For so many reasons this is a great passage of scripture. As I preacher, I like it because Jesus missed the mark on his sermon. Comforting to me. The hometown crowd were not impressed with his preaching. Luke writes, “When they heard this, all the in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.” (Luke 4:28 – 29)
That’s a pretty serious reaction to a sermon. And not a normal one. I’ve had many reactions some positive and some not so positive. Some for good reason. We preacher don’t always get it right. We miss the mark. One of my early supervisors, who normally used poetic language to describe my work, called one of my sermons, ‘adequate.” I knew it wasn’t great but when she said adequate, I knew it was terrible. But this is not the same thing as wanting to through someone of a cliff. So what happened that day in Nazareth? It says, “all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came form his mouth.” (Luke 4:22) So it wasn’t that he was speaking. It was probably that they heard something that so challenged their essential beliefs that they couldn’t hear what he was saying. Add a little of the hometown boy getting too big for his britches – and well you get an angry crowd. Whatever happened, it was impossible for Jesus to do his usual teaching, preaching, healing ministry.
In terms of the chronology, this passage follows Jesus’ baptism and then being tempted in the desert by the devil. Jesus has invited the disciples to follow and he is speaking to groups large and small around then Galilean countryside with growing success. Then he goes to his home church, his home synagogue and he does what he’s always done. He goes and he reads these powerful words form the book of 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 and recovery of sight to the blind, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18 – 19) He sits down and adds, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:20) That’s when the whispering starts. “Isn’t that guy, the carpenter’s son? Isn’t that Joseph’s boy?” Who does he think he is? Then Jesus has to make a quick escape before getting thrown off a cliff.
Here’s the thing about missing the mark or not quit managing to get people to hear your message – you learn a lot. Maybe the next time Jesus spoke he refined his message. Sometimes getting it wrong is the first step to getting it right. There is a great line in one of my favourite TV shows. I liked it so much that I wrote it down. The show is called Scorpion and it is about a group of geniuses who save the world every week. In one episode, Walter O’Brian and the members of Scorpion try to save a high tech building that was attacked by a computer virus. As the owner of the building and Walter sit watching the building burn down (after of course rescuing all the people inside). The owner looks at the building and says, “Next time it will work.” Walter says, “Next time? You’re going to do this again? This failed.” The owner says, “Walter, people think that I’m some kind of brilliant visionary. The reason I am successful is because on the heals of defeat, I start all over again. Failure is part of the process. You don’t know where you are vulnerable until you’ve failed.” (From Scorpion, Tech, drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll (Season 2 episode 6 October 26)
Failure can be our greatest teacher. It helps us know how to improve. My guess is that Jesus learned that if you’ve a message that’s hard for people to accept you need to refine how you say it. Just because the people in Nazareth couldn’t hear the good news doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. The challenge for the people in Nazareth was that the good news meant change. It meant looking at the world with a new set of eyes. That is not always easy to do. In fact, it can be one of the most challenging things to do.
Even though it is hard to hear, Jesus’ words are an invitation to new life. Jesus says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18 – 19)
These words are an invitation for all of all who follow Jesus to live into that promise of good news for the poor and sight for the blind and release of the captives. It is an invitation to discipleship. Perhaps we can say it like this, “The Spirit of the Lord is on us, Cochrane Street United Church, because he has anointed us to bring good news to the poor. He has sent us to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
The Spirit of the Lord certainly has been at work in this congregation. We are building homes and community space. It is wonderful and amazing. At the same time, I know it is not without its challenges. We miss our church. We miss the comforts of home. Our choir is practicing one place and men’s club, UCW, Messy Church and bridge are meeting in others. It is harder to do the things we’ve always done as a church family and we miss the comforts of home.
And yet that is only one part of the story. There is more. There is our calling, that invitation from Jesus to step out – to move beyond what is comfortable and known to bring good news. There is the good news are bringing to people who need homes. In those difficult moments, when it seems that it is too hard, remember that our God is with us always nudging us in the direction of new life. ““The Spirit of the Lord is on us, because he has anointed us to bring good news to the poor. He has sent us to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” Amen.