4 Sunday C: Wanted: Prophets, Dead

Prophets comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable
Michel DeVerteuil General comments
The incident related in today’s gospel story is a precious moment of grace for the people of Nazareth, one that we too experience from time to time – Jesus invites them and us to stop hiding behind their false identity and come to the truth of themselves.
We all need to feel special; the problem is how we go about fulfilling that need. The easy – but false – way is to take the short cut of finding our “specialness” in belonging to a group that considers itself superior to others. We find our “specialness” in our sex, race, colour, ethnic origin, nationality, or from the fact that we are married, are “old boys” or “old girls” of some school, university graduates, have a job, or own our homes.
Today’s reading reminds us that the same happens with religious groups. The people of Nazara, like the Jews in general, like members of churches, or of groups within them such as priests, religious and leaders of prayer groups, look on themselves as “the chosen people”.
The basic fault in all these situations is to  forget that being part of a group says nothing about our personal worth. If we settle for the group-identity we become complacent and stop facing the truth about ourselves.
The moment of grace comes when someone from our group sees through the cover up, starts mixing with outsiders, and declares that some of them are every bit as good as we are, perhaps even better. A good Catholic boy marries a girl from a different faith, and comes back to say that his in-laws are just as holy as members of his church. One of our own children, perhaps in a moment of anger, shows up our double standards and compares us unfavourably with our neighbours.
We think of those who refuse to play the  racial game in politics, business or sport, and criticise members of their own religious or ethnic group. At the world level, Pope John Paul asks forgiveness for the sins of the church, Gandhi refers to the dalits as God’s special children, Nelson Mandela forgives the former rulers of South Africa.
Our spontaneous reaction may be to be angry with those who break ranks. We brand them “traitors.” Our anger is understandable. We are suddenly faced with the reality that we are not “a master race”, “born to rule”, “chosen people”; we must take our place alongside people that we considered inferior, admit our failings, work hard for success.
In the church, all of us – priests, religious, laity – realise that we must “work for our salvation with fear and trembling”.
The person moves on and leaves us to ponder this painful but very important moment of truth. Very gradually, over a period of months perhaps, the truth sets us free. Our anger turns to gratitude, we thank God that the Jesus-person he sent us did not flinch before our anger, but slipped away quietly leaving us to move from a false identity and find our true selves. We are all special to God
special to God

Prayer reflection
Lord, we thank you that every once in a way you send us people like Jesus
who shock us by showing us that we have been hiding
behind the identity of the group we belong to.
They remind us of people who don’t belong to our group, whom you have blessed,
a humble widow who was visited by a great prophet,
the leader of a different religious group whom you healed miraculously
while we were left with our diseases.
It is a painful lesson, especially when it comes from someone within our own household,
and we exclaim, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely, what right has he to be teaching us?’
But it is a moment of grace;
we realise that we must stop looking down on people of other ethnic groups,
of lesser education than ourselves;
we must join members of other churches, religions and faiths, and unbelievers too,
in asking for your mercy and forgiveness.
work quietly with Jesus
Lord, you know that our first response is to become enraged
with those who tell us these home truths,
spring to our feet, hustle them out of our town,
take them up to the brow of the hill our church is built on,
intending to throw them down the cliff.
We thank you that the Jesus you sent us slipped out of our grasp and walked away,
leaving us to ponder on the truth,
experience that the Bible was being fulfilled even as we listened,
and we eventually found life from the gracious words that came from his lips.
Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration

god calls usJesus announced the new covenant in a gathering of the People of God assembled to praise God and to reflect on God’s message for their lives. But when Jesus pointed out to them their shortcomings they raged at him and wanted to push him away from them. We have all done this in one way or another  in our lives: we have heard the call to change our lives or to begin changing our world and have wished the call to go away or declared it silly or irrelevant.
Let us now spend some moments remembering that we are here because we have heard Jesus’s call to be the people who bring God’s justice to the world and ask pardon for the times we have failed in this vocation.
Homily Notes
1. It is amazing how quickly people can turn from praising someone or something to reviling them or rejecting their ideas. One little word that touches something that is close to us in our selfishness is all it takes. We might talk about the environment and ecology for years, but one little curtailment of our enjoyment – a few extra pennies of tax – and suddenly all the talk about climate change gets forgotten and is dismissed as just more ‘theory’. We see this phenomenon in the gospel: at the start they are all amazed and filled with won­der and praise for a great prophet has arisen and he is one of their own, they even know the family! Then, in a moment, all changes: they are enraged by him, they reject him, and they even want to kill him. But what can get people so annoyed?
2. It is deep within us that our group is the gathering of nice people. We represent civilisation, modernity, and all that is best in the world. We might not be smug as individuals, but group smugness is rarely far away. It is confirmed by the fact that people want to be like us or emigrate to be with us. They recognise that our way of life, our school system, our hospi­tals, our ways of enjoying ourselves all represent a peak of human achievement.
3. However, there are others in this world. Indeed, when we compare them with ourselves we are shocked at the contrast: we are even brighter and more enlightened than we thought we were, and they are darker, dimmer, and more dangerous. Indeed, the very fact that they are different shows that they are bad and a threat to us and our values. And, if they were to oppose us they are opposing civilisation itself.
4. This sort of reasoning is close to nearly every war that is fought and people who wish to lead by fear rather than by vision always need the wicked other. Once war has broken out, then we are usually fighting for nothing less than civilis­ation itself! What a burden is laid on us amidst such dangers!
5. We even get smug about religion: if one is in the right camp, then one is OK And, being in the right camp becomes more im­portant than seeking the truth, working for justice, and acting with integrity and mercy. Religious slogans replace wisdom.
6. This is the blind spot that Jesus irritates in this gospel. He has told them the time of God’s justice has come, but they are more interested in seeing will he perform miracles. God’s servants are not confined to any pre-packaged group. Sidonians and Syrians – foreigners – maybe as much in God’s plan as we are. This is not a nice message. It is not a message that comforts us, but one that asks us to examine some of the dangerous ideas of exclusion we harbour. It is a message that asks us to begin building the kingdom of justice, peace and love, rather than simply thinking that we belong to it because of a label we sometimes wear.
Sean Goan

