FROM THE RECTOR
Famed preacher Barbara Brown Taylor tells a story about a retreat she once attended where the facilitator asked the group to tell a story about someone who had been Christ in their lives. One person spoke about a friend who had stayed with her throughout a long illness though everyone else deserted her. Another person talked about someone who’d stepped into the role of father when his own father had left. The room was aglow with stories of comfort, compassion, and love.
Then a woman in the back of the room stood up and said, with some reluctance, “Well, the first thing I thought about when I tried to think who had been Christ to me was, ‘Who in my life has told me the truth so clearly that I wanted to kill him for it?’”
As you can imagine, the air immediately deflated from that room full of feel-good. But what that woman said contained a powerful truth that we can easily forget: Jesus is not only the one who comes to comfort and rescue us. Jesus is also the one who speaks the truth so clearly to us that people killed him for it. Obviously, not everyone who offends us is godly, but, if what Scripture tells us is true, then some of them are: people sent to yank our chains and upset us just enough to prevent us from confusing our ideas about God with God.
This weekend we’ll hear the story of what happened in response to Jesus’ first sermon in Nazareth. Last week we heard Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah, “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.” Everyone listening assumed he was talking to them when he said that the scripture “has been fulfilled in your hearing,” which them all to bask in a feel-good moment.
But then Jesus reminds them of two stories from Scripture—the story of the widow in Zarephath, and the tale of Namaan the Syrian, who was an officer in the army of one of Israel’s greatest enemies. These are stories about “insiders” being passed over, and God’s favor falling on unlikely, even hated, “outsiders.” Switch “widow of Zarephath” with widow of Hezbollah and “Namaan the Syrian” with Namaan the Islamic State fighter, and you begin to get a sense of shock value.
The people of Nazareth don’t like that message one bit. Luke says that the people who had been amazed by Jesus only moments before are suddenly filled with rage. They form a mob, drive Jesus out of town, and prepare to kill him – all because he stops making the people feel good about themselves and starts challenging them.
Which begs the question, are we ready to meet Jesus not only in comforting, reassuring, and familiar faces and places, or we willing to accept the holy presence of Jesus in things that push our buttons, challenge our assumptions, and stretch us to the breaking point? If we are only willing to look for Jesus in things we like, we run the risk of making Jesus into nothing more than a mascot, who cheers for whatever we want him to. The much harder work, but work that has the potential to excavate new holy depths in our souls, is to look for Jesus in words and ideas that may actually deeply upset us at first, because they threaten our comfortable complacency and force us to take a hard look at whether we’re really living and loving like he does.
See you this weekend.