Sunday, January 24, 2016

“What If . . . One Among You” (Luke 4:14-21)

As usual, those who choose the scripture readings for the lectionary have chosen to tell only part of the story of Jesus’ return to his hometown’s synagogue.  In our reading this morning we hear how he goes to the synagogue he grew up in, stands and reads a passage from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Then he sat down, looked at those who were congregated and said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

And, that’s it.  That is all they have given for all of us poor preachers to deal with on this Sunday morning . . . Jesus read the scripture, sat down, and proclaimed to the hometown crowd that the words of Isaiah have been fulfilled.  We are a curious people . . . actually, we are a nosey people . . . and, this reading leaves us feeling unfulfilled . . . feeling as if there is more that we want to know.  We are an inquiring people and inquiring people want to know . . . we want to know the rest of the story as Paul Harvey used to say.

What is the rest of the story?

Well, Jesus being a hometown boy was quickly sized up . . . he was found lacking and brash . . . the people were not real pleased in the way that he addressed them.  In fact, it made them angry; the writer of the Gospel of Luke says that they were “furious.”  So furious that they drove him out of town to the edge of a cliff . . . a cliff they planned to throw him over.  To say the least, they were not too thrilled with the hometown boy coming home in all of his prestige and press clippings acting like some sort of hotshot . . . or at least that is how they perceived him and his actions.

Jesus knew this would happen, after all, Jesus knew that a prophet was never well-received in his or her hometown.  Jesus was one of them . . . he was “Joseph’s boy” . . . and, in this new persona, Jesus ruffled more than a few feathers.  Who was he to come prancing in proclaiming himself a big shot . . . the redeemer of them all?  This Jesus was nothing more than a snot-nosed kid who had grown up among them just like every other snot-nosed kid . . . who did he think he was putting them down as he confronts their disbelief?

What is it that Jesus actually did?  I would contend that Jesus did nothing more than to point out to those who had gathered at the synagogue that the Messiah was among them.  True, he pretty much implied that the Messiah was himself, but basically he was proclaiming that the Messiah was among them.  The Messiah was one of them.

Those are some pretty potent words . . . especially coming from one of the hometown boys.  Hearing those words, the people decided that they would have to put Jesus in his place.  There was no way that the people of his hometown were going to see him as the Messiah . . . no way they were going to see the miracles he could perform . . . no way they could hear the teachings he was going to share.  Nope, Jesus was just being a little too big for his own britches and the homefolk were going to help him get back into this own pants.

Despite it all, Jesus remained steadfast in what he was saying . . . the Messiah is among you.

There is an old story, the Rabbi’s Gift that you may have heard before but it is worth repeating again.  It is the story about a monastery that had fallen on hard times.  Once a great and proud order of holy men, it had stumbled slowly into a state of major decline . . . they were down to an abbot and four monks.  It was clearly a dying order.

In the woods near the monastery, there was a small hut that a rabbi from a nearby town used to come to pray and contemplate.  Over the years the monks had developed a sense of the rabbi’s presence whenever he came to the small hut to pray.  “The rabbi is in the woods; the rabbi is in the woods again,” they would whisper to one another.  The abbot, agonizing over the imminent death of the order, decided he would go and visit the rabbi and see if there was any advice that the rabbi could offer to save the order.

The rabbi welcomed the abbot into the hut.  The abbot explained the purpose of his visit.  The rabbi just shook his head in understanding and explained that it was no different for him and his synagogue . . . “The spirit has gone out of the people . . . almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore.”  And, so, the two of them sat there in silence and wept . . . read the scripture . . . prayed.  Then the time came for the abbot to return to the monastery.  He proclaimed that he had failed in his purpose of coming to visit the rabbi.  He looked at the rabbi and asked, “Is there any advice . . . any words . . . that could help me save my dying order?”

“No, I am sorry,” the rabbi responded.  “I have no advice to give.  The only thing that I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you.”

Returning to the monastery, the other monks wanted to know what the rabbi had said.  The abbot told them all about his time with the rabbi . . . the weeping and reading of scripture, the prayers, and the discussion.  Told them that the rabbi could not help them; then, the abbot said, “The only thing he did say, just as I was leaving—it was something cryptic—was that the Messiah was one of us.  I don’t know what he meant.”  And, that was it.

In the days and weeks and months that followed, the old monks pondered this and wondered whether there was any possible significance to the rabbi’s words.  The Messiah is one of us?  Then they started considering whether or not it truly could be one of them . . . they began looking at one another differently . . . they began treating one another differently.  As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat one another with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah . . . and, on the off off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah.

Surprisingly, things began to change.  Those who came around the monastery for picnics and family gatherings began to notice this change in the monks . . . they began to sense the extraordinary respect and love that was radiating out from the place and from the monks.  People began to bring other people . . . the monastery became a special place.  Soon young men, curious as to this lifestyle, began to ask questions of the monks . . . began to ask to join the monastery.  The monastery began to grow and become vibrant once again.

And, to think, it was all because the rabbi suggested that the Messiah was one among them.

And he stood up to read . . . “The Spirit of the Lord is on me . . . Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  The rabbi said, “The Messiah is one of you.”

I imagine that the people of Jesus’ hometown were too close to see and understand.  In response to the message Jesus shared, they rejected him . . . rejected his message . . . rejected the possibility.  There is a tradition in many of the varieties of the Christian faith to use a greeting during the worship service that acknowledges the presence of Christ found in each follower.  It is that the Christ in me recognizes the Christ in you.  Which is good . . . but, such an acknowledgement is meant to go beyond the walls of the sanctuary on Sunday morning.  It is meant to be lived each day.

Consider it . . . consider it just as the old monks considered it in the words of the rabbi . . . the Messiah is one of you.  The Messiah is among us.  Consider it and what it would mean in the way that you live your life . . . in the way that you treat others.  What if Jesus was one of us . . . but, we really don’t know which one of us Jesus is . . . maybe we would be safe in doing what the monks in the story did.  Treating each and every person who wanders into our lives with great love and respect just in case he or she is the Messiah.  It can make a difference.

Yes, in our reading this morning the Messiah was among those who had gathered . . . they just could not fathom it or the possibilities.  Jesus told us that whenever two or three gathered in his name he would be among them.  I look around . . . Jesus is here.  Amen.

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