The text for this morning picks up where we left
off last week, as I suggested last week, that reading of the prophet
Isaiah (Isaiah 61) that Jesus does when he comes to his hometown in
Nazareth where he announces "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to
proclaim good news to the poor" -- I called that his inaugural address,
that this is the Christ Inaugural in Luke's Gospel.
I was at a conference early in the week with a bunch of other clergy (we
get together once a year for theological reflection) and comparing notes
with one of my colleagues, and he said in his sermon last Sunday was
entitled "Jesus' Inaugural Address". And mine was the "Christ
Inaugural". So, great minds think alike :)
At any rate, we're continuing then from that text, after Jesus has read
the text, and he sits down, and all eyes are upon him. And that was the
normal way in which you taught in ancient society -- the Rabbi's would
stand for reading the word of God, and then you would sit down, and
everyone else stands as you teach (out of respect for the teacher).
So, we pick up then from the second half of the text in Luke 4, verse 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?’ 23He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will
quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say,
“Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you
did at Capernaum.” ’ 24And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is
accepted in the prophet’s home town.25But the truth is, there were
many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was
shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe
famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them
except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many
lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them
was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ 28When they heard this, all
in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They 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. 30But he
passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
[Congregation stands to listen to the teaching
:)] -- Are you going to stay there for the next 20 minutes?!
So, we like to depict Jesus as being this lovable, warm, friendly guy
that everybody wants to know, right? And yet, here we have this story of
him being rejected. It reminds us that it was not always the case that
he was such a friendly guy that everybody liked. I heard a regional
minister tell the story of his first church out of seminary where he was
fired, you know, preaching the gospel as he was taught to preach.
Probably would not have been a good idea to entitle your first sermon,
on Easter, "The Resurrection Myth" :) At any rate, he goes back to his
professor, lamenting what had happened to him, and his professor said:
"If you're not fired at least once in your career, you're not following
Well, that professor was Fred Craddick, and many of you know Fred, the
most renowned Disciple preacher, Time magazine called him one of the 10
best preachers in America. And he was very comforted by Fred's words,
until he thought "Wait a second, Fred Craddick hasn't been fired from
Well, no one has fired me -- yet -- but the initial response here of the
home congregation is quite good, and then they listen to him teach and
they turn against him. It gets ugly. They nearly end the promising
career of this young preacher -- you might say it was a cliff-hanger :)
So what went wrong? Keep in mind what Luke is doing here. I talked a
little bit about this last week, in the way that he tells the story, as
he is introducing the public ministry of Jesus with his first public
address, and that serves as a summary of the gospel message proclaimed
by Jesus. So, too, now he gives us a summary of the rejection of that
message, and of Jesus. This is what is known as foreshadowing, that
message is going to get him killed. It's not just he power-brokers in
Jerusalem that are upset when they hear the message, it's some of those
even in his hometown. And we wonder why sometimes people don't respond
to the message we have.
What's interesting is that the lectionary pairs this text with Jeremiah
(that was read earlier), and Jeremiah you may recall is one of the most
persecuted prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures. There's one story that the
King has him thrown into a pit without food or water because he doesn't
like the message that Jeremiah brings. Fortunately, someone takes pity
on him and rescues him.
As a whole, prophets in scripture tend not to be
very popular people. They remind me of that character in the movie "A
Few Good Men", played by Jack Nicholson. A brief clip:
Click Here for Video Clip
I love that -- get that image in your mind, there's the prophet (at
least as some would see him). You know, 'you can't handle the truth'. Of
course the irony of that particular analogy is that it's actually Tom
Cruise that's the prophetic figure (he's the defense attorney there), in
defending the 2 young (not entirely innocent) Marines that followed
Nicholson's orders. The truth is revealed. So that's more what the
prophet does, but the image of the prophet is something else. By the end
of this movie, you want to throw Nicholson's character off a cliff!
That's the way, you see, that people respond to Jesus.
So, what is clear from this story is that Jesus isn't in trouble because
of his identity as a prophet or as the Messiah, it is the content of his
message that gets him into trouble. So what's wrong with his message? I
mean, all he does is tell a couple Bible stories. Who could get upset at
I've made a couple of trips now to see St. Peter's Basilica in Rome,
took our group in 2011 on that pilgrimage. The biggest church in
Christendom, just an incredible place to visit. Very inspiring. In the
entrance, right when you come in you see Michelangelo's Pieta. That's in
the foyer! There's more artwork in that cathedral, or at least enough
artwork to finance the federal deficit :) I'm thinking, if I had the
chance to preach in a place like that, in front of that altar, what
message, what story of the Bible would I use?
