Saturday, February 23, 2019

Defying Gravity

Something has changed within me / Something is not the same / I'm through with playing by the rules / Of someone else's game / Too late for second-guessing / Too late to go back to sleep / It's time to trust my instincts / Close my eyes and leap!

It’s a heavy day today.  The weather is heavy, leaden, gray, promising a deluge later on, flood warnings abound. It weighs upon us.  The rodent predicted spring may be early as promised, but it seems a long time coming.  It’s a heavy day today.  A glance through local and national and even international news feels like a cement block settling onto our shoulders.  Border wars, tear gas and shooting, sports figures and actors and politicians detained and accused, harassment and hatred in our own deep end of the pool - heaviness pulls at us, dragging at every attempt to move forward.  Forward, a way forward? Or the inertia of gravity that pulls into stagnation, into division and fear, into a lack of trust and choosing of sides.  We are not immune to the effects of gravity.  In the church, in the world, in you and in me.  It is what it is.  Just learn to live with it, that’s the advice of some.  Get used to it.  You can’t fight it, you can’t change it, it is as fundamental to the human condition as gravity.  

It's time to try defying gravity / I think I'll try defying gravity / And you can't pull me down / I'm through accepting limits / 'Cause someone says they're so / Some things I cannot change / But 'til I try, I'll never know! / Too long I've been afraid of / Losing love I guess I've lost / Well, if that's love / It comes at much too high a cost! / I'd sooner buy defying gravity / Kiss me goodbye, I'm defying gravity / And you can't pull me down 

Our Showstoppers series is ending on shaky ground.  Shaky?  Well, there are witches.  Some will take offense at the very idea.  Some will recoil at the thought that we might find something of value, hear something of the gospel in the words of a witch.  

Wicked is a musical that I love.  I was captivated by it the first time I saw it years ago.  It is a retelling, a prequel to use the lingo, to the classic children’s story “The Wizard of Oz.”  And there are witches and wizards, talking animals and munchkins, yeah, ok.  But Wicked is about witches and wizards in the same way “To Kill a Mockingbird” is about ornithology.  It’s really about good and evil and how it is sometime hard to tell one from the other, or about how good can sometimes feel like evil, or help can often harm, and truth can sound like a lie and lies become a new truth.  All of which sounds an awful lot like something Jesus said.

Luke 6:27-38  "But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.  30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.  31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.  32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.  34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.  35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."

“I say to you that listen.”  Are these words we really want to hear, to really listen to and perhaps change our lives around?  Well, no, let’s be honest.  We live in a world that nurses grudges, that licks wounds, that lives to get even.  Talk about your swimming against the tide.  Talk about defying gravity.  These words of Jesus here in the Gospel of Luke sound like a note out of tune in the symphony of our lives.  Love your enemies?  Come on!  

Take a look though, take a listen.  Listen to this rethinking of how we live in community.  “Love your enemies” he says.  But how do we do that? We whine and complain and run off with a million excuses, a million justifications as to why that not only won’t work but it isn’t even humanly possible.  Listen Jesus, what you are asking is not going to work in the world in which we live.  Whether we are talking about international enemies, where an expression of love for those enemies will get us labeled a traitor to our nation or soft on  terrorism, or bleeding hearts or who knows what else; or talking about personal enemies who just make our lives the living hell that it can be from time to time until we develop enough backbone to get rid of them.  Surely you aren’t asking us to just put up with bad treatment because Christians are supposed to be the welcome mat for the world, allowing anyone and everyone to wipe their feet on us!

Slow down, He would say, just listen for a moment, please?  Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.  But how in the world... Shh, listen.  Bless those who curse you.  Are you kidding me, those no good .... Quiet!  Listen.  Pray for those who abuse you.  OK, now you’ve gone too far, Jesus.  That just isn’t right, to put up with abuse is simply wrong, just wrong.

