Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”He 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.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But 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; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They 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. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
So much for Jesus's first preaching engagement going well. Ah, life is like that. We get a call from God, we're obedient to that call, we go, get ourselves baptized in the river, we're so happy because the spirit of the lord falls down on us like a dove and all is right with the world! "This is going to be great!," we think... we even manage to stand up to those early demons of temptation in the wilderness, and we come out stronger on the other side... and filled with the holy spirit we show up one day in our home church, or, in our book club, or at the local farmers market, or our job, or our neighborhood pub- anywhere we are both comfortable and well known- our hangout- and "filled with the power of the holy spirit" we stand ready to ready to reveal to those we know and love, everything that's bubbling up in our hearts! What we're sure God has given us to say! And, since these are our family and friends, people we have perhaps grown up around, they receive us so well... they know us... they trust us... and they are quick with the compliments- "Oh, she reads so well!" "Oh, isn't he handsome, he used to be my paper boy, you know...""Yes, I love his parents too- such a nice family." And all goes well, until we say something that challenges them to think of God a little bit differently than they had before... so it did for Jesus the moment he put the scripture down and began to actually teach.
God is bigger than just us- Jesus was saying. God includes and calls the people you would never expect- the poorest of the poor, the widows, the sick, the suffering, the ones you call unclean, the ones you go out of your way to avoid- these are God's blessed ones... by the way- I'm the guy who is going to teach you about it- You watch me, you learn from me, you imitate me- I am the one in that scripture we just read... me!"
And the crowd goes from "He was my paperboy, you know," to "Who the blank does he think he is- he's a bad seed-" and the next think you know they are driving him out of the temple and try to hurl him off a cliff! Tough gig!
The call to ministry is- well, to put it in the words of our own Pastor Jen, not always what we expect.
A fine passage to read when we are working on going beyond the backyard and bringing ur own message to the neighborhood...
If you're just starting with us today, our congregation has spent the whole of 2018 in what we call, our backyard. We took one year and devoted it to building and nurturing relationships in our community of faith, deepened our spirituality, and strengthened our bond as disciples of Christ. Our focus for 2019 is, with our community of faith supporting us, to step through the backyard gate, and move beyond the backyard into the neighborhood, so to speak, bringing a message of the gospel to others, in order to spread healing and reconciliation through the love of Christ. For the last couple of weeks in January, we've tried to prepare for that first step out- first by affirming that we are who we God says we are- named and claimed Children of God- loved beyond measure, and in an unbreakable relationship with God- but also to recognize that each of us has a call on our lives- and yes, if you haven't gotten this yet, that call is to ministry.
And I can see (and totally understand) the dis-ease that may be causing some of us. I mean, if they tried to throw Jesus off a cliff, what can any of us expect? No wonder so many of us wait until later in life to begin to respond to God's call- or even acknowledge that we have a call! I can remember before I became a pastor, meeting a woman who told me that she wasn't getting involved in any type of ministry because she was afraid that she and her family would go through hardship if she did. I mean, I get it!
Yet... yet... each of us has been given a specific set of gifts to share with the world. Each of us have a unique personality, unique quirks, unique experiences that no one else in the world has to offer. It's like the lyrics of that song- "no one else can ever do what God has chosen you to do. " Those gifts are the message God has handed you to deliver personally to "the neighborhood." And while it may not be all joy and sunshine for us if we answer that call, and it may indeed cause us some hardship, holding on to our gifts and keeping that "light under a bushel" as the scripture goes, is even more painful.
Why? Because when you have heard or felt that call, that is the Holy Spirit working in your life... have you ever tried to fight the holy spirit? It ain't pretty! The gnawing, poking, prodding- not to mention the amount of energy it takes to ignore the call, the very act of denying that God might be asking you to do something bigger than yourself takes so much out of a person.
So we move into a little bit of a sticky area here... if living in denial of our call is difficult, and living out our call is difficult, what's the difference? Cant we stay where we are and have a difficult time without taking a chance on being thrown off a cliff? Yes- you can. As as we said a few weeks ago, you can do exactly what you are doing right now, you can do absolutely nothing and God will still love you more than you can measure. The difference is, when you are living out your call; when you are being obedient to the Holy Spirit's movement inside of you, though it may be difficult, there is a peace that comes with it, unlike any other. That peace that surpasses understanding. So yeah, answering the call may not always be happiness and sunshine, but the inner joy that comes from being obedient to God's call is worth every hardship.
