Good News, Good WaysPosted: January 24, 2016
Good News, Good Ways
SLIDE 3: RECOLLECTIONS OF THE LIFE OF JESUS WERE SKETCHY
Luke was working from the very sketchy recollections of the life of Jesus over forty years after his death. Preaching a eulogy about someone’s life just a few days after his death can be difficult, but just imagine trying to summarize the meaning of someone’s life 40 years later with no written records? Well needless to say the biographical materials for the life of Jesus were a bit sketchy. For instance, we are pretty sure Jesus of Nazareth was from the little Galilean village of Nazareth, but at sometime he moved to the larger town of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee before or maybe about the same time he began his public ministry.
SLIDE 4: BAPTISM, WILDERNESS, MOVE TO CAPERNAUM – NO TIME LINE
The recollections of the early church suggested that Jesus left Nazareth and visited the region of the Jordan River, where he was baptized by John the Baptist. The Gospels mention a “time” in the wilderness preparing for his mission. But there is no authoritative or detailed timeline for any of this period between Nazareth and the beginning of the pubic ministry.
So, when our scripture reports that he returned to Nazareth as part of a preaching tour of the Central Galilee, we have no idea how long Jesus had been absent from his native village. Had he been gone a few months, or maybe years? We don’t know.
SLIDE 5: WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU ATTENDED A CLASS REUNION?
When was the last time you attended a class reunion or went back to your home town after being away for a while? Sometimes things have changed so much, you can’t really go home. Old familiar land marks like the A&W Root Beer Stand or even a Bus Station or Train Depot may have disappeared. Or like when we went back for Beth’s 50th High School Reunion, and she and her friend Sharon walked through “the old neighborhood” and everything was still there but changed. Usually what has changed the most, when we try to go back home is us. We’re not the same anymore. Life has moved on. We’ve changed and grown, and we no longer fit in as once we did. We remember most of the people at the reunion, and we have fun reminiscing, and vow that we will stay in touch, but back there just isn’t where our lives are anymore.
SLIDE 6: JESUS’ LIFE HAD BEEN TRANSFORMED
Whether Jesus had been away for a long time, or just a little, his life had been utterly transformed. When God said to Jesus at his baptism, “You are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased,” the message may have sounded warm and fuzzy, but God was choosing him for the most difficult mission we can imagine. I am reminded of a Still Speaking Devotion about Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz Weber.
Recently Lutheran pastor and author Nadia Bolz Weber was interviewed on the radio program “Fresh Air.” She mentioned the earnest seminarian who at one of her speaking engagements asked, “Pastor Nadia, what are your ways, your spiritual practices, for getting closer to God?”
SLIDE 7: WHY WOULD I WANT TO GET CLOSE TO GOD?
“Why would I want to get close to God,” responded Bolz Weber.
“Whenever Jesus gets close to me I end up having to love someone I don’t like, give away more of my money, or forgive someone I don’t want to forgive.” She went on to say that in her life it feels more like “God has come after me.”
SLIDE 8: JUST WHEN WE THOUGHT WE WERE SAFE
We do often seem to think of the Christian faith as our human search for God, our feeble attempt to get close to God. The Bible tells a different story, one more in line with Bolz Weber’s experience: the story of the God who keeps showing up, intruding, refusing to leave us alone, searching for us — a God who won’t take “no” for an answer.
Just when we thought we were safe in some gated community (there are a lot of different kinds of gates and fences), God moves into the neighborhood, pitching her tent on the corner, down the hall, or next door. Just when we thought we were safe, we had our church family set up to function as our own private club, God comes along and calls us to become open and affirming and inclusive of all kinds of people who aren’t from our tight little social groupings.
SLIDE 9: GOD TOOK UP RESIDENCE IN THE LIFE OF JESUS
God took up residence in the life of Jesus and nothing was ever the same again. Led by the Spirit, and note the verb is more like “driven by the Spirit,” into the wilderness, Jesus spent time wrestling with the angel of temptation and his dark side trying to figure out the nature of the ministry to which God was calling him. And when Jesus returned to the Sea of Galilee he began preaching beside the lake, “The Commonwealth is here now among you,” and when people came to him seeking healing, unexplainable miracles happened, that attracted large crowds of people to come hear him preach.