This gospel text begins where we left off last Sunday, with Jesus telling the people in the synagogue in Nazareth that the scriptures are being fulfilled in their hearing. Their initial positive response to him augurs well but change in attitude comes quickly as it becomes apparent that Jesus is not interested in popular acclaim but in repentance. He reminds his hearers of two occasions in the Old Testament when God used the prophets Elijah and Elisha to assist foreigners at a time when his own people were in need. The people of Nazareth were more interested in what Jesus could do for them than in what he might be asking of them.
Jesus-Rejected-at-Nazareth (1)
‘Today’ the scriptures are again being fulfilled in our hearing. The word of God is alive and active and invites us to ponder where and how God is at work in the daily circumstances of our lives. It is always a word that saves and heals but if we are not ready to be challenged by it then we can either deceive ourselves by pretending it is what we want or we can just reject it. That was the situation of the people in Nazareth, and today, like them, we must ask ourselves if we really want what God wants – that is what repentance is all about.
Donal Neary S.J.  4th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME Christian Love
‘God, that’s very true’ – a remark at our liturgy meeting after the second reading. Jealousy kills, envy too, and isn’t it great to rejoice in the good fortune of another?
Love is what we bring with us at the end of life. ‘We will be judged in the evening of life by love (St John of the Cross). Love for those near and far, for love in the gospel is more than love for just the family, the friend, the attractive one, the neighbour, for all.
There are different calls to Christian love – near and dear daily love, friendship, marriage, relationships. The wider world like in our job where we live in a loving way, in justice with all, not using others for personal gain; the wider world where a universal love makes me want to make a difference in the bigger world. Love carries us into wide seas and waters. It involves us with everyone. It obviously doesn’t mean we relate to everyone – nor that we even like everyone. Love is when others’ lives become at least as important as our own; and in the deepest loves like marriage, family, and often friendship, others’ lives become even more important.
Love changes – we look back and see how the people we loved make the difference. Life is too short to look love in the face and say no.’ love is patientWe are moulded and remoulded by those who have loved us, and though their love may pass, we are nevertheless their work’ (F Mauriac).
The second reading today is hard to beat! We see it in action when we look at the life of Jesus.
Jesus whose heart is wide enough to love us all,
make our hearts like yours.

From the Connections:

There is a cost to being a prophet; to proclaim what is right, just and good can be a lonely, isolating experience.
Today’s Gospel continues last Sunday’s account of Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue at Nazareth.  After proclaiming the fulfillment of Isaiah’s vision of the Messiah (last Sunday’s Gospel), Jesus sits down – the posture assumed by one is about to teach – and begins by explaining in no uncertain terms that he cannot perform any healings or miracles there because of their lack of faith.  He teaches that the Messiah does not come for Nazareth alone but for every race, culture and nation of every place and age.
His explanation is met with indignation and anger.  Many Jews of the time were so convinced that they were God's own people that they despised everyone else.  They could not accept Jesus’ idea that others – Gentiles! – were as loved by God as they were.  Jesus is forced to leave his hometown.

Standing up for what is right, speaking out for such things as ethics and justice, are the call of the prophet. To speak – and to listen – as prophets demands the courage and conviction to risk isolation, ridicule and persecution for sake of the justice and mercy of God.
As Jesus the carpenter prayed, reflected, argued, and searched constantly for the truth, we are called to be seekers of truth: both to listen with open hearts to the prophets among us and to speak the prophetic truth ourselves in our homes, work places, classrooms and marketplaces. 
The core of the Gospel is the revelation that God became what we are so that we can better understand what God is and grasp what God is about: love, forgiveness, compassion, justice, peace.
To speak as a prophet and to listen as a prophet demands the honesty and courage to confront exactly who we are and our need for change and re-creation in the love of God. 

The onion woman
Once upon a time there was a wicked peasant woman.  When she died, she did not leave a single good deed behind, so the devils took her and plunged her into a lake of fire.
Her guardian angel stood and tried to think of some good deed she had performed so that the angel could plead for her before God.  Finally, he remembered something; it was not a very big thing, but it was something with which he could plead her case before God.
“Lord, she once pulled up an onion in her garden and gave it to a poor beggar,” the angel said to God.
God answered:  “Very well.  Take that onion, hold it out to her in the lake of fire, and let her take hold of it and be pulled out.  And if you can pull her out of the lake, let her come to Heaven.  But if the onion breaks, then the woman must stay where she is.”
The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her.  “Come, catch hold and I’ll pull you out.”  The old woman grabbed the onion and the angel began to carefully pull her out by the stalks.  He had just about pulled her to safety when other sinners in the lake of fire saw how she was being drawn out and tried to catch hold of the onion so that they, too, might be saved.  But the wicked woman began kicking them off. 
“I’m to be saved, not you!” she screamed.  “It’s my onion, no yours!”
As soon as she said that, the onion broke, and she fell back into the lake. 
All her guardian angel could do was weep and walk away.

