Offended By The Nice Little Kid From Nazareth
Epiphany 3C, 4C Luke 4:14-30 Pentecost 5 B, Mark 6:1-13.
Jesus said: “A prophet is not honored in his own counry ... in his own home, hometown, and hometown synagogue."
Jesus' home town was Nazareth and my hometown was Jackson, Minnesota. I need to talk about Jackson and not being honored in my own hometown.
This summer my family and I went back to Jackson, Minnesota, for my family reunion which happens every three years. We did the “Jackson thing.” That is, we first drove by my father's old gasoline station where i used to work. Pumping gas. Lubing pick ups. Washing trucks. Making a dollar an hour which meant I was the richest kid in town. ..... We then drove to the one street light in Jackson and took a right on Sherman Street and drove seven blocks to 717 Sherman Street. To my old home, the home of my childhood. we drove by my childhood home. The house is still standing there, not looking much different than my memories from childhood. , ..... We then drove to the church which is a half a block from my home. Our Savior's Lutheran Church. The old sanctuary was torn down in order to make room for the one one. I recall that a rich farmer gave a million dollars to build the new one.
While in Jackson, I remembered the two times I preached in my home church in my hometown. I didn’t have much religious authority either time. I preached on the occasion of my parent’s fiftieth wedding anniversary (they were married sixty five years) and family union. All my relatives showed up for church that day and I had my family stand which they proudly did, and then I simply said, “You have never seen such large group of sinners standing together in your whole life.” People chuckled, I think because of the truth of the matter. The congreation kept grinning throughout my whole sermon, smiling at me as if I were still their paper boy.
I didn’t have much religious authority among those Jacksonites who were present that day. They remembered me as “little Eddie Markquart” who gassed their cars, lubricated and washed their vehicles, swam in the swimming pool, fished in the river, played on the basketball or football teams. They knew me as the little boy of Ede and Ed Markquart and “whoever thought he would turn out to be a pastor?”
And I didn’t have much religious authority that day with Mrs. Hague. Mrs. Hague was there at that worship service. She was still elderly, still wearing her black horned rimmed glasses, still wearing the black lace ribbon that attached to the glasses so she could hang them around her neck. She didn’t hear my sermon at all that day on the occasion of my parents’ fiftieth. She just sat there in the pew, itching to tell me something. I knew it. Right after the service, she found me and said: “Do you remember what you said at your ordination sermon a few years back?” I thought, "She remembered my sermon for ten years. It must have really touched her. So i asked her, "What did I say that you can still remember after all these years. She said: “You said the only difference between you and the other kids in town was that you never got caught.” That is all she remembered from my ordination ten years earlier. She never heard the sermon; she only remembered that I was like all the other kids but just didn’t get caught. I didn’t have much religious authority Mrs. Hague’s life; that’s for sure.
And I didn’t have much religious authority with my family, including my parents. When my parents were alive, they would often say, “We’re gunna ride your coattails into heaven.” It was a joke, but not a joke. I also had little religious authority with my brother and sisters. They would say me to: “Well, Pastor So and So said,” and then they quoted another pastor. They told me what their pastor said. They knew me too well as their kid brother to have much religious authority in their lives.
And my aunts and uncles? They all remember me as a spoiled little brat, especially my Aunt Sena who helped raise me.
Now, this isn’t the same with you and our relationship. I have been a pastor here for more than twenty- seven years. You have listened to my preaching and teaching and leading of the Gospel for almost three decades and you have an intuitive respect for me and the pastoral office that I hold. You don’t know me as little Eddie Markquart who was like all the other kids in town; the boy who was your paper boy, grease monkey and gas pumper. For the most part, you actually have respect for my spiritual authority, the way you treat me. The way you listen to me. . You listen to my sermons. You ask me to talk with you about marriage before your big day. You treat me with a special honor, affection and authority.
It is with these images that we approach the Gospel story for today where Jesus said, “a prophet is not accepted in his own home country; his own home, hometown, and hometown church.” The Gospel story for today is told in all four gospels, so I will use them all. I will especially use the Gospel of Luke’s version which seems the best story to me.
Now the situation was this: Jesus was on a religious roll. Let explain. Reading the Gospel of Mark, we hear that Jesus was the master teller of parables. He told parables about the four kinds of soil. About the mustard seed in the garden. About the leaven in the kitchen. He told stories from everyday life. He wasn't like the pompous educated rabbis of his day and their sterile philosophical stories. No, he told down to earth stories from everyday life, and those stories were about God. People loved him for it.
Jesus was on a religious roll because he was a miracle worker. When you do three miracles in three days, you are on a religious roll. Two days before, on Wednesday, Jesus had miraculously stopped the storm on Lake Galilee. The big body of water, a section of Puget Sound, in front of Des Moines reminds me of the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus calmed that sea like he was calming a demon in the waters of Puget Sound. The next day, on Thursday, the lady who had had a menstrual period for more than twelve years, was healed. It must have been miserable and annoying (to say the least) to have a menstrual period for twelve years. Jesus healed her. And then on the very next morning, Friday morning, Jesus raised the dead daughter of a man and woman who were grieving. Some of you have shared that pain, of a child dying. So you have three days and three big miracles in a row. So Jesus was on a religious roll.
