Our Lord and our God, now as we consider your Word, fill us with your Spirit. Soften our hearts that we may delight in your presence. Sharpen our minds that we may discern your truth. Shape our wills that we may desire your ways. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, we pray. Amen.
Last week I ended with a sports illustration, this week I’ll begin with one. It’s the idea in the sports world that is known as home field advantage: the statistical reality that in sports the home team wins more often than the visiting team. A 2011 Sports Illustrated article concludes: "Home field advantage is no myth. Indisputably, it exists …. Across all sports and at all levels, from Japanese baseball to Brazilian soccer to the NFL, the team hosting a game wins more often than not." The reason? Well, it turns out it isn’t due to the fact that the home team has thousands of fans cheering for them while the road team doesn’t. Nor does it have to do with the rigors of travel and cross country flights and lack of creature comforts that the road team, the visiting team endures. Rather it apparently comes down to one factor: It’s the bias of the referees or officials that is the most significant contribution to home field advantage. In short, referees don't like getting booed. (They are human, after all.) When the game gets close, the refs naturally (and often unconsciously) respond to the pressure from the crowd, by calling fewer fouls or penalties against the home team. In the end, the refs' people-pleasing response can have an impact on the game’s final score, altogether getting at the root cause behind the very real thing that is home field advantage.
Now, of course, I share this interesting fact with you not to influence the way in which you might watch a football game or two later this afternoon, but rather to set up our scripture for today. This morning we continue on in the book of Luke, and today, after 7 weeks in the series and now 4 chapters into the book itself, we now finally reach the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry. Jesus is now officially ready to launch his public ministry. John the Baptist has prepared the people, Jesus has been baptized, then tempted in the wilderness, and now here he is launching his public ministry and he does so in a very, very familiar place. In Nazareth, his hometown, his homefield, if you will. And as he teaches and preaches in front of his hometown audience, the crowd begins to hope and expect to receive their own home field advantage of sorts, that Jesus would proclaim that he is first and foremost for them, that he’s their God, their prophet, here to serve and lead and save them, the Nazarene’s and the Israelite people at large. And yet, as they’re about to find, they will receive no hometown, no home field advantage at all.
Now, if you’re overwhelmed and confused by this passage, well, that makes two of us. There is so much happening here in a very short amount of time. This past Wednesday night we previewed this passage and it was then that I myself and the others were beginning to see just how dense and jam packed this passage of scripture is. Old Testament scriptures are referenced, Jesus mentioned names of biblical figures we may or may not be familiar with, and above all there’s what feels like an very immediate change of atmosphere from this story’s beginning to its end – where the story begins with the crowds praising and admiring Jesus to all of a sudden wanting to kill him and throw him off a cliff. Things seem to escalate quickly, don’t they? Yet why, exactly? This is what we’ll tease out for the next few minutes. At the risk of oversimplifying things here, I’ve just got one main idea for you today. I’ll share it with you. Then explain how we got there. And then discuss how this might apply for you and I today.
Here’s the main idea:
Jesus came for everyone, even the ones we might least expect.
Here in this passage Jesus is setting the tone, he’s laying the groundwork as he begins his public ministry. Whereas he teaches and preaches in his hometown of Nazareth on this Sabbath day, he’s giving his audience that day and us as his readers a glimpse of his mission, his purpose, both who he’s come for and what he’s been called to do. He’s come for everyone, even the ones we might least expect.
Now, why do I say that? Where does that idea come from? Well, notice the progression or movement in this story and why the crowd that day in Nazareth moves from admiration to condemnation, from wanting to bow down in worship to him to wanting to throw him off a cliff.
Our story begins with Jesus in a synagogue in Nazareth. It’s the Sabbath day, and God’s people were likely doing something very similar to what we’re doing right now: worshiping. Singing together, reading together, praying together. And at some point in the midst of all this, Jesus takes ahold of the scroll, the communal bible of the day, and reads from the prophet Isaiah:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He continues reading and then when he’s finished, he says: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In saying that he’s claiming that this scripture is about him, that it’s coming true and finding its fulfillment in him. Now, in response the crowd is more than fine with. In fact, the scripture says they were amazed by this Jesus.