[From The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.]
In today’s Gospel, Jesus emphasizes the generosity of God to those outside the Jewish community, that all men and women of every race and nation are loved by God as his own children.  It is a message that comes as a shock to his Nazareth hearers, who consider Jesus' words betrayal and blasphemy.  Like the wicked onion woman, they are too absorbed in their own needs and too fearful for their own safety and security to even consider that the blessings and goodness of God transcends their own limited image of the holy.  Jesus begins his ministry among us with a new vision of God that strikes down the image of God as intolerant judge of wicked humanity and upholds the God of love and forgiveness, the God who is Father and Mother of every human being.

 From Fr. Jude Botelho:
The great prophets were directly called by God and sent to bear witness to the people. The fact that they were sent by God constituted their mission. In today's reading we hear of Jeremiah's vocation to be a prophet. The Lord tells him that he was chosen for the task even before he was born, that he was consecrated in his mother's womb. The calling of a prophet was not an easy task. A prophet was never popular and he had to speak the plain and difficult truth and say harsh things that needed to be said. Their message would be rejected and so would they, but God would be on their side and He would be their support. Jeremiah, like any true prophet, was rejected by the people but he carried on.

Truth shall prevail
Brinsley Mc Namara wrote a classic story called The Valley of the Squinting Windows. It is a great read, and is available today, many decades later. He came from a very rural area of Ireland, and was well known, because his father was a teacher in the local school. History was such that everybody in the village recognized themselves among the characters of the story. This led to public outrage in his hometown, while the rest of the country was avidly reading the book! The book was burned in public, his family had to leave town, and, to this day, his name still evokes strong reactions among many of the people of that town. What he wrote was too close to the bone. If he had written a book about the people of some other town, he probably would have been hailed as the local literary hero. To this day none of his descendants would dare return to their roots in that town. They did, in a symbolic way, take him outside the town, and threw him over a cliff.
Jack McArdle in 'And that's the Gospel Truth

Today's gospel continues that of last Sunday, where we saw Jesus going to the synagogue, as was his habit and there he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. After the reading Jesus solemnly declared that the scripture that he had read was being fulfilled at that moment in their hearing. We are told that initially people were in admiration and wondered at his eloquence.
But they also questioned how he had got this knowledge, after all he was one of their own, a man of their own village. They said: "This is Joseph the carpenter's son surely!" They could not accept his teachings because he was one of them. How dare he preach to them! They wanted to throw him out. Jesus replied, "No prophet is accepted in his own land!" Through lack of faith they had failed to see anything in Jesus but the son of a carpenter. Through lack of faith they had lost the promises. Jesus went further and pointed out that as Elijah and Elisha had reached out beyond Israel because of the rejection by their forefathers so now he would go beyond the confines of the Israelites to those who believed in him. The Nazarenes got the message and tried to kill him but he escaped because his hour had not yet come.

Facing Rejection
The Greek philosopher Diogenes was regarded by many who knew him as a somewhat eccentric teacher, not least for his belief that virtue consisted in the avoidance of all physical pleasures, but that pain and inconvenience were conducive to goodness. Few people could accept either his teaching or his way of life. Diogenes was once noticed begging from a statue. When someone asked him the reason for this pointless conduct, he replied: "I am exercising the art of being rejected." Diogenes experienced plentiful rejection in his time; whether he ever became accustomed to being rebuffed remains an open question. In today's Gospel we see how Jesus, after preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth, is rejected by his own townspeople. Some of them are awed by his gracious words, while others are more concerned about his pedigree and address. The neighbours of Jesus are no different from any neighbours. Jesus, for his entire mission to humankind, still has to face local suspicion, gossip, behind-the-curtain omniscience; experts in character demolition, locals who believe that nothing special can emerge from the neighbourhood without their spotting it first. Prophets are accepted provided that they came from somewhere else; there is nothing as unpromising as the local backwoods.
Dennis McBride in 'Seasons of the Word'

Unpopular Prophets
The movie Black Like Me is based on a book by the same title written by John Howard Griffin. It documents his experiences when he had his skin darkened to pose as a Negro and travelled for a month through the Deep South in the late 1950s. John Howard Griffin was born in Dallas and as a youth he studied psychiatry in France. During World War II he was wounded while serving in the army and went blind as a result. In 1947 Griffin returned to Texas to study Braille and become a novelist. After ten years of blindness, he recovered his eyesight in a dramatic way and was able to see his wife and two children for the first time. Griffin then got a job with a Negro magazine. It was during this time that he undertook his Black Like Me adventure. Griffin went on to become a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, thus incurring a backlash of hatred from white racists, ranging from threatening mail and phone calls to being hung in effigy by his own townspeople. Griffin died in 1980. The opposition John Howard Griffin encountered in his prophetic work for civil rights finds a parallel in today's readings.
Jack McArdle in 'And that's the Gospel Truth!'