Listen, please just listen.  Watch what he does here.  On one level he is repeating the same charge four times. Love your enemies.  Love those who hate you.  Love those who curse you. Love those who abuse you.  Repetition to make the point.  But on another level he is shifting the call.  Love, do good, bless, pray for.  Do you see, do you hear?  Jesus doesn’t tell us to just take it.  He doesn’t tell us to just be the door mat of anyone and everyone.  What he tells us is don’t become them.  Don’t harbor the kind of hate that allows abuse and cursing to happen.  Turn it around.  Turn it over.  But notice the distance, “do good” means encounter, get close enough to impact a life somehow.  “Bless” is at arms length.  When curses are being hurled, you might need to step back.  Step back and gather yourself so that you can hurl blessings in return.  But step back, blessings aren’t in your face, they are laid at your feet.  They are handed out at a bit of distance.  And then “pray,” when the abuser is at work, then get away, get far away, run to safety.  But don’t carry the hate with you, run from it too.  Instead from your safe place you pray, pray for God’s healing and God’s love to transform the abuser.  Leave behind the inclination to hurt back, as you have been hurt.  It doesn’t help in the healing.  It doesn’t make right what has been a horrible wrong.  Let it go, and love.  Love from a distance.  Or better yet, pray, pray that God’s love can do what your love is incapable of at the moment.  Pray that God steps in and loves your enemies through you.  Suddenly gravity doesn’t seem insurmountable. Still scary, but not insurmountable.

“Too long I’ve been afraid of losing love I guess I lost.”  Do we lose something in the process.  Well, yeah, according to the world we lose something.  According to a revenge culture we lose something.  That’s why Jesus goes on to talk about losing.  If you always want to be even, what good is that?  If you always want pay back what good is that?  If you always get love in return for your love, it is really love?  The love we lose in the process of defying gravity, becomes the love that sustains us as we fly.  It becomes the love that transforms, the love that surrenders.  The love that pours out regardless of the return.  The love that is like God.  

Why be kind?  For the good it does?  No.  Though it does do good, powerful good.  For the feeling it gives us?  No.  Though those feelings are wonderful by-products of doing kindness.  Why do acts of kindness?  Because that’s what God does.  And the reward we get is that we can participate in that love.  We can love like God loves.  That’s why we do it.  Because God does.  And it starts with listening.  Deeply enough to hear.  Jesus speaks to those who listen.  

Something has changed within me, within us.  Something is not the same.  See, just knowing this, just hearing this and everything changes.  We can no longer ignore  the way the world is.  It’s time to try defying gravity. To try it is His way.  To love like He loves.


Saturday, February 16, 2019

You Will Be Found

Have you ever felt like nobody was there? / Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere? / Have you ever felt like you could disappear? / Like you could fall, and no one would hear?

Dear Evan Hansen is a Tony award winning musical that burst onto Broadway in 2016 to critical acclaim.  Written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the songwriters of all the music from The Greatest Showman, it is a deceptively simple story about a young man trying to find his way in a world that barely seems to acknowledge his existence let alone help him find a way to be accepted and loved.  

It is not my intention to provide a review or even synopsis of this amazing show.  Instead I want to listen in on one showstopping song in the midst of the musical.  “You Will Be Found” is a declaration of hope, a belief in the goodness of humanity, even in the face of despair and isolation.  It is a cry for a faith that is often just out of the grasp of many in a selfish and self-centered world.

Well, let that lonely feeling wash away / Maybe there’s a reason to believe you’ll be okay / ‘Cause when you don’t feel strong enough to stand / You can reach, reach out your hand // And oh, someone will coming running / And I know, they’ll take you home // Even when the dark comes crashing through / When you need a friend to carry you / And when you’re broken on the ground / You will be found 

What I’m asking is whether we dare hear the gospel in this song.  Is the world described in “You Will Be Found” not the world that surrounds us out there, but just might be the kingdom we are called to imagine into reality?  Is it a naive view of a kinder, gentler world no one believes in, or is it a radical re-prioritizing of the intention of our Creator God as presented by the Word made flesh, Jesus our Christ?

Luke 6:17-26 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. 20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24 "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 "Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. "Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

Scholars tell us that both Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain are most likely compilations of sayings of Jesus accumulated over a larger part of his teaching ministry rather than one sermon per se.  It is possible that at various times Jesus stood or sat to teach and put together these various thoughts in one larger teaching moment.  It was a technique the rabbis called “stringing pearls.”