So now we come to the scene of Friday night, and Jesus was coming into his home town and home sanctuary. Let me tell you, the service that night was jammed. There wasn’t room to park all the donkeys outside. The donkeys circled the parkiing lot looking for a stall but there were no parking stalls to be found. The parking lot was full. There were so many people in church that they ran out of bulletins. They put benches up in the center of the aisles. It was crowded, because the “local rabbi made good” was coming back to town.
Jesus came into the crowded service that night, and the worship service had an order much we like have on Sunday. They began with singing of songs, like we do, from their songbook, the book of Psalms. Then they had a prayer, like we do. Then they read from an Old Testament lesson, like we do, from the Law, the first five books of the Bible. And then the guest of honor was to choose from any passage in the Old Testament prophets. The passage he chose revealed his core values. So when Jesus chose to read from Isaiah 61, this passage symbolized his whole ministry. He chose the following passage out of Isaiah which would then became the basis of his sermon that night. Jesus read: “The Lord God has appointed me to preach good news to poor people, to heal the blind and sick, to set free those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This passage from Isaiah 61 clearly outlined the important values in Jesus’ ministry. That is why he selected Isaiah 61. Jesus then closed the book. There was a looooong silence, and he said: “These words are fulfilled in your hearing.” Then he preached a sermon on that text, and afterwards, the Gospel of Luke says that “everyone spoke well of him and wondered at his gracious words.” Others exclaimed, “Where did he get all of this!” And still another said, “Where did he get so wise?”
….. But yet there were others who murmured and grumbled, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph who is sitting over there? Isn't this simply the carpenter's kid? And aren’t those his brothers standing there, Judas, Joses, and Simon? And aren’t those his sisters? He is just the common kid from Nazareth. You know, the kid who grazed our donkeys; who watered our oxen, who drew water from the well for us to drink. He is nothing but the carpenter's kid. There is nothing too special about him.”
And pretty soon, according to the passage, “they took offense at him.” That is the key word of the text: offense. In Greek, it is “skandalon” from which we get the word, “scandal.” Scandal also means “stumbling block.” This is a key word, scandalon or stumbling block, and we will talk about it later in the sermon.
Boiling waters began to brew. Some people in the synagogue were thinking: "He could do all those miracles there in Capernaum but he can't do any miracles here in Nazareth." And Jesus said, “A prophet is not accepted in his own home. A prophet is not accepted in his own home congregation. A prophet is not accepted in his own hometown. The reason that I don't do miracles here in Nazareth is because of your lack of faith.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus went onto to say, "The same happened to the Old Testament prophets Elijah and Elisha. Elijah and Elisha could do no miracle in Israel because the people didn’t believe in in the power of God. Elijah and Elisha had to go elsewhere, outside the bounaries of Israel, outside the borders of Israel, to find true faith. Elijah went to Sidon to help a widow and Elisha went to Syria to heal the leper. These two prophets couldn't find true faith in the Israelites; they had to go across the border to find true faith."
And Jesus was amazed at their unbelief.
Jesus could have said, " I don’t see any truth faith in this synagogue. You are more interested in “in doing religion” than doing justice. You are more interested in my popularity and publicity than in the poor, maimed, blind and lame. You are more interested in a religious show than showing compassion for the poor. Yes, you do not exhibit the power of faith in your lives.
And the people were mighty mad at Jesus. They were honked off. They took deep offense at Jesus. They were mad at him. They were so offended by Jesus that according to the Gospel stories for today, they ran him out of the church. They ran him right up to the edge of a high cliff and and push him over the edge and kill him.
Think of that scene from Friday night. The congregational members had come in with such high expectations. Jesus was on a huge religious roll; the church was jammed; the parking lot was full; they ran out of bulletins, but by the end of the night, they were ready to kill the dude.
Jesus must have said something that really got on their nerves. What was it that Jesus said that offended them so deeply that in the Gospel of Luke, they took him up to a hilltop and tried to kill him? What did Jesus say that was so offensive? That is what I would like to try to get at in today’s sermon. The key word is “offended.” They were offended by Jesus! What was it that he said that was an offense, a stumbling block for them?
When Jesus quoted Isaiah 61:1, that passage was about the Messiah. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach good news to the poor people." The "me" in that sentence was the Messiah. Jesus was saying that he was none other than the long expected Messiah and that REALLY offended them.
The hometown folk couldn’t believe that one of their own children could actually be a prophet. Jesus was suggesting that he was even more than a prophet. He was claiming that he was the long awaited Messiah, and the people weren’t ready to accept him. “Come on. He watered our donkeys. He cleaned our yards. He grazed our donkeys. No way he could be a prophet. How can this Jesus-guy come back and be even more than a prophet, the Messiah? Not little Jesus of Nazareth. Not the little Jesus boy that we used to go fishing with and swimming with and hiking with. Not the little neighborhood boy who delivered our papers. How could God come in such a common and ordinary way as to come through Jesus of Nazareth? Jesus certainly doesn’t measure up to our expectations of what it means to be a messiah.”