Would I use this from Luke 19, after the triumphant entry, where we
read: "Then Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who
were selling things there and he said 'It is written that my house shall
be a house of prayer but you have made it a den of robbers' Today,
scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. This is not the message I
think I'd want to give :)
Jesus reminds his listeners of a couple of stories in their own Bible,
stories about God's abundant grace. So what could be wrong about that?
Well, the point of the 2 stories is that God bypassed those who thought
they had a certain privilege as God's people, in order to benefit
someone else who's not part of them. Who's not one of the crowd, not
part of this exclusive group.
I remember the great inspiration I had as a youth from the movie "The
Exodus". It tells the story of the reestablishment of the nation Israel.
I hope some other folks remember that.
And the wonderful theme song "This land is mine,
God gave this land to me. . . . ". Right?! Wonderful, powerful movie.
But what about the Palestinians? Who's telling their story in that
movie? What about their homeland? What about their dreams? What land did
God give to them? You know, it's tough.
We sing with great gusto Woodie Guthrie's classic "This Land is Your
Land. . . ". You know that song. Do you suppose Guthrie asked Native
American people how they felt about that? This whole notion of Manifest
Destiny, from shore to shore, became manifest destruction for their
So what this story does is expose the lie to such myths, that God
bestows special privilege upon any one race or nation, that would
elevate them above any other, or give them any special access to God, or
any privilege that God does not give to anyone else. Of course, that's
part of the point of Guthrie's song, that everybody is part of this
What gets Jesus in trouble in Nazareth, as I think it would anywhere, is
this way of bypassing the local folk with that message. It would be like
Jesus coming to Eugene and announcing that God has chosen a team from
Oregon to win the national championship -- the Beavers! It'd be
sacrilege! If that doesn't get him thrown off Skinner's Butte, I don't
know what would!
So, truth be known, there's no difference between the people of Nazareth
and us. So don't look down on these people for rejecting Jesus' message.
We'd probably do the same. Everyone wants to believe they are special,
that we are an exceptional nation. And we are. And so is France. And
Japan, and China, and Brazil, and Israel, and Syria. Even with all of
those troubles and problems going on right now, every people has a story
and a culture and a history and tradition that makes them special.
Republican and Democratic leaders have joined together to announce their
intent to provide immigration reform, and a path to citizenship for the
nearly 11 million undocumented people in this country. And I think it's
a very good thing. But what really disturbs me, bothers me about all of
this, is that it's not being done out of any sense of compassion or of
justice for those people (in many cases who have been working in this
country for over 20 years, paying taxes, putting food on our tables,
changing our sheets in our hotels, in low-wage jobs), it's all about
political motive in the race by each party to get the Hispanic vote.
That's the motivation behind it.
President Bush made proposals similar to this six or seven years ago.
And I had the opportunity to participate in a panel with some elected
officials (Mayor Piercy was there, Counselor Ortiz, a couple others), as
we listened to testimony in a packed room at Cesar Chavez school, in the
cafeteria there. Different people giving their personal testimony about
what the Dream Act would mean to them. I'll never forget that one story,
of the young woman (senior in high school) sharing her experience of
growing up here in Eugene, going through classes with the same group of
kids from kindergarten through high school, and having her friends share
their excitement about "I'm going to this college", etc. And when she
went to talk to her guidance counselor about the college she wanted to
go to, only to discover she was not eligible for any scholarship. And
worse, she would have to pay out-of-state tuition because she was not a
legal resident of this state. She's lived here since the age of 2. And
she told that story with tears coming down her cheek, of her dreams that
have been dashed.
And I've always wondered what happened to that young girl? She must be
24 or 25 now. Did through some miracle she find a way to get into a
school? Or did she self-deport to go back to a country that she doesn't
remember? Is she working some low-wage job because it's the only thing
that she can do, working under the table? Or worse, engage in sex
trafficking, drugs, just to get by?
