Thursday, February 07, 2013


Luke 4:21-30[1]
Choosing is an action that is full of consequences--some intended and some unintended.  Especially when it comes to choosing people.  If you choose someone, that means you are passing over, or not choosing others.  In my day, where this was played out most significantly was on the school playground.  When it came to choosing sides for a game of football or kickball, the most popular kids, and the most athletic, were always chosen first.  I was never among that group.  I was usually the last to be chosen for any team I was on.  It feels really good to be the first chosen for something.  It makes you feel special and wanted.  It doesn’t feel so good being the last chosen, or even being passed over.
The Bible is full of language related to God choosing a particular people, the descendants of Abraham.  The Jewish people had a strong sense of being a “peculiar people,” a nation chosen and blessed by God.  Unfortunately, as many of the prophets make clear, the Jewish people turned that blessing into a privilege, and they thought it would spare them from suffering the consequences of their disobedience to God.  It would seem that by Jesus’ day and time, one of the fundamental aspects of Jewish identity was the belief that they were chosen by God.  In their minds, God’s special relationship with them meant that they must be special, and therefore better than the “gentile dogs” (that is, all non-Jewish people).
But like Jesus, the prophets also reminded the Jewish people that the purpose of their calling was not simply privilege, but so that they might be a “light to the nations” (Isaiah 49:6).  This theme goes back to the days of the Exodus, when Moses had said that they would be a “priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6), a whole nation of people who would speak for God and represent God’s saving purposes in the world.  It goes back even beyond that to the days when Abraham lived in Ur of the Chaldees, and God called him for a special purpose.  The purpose was to make Abraham a blessing to all people: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).[2] 
I think this is a big part of what is going on in our Gospel lesson for today.  Jesus knew that the people of Nazareth were jealous of the fact that he had done wondrous things in Capernaum--a city they considered virtually heathen territory.  It was a scandal to them that he would share the blessings of God’s Kingdom with those who were outside the chosen people.  That’s why he gave them two examples of God doing just that--blessing those who were outside the chosen people.[3]  In part, I think Jesus was trying to remind them that God’s kingdom of justice, peace, and freedom was not just for the chosen few, but for the whole human family. The God of Abraham is the God who is concerned about “all the families of the earth” (Gen. 12:3).[4]  The God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ does not single anyone out for special attention or blessings. God gives the blessings of sun and rain (Mt. 5:44-45), compassion and care (Ps. 145:9), to all people on earth alike.[5] I think that’s at least a part of what Jesus was trying to say to them, and they didn’t like it one little bit!
But I think that Jesus was also trying to remind them of the original purpose of their special relationship with God: to share the blessings of a new way of life with those living in the darkness of oppression, captivity, violence, and fear.[6]  Like God’s servants of the past, like Jesus himself, those who claim to have a special relationship with God by virtue of calling and faith are chosen for a reason: to share God’s grace and mercy and love and justice with those around them.  That was true in the time of the prophets, it was true in the time of Jesus, and it’s still true today.  We are called to give water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, welcome to the stranger, shelter to the homeless, clothing to the naked.[7]  We are called to share the blessing of new life that we have been given through our faith in Jesus the Christ.
Epiphany really is a good time to re-learn the good news that we profess.  It is a time to remind ourselves that in Jesus a light has dawned that will never go out.  It is a time to reaffirm our hope in the promises of all the good things that God is always working to bring into all our lives. It’s a time to remind ourselves that the life that God has created and redeemed through Jesus Christ is something to celebrate.  It’s a time to recognize that the grace of God is emerging all around us, bringing freedom and peace and a fresh start for the least and the lost and the left out.  But it’s also a time to remember that we have received all those blessings of new life for a purpose--not to hoard them, or to think of ourselves as special, but to share them with everyone we meet.

[1] ©2013 Alan Brehm.   A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 2/3/2013.
[2] Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World, 28-41.       
[3] Cf. William Willimon, “Book ‘Em,” The Christian Century (Jan 27, 2004):20, where he points out that this is Jesus’ first sermon, and he “threw the book at them”!
[4] Cf. Claus Westermann, C, A Continental Commentary: Genesis 12–36, 152:  “Where the name of Abraham is spoken in a prayer for blessing, the blessing of Abraham streams forth; it knows no bounds and reaches all the families of the earth.” Cf. also Charles B. Cousar, Galatians, 84 and Richard B. Hays, “The Letter to the Galatians,” The New  Interpreter’s Bible XI:278.
[5] Cf. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 4.2.223.  He points out that Jesus acts out this mercy and grace of God especially toward those who benefit from his miracles.  He says, “the important thing about them in these stories is not that they are sinners but that they are sufferers. Jesus does not first look at their past, and then at their tragic present in the light of it. But from their present He creates for them a new future. He does not ask, therefore, concerning their sin. He does not hold it against them. He does not denounce them because of it. The help and blessing that He brings are quite irrespective of their sin. He acts almost (indeed exactly) in the same way as His Father in heaven, who causes His sun to shine on the good and the evil, and His rain to fall on the just and the unjust (Mt. 5:45).”  Cf. also ibid., 2.1:270, where he comments on Ps. 145: “Everything that God is and does is determined and characterised by the fact that there is rooted in Him, that He Himself is, this original free powerful compassion, that from the outset He is open and ready and inclined to the need and distress and torment of another, that His compassionate words and deeds are not grounded in a subsequent change, in a mere approximation to certain conditions in the creature which is distinct from Himself, but are rooted in His heart, in His very life and being as God.”
[6] Cf. John Stendahl, “The Offense,” The Christian Century (Jan 21, 1998):53.  He suggests that Jesus was trying to get them to see the “big picture” of what God was up to in the world and they tried to trivialize it by focusing on him as the local boy who made good.  Cf. also Donald G. Miller, “Luke 4:22-30,” Interpretation 40 (Jan 1986): 54; and Craig A. Evans, “Luke's Use Of The Elijah/Elisha Narratives And The Ethic Of Election,” Journal of Biblical Literature 106/1 (1987)78-79.
[7] Cf. Letty M. Russell, “A Prophet Without Welcome,” The Christian Century (Jan 1, 1992):10.  She says, “The oppressed whom Jesus has come to set free are the crushed ones, the bruised of society; the nonpersons who have no room to breathe or live as human beings. God is specially concerned for such people because they have been denied their created humanity by the way the social system functions.”  Cf. also Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1-13, 136, where he comments (on Matt. 5:45) “In this love that knows no boundaries, the disciples are to reflect the generosity of God, who sends blessing upon both the righteous and the unrighteous and who has brought the kingdom to the unworthy.”

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