What would Jesus find if he came to preach in our churches today? Would we be prepared to receive his message?
The post Think You Know Jesus? Don’t Be So Sure (http://www.micahbales.com/think-you-know-jesus/) appeared first on Micah Bales (http://www.micahbales.com) .
This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 1/27/19, at Berkeley Friends Church. The scripture readings for this sermon were: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a, & Luke 4:14-21. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (The spoken sermon differs from the written text.)
Jesus. They really wanted to kill you. I mean, really – these were
the people who knew you as a little kid. These should be the folks
to think the best of you. They should like, you Jesus! Yet by the end
of your first sermon in their synagogue, they’re ready to run you
off a cliff.
did it get to this point? How does a community go from loving and
this young man, to wanting to tear him apart with their bare hands?
How does a congregation go from being impressed with Jesus’ sermon
to being so enraged they can’t contain themselves? What did you do,
Jesus showed back up in his hometown, Nazareth, he already had quite
a reputation. He’d been gone a long time. He’d been out
exploring. Learning. Growing. Getting baptized in the river Jordan.
Living out in the wilderness with the wild animals. Doing battle with
the Devil and being attended to
by the angels. Jesus had seen some things.
the world was seeing
some things from Jesus. It says that Jesus returned to his homeland
of Nazareth, after
his sojourn with John the Baptist and his experience in the desert.
It says he was “filled with the power of the Spirit.” Word had
spread about Jesus. This man was on fire. You just had to hear him.
so they did. Throughout Galilee, Jesus visited his people in their
synagogues. He taught them, fed them, healed them. He brought them
the good news of God’s empire – the reign of peace, justice, and
love that would overcome the empires of this world. And people were
just lapping it up. The scripture says that he was “praised by
by everyone. That’s always nice, isn’t it? I like it when I’m
praised by everyone.
Jesus has been in Galilee a while. News has spread, and some folks in
his hometown are probably even getting a bit frustrated. “Hey,
Jesus. You grew up here, man. When are you going to come visit?
You’ve been everywhere else. We heard what you did in Capernaum –
a city full of gentiles. When are you gonna come and give some love
to your own people, the folks who raised you?”
eventually make it to Nazareth. Apparently not his first stop, but he
around to it eventually. And it makes me wonder: Was there some
hesitation on Jesus’ part? Did he stay away from Nazareth for a
reason? What was holding him back?
about to find out, aren’t we?
Jesus gets to Nazareth, it says he does the same thing he always does
when he’s in a new town. He sees the sights. He checks out the
local cuisine. Maybe goes to a party or two. And he most definitely
makes it to synagogue on the
there he is. It’s
Jesus walks into the synagogue, and everyone is waiting to hear him
preach. There’s no TV, no radio, and it’s like a
Michael Jackson just showed up in Nazareth. Except, you know, imagine
that Michael is your nephew.
give Jesus the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and he reads from it:
“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.”
up the scroll, passes
it back to the attendant, and sits
I’d assume that Jesus was done at that point. Because for me,
culturally, sitting down in a big gathering like that means that
you’re ceding the floor. You’re fading back into the woodwork.
else is going to talk now. But
that’s not how things worked in the synagogue in Jesus’ day. When
you were reading, you stood up. But when you were preaching, you sat
so Jesus began to preach. He
this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus reads from Isaiah, from a passage announcing the coming of
God’s anointed. He reads about a leader who will bring good news to
the poor. Release for the captives. Sight to the blind and freedom
the oppressed. He tells the people gathered in the synagogue that
day, “You’ve been waiting for a liberator. You’ve been waiting
for a savior. Don’t wait anymore. He’s sitting right in front of
let that sink in for a moment. How radical that must have been. How
politically charged that statement
have felt. How much emotion those words must have inspired. What a
huge claim Jesus was making. Here was the neighborhood kid, back from
his study abroad program, and he was claiming to be the King of
Israel, the anointed one of God.
guess I’d only expect two kinds of reactions to this message.
Either ecstatic joy, or total rejection. I mean, what else is there?
You either believe he’s God’s anointed, or you don’t. You
either are ready to follow him and face the slings and arrows of the
Roman occupation – or you’re not. It’s gut check time.
it says that, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the
gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this
not this Joseph’s son?”
they liked him – they really liked him! Jesus was a very impressive
man, and he won the people of Nazareth right over. Here was their
Messiah! He’s our guy! He’s the son of Joseph. This Jesus is our
very own, home-grown Messiah. Hallelujah!
you imagine the civic pride? I mean, I don’t know how things are
here in California, but back in Kansas where I grew
small towns will put information about notable locals on their
welcome signs. Like, “Welcome to Abilene, Kansas – home of Dwight
the elders of Nazareth could see it now. “Nazareth, home of God’s
anointed!” Our boy Jesus is going to be large and in charge. Life
is gonna be pretty good!
that’s not the kind of messiah God had anointed Jesus to be. Jesus
knew where his identity came from. He knew who his daddy was. It
wasn’t Joseph, and it most certainly wasn’t the Greater Nazareth
Chamber of Commerce. Jesus didn’t come to make the comfortable feel
even better about themselves. He didn’t come to privilege his clan
over the others. He didn’t even come to bless the Jews rather than
Spirit of the Lord was upon Jesus; a spirit that dwells with the
humble, the lost, the marginalized, the weak. It’s a spirit that
finds its home among those who have been broken. This
doesn’t care about your genealogy or your resume.
is where Jesus’ sermon takes a sharp turn. It’s like a Jesus is
rolling down the highway, doing
in his dodge minivan, and
all of a sudden he just rips hard to the left. He
the median and all
lanes of traffic – right out into the desert.