The problem is that some of these pearls are hard to hear.  “Blessed are you when people hate you..”  Really?  Is that something we should aspire to?  Something we should work toward?  “Rejoice in that day (that hating day) and leap for joy...”  I don’t know that this is something I really want to claim in my faith.  I know, I’ve been told as a pastor that if people aren’t upset by what I am doing, then I’m not doing enough.  In which case, I’ve done plenty in my day.

But I’m not sure that’s what he was getting at here.  It isn’t that we set out to upset people, that we do whatever it takes to get us hated.  If that were the case, then those Westboro Baptist folks are on the right track.  And there is no way in God’s heaven that that makes sense.

“Blessed are you who are poor”, “blessed are you who are hungry”.  Are we supposed to just let the poor and the hungry live in their blessedness because some day there will be a change in their circumstances?  Or are we called to be a partner in that change?  Are we the promise that Christ gives to those in difficult circumstances?  And what does it mean to promise the Kingdom of God?  Is it, as so many believe, a “someday” kind of promise.  You’ll get your reward one day, when you die, or when Jesus comes back, whichever comes first.  Or is there something else going on here?  If so, what would that be?  Is it something beyond the facile “it will all work out in the end” kind of assurances?  

And why the “woes”?  Why can’t we just celebrate the blesseds and skip the woes?  Matthew takes them out.  Matthew’s Jesus climbs a hill and looks down upon us, calling us to a higher spiritual realm, to aspire to something more, something bigger.  But Luke’s Jesus climbs down and walks among us.  He gets in our faces, He touches us, heals us, drives out the demons from within us.  And most important of all He offers us nothing less than Himself.  

So what do these verses offer those in desperate situations?  Hope?  Well, yes, there is hope.  There is a promise of reversal.  There is resolution for even the most complex, the most broken of situations.  And we who stand in faith must never lose our hold on that hope.  It is what drives us to keep working, to keep giving, to keep loving, even when we don’t see a solution on the horizon.

But these verses tell us that this hope comes packaged in a relationship.  “Yours is the kingdom of God.”  Even the most desperate of people are still worthy of love, of welcome, of hospitality, There is room at our table, room in our inn, room in our circle even for the hurting, even for the weeping.

That is why when folks hurt and withdraw from community the healing takes so much longer.  That is why seclusion is actually detrimental to hope.  The kingdom that is on offer is a community, a relationship of healing and hope.  That relationship is, of course, first and foremost with Jesus the Christ, the author of hope, the source of healing.  But it is lived in the here and now, in the everyday, with the human community we call the church.  A place of acceptance and inclusion.  At least we hope, at least we strive to be that community, that reflection of the kingdom.  

Did you notice that some verses are future tense: you will be filled, you will laugh.  But some are present: yours is the kingdom.  We can be right now the place of filling and the place of healing, or learning to laugh again.  We can’t fix the problems with a snap of the finger, but we can be a part of the solution.  If we hang in there together.  If we remember we who have been found are now in the business of finding.  Someone will come running, and that’s us.  We’re the runners, we’re the finders.  Why, because we have been found, we have been run to, and we’ll never let ourselves forget that.  

So let the sun come streaming in / 'Cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again / If you only look around / You will be found (You will be found) // Out of the shadows / The morning is breaking / And all is new, all is new / It's filling up the empty / And suddenly I see that / All is new, all is new / You are not alone / You are not alone / You are not alone / You are not alone // Even when the dark comes crashin' through / When you need someone to carry you / When you’re broken on the ground / You will be found! 