The people there that day were offended by the Incarnation, that God actually became a human being. That was the scandal, the stumbling block.
O yes,we believe in the divine moral law of the universe that people of all cultures must obey. All cultures of the world have an implicit moral law. We believe that.
O yes, we believe that there is spirituality found in all cultures. All cultures of the world throughout history have had temples of worship. In all cultures of history, people pray to The Divine. The human species if inherently spiritual.
O yes, we believe in the creator of the universe, the creator of the sun, moon and stars.
A God of morality, spirituality and creativity is more plausible for our minds. But to believe that God could come to us through a human being is pushing it. And that is what so deeply offended the people. The Incarnation: that God would come in the flesh of a man they knew, a man by the name of Jesus from the town of Nazareth
But I would like to take it a step further. I have been thinking, and I would like to give you a series of examples where we continue to be offended that God comes to us in such a common and ordinary way. For example, this happened recently, as recently as a week ago, a month ago, a year ago, or yesterday. It has happened to many times. A man and I went out for lunch, to talk privately. . He told me he was having an affair with another woman. His wife didn't know about it. He and his wife hadn't gotten along :"forever." He was looking for direction. It was clear to me what was going on. He asked: “What do you think that God wants me to do?” And so I told him. “It seems to me that this is God wants you to do: cut off the affair and make up your marriage with your wife.” And she replied, “I just wish God would tell me what to do.” ...He and i get together a second time. He explains the problem a second time, and says, “I wish that God would tell me what to do.” I tell him what he needs to do. He doesn’t hear. A third time the scene is repeated. “I am having problems with an affair and I wish God would tell me what to do.” I tell him what it seems that he should do, and he says, “I wish God would speak directly to my life and tell me what to do.” And I finally said: “Hey, friend, God has been talking directly to you, but you aren’t listening.” And he said, “No, I want God really to talk to me.” I say, “Friend, God has really been talking to you.” He said, “No, I want to hear God’s voice.” I said, “You just did.” But somehow, it offended him that God could come in such a common and ordinary way as a parish pastor.
Let me give you a second example where God comes to us so commonly that we don’t hear God. This one really bothers me. God comes through a person or persons as near to us as …our family members. I only wish God would chose someone else….I only wish that God would chose someone other than my wife, my husband. Perhaps God could pick somebody else to talk to me. Not her again. Why couldn’t God talk to me through some pastor like O’Neal or Markquart. Not merely my spouse. How come my wife knows me so well that she knows the will of God for my life? She doesn’t sound like God. She doesn’t look like God. She doesn’t act like God. But consistently, God speaks to my life through my wife, through your spouse.
And the only thing worse than having God speak to you through your spouse is to have God speak to you through your teenage daughter. Yes, I said teenage daughter. In years past, my daughter Anne would say to me after I lost my temper: “Dad, you are getting just like Grandpa Markquart.” Now, that was not a compliment. And I wish that God would find some other way to talk with me about my temper. Give me a sermon, God. You don’t have to talk to me through my teenage daughter.
And so what I am trying to suggest to you is that God consistently comes to us and talks to us in common and ordinary ways, so much so, that we often don’t even hear the voice of God. Instead, we are looking for the divine symmetry of the universe or the moral laws behind various cultures or something spiritual which is found in all human beings.
But let's take a look at the Gospel of Luke and Jesus' comments that true faith was to be found in Sidon and Syria, outside the boundaries of Israel. Elijah could not find true faith among the widows of Israel but found true faith outside the borders, outside the bounaries of Israel. Similarly with the prophet Elisha, he could not find true faith among the lepers in Israel but found true faith in Namaan, the Syrian. The people were deeply offended that true faith was found outside the borders of "true blue" Judaism. .
What does this mean for us today?
I would like to suggest to you that true faith can be found outside the walls of this congregation, outside the boundaries of Lutheranism, outside the borders of Chrstianity. The true faith can be found in Muslims, Buddhists and Hindues. Outside the Christian borders. I can hear some of you gasp right now at such a thought, that true faith can be found outside of our Christian borders. That is what this part of the story is all about.
We find that thought elsehere in the story of Jesus. Jesus found true faith in a Roman centurian who was not a Jew nor a follower of the Jewish religion. Jesus found true love in a the good Samaritan who was not a "true blue Jew" but was of the wrong religion and wrong faith. Samaritan were not considered "believers in the true God." Jesus also found true faith in Syrophoencian woman. Persistently Jesus found true faith not outside the boundaries of Judasim and certain narrow minded Jews wanted to lynch Jesus for saying such a thing. Talk about offensive.
Jackson, Minnesota. Yes, I remember preaching in my home conregation twice and both times, i was not accepted in as a prophet and pastor of God ...in my home, my hometown, and my hometown church.
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