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.’
he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s
people of Nazareth still hadn’t understood who Jesus
was. They still thought he was Joseph’s son. They thought they
could own Jesus, appropriate him as a member of their clan. And Jesus
knew that they would demand signs of him.
come to Nazareth with a big message of redemption. The Kingdom of God
is at hand, and Jesus is inaugurating it. Jesus is the doctor, and
he’s been healing all sorts of people throughout Galilee. He’s
healed Jews aplenty, and there’s word that he’s even healed
people in Capernaum, a
for Jesus – the doctor – to cure “himself”, that meant to
heal his own people in Nazareth. If he was able to do signs and
wonders among the gentiles, surely he could do the same or better
among his Jewish relatives.
would “believe in him”, alright. They would acknowledge Jesus as
the Messiah – but only so long as he was the right kind of messiah.
A messiah who performed miracles for them. A messiah who bolstered
their own sense
of exceptionalism. A messiah who told them
that they were
the center of the universe. That God was for them and not for others.
not the kind of messiah Jesus is. Jesus
is a servant of the unknown God. The God of the tent, who can’t be
tied down by human demands. Jesus is the Messiah of the wilderness,
who rejects the call for signs and wonders. He is the prophetic voice
who brings liberation for those who are the margins, and who restores
the sight of those who know they are blind.
For those who place themselves at the center, for those who believe
that they already see just fine, he has nothing to offer.
so Jesus tells them this. He reminds them of the actions of the
prophets Elijah and Elisha. Both of them performed great miracles for
people who were beyond the bounds of Israel. The pagan widow at
Zarapeth, the gentile warlord Naaman. People who were indifferent to
the Jews at best, enemies of Israel at worst. Jesus tells his people
that being blood relatives of the Messiah won’t earn them God’s
favor. The healing power of God will pass them over as good news is
preached to the poor, the marginalized, the outsider.
Jesus says to
his aunts and uncles, cousins and nephews,
“I have nothing for you. You never knew me. And
you definitely don’t know what God is up to. Repent.
The empire of God has come near.”
the words of John the Baptist from the previous chapter of Luke:
fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We
have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from
these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is
lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not
bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
wait for signs and wonders. Bear fruit. Don’t place yourselves at
the center and expect blessings to come. Bear fruit. The ax is lying
at the foot of the tree, and the woodsman is coming. Bear fruit.
now that Jesus is walking in the path that John made straight. That
path is the way of the prophets.
relatives in the Nazareth synagogue see it, too. And they’re not
happy. They’re enraged, as a matter of fact. They’re so furious
stood up and chased Jesus out of the synagogue.
wanted to kill him. They would have killed him. They would have
thrown him off a cliff. But it wasn’t Jesus time yet, and so it
says that, “he passed through the midst of them and went on his
way.” On to greener pastures. On to minister to those who were
ready to hear his words, to
fruit worthy of repentance.
our reading from
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians,
we hear about how the church is the Body of Christ. All of us –
this room, much like Jesus’ synagogue two thousand years ago – we
are the body of Christ. Just as the body is one and has many members,
so it is with Christ’s body. As Paul says, “In the one Spirit we
were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and
we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
body of Christ isn’t about our biological parentage. It isn’t
about how important we are in the world around us. In fact, all those
factors might get in the way of discovering who we really are in the
Holy Spirit. Whose children we truly are.
are the body of Christ, and individually members of it. God has given
us roles to perform and gifts to share. Apostles, prophets, teachers,
deeds of power, healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership,
various kinds of tongues. God gives gifts and calls us to ministry as
members of the body.
These treasures are given through
the individual for
the community. And, because we are the body of Jesus
the crucified one,
our community is given up to death for the salvation of the whole
would Jesus find
if he came to preach in our churches today? Would he encounter
a people prepared? A people of inner strength and humility? A people
given up to death and aware of our amazing responsibility as his
would we react if Jesus came to us with the same message he had for
his own home synagogue? What if Jesus told us, “Don’t
ask for signs from me. Don’t ask for miracles. Bear fruit worthy of
repentance. Serve the poor and needy. Live among the marginalized and
oppressed. Make common cause with the despised and imprisoned. Don’t
expect signs and wonders from me. You must become
the signs and wonders.”
we ready to become the signs and wonders? Are we prepared to grapple
with the reality of what it means to be the body of Christ in this
world? Are we ready to bear fruit worthy of repentance, and to face
the cross like Jesus has? Are we ready to move beyond ourselves, to
become the body and blood of Christ, broken and poured out for our
neighbors and for
Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” But we have become one with the Doctor. We have been baptized into his life and spirit. We are his body, and individually members of it. It is we who are called to heal. To liberate. To give sight to the blind and proclaim good news to the poor. It is we who are to become vessels of the miraculous.