Teaching with Authority
In one of its issues Newsweek addressed in depth the Women's Liberation Movement. It observed that once the revolution was declared, the nation was flooded with books on the subject. Some books, like those written by Nancy Woloch and Phyllis Schlafly, were serious studies of the significance of the movement. Other books, like those authored by Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, were more strident and dogmatic. The latter illustrate what often happens in a movement - self-styled prophets emerge who presume to speak with full authority. And so we have had such figures as Hugh Hefner as the spokesman for the Playboy Philosophy, guru Timothy Leary for the LSD cult and the militant Malcolm X for the Black Power movement. History shows that many of these movements die out and that their prophets fade away. But there is one movement that endures, one prophet who lives forever. The movement is Christianity and the prophet is Jesus Christ.
Albert Cylwicki in 'His Word Resounds'

Some incredible inconsistencies
On a Sunday morning TV show not too long ago, a popular evangelical preacher was being interviewed by an ever-smiling host. At one moment he was praising a certain fellow believer as "one of the finest, most God-fearing, most authentic human beings I have ever met." A moment later he was condemning a certain woman as a "hopeless sinner, an unredeemed being, not even worth praying for." Could this be true religion? Shades of Luke 4:22 and 4:28-29! True religion, an authentic relationship with God, is not always wild and exciting. But like true love, it is faithful, supportive, and enduring.
Eugene Lauer

God doesn't make junk!
One of Martin Luther's schoolmasters used to remove his hat when he met his class of small children, pointing out that no one could know what might be included in the group. To use his own words he said there might be "a future mayor, or chancellor, or doctor or engineer!" This is the picture that we must have in mind when we look at each other. We should see every one as God's work. God doesn't make junk. Robert Hichens, the noted painter of the sea, once sought a boy whose face might reflect the wonder of the sea. After searching he discovered that he could not find such a lad in one of the sea-coast towns of England. In order to find a face that reflected wonder in connection with the sea he had to choose a boy from the slums of London, a boy who had never seen the ocean before! Familiarity breeds contempt, but let us remember that God doesn't make junk.
John Pichappilly in 'The Table of the Word'

They will comment anyway...
The following is a summary of the comments made about the parish priest in a typical parish:
If his homily is longer than usual, 'He sends us to sleep.'
If it's short 'He hasn't bothered.'
If he raises his voice, 'He is shouting.'
If he speaks normally, 'You can't hear a thing.'
If he's away, 'He's always on the road.'
If he's at home, 'He's a stick-in-the-mud.'
If he's out visiting, 'He's never at home.'
If he's in the presbytery, 'He never visits his people.'
If he talks finances, 'He's too fond of money.'
If he doesn't, 'The parish is dead.'
If he takes his time with people, 'He wears everybody out.'
If he is brief, 'He never listens.'
If he starts Mass on time, 'His watch must be fast.'
If he starts a minute late, 'He holds everybody up.'
If he is young, 'He lacks experience.'
If he is old, 'He ought to retire.'
And if he dies? Well, of course, 'No one could ever take his place.'
Jack McArdle in 'And that's the Gospel Truth
From Fr. Tony Kadavil:


1. Liberation for Dalits through Jesus:  

High castes represent a small minority in India, some 10-15% of the population, yet dominated Indian society in much the same way whites ruled South Africa during the official period of Apartheid. For centuries, Indian society has lived under a rigid caste system imposed by the high caste Hindus in which each person was born into a set social group. People who were born into the highest social group, or caste, used to receive the benefits of honor respect and privileges. Then, there are different levels, or castes, below this. A person's caste at birth determined what job he could have, whom he could marry, and what rights he had in his society. On the very lowest rungs of society were the Dalits, whose name actually means "broken, crushed." The Dalits were the targets of violence and discrimination in Indian society for long time. Fortunately they are no more discriminated under the new law. But now, the Dalits face persecution for another reason: their faith. Nearly 70% of Indian Christians are Dalits. Reservation of 22.5 percent of all government and semi government jobs including seats in Parliament and state legislatures is available only to Dalits who follow Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism, but Dalit Christians and Muslims are not protected as castes under Indian Reservation policy. The legal reason is that there is caste system in Christianity and Islam. The Christian faith was quite attractive to the Dalits. They chose to follow Christ even when they knew the consequences they might face including the denial of free education and job reservation given to Hindu Dalits. Why would the Hindu  Dalits, who were targets of discrimination and abuse, invite more such treatment by becoming Christians? Because in Christ, they meet a God of liberation who loves and lifts up those whom others would tear down. His heart is with those who suffer. He cares about those who are hurting, who are helpless, who are brokenhearted, who are in bondage. They consider Jesus as their divine liberator, and God of justice. (Timothy Merrill, "Giving Flesh to the Word," Homiletics, July-August 1999).

2: "We hold it to be self-evident, that all people are created equal."  

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream that one day, on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners would be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. He had a dream that one day his four children would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. With this faith he believed people could turn the mountain of despair into the mountain of hope, and transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony. Americans are better people because Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. In his preaching for liberation he did not say anything new. His message was 2000 years old -- as old as Jesus’ synagogue speech at Nazareth. He said, "We hold it to be self-evident, that all people are created equal." Dr. King looked out and saw people who were not treated as equals. He perceived others for whom this truth was not self-evident. So he went from city to city and said, "Today is the day when we will take seriously our own Declaration of Independence." Gunshots rang out and cut him down. Why? What radical act did he commit which took his life? In the tradition of the Bible's prophets, he reminded people of what they already knew and said, "Today is the day." He drew inspiration from the message of total liberation preached by Jesus in his inaugural address at Nazareth and met with the same fate as Jesus did. The theology of liberation, when courageously preached can be costly, costing one his very life itself.

