Cliff Hanger

Luke 4:16-30
January 31, 2016
Steve Hammond

I want you to listen to today’s story from Luke 4. Don’t read along, just listen. Note any impressions, words and images that stick with you, questions you have, or thoughts the story raises. Imagine what it was like to be one of the people in the synagogue that day, one of the townsfolk, the disciples, the leader of the synagogue, or Jesus. There is paper in the pew if you want to write anything down, or create some kind of visual image.

Let me tell you what struck me, then we will get to you. That thing about “every eye in the place was on him,” caught my attention. They were scrutinizing him, trying to figure him out. He was the hometown boy coming back. Before the whole crowd went crazy some were praising him, “surprised at how well he spoke.” That’s interesting. Why did it catch them by surprise? Their response, “but wait isn’t that just Joseph’s kid,” seems to indicate that during his growing up years, Jesus hadn’t done anything to distinguish himself in his hometown.

He was, though, coming back, evidently, with a bit of a reputation. They had heard the stories and rumors from Capernaum. Luke doesn’t say what Jesus exactly had done in Capernaum, just that before coming back home news about Jesus had spread through the countryside, where “he taught in their meeting places to everyone’s acclaim and pleasure.”

So the hometown boy was back and they were watching him. Nobody stayed home from synagogue that day. And, at first, it seemed like it was going to be a warm welcome. “God’s Spirit is on me; God has chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is God’s year to act.”

These folk were the poor who were always being confronted by the tax collectors for more of the little they had to support the Roman occupation. They were the ones who had been in Rome’s prisons, burdened and battered physically and metaphorically by Rome. They were ready to be free.

They understood something about the message of Jesus that many still don’t understand to this day. If what Jesus said is good news to the poor what does it sound like to the poor? That’s where we have to start with Jesus, with good news not to the comfortable and cared for, not to those not in prison, or those not battered by the political and religious and economic systems of this world, but by those who are.

They were all watching him. Trying to figure him out. But then they got mad. So mad, in fact, that they wanted to throw him off a cliff. What happened?

The good news, it turns out, isn’t just for a select few. Jesus started talking about Elisha and Elijah. But the stories he mentioned were not about God’s love and care for the people of Israel, but for the Gentiles, including a Gentile woman no less. They liked the idea of God setting people free, helping the victims of Rome and who or whatever was burdening and battering people. But not everybody. Just them. And it was so important that it was just them that they were ready to throw Jesus over a cliff for suggesting God’s love stretched to others.

That seems kind of extreme and hard to believe that people would really want to kill Jesus for claiming God loves everybody. But have you listened to any Presidential debates lately? Seen any of the ads? You can’t help but notice the anger that is being expressed at the notion that God could love anyone more than God loves us, however you define us.

You read a lot about love in John’s gospel. At one point, it’s in John 14, we read this. 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said, “Master, why is it that you are about to make yourself plain to us but not to the world?”23-24 “Because a loveless world,” said Jesus, “is a sightless world…” “God has chosen me to announce recovery of sight to the blind…”

You know, there is just something about goodness and kindness. It seems so basic, like it should be so easy. But we’ve made it hard. But Jesus comes along and reminds us that we can be kind to each other. We can be good to each other. And goodness and kindness will save us.

We are going to sing another hymn, then I will finish up, and then hear what struck you about this story. The Gift of Love on page 526. Think about the passage this song is based on in 1 Corinthians not in the context of a wedding, where we usually hear it, or even as a series of bumper stickers about the kind of love we are called to. But think about Syrian refugees, Black Lives Matter, the political discourse going on in this and other countries, the growing economic disparity in this country and world, the people, including even still in this country, who lives and livelihood are threatened because of their gender and sexual orientation, the so many places and ways that people are imprisoned, burdened and battered, and oppressed in this world. But also think about the ways love is being demonstrated, the people who are reaching across the borders, tearing down the walls, calling us to something better in this world.

“Every eye in the place was on him.” In 1 Corinthians 12, right before this passage that we just sang, the Apostle Paul writes about the church being the Body of Christ, being the presence of Jesus in this world. I don’t think it was an accident in his mind to follow our call to be the Body of Christ with the love chapter. It’s time that every eye in the place is upon us. Are we going to be that presence of Jesus that gets under people’s skins? Is the message of God’s inclusive love, the kindness and goodness we are called to going to be such a part of us as the body of Christ, that people are going to want to drag us to the edge of the cliff? And how are we going to walk through the crowd when that happens?

What did you hear in this story?