So, we begin where we left off last week. Jesus, having read from Isaiah, hands the scroll back to the attendant and sits, first in silence then with the commanding voice of one who has authority. The words that follow trigger a spontaneous and antagonistic response from his listeners. What Jesus says to them threatens their sense of entitled privilege in the eyes of God. Are they not the chosen people? Why then would this homegrown boy come back to challenge their position and privilege?
It’s hard to go home again. I’ve experienced that reality many, many times in my life. I’ve had many homes and many church communities. I’ve felt a part of the “family” whenever I’ve served a particular congregation but, when I leave, I know I have no claim to a position in that “family” either than invited guest.
It’s an odd feeling to walk back into a church I served and see another pastor sitting in the chancel, speaking from the pulpit I once spoke from, sitting in an office behind a desk, which was once mine. And, if I were to assert myself in any of these church settings, if I was to claim the place I once held there, the reaction of those within the church who now have a new minister would border on indignation and astonishment at my assuming a role given over to someone else.
So, perhaps this has happened to you too. Perhaps you’ve stepped back or tried to step back into a role you once held only to find that you’re no longer welcome, comfortable, or respected in that role. It’s not your place anymore and you, like me, can’t assume it is. The people in our lives tend to make assumptions about us. They do know us but only in part, which is a mere glimpse of who we are in total. We are children to our parents, no matter what our age and parents to our children no matter how old they get. We have roles in life that we live out and it’s difficult to step into a new role and be seen as authentic.
Certainly, Jesus was known in his hometown but Luke makes it evident in this passage that the hometown folk knew the Jesus who had grown up in their midst. They didn’t know the one who was now confronting them with their own sense of religious entitlement. Christ came as a prophet to them to do what prophets do…speak a difficult truth often, to unwilling ears. At first, they were astonished at his wisdom but, rather quickly they were affronted by his audacity and his claims. Did they not also have God’s truth? So, who was he to think he could confront their beliefs, their faith, their sense of belonging to a favored race and religion? They showed their displeasure by chasing him out of the synagogue and to the brim of a hill with the intent of throwing him over the embankment.
Given the divisions between faith communities, the angst occurring among various flavors of Christian belief, we may see evidence of a few symbolic but highly charged cliff-tossings among those who profess a common belief in the same God. Conservative vs. liberal; Pentecostal vs. Emergent, etc., whatever the particularities, we seem, as followers of Christ, to be missing the point. Christ came to shake up our certainties, not to honor them. Christ came to invite us to join him in a radically new way, to teach us how to live out God’s love, mercy, and compassion in the world in which we live. That may very well cause us to rethink the kind of institutional “church” we’ve created with its endless, reports and statistics, with its claims to superiority and yes, privilege. Christ came to teach us how to embrace a new model of faith- living a model that doesn’t necessarily lift up antiquated beliefs when those believe shut others out, but rather seeks to help us keep the doors of our churches and our hearts open to the least and the lost.
As we begin our preparation for the annual Good Friday walk, we have yet another opportunity to reach out in love to those within our community and beyond. Ultimately, Christ’s ministry on earth would end on a cross. In the symbolic shape of the cross – the beams opening out to the world and embracing it and the fully extended vertical beam, which points up toward the God of heaven, our source of strength – this symbol would keep us firmly connected to the purposes for which we were created. It reminds us of the life of love and compassion we are called to live as we live out our faith in and for Christ. Taking one single step on the Good Friday walk with the right attitude – a desire to reach out in love to those God loves, the least and lost – is far more significant than walking 20 miles because of a selfish desire to compete for place, position, prize or privilege.
I had to learn this lesson the hard way. The first year I was pastoring in Rockville, the Good Friday walk was announced. I heard the words – walk 20 miles – and thought there is no way I could possibly walk 20 miles. So that first year, I didn’t walk at all. A year later, we were gearing up for another Walk and once again, the thought went through my head…I can’t walk 20 miles, but right on top of that thought another emerged. I may not be able to walk 20 miles but I can walk one mile if it helps someone in need. So that year I walked, first year to the Parsonage and every subsequent year since, I’ve added a stop. I give a lot of thought to why I’m doing this. Am I doing it for the right reason? That was the challenge Christ put before the people from his hometown who heard him speak that day. Were they gathering together for the right reason? Apparently, Christ’s words convicted them. They were not so, in anger, they pulled Jesus out into the street and up the brim of a hill with every intention of eliminating their shame by tossing Christ over the cliff.
It didn’t work because it never does. We need to face ourselves and deal with our prejudices, our self-deluded certainties and sense of privilege as well as the ways we tend to misuse God’s word to harm rather than to heal. I begin this year with a desire to think more fully how I am living out the gospel of Christ in my life. And, where my attitudes need tweaking, I’m striving to more heavily on the grace of God to help me take that first step, then another and then another until God’s grace guides me in what God wants me to be and do. One step at a time…and then another, and yet another. Is this your challenge too? Perhaps. Amen.