Friday of Epiphany III – Luke 4:16-30

16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” 24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away.

I remember my first sermon I ever preached. I was assigned to a large congregation in the St. Louis area along with several other seminary students. The head pastor, a wise and experienced fellow pulled me aside and said I was to preach at the Saturday evening service on the weekend after Easter. The text was the doubting Thomas account in John 20. Because I had graduated from college midyear, I was in my first term of seminary that spring. I was very green.

I labored over that sermon. I have long since lost that file. It was probably on a floppy disk anyway. Who could read that? Even if I could, I would not want to. One of my Old Testament professors attended that service with his wife and his six or seven children. It was the weekend after Easter and so the congregation was small. I remember the professor walking out, shaking my hand, and saying, “That was very interesting.” I was too afraid to ask what he meant.

This is Jesus’ first sermon we have recorded in the Gospels. It is in Jesus’ hometown synagogue. It does not go well, in fact, it went far worse than my first sermon. At first, they marvel at what he says, but then they are enraged, take him outside the village and are about to kill him. It is not Jesus’ time to die at the hands of these people. He passes through their midst. I have had people not like a sermon, but this seems a little extreme.

But look again at what he says. He claims to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy and then challenges them in what they believe, noting God’s love is even for people they are sure are heading to hell. It is a scandalous message: Jesus is the Messiah and God loves everyone. We hardly think it scandalous today. But is that because we have heard and believed it or is it because we really have not thought through all the implications of that profound truth? I am not sure. Were these people perhaps having the other appropriate reaction to a true sermon? Is our bland “Good sermon, Pastor,” on the way out of church the wrong response? When the Gospel is proclaimed, should the response be either hallelujah or hatred?

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