1 February 3, 2013 4th Sunday after the Epiphany Pastor Dena Williams Denver, CO Jeremiah 1:4-10 Psalm 71:1-6 I Corinthians 13:1-3 Luke

4:14-30 The Holy Gospel according to the Community of St. Luke in the 4th Chapter Glory to you, O Lord First, from last Sunday’s Gospel: Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,

2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. This Sunday’s Gospel, the 4th chapter continues: Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 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?’ He 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.” ’ And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But 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; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers* in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They 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. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. The Gospel of the Lord Praise to you, O Christ

3 Prophet Perils Welcome to the Year of Luke! All across this coming year we will hear the stories of Jesus according to the writer of the Gospel of Luke. With each of the Gospels come special gifts— Matthew reminds us of God’s call to us to live righteously. His first picture of Jesus’ ministry on this earth is Jesus, the teacher on the mountain top. Mark begins his story of Jesus with healing and exorcism. Luke, the writer of the Gospel of Luke, begins his story in worship. Luke, the storyteller, takes us to worship— to synagogue, to temple, to church. We come together to offer our praise and thanks to God in worship. It is the most important thing we do in our community of faith—we worship. So, Luke, the story teller takes us to worship: Jesus returns to his home town. He goes back to the synagogue where he grew up, the place where he played at his father’s feet during prayers, where he went to Hebrew school, where he and the other boys probably teased the girls in the courtyard. Why, there are the doors and window frames that he and his father, Joseph, made a few years ago. Looks like they’re holding up well. Jesus has been gone from his hometown for awhile. There’s talk that he’s been hanging out with some pretty strange characters, particularly, his cousin John, that wild man who left the village, went crazy and lived in the wilderness like an animal. Then John came back and began telling people he had heard a message from God! Jesus has been keeping strange company. He has come back to town,

4 and now on the Sabbath, here he is in the synagogue. He’s come to worship with the people of the village, people he has known and worshipped with all his life. On the Sabbath, the men take turns reading from the sacred scrolls. Today Jesus takes a turn. He stands up to read from a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. His teachers are beaming, he was always such a good student, they are proud of his ability and confidence. They smile and nod as he reads that passage about the Lord’s Spirit being upon “him.” Yes, this young man does seem to have the Lord’s Spirit. All the people watch as he sits down. They know he is clever and look forward to his comments. Jesus says to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All speak well of him and are amazed at the gracious words that come from his mouth. They say, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” It seems strange to me that no one takes offense at his proclamation. Jesus has just announced that he is the one who has been anointed by God to do some pretty remarkable things. He claims to be the Lord’s anointed, the one who will release captives, give sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free. He claims to be the anointed one, the Messiah, the Son of God! Isn’t anyone offended or angry? Doesn’t anyone find him presumptuous? Apparently not! Jesus goes on speaking. He reminds the people of the story of Elijah the prophet. How, as it is written,

5 during the time of famine in Israel, the prophet could have been sent to help any widow in the whole of the land. Elijah could have been sent to help a widow of the children of Israel, one of his own people. But God did not send the prophet Elijah to a widow of his own people. God sent Elijah to the widow at Sidon, a foreigner, an alien, an outsider. It was this foreigner and her young son who Elijah fed with a miracle of oil and flour. It was the alien and her family who Elijah rescued from starvation. It was the outsider to whom God sent the prophet. Then Jesus talks about Elisha, how there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet. God could have sent to Elisha, a leper from among the children of Israel, a leper from among Elisha’s own people. But it was Naaman who came to Elisha for healing. Naaman, a general in the Syrian army, a foreigner, an alien, an outsider. It was Naaman who, at the prophet’s direction bathed seven times in the River Jordan and was cleansed of his leprosy. It was the foreigner who came for healing. It was the alien who found God’s prophet. It was the outsider who was healed by Elisha. Well, Jesus should have stopped while he was ahead. That business about claiming to be the Lord’s anointed was one thing, claiming to be the Messiah, the Son of God seems to have been acceptable to the home town folks. But claiming that God somehow chooses foreigners, aliens, outsiders over the people of Israel?

6 That is just too much! Jesus has gone too far! When they hear this, all in the synagogue are filled with rage. These same people who watched the boy Jesus grow up among them, his teachers, his friends, his family members turn on him. They rise up, drive Jesus out of town, lead him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, with plans to hurl him off the cliff to his death! It was not his claim to be God’s anointed that got him in trouble, it was his claim that insinuated that God’s love is radically inclusive, that God’s hospitality extends beyond the borders of Israel, that is what put him on the edge of the cliff. What got Jesus in trouble? The very idea that God loves all people. The very idea that God calls us to love all people. People who are like us and people who are not. The The The The The The widows. lepers. aliens. foreigners. immigrants. outsiders.

Those people— You know who they are— Those people who are different from us, different in appearance, different in social status, different in culture and language, different in life style, different in religious tradition.

7 Those people— You know who they are. The prophet Jesus tells us that God loves them preferentially. That God chooses those who are different, chooses them in special ways. That God’s love comes first to them, to those who need love most. That is a dangerous thing for a prophet to say. Is it dangerous for us, for our community? Well, maybe not dangerous, but certainly challenging. Jesus, the prophet, may well call us over the coming months to throw our doors wide open, to welcome those who are different, to welcome those people. I know this community, I’ve known you for a long time. I know you and I am confident that you will meet whatever challenges Jesus sets before us. I know you and I am confident that you will not try to throw Jesus off a cliff for calling us to something new. For Jesus’ words may be dangerous, but his words, his call is also good news. Why is it good news for us that God comes first to those who are different? Because at any moment we might find ourselves there, on the fringe, outside looking in, the alien, the foreigner, the outsider. We may be one pay check, one illness, one accident, one wayward child, one catastrophe, one earthquake or flood or tornado, one single moment of self awareness

8 away from being one of those people. And then it will be our turn to be loved preferentially. Then we will understand how God’s love is expressed to us through the love of other people, maybe even those people. Amen