the middle

TheMiddleSunday, February 3, 2013
4th Sunday after Epiphany
“the middle”
Text: Luke 4:21-30

Today’s lectionary presents a text that is not altogether unfamiliar to us…It is the story that leads us to our understanding that prophets, and preachers, are not appreciated in their own hometown…It may be why associate ministers seldom get appointed as Sr. Pastor in their own church.  This morning I want to look at this story from within its full context to help us realize that we have walked into the middle of it this morning.

Have you ever walked into a room and gotten involved in the middle of a conversation?  Most of us have and it can be awkward…We don’t know what was said before we got there and we may misunderstand what is being said when we arrive…If we jump to conclusions based on our limited viewpoint, we may end up saying something inappropriate or completely wrong…That may be an issue with the way we have traditionally approached this story from Luke’s gospel.

First, let’s look at what has already happened in this chapter…After Jesus was baptized he spent forty days in the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil and protected by the Holy Spirit.  Verse 14 says that Jesus, “filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, returned to Galilee…He began to teach…and was praised by everyone.”  Things seem to be going pretty well for Jesus.  When he arrives in his own home town – Nazareth – he goes to the synagogue and is invited to read Scripture…He reads from the prophet Isaiah…words that are familiar to the congregation…Then he simply sits down.  The people look to him to speak further and offer his insights on this passage…After all, they have heard of his reputation as a respected teacher…Jesus tells them that this prophecy has now been fulfilled.

Here comes the tricky part…“All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”  That’s a good thing…“They said, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’”…They are proud that their hometown boy has grown up so wise.  We have been trained to hear this as their rejection of Jesus…That’s not really what the story is telling us…At this point in the story the people are pretty pleased with Jesus and like what he has said.  It is in the middle of all this acceptance that Jesus starts the conflict…That’s the problem with walking into the middle of this story…If we don’t see the whole context, we assume that the people immediately disliked Jesus’ teaching and ran him out of town…That is not what happened.

It is Jesus who confronts the congregation…We need to ask why Jesus deliberately antagonizes these people…What is really going on here?  Jesus anticipates the congregation’s objections to his message and lashes out at them for something they haven’t done…yet.  When Jesus refers to the healing of Nā’a-man the Syrian, he is really challenging them to realize that his message of Good News is also for the Gentiles…He talks about widows and famines to show the church that his mission is to the marginalized…Jesus is seeking the lost, the lonely, the poor, the blind, and the oppressed…No wonder the people in church got upset – he didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear.

This is what intrigues me about this idea of walking into the middle of a conversation…Our reality is that we have to try to make sense of God, our own life, and the issues that surround us from the perspective of being in the middle of it all…It is a rare thing for us to start at the beginning of any story and see it through to the end…It seems that there is always something that we don’t see, or at least don’t recognize, that is part of the story and we miss it…We do our best to fill in the blanks by making educated guesses – or assumptions – and our assumptions are often incorrect…I think that is part of what happens in this story today…The people made certain assumptions about Jesus based on the fact that he was one of their own – a hometown boy; he had a good reputation; they assumed he would interpret Scripture in exactly the same way that they did…Instead, he suggested that maybe God had chosen ALL people, not just them, to be part of the Kingdom.  As we look back on two thousand years of church history and tradition, we also make assumptions about Jesus and what his message is for us…Sometimes our assumptions are incorrect.  The truth is that we have walked into the middle of God’s story…We don’t know everything that has gone on before we got here – so we study history and archeology and so forth…We try to catch up on the conversation by listening to the voices of the past in such places as The Bible…I think we generally do our best to be part of the story and see our place in it…But it is a tough spot that we are in – the middle…Caught between living in our world and living towards God’s world…We want to understand the whole story, but there are too many pieces missing because we are, after all, stuck in the middle.

The ability to see the whole is exclusively God’s…We only see from our perspective – in the middle.  Even so, it is still our responsibility to try to make sense of the story.  Jesus comes along to help us broaden our perspective and see things from a wider perspective…Jesus challenges us to see beyond the limits of our narrow point of view…He encourages us to ask the hard questions that might lead us from the middle to the margins.

What is really going on in the gospel?  What unexamined assumptions do you still hold when it comes to Jesus?  What does Jesus need to do to get you to move out of the middle?  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.