2/3 2019 Fourth Sunday after Epiphany The text is Luke 4:21-32.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“You Can’t Go Home Again.” I think most of us have heard these words of Thomas Wolfe. And those of us who have moved away from home for any length of time have found those worlds to be true. Absence doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder. Sometimes, absence brings distance as lives grow apart and people move in new and different directions.
I still remember when I went off to college. I had some pretty good friends in town back then. These were people that I had grown up with. We attended the same schools, shared outside activities and played together. When the time came for us to go off to our respective colleges or to begin work, we affirmed our loyalty and bonds of friendship.
I spent only three years on campus, living in Shippee Hall at the University of Connecticut and returning home for vacations. I began commuting as my student teaching assignment was closer to my hometown than the college. After three years away from home, I was no stranger to my family, but I was a stranger to the community in which I grew up. My friends and I had grown apart. Our shared memories and pledges of loyalty did not insure a healthy relationship in the future. My friends no longer knew me, nor did I know who they had become for the common thread of experience had been broken. Our relationships, formed in the past when we were young, were bound by the past in memories that could not be escaped or changed. This holds true for all people and relationships that are continuous – whether you’re Gloria Connery, John DeLuca, Warren Lundsten, Chris Joiner, Kyle Stapel, or even if you are Jesus, the son of Joseph, the one who is the Christ.
The past influences how people see us in the present. The past, that is the most current context with those you have not seen for a while, determines how people will related to you today. Now, that may not be fair, for it doesn’t take into consideration the impact of what has taken place during the time of absence, but those things which have not been experienced jointly have little impact on hometown relationships. So, the reaction of the people in today’s gospel to the words of a known, yet unfamiliar homegrown lad, Jesus, is not surprising.
To them, Jesus is the son of Joseph. He is the one they saw at play, the one whom Joseph taught a trade. He is like all little boys who grow up into a man. He is no prophet, no son of God. So, they demand to see signs of his transformation. They want confirmation that he indeed is different from the little boy who is burned into their memories before they can put aside expectations and experience. Their memories of Jesus, of his childhood and early adult life, prevent them from believing the truth about him – that he is more than a prophet, he is the Christ for whom they have waited, and the son of the living God.
All they want is proof – a miracle or two or three. But Jesus refuses to toss about the power of God in order to gain respect among hometown folk. Such miracles of healing are for a chosen few to receive and they are done in order than others might come to believe in God and listen to the words of God that come from the mouth on the one sent to speak the truth. Elijah or Elisha, the great prophets of old, did not performed miracles on demand, like magicians performing magic tricks to impress an audience and neither will Jesus.
I can imagine that it would be tempting to provide the proof. Yet, proof enough to erase past memories could never be provided. No prophet is without honor except in his own hometown…for you can’t go home again…you cannot escape the past…you cannot rewrite history…you cannot fill in the gaps and make the dots connect in a way to enable people to view you with a clean slate.
There’s a story about a pastor who happened to take a call to a church in the same part of the state in which he grew up that says it all. Twenty years earlier, he had left his home town for a life of service in parish ministry. Now, he was back in the area where he had roots…and one day, someone called the church asking, “Is Tommy going to be preaching this week?” The church secretary was puzzled and carefully answered, “Yes, Pastor Tom is delivering the sermon in church Sunday morning.” “Thank you, dear,” was the response. “Would you tell him that the Sarah bible class is coming to hear him preach?”
When the secretary conveyed the message, the pastor laughed, “I haven’t thought of the Sarah bible class in years.” He explained that the group was an adult Sunday school class when he was growing up. Apparently, a few of these women were interested in how the young man from their church was doing as a pastor.
When the day arrived they showed up early, announcing to the greeters at the door that they had known their pastor when he was a little boy. With a mixture of pride and apprehension, the pastor conducted the morning service. After the benediction, he had a happy time getting reacquainted with class members. Yet, it was a long time before the folks in his parish let him forget one story they shared – about the time he was banished from the worship service for rolling an apple down the center aisle during the sermon.
Everyone has had the experience of being a little embarrassed by memories from their youth. And because of this, we can feel the awkwardness that Jesus might have felt when he went to the synagogue in his hometown. It might be nice to take a stroll down memory lane every now and then. I know I will be doing that as I say my final good-byes to you over the next few months. It might be nice to reminisce, but Jesus has neither the time nor the inclination to do so. He is not in Nazareth to renew old friendships. He is there to announce a startling message – one in which nostalgia becomes a prophetic statement about the coming judgment. For, Jesus has a ministry and a task to perform that takes precedence. He has come to save and the time is now. He knows who he is and what he is about, and he shares that truth with his hometown people. Yet, they cannot believe their ears and they grow angry at the audacity of this son of Joseph.
There is little wonder why the people explode in rage. According to Luke, the crowd rejects Jesus’ words and carries him to the brow of a hill, like a first-century lynching mob. They reject the messenger and the word of truth because the past has gotten in the way of people seeing the present Lord and the future that he has come to secure. The past can do that to us. It can inform us, or it can entrap us and prevent us from experiencing the grace of God in the present and the hope in Christ for the time to come.
May we, as a people and as a church, let go of the past and grab hold of the future secured by Jesus. May we embrace both the message and the messenger as we move forward in faith. May we not be like Jesus’ hometown folk who were struck on what was for we cannot live in the past and be a people with a mission and a goal and a vision of what will be through Christ our Lord. May the truth revealed in and through Jesus inform all our relationships and govern our actions as we move forward. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.