Plymouth United Church of Christ

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“No Excuses” Sermon, Year C, Epiphany 4, February 3, 2013
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: Jeremiah 1:4-10 and Luke 4:21-30

Today is Super Bowl Sunday. Sometimes in this day I’ll throw a football reference into the sermon but I don’t have that today. Maybe it’s just because the Packers aren’t in it, so my heart’s just not there. But as I was reading the end of the Gospel lesson just now, I had this image that I didn’t have any other time this week while reading it: as the crowd surrounds Jesus and he sneaks through, I thought, “Ah, how much like an Aaron Rogers kind of play.”

So, on to the sermon.

As we can see in Jeremiah, when God bids one to do something; when God calls one to do something; God equips that person to do it. God gives whatever is needed to do whatever it is that God calls one to do, with no excuses allowed. We are not allowed to make excuses. Jeremiah learned that. Moses learned that. You may remember that at the burning bush when God tells Moses to go to Pharaoh and tell him to let my people go, Moses says, “Well, I am not a good speaker. I can’t do that.” God says, “Then I will send someone with you who can speak.” There was no getting out of it for Moses. God gave him a call, and gave him what he needed to do it. Jeremiah’s excuse was that he was but a child. “I am but a child. I can’t do what you ask me to do.” And God says, “It doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter who you are, I called you to do this and I am going to be with you. I will give you what you need. I will make sure that you have what you need to do what I call you to do.”

It’s easy to find and make excuses. I am to young, I’m too old, I’m too poor, I have too much to lose. Or excuses churches might make, We’re too small, we don’t have the resources, we don’t have the people. Whatever excuses we might come up with to avoid moving forward in faith and discipleship. And moving forward into those uncomfortable places, which is where God so often calls us to go. Growth happens in the uncomfortable places. Ministry happens outside the confines of what is comfortable, quite often. Ministry happens in those uncomfortable places. But, it is very natural and human to respond in fear when asked to do something that is different or unusual, something that is new or unexpected. And especially if it’s difficult. Or even just scary. If it is to go into a place that is very uncomfortable.

Jesus was up against that kind of attitude as well. He had just read from Isaiah. Jesus was baptized, had his time of temptation out in the desert, and comes back home and is in the synagogue. He reads from Isaiah, and he proclaims that “Today, today, this scripture is fulfilled.” And to refresh your memory of what he read from Isaiah, it included these words: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring good news to the poor. To proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free.”

Now that is not the path to winning friends and influencing your neighbors. Those are very challenging words. It’s a kind of overthrow of the system, in a sense. Jesus saying, “I have come to turn everything upside down. I have come to make everything different.”

And then after Jesus reads from Isaiah and says “This scripture is fulfilled today,” then he kind of goes on the attack. And it’s curious that he does, because the people haven’t responded in any way that ought to make Jesus respond the way that he does. For some reason he gets angry with them, and attacks them out of the blue. He says, “A prophet is never accepted in his hometown.” Well, they haven’t done anything so far to show that they are not ready to accept him. But he makes that assumption. He is saying, “I have just told you what I am going to do by reading from Isaiah. This is what I am about. I just told you what I am going to do, and I am going to assume that you’re going to reject me for it. So there you go.” And now that he started digging his hole, he might just as well dig it deep. He continues to press them. He digs deeper. He equates them with people from ancient days, people who were just like them: self-professed faithful Jews living in God’s covenant, but the self-professing kind who were maybe not particularly faithful. Or faithful to the law, to the letter of the law about personal piety and personal cleanliness, by doing everything right in that sense, but they are not following the intent of the law which is to build loving community of justice, mercy, and peace.

So Jesus goes after them. He says, “You know, you’re like the people in Elijah’s time. You all remember what happened during Elijah’s time, right? We’d been under three and a half years of famine because the people were disobeying God. And then what happened? Yeah, that’s right – God acted. God showed up and did something. But not on behalf of our people. Not on behalf of any of the people that thought they were part of God’s covenant. God showed up and sent Elijah to go save a widow of Sidon. the people you thought God hated. The people you thought were outside of God’s love. outside of God’s realm. “

Jesus reminds his listeners of that story.

And then he says, “And remember in Elisha’s time? Our country was full of lepers. And what did God do? God showed up to bring healing and cleansing. But not for any of the people! The only leper that God healed was the commander of the enemy’s army that was attacking us. That’s the one that God healed. That’s the one who actually had the faith to trust God.”

And Jesus might have added, “So put that in your bonnet. God’s message is for outsiders.”

It’s not surprising that the people around Jesus were enraged. I probably would have been. You, too. But I hope that I would have the maturity and openness to consider his words. And that all of us would have that openness to consider his words. And not just Jesus’ words in this situation, but any time someone offers words that challenge us and who we are. To at least consider them. We still might think they are all completely wrong, but, to spend a moment to at least consider them and not just strike out in violence. To consider that maybe he’s right. Maybe he has something that I ought to hear. Something that I need to hear. And that it’s not his words that need to change, but my attitude and my thinking, my assumptions about God that need to be re-evaluated.

