Texts: Deuteronomy 6:1-7, Luke 4:14-21
A week or so ago I visited a construction sight owned by a friend. Around behind the house, grubbing in the dirt, working to tunnel a drain pipe under an existing sidewalk, was my friend’s grandson. Home for the holidays and hard at work.
When we think of kids coming home for the holidays, it’s natural to think first of gatherings around the table or in the living room. But shared meals, as rich as they are, are only part of what it means to be family. Shared work is also part of the story.
And the more grown up they are, the more we rely on them.
I remember years and years ago, when there were challenges with the family computer, it was “dad to the rescue.” That has now completely changed, of course. In all things electronic, I go to my kids for help and advice.
If I have trouble with my phone, I consult my son. If I need to buy a computer, I just find out what computer my daughter bought, and I buy the same one.
This movement from dependent childhood to masterful maturity shows up in the story of Jesus.
The Gospel begins with the stories of Jesus’ birth—the shepherds and wise men and angels. The Gospel passes over the growing up. There is no teenage Jesus in the Gospel. We make up stories of Jesus faithfully and uneventfully working in his father’s carpenter shop all through his teen years. In the devotional telling of this story, there are never any family arguments, not disagreement between Joseph and his maturing, smart stepson Jesus. Maybe. My guess is that Jesus was a little more normal than our legends imagine.
The Gospel skips over all that and with one brief exception takes us straight to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ public works begins explosively. Almost instantly he gathers large crowds with his preaching and healing. After weeks or a few months, Jesus finally returns home to Nazareth, the town where he had worked in the carpenter shop for twenty years.
They invite him to speak in the local synagogue. He accepts. He reads the day’s scripture reading.
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me,
for the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
and to proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed.
He has sent me to tell those who mourn
that the time of the LORD’s favor has come. Isaiah 61:1-2.
The congregation relishes these words. They imagined themselves to be the poor people who would receive good news. They were the brokenhearted who would be comforted. They were the captives who would be freed. They were the recipients of divine favor.
What was there not to like?
Then Jesus launched into his sermon. Before he finished the audience became so furious, they rushed him, grabbed him and dragged him out of town and were going to shove him off a precipice.
Why did they get so angry at Jesus?
Because he talked just like the ancient prophets. He sounded like Amos and Isaiah and Jeremiah. Jesus rejected the self-congratulation that lay at the heart of their religion challenged them to see other people as the poor and brokenhearted and captives.
The good people of Nazareth were happy to claim Jesus as their native son as long as he was doing good work in other towns. He was making them look good. But they couldn’t take it when he challenged them to make greater effort in the direction of the ideals proclaimed by the prophets.
This story of Jesus is replayed in every generation in the church. We are people of the prophets, the people of Jesus. We are custodians of the words of the Hebrew prophets”
But let justice pour down like a flood,
And righteousness like a mighty river. Amos 5:4
He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes between strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Micah 4:3
This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. Jeremiah 22:3
Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. Matthew 5:44-45
We do the best we can to live out these high ideals. We aim to do right. We build our lives, make the necessary compromises to get along in the world. We become comfortable with our way of life. Then our kids become teenagers and young adults. They read these ancient words and they come back to challenge us. They demand that we do better.
I plead with you who are young among us: keep your ideals alive. Speak out loud your highest, purest moral convictions. Unsettle us with your uncompromising vision. My prayer for us who are older, for us who have settled into the best routines we could manage as we balanced the demands of ordinary life and the call of the Gospel—my prayer for us is that we will be more receptive to our children than were the residents of Nazareth. We will not be able to live out fully the highest ideals of our children. (They will not either, but let’s not tell them that. Let’s allow them to discover this on their own.) We may not be able to achieve all that our kids dream of, but I pray that we will encourage their vision and do all that we can to bend toward their ideals. How can we do less as the church of Jesus Christ?
This fall, a group of people from Green Lake Church, heard the call to mission, the call to use the gifts God had given them to do something good in a far away place. I’ve asked Brian McGrath to share with us some of their experience.