Saturday, February 9, 2019

From Now On

I saw the sun begin to dim / And felt that winter wind / Blow cold / A man learns who is there for him / When the glitter fades and the walls won't hold / 'Cause from then, rubble / what remains / Can only be what's true / If all was lost / Is more I gain / 'Cause it led me back / To you
(From Now On, finale of The Greatest Showman)

It’s back.  That winter thing.  Cold and ice, maybe even some snow later.  Who knows?  But only for a few days.  Then it will be warm again.  And wet, and rainy.  Spring and winter do-si-do this month.  Take your partners and dance.  Take your chances.  Shed that coat and freeze your fingers to numbness.  Wear the wool sweater and feel the sweat run down your back.  The cats stare out the back door at the sunshine, thinking they could go out and bask in the warmth, only to blame you when they scurry back in bowed against the frigid temperature. Something just isn’t right they mutter as they huddle over the heating vent.  Just isn’t right.

The not rightness seems pervasive.  Everywhere you look, everywhere you turn.  Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe I’m just out of sync with the world these days.  Or maybe the tilt of the planet is more out of skew than ever.  Maybe the not rightness seeps into everything we do or think or remember, and our vision is clouded by the weight of our brokenness.  Late at night we lie awake remembering every mistake, misjudgment, wrong decision we’ve ever made.  And we can’t help but feel like we’re face down in a boat full of fish, consumed with our sinfulness, wanting to send away the One who brought us to our knees.

Luke 5:1-11  Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God,  2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.  3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.  4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch."  5 Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets."  6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.  7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.  8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!"  9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken;  10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people."  11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him. 

In the conversation we learn that it hadn’t been a good night for Simon.  Fishing was done at night in those days.  The fishermen would spend the night in the shallows tossing their nets and pulling in the catch.  Then as dawn broke, they would bring the fish to shore and sell them at the market.  Because of a lack of facilities for preserving fish, this was a daily event.  Except this day.

This day, for Simon, was a hungry day.  Nothing to sell, nothing to take home for his family.  Nothing.  It might have been that he was still sitting in his boat because he didn’t want to go home and tell them that he had nothing.  It might have been that he was sitting there feeling empty, feeling worthless, feeling shallow.  Until that Man came and asked him to go out into the deep.

Luke says that Jesus was teaching and everyone kept pressing closer and closer.  The crowd grew and pressed in to hear.  So, Jesus looks around for options, and sees Simon sitting there in his boat with failure on his hands.  So, Jesus steps in and asks if he would mind rowing out a little way so that He could teach without risking getting wet.  An amazing thing, don’t you think?  A little invitation, a small inconvenience and before you know it, Simon was in over his head.  Did Jesus show up that day looking for followers?  Or was that a bonus?  The catch of the day?  

And what was the lesson that day?  I find it interesting that Luke doesn’t say a word about what Jesus taught.  In Luke’s haste to get to Simon Peter’s story, we skip over Jesus’ words.  Typical, I suppose.  We sometimes miss what is right in front of our faces, because we want to get to something more personal.  We skim over the article to see if our name is there, we glance through the program to find someone familiar, we scan the crowd to find a certain face, and in so doing we miss everything and everyone else.  Jesus may have been talking about paying attention.  It was a common theme in his teaching elsewhere, no reason to think it would have been absent here.  “Consider the lilies,” he would say, “look there, wheat and weeds growing together,” that road, this seed, those fields – Jesus was always asking us to pay attention to what was around us.  Like a preschool primer, Jesus said “Look and See.”

Yet it was never just the appearance of things that interested Jesus.  He was really saying look deeper.  Which is what he said to Simon when the teaching was over.  “Let’s go deep.”  That’s where the drama is, isn’t it?  Out in the deep water.  Out where stuff matters.  We can paddle around in the shallows if we want, it’s safer there, easier there.  Or we can, at His command, His invitation, go deeper.  Simon is reluctant at first.  Been there, done that, didn’t work, won’t work.  I know fishing, Teacher, forgive me but stick to your talking, let me do the fishing.  We tried that already.  And got nothing.  A whole lot of nothing.

We’re reluctant.  Kinda busy over here.  Doing my thing, minding my own business, keeping my head down.  Frankly it’s the best way these days.  Head out to the deep water and you’re likely to drown in the rhetoric of violence and hatred.  Go under the flood of us and them and making our side great again.  No, thank you, the shallows will suit me just fine.  Except they don’t.  Not really.  They don’t satisfy the depths of the soul where the hurting is.  “If you say so,” Simon mumbles.  Maybe he just remembered how this Teacher just strode into Simon’s own house like He already was invited there and healed Simon’s mother-in-law.  Maybe Simon figured he owed this Man the benefit of the doubt.  

