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 favor.”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 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 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.

Luke 4:14-30

Pastor Marc's sermon for 3rd Sunday after Epiphnay (January 27, 2019) on Luke 4:14-30. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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It takes about three or four cold spells to hit our area before I start dressing correctly for the weather. Now, to be sure, I’ve never been the kind of guy who wears shorts when it’s snowing out but it takes time for me to adjust my wardrobe once the temperature drops below freezing. What I do first is switch out my summer newscap for my winter one, pretending that I’ll be warmer even though my ears, face, and neck are still totally exposed. I then put on a thin hoodie under my fake leather jacket so that when I’m standing outside my kids’ school in the middle of December, I can tell myself I’m “feeling fine.” But when the temperature finally gets cold enough to freeze the pipes in my house, I just give up and I start layering my shirts and my pants correctly. After each weather event, it takes time to adjust to the new climate we’re in. We might try to hold onto the weather we’re about to lose, acting as if our fashion choices are powerful enough to change mother nature itself. Or we might be so wrapped up in our own lives that we miss seeing the pattern each individual weather event is pointing to. When we don’t step back and re-adjust our perspective, we end up mistaking the weather for the climate. And this mistake ends up giving us a false picture of the world. So, for example, our experience of the cold caused by a polar vortex might blind us to the reality of climate change. As we busily wrap ourselves up in our down winter jackets, we might miss seeing how, over the last fifty years, our warming climate has caused trees to literally move, shifting their natural habitat further north. We might complain about having to wear heavy wool socks while sitting in our homes yet we don’t realize that our homes were never designed for the new climate were already in. Camp Koinonia, an outdoor ministry that we’ve supported for almost sixty years, had to temporarily close last summer because a wetter and warming climate their buildings were never designed for left them with a ton of mold. We can be so wrapped up in our personal moments that we end up missing the bigger picture we’re already in. When we mistake the weather for the climate, when we act as if our personal perspective is the only perspective worth having, and when we start saying that our opinions are really the only true facts there are, we end up placing ourselves at the center of the universe. And when we put ourselves at the center of it all, we do more than just fail to see the climate we’re already in. We end up missing Jesus, who came to upend our climate once and for all.

So as a way to keep Jesus at the center of it all, we’re going to do something different for the next two weeks. Our lectionary, the three-year cycle of Bible readings we read in worship every Sunday, decided to turn this climatic moment from the gospel according to Luke into two smaller events. The first part sets the stage, which takes place in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. Jesus, according to Luke, began his public ministry there. After gaining  some reputation as a teacher while visiting the surrounding communities, Jesus returned to Nazareth and, as was his custom, went to worship. He attended the synagogue he grew up in which means he was surrounded by people who thought they knew exactly who he was. Jesus, as worship got underway, volunteered to be a lector, a reader of scripture, and so they gave him a scroll to read outloud. After unrolling the scroll of Isaiah, Jesus found the specific pieces of scripture he wanted to share. He read those verses outloud, rolled the scroll back up, and handed everything back to the attendant. Jesus, then, sat down, signalling to everyone that he was about to teach. Everyone in that synagogue turned their eyes towards him because they expected him to speak. And so, after reading about bringing good news to the poor and letting the oppressed go free, the lectionary chose to end this first part with Jesus’ one line sermon at verse 21: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Now, that verse is really at the middle of the story. There’s still a lot of text that follows. But if we chose to limit our story to what took place between verses 14 and 21, we could imagine this moment as a happy one. Jesus is at his hometown synagogue, he’s got a good reputation, and he seems to be saying that God is about to bring the community good things. The people in that synagogue heard Jesus say that the blind will see, captives will be released, the oppressed will go free, and that Jesus will bring good news to the poor. Jesus’ words here are very specific, not only implying that these things will happen in the future; he says they’re going to happen in the here and now as well. Nothing in Jesus’ scripture reading and short sermon, on the surface, imply that he might be doing anything that upsets or challenges the people around him. And at first glance, Jesus’ words don’t seem as if they are going to cost those in the synagogue practically anything. And yet, when we go through the whole story, finally grasping the full climate of what’s going on, we see everyone filling with rage and trying to throw Jesus off a cliff.

When we focus on the weather and miss the climate, we end up with an incomplete picture of what is going on. We let ourselves get wrapped up in smaller stories that end up derailing the wider narratives that demand our attention. We find ourselves chomping at the bit whenever some event dominates our short national attention span, choosing to fight over the details of that story instead of addressing the systematic and social realities that allowed such an event to happen in the first place. We see this lived out whenever a discriminatory act is described as fake news or whenever an ugly act of hate is downplayed as an act of “a lone wolf” or “someone who didn’t know better.” Our fights about the weather are our way of ignoring the climate we live in yet the more we ignore this climate, the more unpredictable and scary our weather becomes. The people listening to Jesus in that synagogue assumed they knew what weather Jesus was living in. What they didn’t expect was that Jesus was here to change the climate that impacted everyone. No longer would we be bogged down in whatever weather we are caught up in. Instead, Jesus promised a new reality where restoration, care, and justice was the focus of us all. That kind of climate is a one that knows we can’t decenter ourselves from our universes on our own. So Jesus, at the Cross, did that for us. Through his life, death, and resurrection, God made all of us the center of God’s universe so that we, through our baptism and faith, could make God the center of ours. That new center, rooted in a God who anoints; a God who sets free; a God who restores; and a God who brings good news to the poor; grants to us a new climate where the weather of love, hope, and mercy rules. And since we are part of God’s climate, we can live as if God’s climate truly matters, helping ourselves, our neighbors, and our world change into the place where God’s weather always reigns.

 

Amen.