The Offense of Change


Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
Luke 4:21-30


4: 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” 24And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the 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. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. (Luke 4:21-30, NRSV)


Let us pray: O God of all the prophets, you knew us and chose us before you formed us in the womb. Fill us with faith that speaks your word, hope that does not disappoint, and love that bears all things for your sake, until that day when we shall know you fully, even as we are known by you. Amen.


I am so glad there is not a steep cliff nearby!  Let me explain.  For the second time in a row the lectionary assigns a Gospel reading where Jesus’ behavior is a surprise.  Two weeks ago he was rude to his mother as he turned water into wine and today he seems to go out of his way to pick a fight with the good people of his hometown synagogue in Nazareth.


To set the scene: you can imagine everyone is excited to go and see and hear the hometown boy made good.  The word was out about Jesus and how he was so impressive and his reputation was spreading throughout the land.  And he was coming home to their synagogue.  The congregation was so impressed by his presence and his reading of the Torah. They said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”  Then he went from preaching to meddling.


When, suddenly, for no apparent reason, Jesus refuses to be the good boy, the dutiful son of the village, who was supposed to be full of grace.   No, this time he picks a fight.  He gives offense.  His behavior seems uncalled for, like the argument or resentment of someone in a bad mood.[1] What was it that Jesus said that upset the crowd?  What did he do that offended them so deeply that they tried to kill him?


I think it was two things: First, Jesus was preaching and teaching using the two famous prophets of the Old Testament: Elijah and Elisha.  These two prophets were well known to these synagogue going Jews.  The Old Testament is full of stories and tales about them.  But if you notice, Jesus picks out two stories that tell about the care for the outsider and the other people who were not part of the people of Israel.  The point of Jesus’ message is that his ministry is also focused on those beyond the borders of his hometown of Nazareth beyond the people of Israel.  Jesus is making it clear that he will not be a prophet who serves the special interests of his hometown and his own people but instead his ministry is good news for the whole world and especially the weak and vulnerable. Not surprisingly, his message makes them angry.


But secondly, the hometown folk can’t believe that one of their own could be a prophet.   To think that Jesus was suggesting that he was even more than a prophet.   He was claiming that he was the long awaited Messiah, and the people can’t accept him.  You can just hear them, “Come on.   He grazed our donkeys.   No way could he be a prophet.  Not little Jesus of Nazareth.  Not the little neighborhood boy who was always at his mother’s side as she washed and cleaned.   Not the teenager who helped his father with his carpentry work.  How could God come in such a common and ordinary way as to come through Jesus of Nazareth?”

They were upset both at what he said and who he claimed to be.  Jesus was talking change, Jesus was embodying change, and Jesus was change!  We all know what happens when we come face to face with change, don’t we?


Here at Indian Hill Church we have gotten very good at change because change is a constant around here, isn’t.  In the two years that I have been here things have changed enormously.  We have seen retirements, Reverend Anne Wrider and Kim Sadem, nursery school director, Michelle Van OudenAllen, Director of Youth Ministry, left us to pursue other ministry and that is just the clergy and staff changes. Other changes have been more subtle like the worship schedule.  We now celebrate both Episcopal and Presbyterian Worship traditions every Sunday.  Other changes have not been so subtle and you have let us know about them: a recent change to the words of the Lord’s Prayer from the traditional Debts/Debtors and Trespasses/Trespassers to sins/sinners has not been well received.  The same with the Episcopal service bulletin.  We have gone to the larger format so that everyone can follow along and you don’t have to fumble with 3 different books during the service.  We tried having three hymnals in the pew and that was too confusing so we have returned to the tradition of the late summer, fall, and the season of Advent is the Presbyterian hymnal and January, the season of Lent and the early summer is the Episcopal hymnal.  Sometimes with change you make mistakes but you have to try somethings.  Change, even small change, can be difficult and met with great resistance.


The funny thing about change is that is always happening to us and around us and in us.  Change in our world is no longer as big and mysterious as it once was because you can literally be anywhere in the world in a day.  Change in our nation, we have an African American President, something fifty years ago was unheard of. It looks like we could elect a women as our next president but I won’t go there. Change in our city, Cincinnati is no longer just defined by where you went to school and what neighborhood you came from.  Cincinnati is changing everyday from the development at the Banks, to reclaiming of Over the Rhine, to more metropolitan growth.  Change is everywhere in our lives.  Even here at church!  Church the last bastion that will never change.  Church was always the safe place with the tried and true hymns, the familiar liturgy and the same people sitting in the same pews every week.  Well not anymore.   Church is changing as well.  Both the institution of the Christian Church and our local congregation.  The Christian Church no longer has the power and the clout it once enjoyed.  Being a Christian in the United States does not guarantee anything anymore. Some of this change is for the better but it is change none-the-less.


Even in the local church change is happening as well.  Some churches have bought in to the change by abandoning the traditional style of worship for much more contemporary and hip versions.  Drop down screens and rock bands, Ted talk type of “sermons” and sanctuaries that look like arenas or theaters than churches or sanctuaries.  I could go on and on but in interest of time I will stop.


My point is Change happens and is constantly happening to us and all around us — we can’t stop it but what we can do is control our response to change. Companies, governments, nations, people and yes, even churches constantly experience change, because as things grow, companies, governments, nations, people and yes, even churches have to evolve or they die.  Change needs to be dealt with in an effective and responsible manner, and if done correctly, with respect, faith and due diligence.  Then, it can benefit us all and make it a smooth transition.


See what I think this passage is telling us is that Jesus was change and he was a threat to the people, the church and the culture and their response was to try and kill him.  They did not succeed on that day on the edge of a cliff but they ultimately will succeed as the will hang him on a cross atop another hill.  So, you see, I am so glad that there aren’t any steep cliffs nearby.

[1] Reverend John Stendahl, The Offense, Luke 4:21-30. Living By The Word, The Christian Century, January 21, 1998. Page 52.

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