But the people do not consider. And like Jeremiah, the people respond with an excuse, but unlike Jeremiah, they never come around with acceptance. They respond with an excuse, and not even a good one. They don’t have the honesty or integrity to say, “We simply don’t want to do what you are talking about.” They respond in a way that says, “Your words aren’t even worth considering, and so awful that we will form a mob and try to throw you off a cliff. We are going to shut you up for good. We don’t have to change, and we resent your words.”

Jesus’ liberating words, his message of peace, his inclusion of all the world – not just the chosen people, but all the world – were too much. Too much to hear. “We have no room in our hearts,” I imagine the people saying, “to accept that others can be part of God’s plan or part of God’s realm.”

It’s sad. It is a sad response.

And prophets are rarely welcome, and more rarely welcome in their hometown. I remember many years ago as I was coming into the ministry, someone saying something to the effect of “Whatever you do, don’t try to be the minister at the church you grew up in, because everyone in that church will know you as little David.” There is truth in that. They know who I was as a child and a teenager, and it can be difficult to take someone seriously that you have known for so long and known so well. And so it is pretty much always suggested that ministers don’t try to go back and serve the church they grew up in. Prophets are rarely welcome.

And that is often because prophets hold up mirrors that are very accurate, and don’t try to whitewash anything. They hold up very accurate mirrors to us. That tends to annoy people. Tends to annoy people who are very comfortable with the way things are. Very comfortable with a lifestyle or a way of doing things. Or ideas about God or about Jesus or about how we are supposed to act as Christians, as disciples. Very comfortable with a certain way of being the Church in the world.

And Jesus’ words are challenging. Not just to the people that were there in the synagogue with him, but continue to be challenging to us. Although we have certainly become far more inclusive over time of outsiders and much more sensitive to that. Especially in Jesus’ time, the big change in his way was the inclusion of people who were on the outside. The inclusion of people who were on the outside. And that can be pretty uncomfortable, to bring in strangers. Not just people that you don’t know, but people you don’t know and who are very different. Who might have a different lifestyle or culture. Or have different attitudes. Jesus comes and proclaims that his mission is to the people who are on the outside: the Gentiles (the non-Jewish people). That’s a pretty radical message. And his message is also to the people who are on the inside, but who are considered unclean. The ones who have been pushed to the margins even within Jewish society: lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, the poor, women. All the people that were on the outside. Jesus is saying, in effect, “You people were chosen by God to be a blessing to the world.” Remember that covenant with Abraham? “You were chosen to be a blessing ot the world, and you have twisted that to men that only you are blessed. That only you are special. That you are more special than the people on the outside, and you are not blessing the world. And even within your community you are trying to establish ranks of who is most special, more special, less special, and not special at all. And so here is what God is going to do through me: I am going to take God’s realm to those people. Because they will appreciate it. They will know what I am talking about. they will understand the message, and they won’t squander it, because they know that they need it. And they will share it. They will embrace others to come into that community. And you,” I imagine Jesus saying to the people in the synagogue, “can come with me. You can choose to be part of that realm. But you cannot stay where you are if you want to come with me. If you want to be part of that realm and come with me, then you will have to move. you can’t stay where you are. No excuses. No excuses.”

And even when the crowd surrounds Jesus and try to force him to live within the bounds that the mob created,. Jesus broke that boundary and snuck through the crowd and went on his way. And some followed. Some followed.

The ones that followed him were a pretty motley crew. These were not the high end great people of the time. And it was a small group. But yet! But yet, even with no political power and with no religious power, this small group of Jesus’ followers, who could very easily have said like Jeremiah that they are too young or too new or too few or too small of a group... a group that could easily have made excuses went up against the Roman Empire, even as they were murdered by the hundreds, maybe by the thousands, over the decades of Roman oppression of Christians. And they went up against the Jewish, Roman, Greek, and other religious powers of the time. And they prevailed! A small group of people had their mission and took it. Even in the face of overwhelming odds. And now, here we sit.

We are here in this beautiful sanctuary, gathering together here to worship. Heirs of the legacy of that small group almost two thousand years ago. Continuing the struggle to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and proclaim it to a people who maybe don’t want to hear. To proclaim it to a people who want to hear but don’t know that they want to hear it until they hear it. To proclaim it to those who want to hear it and are waiting for it. Waiting to hear it. Those who have been abused by the church in the past and want to hear the message that Jesus offered. Or who have just seen bad things that the Church has done, and are waiting to see the good things that a church does. Or just simply people who are suffering, and on the outside, who have been neglected, who have been left alone, who have been pushed to the boundaries who need to know that God loves them and that they are cherished by God. And that they can be cherished by other people in the world. People like us. People like us. We are heirs of an incredible legacy of this Christian message of love. God’s radical inclusion of all of God’s people. that is our mission. That is our message. Our message to proclaim, and God has equipped us with what is need to do that. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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Plymouth United Church of Christ
2010 Moholt Drive
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

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