stood with a few on the corner and wondered pettishly, when were the authorities going to put a stop to this thing before it got out of hand! Would I have drunk it all in, and been wide-eyed and wide-hearted with wonder? Would I have clinched my opinion as soon as I saw he was associating with some of "those" kinds of people? Would I have smiled benevolently at the stories of wonders and healings? Would I have wanted to get his autograph? Would I have stood aside and waited thoughtfully--oh so thoughtfully--for him to prove himself fact or fiction?.......Isn't it nice to be here, now, for we can't make those mistakes. God have mercy on us. God have mercy on us.

This morning I want us to spend a few moments imagining what it would have been like to be a resident of Nazareth and a member of the synagogue present for the Sabbath service the day that Joseph's son came back to town. First of all we need to remember what the synagogue and synagogue life were all about, especially for Jews living over 100 miles from the Temple in Jerusalem. With the exception of occasional pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the great feasts, the synagogue was not just the center of religious life, but the center of community life for these people. Nazareth was probably composed almost entirely, if not entirely, by Jewish people. Since the days of exile, 500 years earlier, the synagogue had been the center for all religious, educational, and even recreational activity. Synagogues were formed wherever and whenever there were at least 10 male heads of households. Their Sabbath services were not controlled by the priesthood but by the most knowledgeable men of the community. It was common practice, when special visitors came to town that were known to be rabbis or known to be knowledgeable in the scriptures, that they might be invited to speak. Speaking was always done in conjunction with reading. A Sabbath service consisted of several prayers that the whole group had memorized, and by much reading from the Jewish Scriptures. After reading from the Law or the prophets, the reader would then give exposition or commentary on the meaning of a passage.

So on this particular Sabbath, in Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus, people who had known Jesus since he was a small boy gathered to hear their hometown boy speak. They surely knew of his progress and great learning through the years. Much of his training had come right there in that very building. They probably knew how precocious he was as a boy; perhaps they remembered the time he stayed behind in Jerusalem. And certainly in these last few weeks, word had come back to them of his teaching in the other towns of Galilee--he was making quite a name for himself.

But on this particular day, back home again, what would he say to us? What are we expecting to hear? Is he a great teacher we all can be proud of? Or is he somehow more than that? Dare we think of him as God's Messiah, God's anointed one? And if he is, would that really change anything? We all say that we are longing for the Messiah to come, but are any of us really interested in changing the life that we are accustomed to now? Are we prepared to deal with the upheaval that would be created if Messiah actually did come, either the Messiah of our own expectations, or the Messiah of God’s intent that we somehow don't yet understand? We want to be proud of Jesus and say, "I remember you when ...." But do any of us really expect to change or be changed by what he has to say?

Jesus takes the scroll of Isaiah that is handed to him, and he turns to that part which reads, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." Then he closes the book and sits down, and instead of a lengthy exposition of scripture, he simply says, "Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." "Today!" Prophecy of Isaiah fulfilled, Today. "The spirit of the Lord is upon me and he has anointed me--Messiah means, "anointed one." Today, in our hearing, Jesus claims he is God's anointed one, God's Messiah, commissioned to preach good news to the poor, commissioned to proclaim release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty the oppressed. To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. Today, here in Nazareth. Scripture fulfilled.

And the people begin to look at one another, and they know that something special has happened but they are not sure exactly what to make of it. Wow! He reads well, doesn't he! What profound words he utters! You know this is Joseph's son, don't you? I'll bet he's proud today. Where is he sitting anyway? (By the way, Ladies, the men and the women sat in separate sections of the building--this was a man's service that the ladies were allowed to attend in silence.) Perhaps the ladies were looking at Mary and whispering, “Isn't this Mary's son?”

But Jesus senses there is also further expectation of him among these people. So, as people are elbowing each other and nodding approval and looking for Joseph to see the expression on his face, Jesus suddenly continues: “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself. What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here also in your own country.’ Truly I tell you no prophet is acceptable in his own country.” Everybody knows, by the way, that Capernaum is just full of those Gentiles, and we were kind of embarrassed to find out Jesus had been hanging around over there, much less performing these miracles we heard he can do. Suddenly the warm expectation surrounding our hometown boy, Joseph's son, turns to icy tension. For Jesus understands that these people don't see God's anointed one, they see Joseph's son. Sure, some of them want him to perform, like he did in Capernaum. But no one is really capable of seeing him for who he is. No one is prepared to follow him, they just want to admire him and be proud of him and maybe even glean a bit of the fame that already surrounds him.