3:  The prophetic call and fear of rejection:

John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States and the son of a former President, reportedly said that he would rather clean filth from the streets than be President. Scripture tells us that most of the prophets shared John Quincy Adams’ feeling of inadequacy to their calling. Moses tried to convince God that he didn’t speak well enough, and Jeremiah complained to God that he was too young. The prophets trembled at the trials ahead of them – and with good reason. Israel had a long history of rejecting prophets (2 Chron 36:16; Jer 2: 30; Amos 2: 12; Matt 23: 37; Luke 13: 34; I Thess 2: 15; Heb 11: 32ff.). Jeremiah was threatened with death several times, thrown into an empty and muddy cistern, imprisoned, dragged off to exile in Egypt, and, perhaps, most painful of all, was forced to watch the destruction of Jerusalem because its inhabitants would not listen to his message. At least twice in his lifetime, the prophet Elijah spoke the truth of God to king Ahab concerning the king’s promotion of idolatry. As a result, he was forced to flee into the wilderness where he suffered great privation (I Kg 16-29-17: 3 and I Kg 18: 16-19: 4). Today’s gospel story is another example of why the prophets did not jump for joy at their career prospects. In the space of five verses, we see the people of Jerusalem because its inhabitants would not listen to his message. At least twice in his lifetime, the prophet Elijah spoke the truth of God to king Ahab concerning the king’s promotion of idolatry. As a result, he was forced to flee into the wilderness where he suffered great privation (I Kg 16-29-17: 3 and I Kg 18: 16-19: 4). Today’s gospel story is another example of why the prophets did not jump for joy at their career prospects. In the space of five verses, we see the people of Nazareth turn from amazement to such fury at Jesus’ words they seized Him and dragged him off to the cliff to murder him. Speaking God’s truth by word or by deed is a risky business even today. Hundreds of missionaries have been martyred since 1990. Thousands of Christians have been killed this past year in Moslem countries and Communist countries. Christians are subjected to the white martyrdom of mental torture in advanced countries, including the U.S., by the agnostic and atheistic media and liberal politicians and judges, forms of the media constantly ridiculing and insulting Christians with unprecedented vengeance.  
4. Rejection at the Pearly Gate:  

A cab driver reaches the Pearly Gates and announces his presence to St. Peter, who looks him up in his Big Book. Upon reading the entry for the cabby, St. Peter invites him to grab a silk robe and a golden staff and to proceed into Heaven. A preacher is next in line behind the cabby and has been watching these proceedings with interest. He announces himself to St. Peter. Upon scanning the preacher's entry in the Big Book, St. Peter furrows his brow and says, "Okay, we'll let you in, but you will have only a cotton robe and wooden staff." The preacher is astonished and replies, "But I am a man of the cloth. You gave that cab driver a gold staff and a silk robe. Surely, I rate higher than a cabby." St. Peter responded matter-of-factly: "Here we are interested in results. When you preached, people slept. When the cabby drove his taxi, people prayed."

5: Rejection resulting in the resignation of the pastor:  

There was a feud between the Pastor and the Choir Director of a Baptist church. It seems the first hint of trouble came when the Pastor preached on “Dedicating oneself to service” and the Choir Director chose to sing: "I Shall Not Be Moved." Trying to believe it was a coincidence, the Pastor put the incident behind him. The next Sunday he preached on “giving”. Afterwards, the choir squirmed as the director led them in the hymn: "Jesus Paid It All." By this time, the Pastor was losing his temper. Sunday morning attendance swelled as the tension between the two built. A large crowd showed up the next week to hear his sermon on the “sin of gossiping." Would you believe the Choir Director selected, "I Love to Tell the Story.” There was no turning back. The following Sunday the Pastor told the congregation that unless something changed he was considering resignation. The entire church gasped when the Choir Director led them in: “Why Not Tonight?” Truthfully, no one was surprised when the Pastor resigned a week later, explaining that Jesus had led him there and Jesus was leading him away. The Choir Director could not resist singing, "What A Friend We Have In Jesus."

From the

 6: Tell the Cats to Turn Around 

We despise people who challenge our cherished myths and kick us out of our comfort zones. The truth is that when Jesus sets about the task of saving us, he has to heal us of any myth or prejudice that is contrary to the spirit of Christ. Billy Sunday was the Billy Graham of a previous generation. He was conducting a crusade in a particular city. In one of his sermons he said something critical of the labor conditions for workers in that area. After the service, several prominent businessmen sent a message to him by one of the local pastors. The message was this---Billy, leave labor matters alone. Concentrate on getting people saved. Stay away from political issues. You're rubbing the fur the wrong way." Billy Sunday sent this message back to them: "If I'm rubbing the fur the wrong way, tell the cats to turn around."  

Bill Bouknight
7. Moving the Margins

Jesus lived on the margins and moved the margins to include all people, and hence invited hostile crowds to want to edge him out of existence. Today the church wants to edge Jesus out of our worship anytime the margins are made too wide and include too many who are not like us. Recently I was sitting at my computer, contemplating the way Jesus offended so many people so quickly in his ministry. I asked, "Why?" The answer was at the top of my screen. My word processing instructions at the top read: "Drag the margin boundaries on the rulers." That is why he upset people so much: in his life he dragged the margin boundaries of race, creed, and color to include all people. He dragged the margin boundaries when he gave a common meal, which we have made a holy meal symbolic of his inclusive love for all people. Jesus is dragged to the edge of a cliff to be put out of the lives of his townspeople because no one wants the margins of daily living to be inclusive of strangers.