OK, so now that we have that out of the way, (and were all ready to stand up and say "yes" to God's call on our life- or not) let's think about what our individual call might be, and how we can begin to identify our message to the world. Let's look at the passage we just read and see if we can learn a little from the example of Jesus. He goes into the temple, not with a sermon up his sleeve, no power point, no object lesson- he goes only with "the power of the holy spirit." Did he know what he was going to say ahead of time? I think not. Notice that he didn't even chose his own scripture- the scroll was 'given to him. ' He opens it up, and reads the section from the prophet Isaiah who lived 7000 years before him- and when he's done, he rolls it back up and sits down.
To the Jews in the temple, this was a sign that the teaching portion, or sermon, would begin. But I believe that we can learn from that action. The simple act of rolling up the scroll and sitting down, denotes a pause in the action. Jesus needed to take some time to reflect, to think about both what he had just read, and what he would say to the people. What he brought to his interpretation was simply what he knew to be true about God. Based on his own experience of God, he was able to articulate a clear message of hope for those who had previously been discounted or ignored.
This is how it begins for all of us. Whether we read a scripture, or witness or participate in a God moment, or even see situation that moves us to the core- we roll up the scroll, and sit down. We reflect on what we just encountered. And then allow our own knowledge of God, to interpret first for ourselves and then to others, what God might be revealing to us. That interpretation moves us to action- that action, is our message.
And what makes that message unique to us is that is is filtered through our own set of experiences, our own personality, our own gifts and talents, everything that makes us who we are. So let me give you just a couple of examples from people you know or know of to illustrate-
Let's start with Howard- perhaps one day he is in school, and he encounters a situation where a student is being bullied and comes to Howard for help. This is the scroll Howard has been given for the day. He can talk to the student, refer him to a counselor, even call his parents, but afterward, he rolls up that scroll and sits down. it is time to reflect on what happened and see what God might be saying- he will filter it through his own life experience and his knowledge of God. And because Howard is who he is, he may sit down at the keyboard and write a song, or hymn as these are part of what makes Howard who he is- his gifts. He may later share that with others, and it will become a message of love and healing to the world.
Take a look at Bev- Bev watches a documentary one night about at LGBTQ youth at risk. This is the scroll she was given for the day. She finishes the show, rolls up the scroll and sits down- she filters the information she has just encountered through the experiences of her life- her daughter coming out as part of the LGBTQ community as a teen, her own struggle in coming out, what she knows about God being a loving and inclusive God, and talks it over with her partner. Out of that reflection PRISM ministry a safe/brave space for youth, was born. it is Bev's message.
Last week we heard from Lorene- Lorene talked about today's political climate- how she wakes up each morning and thinks "what next?" She listens to what's going on in the world. It is the scroll she's been given for the day. When she rolls up the scroll and sits down, she reflects over a life of fighting for social justice, her knowledge of God as a merciful and righteousness making God, calls upon her foundation in the church, her experiences of standing up for others, empowering the marginalized, and out of that she leads and inspires others to do the same- Is it always easy? No- she is obedient to God's call- that is her message.
And about now you might be thinking- well all of that is great, but i don't have any gifts or experience in leadership, or music, and nothing in me wants to start a new ministry. And that may be true- but you have had a life unique to you. You have a set of experiences unique to you. A message that is uniquely yours. And if you are struggling to find out what that message might be but can't put your finger on it, start with the first scroll Jesus was given... look at the scripture- "“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Look first to that scripture because however your call plays out, no matter if your message is through teaching, or preaching, or working with homeless or sick, creating art or music, writing, cooking, building, or any of a thousand things, I promise you, your message will intersect with this scripture. Whatever it is that God would have you share with the world, this is at the heart of it, because this is what we are all called to do. Read it with me again- “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
A few weeks ago, we acknowledged that we are children of God with a call from God, affirming that call by writing our name on this section of the our art display. I asked, if you know what your call might be, to also write that next to your name. Today, I invite you, as you roll up this scroll and sit down, to reflect on what you've just encountered. What is it, based on our life's experience, your knowledge of God, and your gifts, that God might be asking you to use?
After you've thought about it, and prayed about it, if you are able- come up and add a word or two to your name- (or maybe you need to even just write your name) but write something that will remind you of today's scroll- maybe its your message, but maybe it's a feeling, or a word that stands out to you. And know that whatever your are feeling is ok- you're loved and affirmed by God- no matter what.