Here’s Jesus saying that this Old Testament prophecy from long ago is about him. And that the promises from Isaiah long ago were going to become true all over again. That this Jesus would proclaim good news to the poor. That this Jesus would proclaim freedom for the prisoners and set the oppressed free – that just God had delivered the Israelites from Babylonian captivity long ago, that he might once again deliver them from the Roman occupation they faced at the present time. In short, the hometown crowd in Nazareth that day would have seen these promises and the fulfillment of them, not only as great promises, but even more the exclusive promises for Nazarenes and Israelites alike, and at the exclusion of everyone else.
And together they say, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Which at first may seem like a derogatory or condescending statement, as in, Wait? This guy? Isn’t this kid we used to change diapers for babysit for and who always had to stop to use an inhaler during middle school gym class? This guy … is now claiming to be God? Really? After all, Nazareth was a town of roughly 500 people. Everybody would know everybody and they certainly would have watched this kid grow up.
But yet, rather than being a derogatory or condescending statement, I think it’s better meant to be an admiring statement, almost like a badge of honor, coming from a place of awe that the son of God would have grown up in their hometown.
And so instead, when the crowds say, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” I think it’d be more similar to watching Troy Andersen play in the NFL on a Sunday this fall and you’re thinking, “Hey! Isn’t that Verla Andersen’s grandson? The kid who scored touchdown after touchdown on Friday nights at Vigilante Field years ago? You see, in that sense, it’s more a badge of honor than anything. It’s as if they’re all so proud that this Jesus, this Messianic figure came from, of all places, their hometown. He’s one of their own, a homegrown kid, homegrown talent!
And this is where Jesus makes the turn. He wants to make it clear that there’s no home field advantage, no special privileges that comes from being his hometown, long time fans, and that instead Jesus has come for more than just them, he’s come for everyone, even the ones they might least expect.
To do so, he compares himself to two prophets, Elijah and Elisha, who were unwelcome in their native homeland, and instead ministered to Gentiles, like, as Jesus mentions, the widow in Zarepheth or Naaman the Syrian. To an Israelite, Gentiles such as these would be seen as the other, the outsider, the outcast, maybe even the enemy. And during a season in Israel’s history where they were occupied and oppressed by the Romans, this announcement wouldn’t have simply felt like sour grapes, this would have felt like betrayal, that feeling of “I thought we raised you better than this” and this is how you treat us? Their response, their reaction, is to try and throw him off a cliff.
With Jesus and for the people of Nazareth, there is no home field advantage. He’s come for everyone, even the ones we might least expect. And so there you have it, that is, as I understand it, the core of what this passage is all about. Let’s now turn the corner and consider what this means for you and me and we’ll continue to unpack the scripture as we go. The first point of application is a personal one, addressing our individual lives, the second one is more corporate, addressing our collective life as a church.
First, we need to remember that the people that Jesus came to reach are the same people that we are called to reach too. When Jesus says that he has been sent to proclaim good news to the poor, that word poor has a wide range of meaning, far beyond and yet including, the economically poor. Rather the word encompasses all who were considered the outcast or marginalized, the widow and orphan, the disabled and sick, the vulnerable and the like.
And he’s come to bring something different that nationalistic victories over oppressive regimes, rather he’s bringing the good news of salvation, the promise of forgiveness of sins, of healing and wholeness to all people, rather than just some.
Together this tells us that the people that Jesus came to reach are the same people that we are called to reach too. This past Tuesday Shani and I were here in the office for our usual office hours and a woman that I’ve never met before came in and just started talking. And for about 30 minutes or so, first with Shani, then with me, we each had one of those conversations where it’s nearly impossible to get a word in. This woman was needy and had a lot she wanted to share and a lot that she wanted to get off her mind.
And you know what my first thoughts were about all of this, I’m not super proud to admit this: I was thinking to myself: “Oh my gosh, I don’t have time for this. I have to get back to my work, to whatever it was that I was doing at the moment, which coincidentally, five days later I can’t even remember what I was doing. As this woman was talking I was beginning to rethink and question the whole concept of office hours in the first place and whether or not they’re worthwhile, thinking to myself, “I’ve got to get back to my work.” When in reality, my work was sitting right across from me. She was my priority in that moment, like it or not, ready or not. And eventually at some point, having recalibrated my heart, I tried to take on a more listening and patient posture, eventually we prayed together, and then got her off on her way.
