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Was It Something I Said?

Luke 4:21-30
“For God is not an object that I deal with, but a subject who speaks to and addresses me. It is in learning to listen to God speak that I become familiar with and participate in basic spirituality.” —Eugene Peterson, Subversive Spirituality, p. 27.
People speak and people listen. We often speak to communicate new information of knowledge to others, but sometimes we tell people what is in our heart and how we feel. When someone tells his or her husband or wife of fifty years, “I love you,” this is not usually big news. Rather it is an affirmation or reminder about what is and will be. It is these kinds of affirmations that give worship its power for Christians. It reminds us of what we already know.
On 25 February 1919, the League of Nations, forerunner of the United Nations, was founded. It was an organization for international cooperation established at the initiative of the victorious Allied Powers at the end of World War I. During the war influential groups in the United States and Britain had urged the creation of such a body, and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson strongly favored the idea as a means of preventing another destructive world conflict.
During the 1920s the League, with its headquarters at Geneva, assimilated new members (neutral and enemy nations had been initially excluded), helped settle minor international disputes, and experienced no serious challenges to its authority. It was seriously weakened, however, by the non-adherence of the United States; the U.S. Congress failed to ratify the Treaty of Versailles (containing the League’s Covenant). One of the League’s main purposes in preventing aggression was to preserve the status quo as established by the post-World War I peace treaties. In the 1930s, when dissatisfied nations (Japan, Italy, Germany) undertook to upset this arrangement and the other major powers declined to enforce it, the League, which had no power other than that of its member states, was unable to take action. Discredited by its failure to prevent Japanese expansion in Manchuria and China, Italy’s conquest of Ethiopia, and Hitler’s repudiation of the Versailles treaty, the League ceased its activities during World War II. In 1946 it was replaced by the United Nations, which inherited many of its purposes and methods and much of its structure.[1]
One reason to note this piece of history is because it reminds us about what we are doing today in worship. The story of the League of Nations, like the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) story is a human attempt to make the world right without reference to God. In Genesis 11, the human beings cooperated to build a tower that reached the heavens. According to Yahweh this was a bad idea and Yahweh scrambled the languages of the humans. Whenever human beings attempt to overreach their capabilities, at least from the divine perspective, bad things can and do happen. Perhaps this is why Yahweh continues to establish boundaries for his human creatures. The League of Nations was probably a good idea, but without absolute cooperation between nations, it was doomed.
Worship is many things, but most fundamentally worship is a time of gathering for the people of God to be reminded that God has created and is creating. Worship is also a time for people to give thanks and praise to God. Last, worship is a time to find our place in God’s creative scheme and play our faithful role in God’s purposes. In a nutshell, the purpose of worship is to remind us who God is, who we are, and what our relation to God is.
Our lesson for today from Luke’s Gospel is the story of Jesus’ first act of public ministry. Jesus reminds the people about God’s promise to Israel in Isaiah. As you will recall from last week, Jesus has returned from the wilderness of temptation and has gone to worship in the Nazareth synagogue with his family. He read the prophecy from Isaiah about the promises God has delivered to the people of Israel.
[17] He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
[18] '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,
[19] to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
[20] 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 (Luke 4:17-20).
At first, all was going well, according to Luke. Now hear today’s text:
[21] Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” [22] 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?” [23] 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.’”
[24] And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. [25] 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; [26] yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. [27] There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
[28] When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. [29] 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. [30] But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way (Luke 4:21-30).
What created the intense anger of those in the synagogue, who only moments before Jesus spoke the text had told us: “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth” (22). Was it something he said? My guess is yes, but on the surface it was difficult to see that what he said would have precipitated such an outburst from his synagogue and its members. After all, they were all well acquainted with Jesus and his family. But he had evidently hit a nerve and hit it directly. Jesus had reminded the people in Nazareth of a truth about God they knew, but conveniently had forgotten. God is God of all people and not just some.
First Jesus quotes a proverb about “Physician heal thyself,” which he probably intended to deflect criticism of what he would next say. Then Jesus tells them that they will say, “Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum” (23). This is another tactic to deflect criticism and a way to focus the listener’s attention. Jesus was saying: “Don’t worry about me and don’t worry about what I can or have done. You need to pay attention to what God tells us in our (your) scriptures.” “No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” Jesus knew what Mark Twain would write 1900 years later: “Familiarity breeds contempt—and children.” It is hard to be prophetic with one’s own family and friends. Ask any parent.
After making these disclaimers, Jesus relates two stories from the Hebrew prophets. The first story was one that had to do with the prophet Elijah. Yahweh commanded Elijah to go to a widow’s house in the heart of Ba’al country. The woman is apparently destitute and a Gentile. These were reasons for Elijah to shun her, but he did not. She fed him and he healed her son. People in Israel in Elijah’s time were in the midst of a drought and a famine. The Lord took care of the prophet as he ministered to a Gentile and she to him. This story would have enraged the people in Nazareth.
Jesus’ second story, how Elisha healed a Syrian and Gentile army officer, would have also provoked the listeners. Both stories infuriated Jesus’ synagogue audience. They tried to kill him. Obviously, no one slept through this sermon.
In Jesus’ two stories the prophets rescued, not the hometown folk, but those regarded as outsiders—even enemies of the Jews. Suddenly, Jesus’ point became painfully clear to those present. This God of which Jesus spoke was not only the God of the chosen people, the Jews, this was a God of even the Jews’ enemies. And this did not sit well with them.
Whether or not we like it, worship reminds us about the nature of God that we worship. Jesus told the people in Nazareth long ago that their God is the God of the Jews and the Gentiles. Today, perhaps, God reminds us that God loves all people and wills their salvation, just as God wills our salvation. It is not always a conventionally comforting thought that God could love our enemies as he loves us, but this is the nature of our God. God wants human beings to live together in peace and harmony. God also knows that we cannot do this on our own. We have too many doubts about our enemies and too much insecurity even for our best attempts, like the League of Nations, to pull off a peaceful world without God. It is God who creates peace, and when we allow God to do this, then our children and we will be the beneficiaries.
As the Civil War was winding down and it was obvious that the Union would win, someone asked President Lincoln how he would treat the southerners after the war was over.
He answered, “Like they had never been away.”
“But Mr. President,” the questioner protested, “aren’t we supposed to destroy our enemies?”
Abraham Lincoln’s response was a piece of divine wisdom: “Don’t we destroy our enemies when we make them our friends?”[2] Amen.
David Neil Mosser FUMC Graham, Texas
1 Encyclopedia Britannica, CDROM Version, 1997. 2 James Moore, If All Else Fails, Read the Instructions, Dimensions for Living, Nashville, 1993, pp. 55-56
[1] Encyclopedia Britannica, CDROM Version, 1997.
[2] James Moore, If All Else Fails, Read the Instructions, Dimensions for Living, Nashville, 1993, pp. 55-56. This Journal is published by Theological Web Publishing, LLC. For more information e-mail us at:
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