Richard W. Wing, Deep Joy for a Shallow World,
8. Preaching at Home 

I want to let you in on an industry secret. Ready? Most preachers have a difficult time preaching in the congregations where they grew up. It is true for me. I was recently invited to preach in the church where I grew up. My mixed feelings about the invitation were justified. Before anybody heard a word I said, they remembered little Billy Carter, who made paper airplanes out of worship bulletins and dropped them from the balcony when nobody was looking. Even the newcomers who joined long after I moved away had been indoctrinated. They knew members of my family, and that became the filter through which they heard the content of my sermon. Before that congregation heard me, they already knew me....

It is difficult for a preacher to go back home. Everybody knows you. That is the problem. Of all the sayings of Jesus, one of the few things he said that appears in all four gospels is that a prophet gets no respect in a prophet's hometown. To put it another way, "You become an expert only after you move more than ten miles from home."

William G. Carter, Praying for a Whole New World
9. Joseph's Kid? 

Based on verse 22, it appears there was immediately a double-reaction: some were amazed and part of their amazement at his "gracious" speech gets expressed in the line "Isn't this Joseph's son?" But that question seems to cut two ways, and Jesus' subsequent words indicate his awareness of this. The question "Isn't this Joseph's son" CAN be a source of genuine wonder and appreciation-look how far our local boy has come! But it's not difficult to see that the same question could be asked with a real edge to it, with a sneer, with derision. "Joseph's kid? Good grief. He was a nobody back in the day and he's a nobody from a no-account family now. Forget him!"

Jesus then goes on to suggest that maybe those very detractors in the crowd that day would be asking him shortly for an authenticating sign. Although we have not as of yet been told directly by Luke of any particular work Jesus did in Capernaum, apparently he's been there and done some amazing things. But Jesus is no trained dog or dancing bear and he makes clear he's not going to do any such thing in Nazareth. Worse, he inflames people still more by saying that with the attitudes some were harboring in their hearts at that very moment, the Nazareth populace was not worthy of a divine working. Instead, as in the feckless, sub-spiritual days of Elijah and Elisha, God would work his wonders elsewhere, outside Israel.
Scott Hoezee

 10. On the Way to the Cross

When God's light shines on the way of the cross, you and I are invited to see both the stretch of God's grace and the truth of our own disobedience. Here so early in Luke's Gospel, the Lord's encounter with humanity's self righteousness and preoccupation with the hometown attitude, it is already driving him to the cross. Before the healings and the teaching and the miraculous catch of fish, before Mary and Martha, and the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son and Zacchaeus, before the rich man who was told to sell everything and give it to the poor and the poor widow who put in everything she had, before all of that, Jesus was on his way to the cross. Before Luke makes it abundantly clear that the Gospel of Jesus Christ would reach into "all the living that you have", Jesus was well on his way.

It's that reach that causes us to squirm, or to keep a safe distance, or to run away. The Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall remembers that Paul Scherer, a great preacher of the past, used to point out that in the New Testament the kingdom of heaven and the life of discipleship is so often described as a great feast, a bounteous banquet. But then that preacher reminds the hearers of the irony that everyone was trying stay away from that feast. Or as Hall himself then wonders, how is it that the theology of "megachurchianity" in our culture assumes that everyone has this strong compulsion to "get as close to Jesus as possible?" To draw near to this Jesus is to encounter the Gospel that confronts and convicts and threatens. And you and I find our place somewhere in Luke's crowd, because if we're honest, the Gospel of Jesus Christ hits too close to home, to the hometown crowd. "They got up, drove him out of 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 Jesus went on his way."

David Davis
11. Reminding Us of What We Already Know 

When I began my work as a preacher, I spent a lot of time poking around the pages of Scripture for something unusual. My only objective was to find something that would prompt me to say, "This will get them." I would find something in the book of Obadiah and preach on it, murmuring, "I'll bet they have never heard this before." I was right; they had never heard it before. As a result, it had no power. No authority. No sense of importance or urgency.

Once in a while, I would give in and turn to a text that everybody had heard before. At coffee hour, folks would say, "Whew! You really gave it to us today!" Little by little, it began to dawn on me: The power of the prophetic word does not come from roaming a far country where no one has gone before. The real power of the gospel comes from reminding the people of God of what they already know.

William G. Carter, Praying for a Whole New World
12. The Word

The Sanford Hotel in San Francisco reports that it never lost a single Bible in the 15 years it placed them at the bedside as a service to the guests. But, in one month after it started putting dictionaries in the rooms as well, 41 dictionaries disappeared. Now, I don't know whether you can draw a solid conclusion from that, but on the surface, it seems obvious that persons apparently place a greater value on human words than they do the Word of God.

So, there are words and The Word. Of course, the Bible is the Word above all other words. But we go even further than that in the Christian faith. Jesus is the Word -- the Word become flesh -- and by the Word that He is, we assess all other words including the Bible.

We could have spent the entire sermon talking about the message that Jesus read from Isaiah when He took up the book in the temple.

Maxie Dunnam
13. Fear of the Cure

In order for Jesus to heal us, He must first expose our sins, prejudices, and myths. That process is not pleasant. It made the folks in Nazareth fighting mad. In order for Jesus to heal them, he had to challenge some of their cherished myths and prejudices.