But what really irritates these people is when he won't leave it alone. He goes on to compare himself to Elijah and Elisha, telling two stories that are indicative of God rejecting his own people in favor of foreigners--Gentiles. In the days of the great famine when God shut up the clouds for 3 1/2 years, there were many widows in Israel, but Elijah was sent to Zaraphath, to a foreigner in the land of Sidon. And there were many lepers in Israel, but it was a foreigner--a Gentile, a Syrian named Naaman--that Elisha healed. In both cases, Gentiles had more faith than Israel.

The implication is clear: God sent me to Capernaum and I did wonders there. But there is only doubt and disbelief here in Nazareth. So the people fulfill the prophecy, becoming irate with anger, turning a quiet Sabbath service into a mob scene. No one is interested in Joseph or Mary any more, just this insolent man who says he is Messiah who has come for the Gentiles, not his own people.

In the larger flow of Luke's story, this episode serves as a programmatic rehearsal of the rest of the gospel. Jesus will indeed preach good news to the poor and release of the captives; he will offer sight to the blind, he will set at liberty the oppressed, he will proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. He also will be rejected by his own people in the end. In volume two of Luke's work, it will even become apparent that the message is better received by Gentiles than by Jews in the end. And at the right time, Jesus will be taken to the brow of the hill again, only next time he won't simply disappear in the crowd, he will be crucified.

This morning I return again to the question, who would I be if I were then? When we are comfortable with one vision of reality, who is really interested in a change? You see, these people no doubt talked about the coming of Messiah often. They probably talked about their hometown boy, Joseph's son, with some regularity as he grew up and as they wondered who or what he might turn out to be. But talking about Messiah was not the same as being faced with him and having to accept him and even give allegiance to him. Listening to him speak was not the same as recognizing that he should be worshipped. Talking about how life would change if Messiah ever came was not the same as actually having to deal with the change created by Messiah's presence. Better to stone the messenger than listen to the message.

I don't believe anyone is going to stone the messenger this morning, most of all because I don't begin to carry the same prophetic message that Jesus did. But I suggest to you this morning, that having done church like we have done it for so many years, we find ourselves basically quite comfortable in the rituals we keep, to the degree that each one of us keeps them. That leaves us all pretty much in the same camp with the folks of Nazareth. Yes, we can all talk about how we ought to change, we can talk about how the church ought to change, we can talk about how we hope Jesus comes soon; we can talk about how evangelism ought to be a greater priority; we can talk about our dissatisfaction about what other people are doing or not doing among us. But the bottom line is, we mostly want others to change, and the changes that we say we want, we really don't want. There is great comfort and security in the status quo. Even in the smallest of things, we just want to talk about change. For example, we want to have lively song services that lift all our spirits, but we don't really want to learn any new songs or adapt to any new styles or change the way we use our songbooks to sing the 50 songs we now know. Like the folks in Nazareth, we just like to talk about change, but the threat of change makes us very uncomfortable.

In two weeks, on February 6, we are going to have a very special service together that will be different from our normal assembly times. A major part of the hour will be given to all of us giving input to the Elders about our personal visions for this church and how each of us plans to be part of God's vision for this church. For some, just talking about changing the service to accommodate such an effort is a threat, an unwelcome change. But it is not a pattern, there are not going to be such surveys once a week, once a month, or once a year. On the other hand, there is no better way to find the pulse of this congregation and receive the mass communication that this survey will provide. It is an opportunity for every member to voice his/her views about our life together as the body of Christ at Brentwood Hills. Frankly, I am quite concerned about the whole process. It will call forth from all of us prayerful consideration of what God wants us to be and become. It will be a reflection of our hearts, our expectations of ourselves and of others. Part of me is excited to see the results. Part of me is scared to death at what we might find out. I just want the changes that I want; that I am comfortable with. But what if the majority of the people want changes that I am not ready to make?

Ultimately, the question to me is, will I want to follow Jesus through this process, or will I prefer to just hear the gracious words of Joseph's son? Will my attitude be that surveys are fine as long as they don't personally affect the way I do church? Or will I say, “I'm yours Lord, Everything I've got, Everything I am and everything I'm not. I'm yours Lord, try me now and see--see through this process how I can be and become completely yours.” Can we do more than just talk about the prospects of Messiah coming? Can we hear his voice and rise and follow him, rather than rising up to destroy him?

“Who would I be if I were then? Isn't it nice to be here, now, where we can't make those mistakes? God, have mercy on us. God, have mercy on us.”

Delivered at Brentwood Hills, January 23, 1994.

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