Year C Sermon. Luke 4:21-30
Rev. Lynn Ronaldi, Rector of Pohick Church
“Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing!”
Jesus’ claim boldly punctuates the reading he’s just completed. You might recall from last week: Jesus is serving as lector in his hometown synagogue. He has just read from the scroll of Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
Because he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release for captives, and recovery of sight to the blind,
To let the oppressed go free.”
As he finishes reading this passage, Jesus promptly sits in the position of a preacher and tacks on this rather audacious claim of fulfilling it, today, in their hearing.
At first, Jesus’ hometown audience is proud of their local celebrity for his daring pronouncement. They are “amazed at his gracious words.”
And why wouldn’t they be pleased and proud? One of Nazareth’s finest has just quoted a familiar and beloved scripture. Everyone recognizes the spiritual language of an anointed prophet!
So why does the crowd’s pleasure in Jesus’ bold claim suddenly turn into a murderous rage? When does a pat on the back abruptly turn into a violent shove?
Their glee turns into fury the moment Jesus leaves the realm of the familiar and and points to the unfamiliar. The instant Jesus insinuates that God is not just God of the insider, but also God of the outsider.
They become incensed precisely when Jesus points to two earlier prophets, Elijah and Elisha. For these two reach beyond the insiders of Israel to welcome those marginalized outsiders, the Gentiles. Elijah ministers to the widow at Zarepath, and Elisha heals the leper from Syria.
Jesus is announcing: God’s love is ever-present everywhere and meant for all humanity – not just the Jews. God is unfolding new narratives in the strangest places, through the least likely people, and in the most surprising ways.
I’ve been reminded of this reality many times. You may recall my story of staying in an Israeli village a fel years ago. One night, we were fired upon by a rocket from Gaza. (Luckily, the American Iron Dome intercepted it.)
As I lay in the safe room, I prayed with tears, thanking God that he truly does love his “chosen people.” I praised him for rescuing the Jewish people again and again. And I was gently reminded by a divine voice that spoke to my heart: “I love all my children.”
God loves not only Jews, but Gentiles. Not only whites but blacks. Not only males but females. Not only insider but outsiders. God’s transforming love is present in the lives of all his children – even and perhaps especially in the unexpected and unfamiliar – who are often wide open to what God is doing.
This truth came to life often in a downtown Houston hospital years ago. It was so diverse, it was a microcosm of the world! It was evident in the love and honor a Buddhist woman bestowed on her deceased husband, while her evangelical in-laws stood by and sneered. Or in the loud, honest wails of a grieving Muslim family crying out to Allah for the soul of their tiny daughter.
Today, Jesus invites us to remove our human blinders and see with divine eyes. Jesus reveals a God who gravitates to the suffering. The neglected, expelled, diminished, or abused. God loves and seeks to restore the outsider.
Notice that Jesus is a bonafide Jew. And Jesus almost always makes the heroes of his parables outsiders: The Samaritan, the Syrian leper, the Zarepath widow. Even as he criticizes insiders: the Jewish religious leaders, the rich, the rulers.
I wonder how truly inclusive we are, as a community of faith today? How open are we to something new and unfamiliar? How do we see outsiders?
Do we tend to love with an indiscriminate love? Do we welcome and honor the divine spark in outsiders? Or do we circle up and dig into trenches?
Experiencing this parish for nearly four years, and in the midst of global upheaval and pandemic, I have often witnessed Pohick remaining open to the outsider. Accepting God doing something new. Although we are surely comfortable with tradition, and care for one another very well within our community, we have also been stretched to embrace the unexpected and the outsider.
Sure, there are times we resist change. Times we avoid the suffering. Times we deny those who might represent something new.
But for the most part, we have chosen the way of loving the most vulnerable and the sick. Respecting one another with patience and endurance. Honoring the outsider. How?
- We have accepted strange and virtual ways of being in community when necessary – even though weary of being apart.
- We have boldly gravitated toward the middle – choosing moderation even when strident voices on the extreme right or left seek to polarize, and force either/or answers.
- We have embraced the outsider. We just elected some vestry members relatively new to Pohick – when it would have been more comfortable to elect all insiders. We have new Bible study leaders. We have addressed difficult topics like racial reconciliation.
Like Jesus’ townspeople in Nazareth, we could choose to be attached to our history and our “insider” identity. We could cling to our past, or fear our future.
But we choose the way of Jesus, who embodies a new and life-giving way: The way of Love. At Pohick we see outsiders with God’s eyes. We press on to fulfill what God is doing, Today.
Notice that in their day, our colonial ancestors at Pohick chose this way of Jesus. They were neither stuck in their past, nor despairing of their future.
Rather, they chose to risk audacious love, and remain open to what God was doing “Today.” They listened to the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord in their day, calling them to proclaim freedom to the oppressed and liberty to the captives.
Clearly, our spiritual forbears were outsiders challenging established insiders. They resisted the oppressive status quo. And in doing so, they boldly envisioned one nation under God, indivisible, with the ideal of liberty, equality, and justice for all God’s children.
Today, this is still in many ways a lofty ideal. In many ways a dream. But it is clearly a vision based on Divine vision.
Today, we re-commit to seeing with God’s eyes, gravitating to the outsider, and loving all of God’s children.
As we do, with God’s grace, we can fearlessly echo Jesus’ bold and audacious claim:
“Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Amen.