You see, we don't often recognize the privileges that we have as
citizens. And what that means for those who are not. And no one wants to
give up those privileges. So instead, we usually talk about how we can
use our privileges to benefit others. But Jesus, you see, rejects the
whole system of privilege. Remember in Paul, in the letter to the
Philippians in the 2nd chapter, that Christ counted equality with God as
something he could not hold onto, but emptied himself, taking the form
of a slave. Giving up all privilege. And it gets him killed.
The challenge for us is what are we going to do,
then, with the privilege we have? Do we follow that example of Jesus?
St. Francis did. Mother Teresa did. That's a hard path to choose. Or,
can we instead, inspired by the sacrifice of Christ, seek to include all
in the privileges we have, that no one else need to make that kind of
So who are the widows of Zarephath and the
lepers of Syria, in our world today -- without privilege in our society?
Those who cannot find shelter. Undocumented immigrants. Ex-cons who
cannot find a job. High school dropouts. Pregnant teenagers. Recovering
addicts. I mean, do we, should we, welcome all into our privileged
group? And are their responsibilities that go with the benefits of
privilege which we are willing to share as well?
One of the blessings I've had through the Egan Warming Center, and to
some extent in our Sunday Breakfast, has been to see the ways in which
many of those who are without shelter take on not only tasks but take on
even responsibilities, to make that shelter system run. To be effective.
And it's truly a wonderful thing to see.
I got in trouble with our Neighborhood Association a couple weeks ago.
It was after those six freezing nights, when the Egan Warming Center was
operating, we had 90 folk or better in our basement. But what you need
to know is it's not just the 90 that sleep here, it's the probably 150
to 200 who come here and then our bused out to the other locations from
here. At any rate, because we were a little unsure about the whether,
they waited until 1 p.m. to make the call. At 1 p.m. in the afternoon,
it looked like it was going to warm up tonight, we're not going to be
open. Well, I happened to be here early in the evening, as some folks
came down the alley and I could see they were probably coming looking
for a place to stay. And so I told them, no, sorry, that the shelter is
not open tonight. I spent the next two hours doing nothing but
redirecting traffic in our alley. Handing out blankets in several cases,
sleeping bags, whatever we had in the Helping Hand room.
Well, I took pity on two folks that I've known for some time. One is a
homeless gentleman who's a hoarder -- it's not easy to be a hoarder when
you're homeless. But he has shopping carts and all this stuff. Another
young woman that we've known around here for some time, sweet gal, but
just a little whacky, can't keep her life together. They had no place
else to go, it's late, it's cold, and so we did it -- right underneath
the steps, we gave them shelter. Got blankets for them, made sure they
were tucked down safe for the night.
My mistake was, I called the security folks that patrol our
neighborhood. I told them I just wanted to let them know that I gave
permission to two people sleeping out here, and if you don't mind, let
them sleep. They're good folk, our security folks, they do their job
with compassion, it's a tough job to do.
Well, word got out that we were setting up a 'homeless camp', and the
President of the Association, a good friend (Jeff Musgrove) gave me a
call and asked if we could get together to meet. So I met with him and
the head of the security company, explained to them what had happened,
this was a one-time exception, this is not our intent, etc. What I
learned from all of that, is that it's not easy to follow Jesus and to
please the neighborhood association at the same time :)
And I'm not suggesting that we should just open our doors and take in
all comers day and night, even our own members are concerned for the
safety here. And yes, we need to provide a safe place and that all feel
secure here. And I know we're probably doing more than any other church
in terms of assisting the unsheltered in our community. And just when I
think we can't possibly do a single thing more, Richard Murray (from the
first service this morning), makes the suggestion that we turn our
boiler room into a shower facility for the homeless. You know, here's a
place where you can get cleaned up, etc.
I was at our church dinner last night, our Luau, and Betsy Brandenfels
said to me: "I had the strangest dream last night. I dreamt that we
turned our boiler room into a shower facility!" I said "What have you
two been doing, have you been conspiring here?!". John Thompson and I
have been talking about turning the boiler room into a coffee house for
the college students nearby :) So, Lord help us, right? I don't know, I
don't know where we're going with this -- last time someone had a
cockamamie idea like that, we ended up with a free breakfast, serving
over 250 people every Sunday morning.
I don't know what God may be calling us to do next. I just know Jesus
came into a town like Eugene, telling stories from the Bible of God's
grace towards the foreigners, and the strangers. And it made him very
So what about here? What about us? Are we going to welcome the unwelcome
You know what? I think we already are.