Friends, as his disciples, as his followers, the people that Jesus came to reach are the same people that we are called to reach too. The people that Jesus came to minister to are the same people that we are called to minister too as well.
Friends, imagine the people in need who for whatever reason make their way to you or that you’re surrounded with each and every day. The frazzled and frustrated person who comes to the clinic or stops by your office, the challenging kid in your classroom who commands a disproportionate amount of attention, the neighbor next door who’s particularly needy.
Jesus came for them. He came to serve and lead and love them and the people that Jesus came to minister to are the same people that we are called to minister too as well.
Of course, we want to be careful not to take on a savior-like complex as we do, as if to think, we’re up here, they’re down there, they’re in need, we’re not. We don’t want to take on an elitist posture. Truth is, if we really understand this Jesus and who he came for, we’ll recognize that he came for poor and needy people like you and me as well, allowing us to serve from a place of humility and compassion, rather than pride or arrogance.
Alright, that’s the first point of application, a more personal and individual one, here’s the second, and it’s more corporate in nature, applying to our church at large. And here I’m going to place a rock in our collective shoes with what I think is a worthwhile question, and that is:
Does our church and the people who are a part of it reflect and represent the community we live in? In other words, when you think in terms of demographics, age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status is our church an accurate and balanced representation of the people that make up Dillon?
Consider the kinds and varieties of people that you see in the grocery store, or walking around town, the kinds and varieties of people that your kids go to school with or that you serve or work alongside in your everyday life? Are they here, and if not, why?
Oftentimes, churches end up being and existing as these kinds of sub groups. You’ve got the white church over here and the black church over there. The rich church over here and the poor church over there. The young church over here and the old church over there.
And so my question is this: As you consider all the various kinds of people who live here in Dillon, who’s not here? Who’s not represented? And could that simply be coincidence or is there something that we are doing or not doing that reinforces these realities?
If Jesus came for everyone (and he did), even the ones we might least expect, then how might we too, as a church, be for everyone, even the ones we might least expect? To all those who are weary and need rest, to all who mourn and long for comfort, to all who fail and desire strength and all who sin and need a savior, friends, this church opens wide her doors with a mighty welcome from Jesus himself, the mighty friend of sinners like you and me.
Now, to all of these questions I just raised, I don’t have all the answers or the silver bullet. But yet, I’m convinced of this: In order for our church to better reach and reflect and represent our community, we can’t expect the people to come to us, we must go to them, and in doing so, partnering with Jesus and bringing his healing and wholeness wherever we, and they, live, work, play or learn.
And during our Annual Congregational Meeting this upcoming Tuesday night, I’ll share some thoughts and ideas from me and our session as to how we can do just that. So how’s that for building suspense and anticipation? Friends, we hope to see you there.
And I’ll finish with this:
A few weeks ago during the Advent season we were introduced to an old man named Simeon, a man who captured the narrative tension that would rest at the heart of Jesus’s ministry. Here Simeon held this infant Jesus saying that he would bring salvation through suffering.
That he would bring salvation for all peoples, and be 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
And yet, at the same time, Simeon, also speaking about this baby Jesus, said, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against.”
And in a 24 chapter book, we’re already seeing Simeon’s prophecy play out here in chapter 4. Where in this promise of salvation for all people, proclaiming good news for the poor, the people move from admiring and worshiping this Jesus, to wanting to throw him off a cliff, only for him to escape and live to see another day.
Over the course of this next year as we continue to study Luke together, we’re going to see this Jesus welcome and embrace the very people we’d least expect, and he’s going to say things that offended many and may offend us too. He’s going to push our buttons and challenge us time and time again. And as he ever so slowly makes his way to the cross on our behalf, bringing salvation to all people through his own suffering, may we embrace him, not reject him, may we accept him, not disown him, may he be for the first time or all the more our Lord and Savior too.
After all, this Jesus has come for everyone.