“Will You Respond?”
February 3, 2019 – Year C – Epiphany 4
Have you ever used the phrase, “I’m only.” Perhaps it went something like, “I’m only a simple high school educated person.” Or, “I’m only a new-comer to the church.” Or, “I’m only a first-time member of this study group.” The boy-prophet Jeremiah discovers that God’s not buying the “I’m only” routine either. Thankfully, God’s insistence that Jeremiah take on the huge responsibility before him, comes with the assurance of God’s presence every step of the way. It’s much more difficult to say “I’m only” when God’s own hand is touching your mouth. With the confidence of knowing that God’s hand is upon us, leading and guiding us, our “I’m only” is transformed into a faithful “I will!”
Next week we will be electing a search committee, so that they might work together in determining the direction for ministry in the future. They will work together in selecting a new minister for this church. Imagine Jeremiah being a candidate. If asked for his qualifications, he would say he was chosen in the womb for this opportunity. He would say that he tried as a young boy to make a career change, but that God said that Jeremiah would be given the words he would need, thus explaining his lack of seminary degree. The interview ends and Jeremiah, as a pastoral candidate, would disappear. Jeremiah might be muttering on his way out the door about plucking up and pulling down, adding the message to destroy and overthrow. The search committee would be thinking that is the last thing we need to hear. They would never even hear Jeremiah talk about building up and planting.
What about your call from God? When did you experience God nudging you to be a nurse, or a teacher, or to work with your hands, or what ever God nudged you to consider? Did you heed that call? How long ago was it when God planted a dream in your soul of how you might serve God? Perhaps it was a call to serve others with kindness and compassion. Possibly it was a call to use your talents and skills in a particular way. Some of us heard God calling us to be Sunday School teachers. Others felt God opening the door to serve on a church committee or Council. Some to sing in the choir. Jeremiah’s call is a reminder that God still calls people – folk of all ages, abilities, and experiences in the church. How is God calling you?
The story of Jeremiah is a fascinating one. We learn how God formed, knew, consecrated and appointed Jeremiah. In 6 short verses we come to understand that God was with Jeremiah from conception through to his call to ministry. Sometimes we forget that this truth applies to each one of us. God knows us intimately and calls us to live as specially chosen followers of God’s way. Imagine being a young child and knowing that God has plans for you to be a prophetic voice. It must have been overwhelming to Jeremiah. No wonder he was frightened. But what words Jeremiah uttered! While part of his ministry was to destroy and overthrow, he also built up and planted new hope.
Just like you and me, Jeremiah had his doubts and apprehensions. He strives for some independence – some wiggle room, we might say – but God would not hear of it. Instead God directs with a firm command, ordering Jeremiah to go where he is sent and speak whatever he is told. I can’t help wondering if our lives would take a different path if we were better disciplined in prayer and meditation, so that we would go where God sends us and speak what God would have us say.
I know that one of the messages that God has for us to utter is the amazing Good News of Jesus Christ. We are challenged to speak of the impact that our brother and companion Jesus has on our lives. We are called to introduce to others the astounding miracle of Jesus by modeling our lives after the manner of Jesus. We are invited to witness to the way of liberation, justice and shalom, as modeled by Jesus of Nazareth. With these encouragements, let’s look at the Lukan account of Jesus in Nazareth.
He listened to God’s direction to head to his home-town and speak in the synagogue. Our text is a continuation of last weeks account of Jesus quoting Isaiah 61.
Jesus is well liked. How could he not? This is Joseph, the carpenter’s son. The hometown congregation is proud. He is the people’s choice. He knows Scripture well. In fact, he has a profound and unique understanding of the Hebrew text. So, when Jesus speaks, the eyes and ears of the congregation are fixed on him. They expect outstanding greatness.
However, Jesus is clear that he is not there to be likeable. “No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown,” he announces. Like Jeremiah’s tough sell message, Jesus acknowledges that rejection is woven into his job description. As if that is not bad enough, Jesus dismisses any sense of privilege that his listeners may have assumed was theirs. Jesus goes on and tells the story of Elijah and how a Gentile woman in Sidon was the recipient of grace. Then, Jesus told a second story about a leper from Syria who was cleansed, while the Israeli lepers were ignored.
Why did Jesus tell these stories to the home town folk? Jesus, the “proud son of Nazareth” becomes one who now has created a sense of rage. Was he no longer the elite one? Was it because his message was threatening? Was it because his words were demanding – so very demanding of at least repentance?
So often we think of Jesus meek and mild. Yet, there was a firm, direct, bold side to him. He was not hesitant to name atrocities for what they were. He raged against evil. He was committed to name it like it was. He was a straight shooter.
A professor at one of the American Theological colleges was known for his liberal insights. Before telling his classes that the Bible might not be inerrant, or that Gandhi might get into heaven, he would always say, “now don’t tell your home church I told you this, but…”
As we read the story of Jesus’ homecoming sermon in his “home church,” we are reminded that proclaiming the good news, even when it is difficult, is more important than catering to an audience. Those who follow in Jesus’ footsteps – bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives, and letting the oppressed go free – risk much. It may be that we can’t go home again, but we can extend grace, love, mercy and justice beyond the walls of our ‘homes” and past the boundaries of our prejudices. Let us commit ourselves to the challenge of bold faith sharing. Amen.