When I was a boy of 7 or 8, I was running through a neighbor's yard one day and stepped on a sling blade. Today's children don't know what a sling blade is, but it was an ancient grass-cutting instrument. My foot was cut rather deeply. I ran and hid. Why? Because I had heard that in such cases a doctor would stitch up the wound, and nothing sounded more dreadful to me than having somebody sticking a needle and thread into me repeatedly like I was a piece of cloth...
Before we start the message this morning I need you to do something for me. I want everybody on this side (point to the right side) to move over here (point to the left side). I want everybody in the center to move there (point to the right side). And I want everybody on this side (point to the left side) to move to the center. OK, let's go.

After everyone has moved, and is uncomfortable, mad and grumbling. Did that make you mad? Of course it did. It probably made you "Good and Mad" We don't like change. We don't like being told what to do. We don't like being inconvenienced. Do we? And we get angry. We get "Good and Mad" when are.

Today we find out a little bit about a time in Jesus' life and ministry when the crowds got "Good and Mad" at Him. Let's look at Luke 4:21-30. (Read the Scripture)

The people of Nazareth, the people Jesus grew up with, the ones He had probably built furniture for or repaired a roof for. The people who He had attended Synagogue with, got "Hopping mad" when He confronted them about how unaccepting they were. They got "Madder than a hornet" and attempted to throw Jesus off the cliff upon which the town was built. They weren't just irritated, they weren't just mad, they were "Good and Mad"...

We modern-day Christians are not called to be prophets in the Old Testament sense of the term. We must remember that when preaching from this text. An Israelite prophet was one who had the ecstatic experience of standing "in the council (i.e., the heavenly court) of the Lord to perceive and to hear his word" (Jeremiah 23:18; cf. 1 Kings 22:13-23; Isaiah 40:1-8). He was then sent as a messenger of that council to tell where, when, and why God was at work in Israel's life. Old Testament prophets had new words from the Lord to proclaim, but we Christians believe that the Word of God has now been spoken and incarnated in its fullness in Jesus Christ, and we add nothing to that Word. Who can add anything to the cross and resurrection? Rather we simply spell out, expound, and explain the meaning of that full Word for our time.

Nevertheless, the God who called the youthful Jeremiah of Judah in 626 B.C. is also our God, and the revelation given in this text to the prophet at the beginning of his ministry can also be a witness to us of God's nature and purpose. Certainly the text centers on God. Six times the word "Lord" appears in the text. 

Who is the God revealed through this call? First, he is a God of intimacy. There are no angelic mediators here, nor is Jeremiah overwhelmed with the vision of God's transcendent glory, as was Isaiah (ch. 6). Rather God himself fashioned Jeremiah in his mother's womb, like a potter working with a lump of clay (v. 5), as he has fashioned each one of us, and he knows Jeremiah and us through and through (cf. Psalm 139). Similarly, God himself reaches out his hand and touches the prophet's lips and puts his words in his mouth (v. 9). 

