2nd Sunday after Epiphany – January 15, 2017
Luke 4:14-30 and Psalm 146
A man named Jack strides into John’s Stable looking to buy a horse. “Listen here,” says John, the owner. “I’ve got just the horse you’re looking for. The only thing is he was trained by an interesting fellow. He doesn’t stop and go the usual way. The way to get him to stop is to yell ‘heyhey!’, and the way to get him to go is by yelling ‘Thank God!'” Jim nodded his head. “Fine with me. Can I take him for a test run?”
John agrees. A few minutes later, Jim is having the time of his life, thinking to himself that the horse sure could run fast. As he speeds down a dirt road, he panics as he realises there’s a cliff-edge fast approaching. “Stop!” screams Jim, to no avail.
He remembers what he has to say to make the horse stop just five feet from the edge and yells: “HEYHEY!”
The horse skids to a halt, with just an inch to spare before a sheer drop of hundreds of feet.
Gasping, Jim looks over the cliff-edge in disbelief at his good fortune. He looks up to the sky, raises his hands in the air and breathes a deep sigh of relief. With conviction, he says: “Thank God!”
Last week we explored how the ministry of John the Baptist set the stage for who Jesus will become. Today’s reading tells the story of Jesus’ mission statement: to bring good news to the poor, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed. Next week, Jesus will become the teacher and leader not of officials and religious students, but of simple fishermen.
Jesus preaches in his hometown and then we hear: “When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove Jesus 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 Jesus passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”
Being on the edge of where a person belongs can be an uncomfortable place to be. It is sometimes even a painful place to be. It is always a place of danger and of risk! Whether it was your first dance, your first job, your first failure, perhaps the venture of emigrating from your home country to a brand-new country, each of us knows something about being on that edge of belonging.
So when Jesus gives a sermon to the crowd in his hometown, perhaps He was as nervous as they were. He had just outdone the devil and was “filled with the power of the Spirit.” But of course, the devil doesn’t have the tricks up the sleeve that people in your hometown have. The evil one might trip you up on doctrine, but there are people like the local gossip and the city judge. Jesus had been under these peoples’ eye since coming to live in the Galilean hills as a child. They knew all about that time He made his parents nearly crazy with worry when He stayed behind in Jerusalem. They had also heard some talk about wild John at the Jordan and that this “illegitimate son of Joseph” had a strange kind of spiritual encounter there. He had gone off the radar for awhile. Some say there had been some trouble out in the wilderness. But now here He was, gallivanting about the countryside making a name for Himself as some kind of itinerant teacher or preacher. Our Jesus, the Nazarean? Get out!
They weren’t sure what to make of it all, but they weren’t going to miss the chance to find out. The home crowd. Here was the first really, really tough test of his call. It went well at first. And then at one point it didn’t.
It still doesn’t.
It’s been more than two thousand years since that church meeting in Nazareth when Jesus tried to invite his own people to join Him in a ministry that would take them to the edge of belonging.
Yes, today we can stay in the comfortable places and do the regular things and avoid the places on the edge. We can refuse to be challenged and stay the same. This way we would also want to push Jesus towards the edge, so to speak. It is easy to look askance at immigrants who we might experience as those that disrupt the status quo. They might not look the same, not speak the same, and they might be on the edge. Does that make them less valid?
The crowd in Jesus’ hometown may ask: “How dare He use that tone of voice when He says, ‘But the truth is…’?”
Doesn’t it just send a shudder down your spine when someone says this to you?
Isn’t this usually the preface to something you really don’t want to hear?
When did you learn to hate that remark? Was it when you heard:
“But the truth is, I don’t love you anymore.”
“But the truth is, you’re not the person we’re looking for.”
“But the truth is, you should have known … done … been … better.”
All the people in the synagogue must have done a shudder collectively when Jesus said, “But the truth is …” Probably because they heard what we hear: “You’re not my whole world anymore, you’re not my kind of people. And by the way, I’m not even all that grateful for who you once were to me, what you did for me, how you cared for me.”
Is Jesus really saying that the Gentile and the Pagan can know God even more intimately than the famous Chosen People, or that they are just as known… and just as favoured … by God too?
Let’s cut Jesus some slack. Compassion will come. Unbelievable compassion will come as Jesus goes face to face with people in their broken and hurting worlds.
But let’s not cut the church any slack. It’s been a couple of thousand years, after all. Yet many churches are still so busy trying to throw Jesus off a cliff, and there are so many cliffs in our church world today! So many churches don’t even realise Jesus has long gone, leaving them in the dust He shakes off his feet, leaving them as lifeless as that dust.
Hopefully that doesn’t or hasn’t happened to us here at Dayspring.
We do need to remember that Jesus keeps pushing and pushing us towards God’s vision of universal restoration and we should not resist.
Does God not lead Dayspring right up to the edge of the cliff, teaching us how to live life there, teetering exactly on that edge. Jesus might just stick around for that.
How about crossing over and surrendering to life on that edge of belonging? That might be where we, individually and as the church, will find the Jesus who welcomes us with open arms.
Copyright 2017 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church
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