Sermon Ideas For Luke 4:21-30 Part 1
In Revelation Flannery O'Connor tells the shocking story of Mrs. Turpin, a good woman who does for the church. When Mrs. Turpin testifies to God's goodness in a doctor's office, a pimply-faced coed named Mary Grace throws a book at her, injuring her, and whispers, "Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog." It outraged Mrs. Turpin to be singled out in this fashion.
Grace scandalizes those of us who believe, despite all evidence, that we deserve God's love. When Jesus proclaimed to the good people of Nazareth that God loved Gentile widows and enemy generals, they attempted to hurl him off a cliff. The gospel offends us, because it dismisses all our righteousness as filthy rags. Good news that reduces to garbage (Phil 3:8) our countless hours of church work, our tireless efforts to be deserving, our commitment to respectability scarcely sounds a note of joy in hearts set on being good enough to get into glory on our own merits.
Humanity's rejection of divine overtures spans the history of revelation. In the call of Isaiah is this somber warning, cited five times in the New Testament: "Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed" (Is 6:10). Who carries out this imperative---God, or the people to whom Isaiah prophesies? The Calvinist doctrine of double predestination teaches that God not only chooses some to be saved; God also chooses others to be damned.
Paul wrestles in Romans 9-11 with the issue of why Jesus' own people rejected him, and whether they remain God's people. God loved Jacob and hated Esau (a semitism we could soften somewhat, though not enough to remove the offensiveness of it), even "before they had been born or had done anything good or bad" (Rom 9:11). Nevertheless, he insists, "As regards election [the Jews] are beloved" (Rom 11:28). He concludes his torturous examination with a doxology, praising God's un-searchable judgments and inscrutable ways.
The doctrine of election throws us before two truths, which cannot both be true, yet are. Salvation is entirely the work of God, who has chosen us before the foundation of the world. Yet, we have free will, to receive or reject divine grace. Tragically, this doctrine has often engendered arrogance in those who presume that they are elect, and the most virulent forms of racial hatred against those presumed to be damned, notably Jews and Native Americans. Double predestination, however logical, ignores the great "whosoever" of Scripture. The Hebrew Scriptures begin with the whole world in view. The New Testament ends with all nations bringing their glory into the new Jerusalem. Universalism disregards the plain fact of human brokenness, the evil that headlines every newscast, fills prisons and packs churches. Some people whom God loves turn away--and must be free to do so, if love is to be love. Love forced on us, like it or not, is not love at all.
Not only an eternal mystery which has beggared human mind and tongue, rejection also has an everyday face. Every minister, striving to share the compassion and holiness of God, has experienced it. One family, coming by to tell me they were leaving my church because I was a poor excuse for a pastor, brought a sack of corn from the garden. I couldn't eat a kernel of it.
At times, we are rejected because of shortcomings or idiosyncracies which we would do well to examine. The feedback of trusted colleagues, the expertise of clinically trained counselors, and the two-edged sword of the Spirit dividing soul from spirit help us discern that type of criticism. Enemies often identify flaws and weaknesses which our friends do not notice or will not speak of. Sometimes, in response to criticism we could grow from taking to heart, we lapse into a false messianism that mislabels being egotistical or bullheaded as being prophetic. At a weekly pastors' meeting, a colleague was about to vent his frustrations and self-pity, until a wise older man said, with a chuckle, "Oh, don't get whiny."
Jesus' rejection in Nazareth apparently resulted from the racist sympathies of his hometown. Hate still scrawls its slurs and burns its crosses. Single mothers, third world workers, inner city homeless are today's widows; people with AIDS, today's lepers. The pulpit, and perhaps as often the pew, have stood silent bulwarks of injustice. Yet, countless pastors have wrestled with race hatred, some choosing to speak out, losing their church, if not their soul. Others more cautiously have built relationships and modeled God's love for all.
Luke says that Jesus eluded the mob's attempt to throw him off the cliff. Pastors who hear of colleagues selling pre-need funerals door to door wonder if God still provides for and protects them. This is the scandal of the good news: the very grace that rescues us from the cliffs of flattery or disparagement leads inexorably to a cross.