SLIDE 10: THREE MARKS OF THE MINISTRY OF JESUS
John Dominic Crossan has noted the three undeniable marks of the ministry of Jesus were the Commonwealth of God is here and now among us in a classless community, free healing within the context of community, and communal eating, shared food. Jesus’ preaching and his lived message were radical. His Sharing Table leveled all social hierarchies and bridged all divides of social distinction even religious categories of clean and unclean. No matter who you were or where you were on life’s journey, you were welcome in the community at the Sharing Table of Jesus. The life of Jesus and those who chose to follow him were transformed.
SLIDE 11: NETZER – SHOOT OF THE OLIVE TREE
From Capernaum Jesus took his mission on the road to spread the good word throughout the Galilee, and eventually, he came to his home village of Nazareth. If you visit Nazareth today, it is a bustling Palestinian Arab City of almost 100,000 people. In the First Century Nazareth was a tiny village consisting of a few houses and maybe four-hundred people of a clan, who called themselves the “Natzoreans.” Their name was derived from the term “netzer” which meant the shoot of the olive tree that comes up from the root system of the tree. This Natzorean Clan believed themselves to be descended from the House of David, and they thought of themselves as the remnant or the shoot that comes up from the stump of the olive tree that has been cut down mentioned by the Prophet Isaiah.
SLIDE 12: WHAT WAS UP?
And so when Jesus entered the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath, his clan, his cousins and extended family wondered about him. Perhaps they wondered about him with some suspicion. They had heard rumors of healings and wonders performed elsewhere, but it was only after he had left the place of his birth. So what was up?
We do not know the Torah lesson for that Sabbath. According to Jewish tradition the Jews of the Galilee used a lectionary that rotated readings of the Torah, so that the full reading of the text of Pentateuch was accomplished in three years. But Jesus was not asked to read the Torah portion. So toward the close of worship Jesus was asked to come to the Ark of the Covenant, where he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. The later chapters of Isaiah were considered the prophecies of hope. Here the prophet spoke of the restoration of the People of Israel and the promise of a messianic age, when God would establish a commonwealth of justice and peace.
SLIDE 13: THIS IS GOD’S MOMENT TO ACT
We do not know whether Jesus was free to choose a portion of Isaiah’s scroll to read, or whether the selection from the prophet was appointed.
God’s Spirit is on me; the spirit has aroused me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is God’s moment to act!”
SLIDE 14: PROPHECY HAS BECOME TRUE – WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
As was the custom Jesus sat down, and then proceeded to comment upon the passage he had just read: “You’ve just heard Scripture become history. The Prophecy came true just now as it was read.”
Next week we can talk about what a stir Jesus’ comment created in the synagogue, but just for now, let’s ask what did he mean? And what does the passage mean for us?
SLIDE 15: WE ARE CALLED TO MAKE THE SCRIPTURE COME TRUE
Luke’s version of the passage certainly points to Jesus as the Messiah, but perhaps there is a larger meaning. Whenever good news is given to the poor, whenever the captives are made free, whenever we come to the Sharing Table and remember the love of God, then the Commonwealth of God comes into being if only for a few moments in the present. Yes Jesus read the scripture, yes Jesus was the Messiah, but maybe we are intended to make the scripture come alive in all that we do and say! Maybe we are the People of God intended to bring the Commonwealth of God into the present moment.
SLIDE 16: SHARING TABLE WELCOMES EVERYONE
Maybe we are called upon by the Spirit of God to make the Sharing table of Jesus come alive here and now, in this place in this time, even here at United Church, welcoming everyone regardless of social class, regardless of religious, intellectual, and cultural differences. Those who were formerly considered social outcastes, those who were formerly outside our social networks are welcomed to become part of the circle of God’s abiding love.
SLIDE 17: END UP LOVING SOMEONE YOU DON’T LIKE, GIVING YOUR MONEY AWAY, FORGIVING SOMEONE.
Becoming God’s people isn’t easy. As Nadia Bolz Weber says, “I end up having to love someone I don’t like, give away more of my money, or forgive someone I don’t want to forgive.” As we enter into our Annual Congregational Meeting today, consider that challenge to become the people God who bring the commonwealth of God into the present moment at the Sharing Table of Jesus.