Second, the God who calls Jeremiah is Lord of lords and King of kings. Jeremiah is called to be a prophet to "nations" and "kingdoms," and God can establish and build up those nations or pluck them up and break them down, verse 10. Like Jesus passing majestically through the midst of the lynch crowd in the Gospel lesson of Luke 4:21-30, God in Jeremiah is the Almighty Sovereign in control. Thus, Jeremiah calls God "Adonai" (v. 6), that is, "Master" or "Owner." 
This mighty Lord calls an insignificant youth from the Benjamite town of Anathoth to be his messenger. Jeremiah, at the time of this call, is a young man of marriageable age, about eighteen years old, and there is nothing about him that qualifies him to be the Lord's prophet...
He Threw the Book at Them 
A friend of mine returned from an audience with His Holiness the Dali Lama. "When his Holiness speaks," my friend said, "everyone in the room becomes quiet, serene and peaceful." Not so with Jesus. Things were fine in Nazareth until Jesus opened his mouth and all hell broke loose.
And this was only his first sermon! One might have thought that Jesus would have used a more effective rhetorical strategy, would have saved inflammatory speech until he had taken the time to build trust, to win people's affection, to contextualize his message -- as we are urged to do in homiletics classes. 
No, instead he threw the book at them, hit them right between the eyes with Isaiah, and jabbed them with First Kings, right to the jaw, left hook. Beaten, but not bowed, the congregation struggled to its feet, regrouped and attempted to throw the preacher off a cliff. And Jesus "went on his way." 
William Willimon, "Book 'Em!" article in The Christian Century, January 27, 2004, p. 20.
Praying for the People 
I saw a Walt Disney movie on television recently. It was a wonderful movie titled, Ruby Bridges. It was the story of Ruby Bridges, a six-year-old African-American girl, who was the first person to integrate the schools in New Orleans.
Every day the federal marshals escorted her into the schoolhouse because both sides of the sidewalk would be lined with people who were screaming threats. Robert Coles, a noted Harvard psychiatrist, volunteered his time to work with young Ruby. Every day he would talk with her, trying to help her weather the crisis. On the news one night, he noticed her walking up the sidewalk and the people were screaming and throwing things, but suddenly she stopped and said something and started backing down the sidewalk. Then the marshals picked her up and took her into the building. That night, Cole asked her what she said to the marshals. She said, "I was not talking to the marshals." He said, "Yes, you were. I saw you on the news. I saw your lips moving. You were talking to the marshals." She said, "I was not talking to the marshals." He said, "Well, what were you doing?" She said, "I was praying for those people who were hollering at me. I had forgotten to pray and I was trying to go back and pray for them as I walked to the school building." Cole shook his head and said, "You were praying for the people who were screaming at you?" She said, "Yes, my mama taught me that when people speak mean of you, you pray for them just like Jesus prayed for the people who spoke mean of him." 
You see, when Jesus lives in your heart, you just can't hate anybody.
Gary L. Carver and Tom M. Garrison, Sermons for Sundays in Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany: Building a Victorious Life, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.
Focusing on the Flaws 
Upon his retirement as CEO of the Coca-cola Company Donald R. Keough spoke to the graduating class of Emory in 1993. To those young men and women who would soon be facing a very tough and critical world, he said, "I have an architect friend who says, 'I can take the newest building, built by the finest builders anywhere in the world, and if you give me a camera and the ability to focus various lenses, I can make that building look like it's about to fall down because I will find five or six minor imperfections, focus on them and convince you that the entire structure is about to topple.'" 
In a society where a handful of people focus the camera of life on the events of the day, if you and I allow them to use their camera to focus on our lives, then we will be often disappointed, frequently fearful and generally miserable. Be wary of those who want to focus the camera forever on the warts and blemishes and shortcomings of our existence. 
They did it to Jesus; they'll do it to you. 
King Duncan,
A Gospel to Save 
A few years ago a new Juicy Fruit ad appeared. A bunch of snow skiers are sitting around the fire at a ski lodge singing in typical lame style the old jingle from Juicy Fruit. In walk two snow boarders. They look at each other, shrug their shoulders, then one of the newcomers grabs the guitar from a singing skier and smashes it in the fire.
Here Juicy Fruit is making fun of its own jingle, its own marketing strategies, its paradigm, in a self-effacing way that symbolically admits the need to go in a new direction to reach a new culture. Juicy Fruit's ability to laugh at itself and its past fixations, without ever introducing a new product, is in stark contrast to a defensive, insensitive church that isn't offering gum to chew but a gospel to save.
Leonard Sweet, Collected Sermons,
Expect a Call 
I was only seven or eight when one of our small-town West Texas heroes came home from Vietnam. He had lived three doors down from me, was a star on the high school football team, and had been in my father's Sunday school class before going off to Vietnam. He came back with one leg and a message. God told him, he said, that the war was wrong and that our church and our town needed to change our minds and hearts about racial segregation. Since he was never given the opportunity to stand in the pulpit and testify, he prophesied in casual conversation, but the results were the same: everyone talked about what he said, what had happened to him over there, and whether or not the war had messed up his head. One Sunday after church, my father commented to my mother that perhaps the boy had some mental problems from Vietnam, but that didn't mean that what he said was wrong. Soon my father, as a member of the local school board, began pushing for our schools to be integrated.
Though that young Vietnam veteran never considered himself a prophet, I've come to believe that he was. And although our church didn't know what to do with him, he was formed by its members and taught from the nursery on up that God speaks and God calls, and that our job is to "trust and obey, for there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey." 
Kyle Childress, "Expect a Call," article in The Christian Century, January 9, 2007.
Love -  1 Corinthians 13 
Many of you will recognize the name of Eli Wiesel, the renowned Jewish theologian and prolific author. In his book, All Rivers Run To The Sea he tells of his family, living in Hungry during the dark days of the WWII. His family was waiting for their time to come, for the Nazis to arrive at their door and take them to labor camp.
He tells about a peasant woman by the name of Maria. Maria was almost like a member of the family. She was a Christian. During the early years of the war she continued to visit them, but eventually non-Jews were no longer allowed entrance to the ghettos. That did not deter Maria. She found her way through the barbed wire and she came anyway, bringing the Wiesels fruits, vegetables, and cheese.
One day she came knocking at their door. There was a cabin that she had up in the hills. She wanted to take the children, of which Eli was one, and hide them there before the SS came. They decided after much debate to stay together as a family, although they were deeply moved at this gesture. He writes of her: 
Dear Maria. If other Christians had acted like her, the trains rolling toward the unknown would have been less crowded. If priests and pastors had raised their voices, if the Vatican had broken its silence, the enemy's hand would not have been so free. But most thought only of themselves. A Jewish home was barely emptied of its inhabitants before they descended like vultures. 
I think of Maria often, with affection and gratitude, he writes, and with wonder as well. This simple, uneducated woman stood taller that the city's intellectuals, dignitaries and clergy. My father had many acquaintances and even friends in the Christian community, not one of them showed the strength of character of this peasant woman. Of what value was their faith, their education, their social position, if it did not arouse their love. It was a simple and devout Christian woman who saved the town's honor.
 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. If I have prophetic powers and a faith so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give everything I have to the poor, but have not love, I am nothing. 
Highest Act of Life 
What is the highest, most exalted act of intelligent life? It is to love. Love seeks no cause, no end, no reward beyond itself. "I love because I love; I love that I may love,"
St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
Our Father, each day is a little life, each night a tiny death; help us to live with faith and hope and love. Lift our duty above drudgery; let not our strength fail, or the vision fade, in the heat and burden of the day. O God, make us patient and pitiful one with another in the fret and jar of life, remembering that each fights a hard fight and walks a lonely way. Forgive us, Lord, if we hurt our fellow souls; teach us a gentler tone, a sweeter charity of words, and a more healing touch. Sustain us, O God, when we must face sorrow; give us courage for the day and hope for the morrow. Day unto day may we lay hold of thy hand and look up into thy face, whatever befall, until our work is finished and the day is done. Amen. 
Francis of Assisi, 1181-1226.