Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sermon: Luke 4: 16-30 The Saviour Rejected

Just after I was appointed as your Rector, I was doing a little search on the internet for Aghavea Church, to see what I could find out. On the first page, there was a site that almost gave me a fright. Here’s the headline: ‘Parishioners Protest At Morning Prayer: Aghavea Church.’ As you might imagine, it made me wonder what sort of parish I was coming to - but then I read the date: 19th November 1826. There was a falling out over politics, and the majority of the congregation got up and walked out as the Rector began the service. Now hopefully that won’t happen today!

I was reminded of that this week as I was thinking about the events in the synagogue in Luke 4. A fortnight ago, we looked at the first part of the story - Jesus reading from the Old Testament and declaring that he was fulfilling the promises that had been made about the coming king who would bring freedom. It all started so well. They seem to like what he’s saying. But jump to the end of the reading, and it’s a bit like that stormy morning in this very building almost 200 years ago. ‘All in the synagogue were filled with rage.’ (28) More than that, they want to kill Jesus, by throwing him off the cliff. What was it caused the change? How did they go from being in church to becoming a lynch mob? Is there any chance that we too, attending church, would want to get rid of Jesus? Let’s find out.

It’s still early in Jesus’ ministry. Having taught in other towns, he now comes to Nazareth, his home town. In the synagogue, the place of worship and prayer, he makes the claim that the Old Testament scriptures are all about him - he is the fulfillment of the promise. Now look with me as events unfold. In verse 22, we’re told that ‘all spoke well of him’ - but as the verse continues, we hear the warning bells... danger ahead!

First of all, they reject the messenger. Verse 22 again: they ‘were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.’ Other versions use astonished, or surprised, or marvelled - so this isn’t just an amazed at something they like; rather it’s more amazed at something they just can’t believe. It would be like your best friend telling you they had voted for a political party you thought were atrocious. You just can’t believe you’re hearing it, you’re astonished and disappointed.

They continue by saying ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ They remember Jesus when he was a wee nipper, running around. They’ve watched him grow up, and now they just can’t believe that he would come out with this stuff - him, the messiah? Jesus as the Christ? Don’t be silly, they say, sure he went to school with our Jonny. He’s nothing special. Sure, he’s just the carpenter’s son. We’ve known his da. Who does he think he is?

They’re so familiar with Jesus. They think they know all there is to know about him. They have him sussed. And yet, they don’t know him at all. They’ve got the wrong end of the stick, and they’re missing out on who Jesus really is.

Is there a possibility that we’re also too familiar with Jesus? We think we have him sussed. We put him in a nice neat box, all tied up with string, kept out of the way except for those times when we really need him? It may be that if we think we know Jesus, that we’re actually failing to grasp his identity just like those people in the synagogue that day.

You see, they’re sure Jesus is Joseph’s son. But Luke, in these early chapters shouts out loud and clear (just like the voice from heaven) that Jesus is God’s Son. To fail to see this is to get Jesus wrong. So who is Jesus, in your eyes? Have you jumped to assumptions, or will you get to know him? [The season of Lent could be a good one to even more read your Bible, read through Luke’s gospel to discover the real Jesus...]

The people rejected the messenger. They couldn’t believe that Jesus could be the one to bring freedom. But that wasn’t all. You see, they also rejected the message. We thought last time about the wonderful good news of the message Jesus brought - freedom, liberty, healing. Yet these people in the synagogue reject the good news, because the scope is wider than they like.

It’s good news for all, for every outsider, but that displeases the good Jewish religious folk, who think that God is only for them. They reject the message by imposing false limits on who God can save. They reckon that it’s only by going to church and being nice that will make God like them - but the message Jesus brings is bigger and more radical than that.

Jesus doesn’t say ‘pull your socks up and try harder.’ Rather he says that those held captive will be released; those who are blind will be given sight; those oppressed will be freed. It’s a free pardon for anyone who will hear and receive it - not just the Jews; not just the people like us. To show that this is always how God has worked, he points back to times in Israel’s history when Elijah and Elisha (two prophets) were active.

There were plenty of hungry, poor widows in Israel, but Elijah went to live with a widow at Zarephath, where God caused a miracle to occur, giving her an unending supply of oil and grain (1 Kings 17). Now Zarephath wasn’t in Israel - it was in enemy territory, Sidon, the very place Jezebel (the bad queen) came from. In the same way, Elisha heals just one person of leprosy - Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, again, the Israelite’s enemies!

The message of Jesus is good news to all who will hear, even (and especially) the outsider. We like to think that heaven is going to be people just like us - all Northern Irish, white, and Church of Ireland. But the good news is for all - John sees the vision of heaven where a multitude gathers before the throne of every tribe and tongue and people and language,

God’s grace is for all, not just for us. Who are the outsiders we think that God couldn’t possibly be interested in? Who is it we think couldn’t be saved, because they’re not like us? Who should we be sharing the good news with, and inviting in to hear?

The people rejected the messenger. They were too familiar with Jesus. He shocked them, so that they also rejected his message. They were so angry with what he said that they made him an outsider - they threw him out of their town and wanted to throw him off the cliff, they were so mad they wanted to kill Jesus.

These religious people, these good, upstanding people who think that they’re insiders reject the good news for all outsiders. But it was as Jesus became an outsider - the Son of God who was rejected by men and forsaken by the Father - that outsiders can be welcomed in as they hear and receive the good news.

Please don’t ever think that you’ve tamed Jesus, that you know all about him. And that’s especially so of Christians. How are you continuing to get to know the Lord? How are you following his footsteps (and even facing rejection) by sharing the good news for the outsider, the people unlike us?

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 10th February 2013.

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