So, out they go.  Into the deep.  Drop the net and then ... what?  A miracle?  A coincidence?  A landlubber who got lucky?  A perceptive eye who saw a school a fish at just the right moment?  Who knows.  It was a lottery win, a jackpot in the wildest dreams category.  Two boatloads sinking under the weight of all the slippery, scaley, gasping dead-eyed fish.  Yet something happened in Simon.  Luke gives us a hint of that something - the only time he calls him anything other than Simon is in this moment - this realization moment.  Here’s where Peter is born, the Peter who followed, the Peter who tried, the Peter who failed again and again, but kept following.  That Peter appears right now and he collapsed in fear and shame and full awareness of his inadequacies and emptiness.  Go away from Lord - another change.  From Master - teacher - rabbi - to Lord.  Go away Lord, I am a sinful man.  

Jesus smiles at the fisherman lying among the fish.  And bends down to gently say, “don’t be afraid.”  Wait.  What?  Don’t be afraid?  Not yeah, you are a slimy, fishy sinner, you need to take care of that before we can go any further.  Not, here’s a hot coal to the lips to make you clean again.  Just “don’t be afraid.”  As if Simon Peter’s sin isn’t a handicap to the task before him.  As if sin isn’t a barrier to Jesus.  Isn’t a hindrance to Him.  

Then He says the next amazing thing.  “From now on...”  That’s what He says.  From now on.  As if this moment is a new start, a launching pad, a reorienting.  This moment is a Genesis moment, something is being created here, by the Word made flesh.  From now on.

From now on! / These eyes will not be blinded by the lights! / From now on! / What's waited till tomorrow starts tonight! / It starts tonight! / Let this promise in me start / Like an anthem in my heart / From now on! / From now on! / From now on! // And we will come back home / And we will come back home / Home again! 

From now on you’ll be catching people.  That’s what He said to Simon becoming Peter.  That’s what He says to us.  From now on you’ll be taking them alive.  That’s what the word means.  Mostly.  Taking them alive, capturing them.  It usually refers to capturing of the enemy to make them slaves.  Not the best image, frankly.  Except one linguist says that it could also mean something else.  It could mean revive them.  Make them alive.  From now all you’ll be giving life, you’ll be welcoming them home.  From now on.  And as you find, so you’ll be found.  And we will come back home, home again.  Thanks be to God.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

"This is Me" Saith the Lord

When the sharpest words wanna cut me down / I'm gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out / I am brave, I am bruised / I am who I'm meant to be, this is me / Look out 'cause here I come / And I'm marching on to the beat I drum / I'm not scared to be seen / I make no apologies, this is me

We’re week three into our Showstoppers series here at Southport.  And turning to one of my all time favorite new show stopping tunes.  Elsewhere I wrote that “This is Me”is an anthem of identity and worth and determination.  It is about the outcast becoming the center of attention.  It is a recognition that the place the world gives to us is not always the place Jesus gives to us.  And He shows that in His very first encounter with the opposition, with those who don’t want Him to be who He came to be, but they want Him to be who they want him to be.  Jesus always issues an invitation – follow me.  Join me, be a part of what I’m doing, what I’m bringing.  But He is going to do it His way, that’s what the wrestling in the desert was all about.  He chose His path.  We’re invited to come along, but we’re to walk His way.  

OK, full disclosure, I’m not at the top of my game this afternoon.  I just spent the day teaching for Course of Study.  Plus I woke up (actually went to bed) with the beginnings of the cold that has been running around our office.  So, I’m taking the easy way out and rerunning a commentary on this passage that I have done before.  It may sound familiar to some of you who have been reading for a while.  But that’s OK, it is still relevant.  

All I ask is that as you read you hear the great singer and actress Keala Settle sing This is Me from the Greatest Showman while you read.  And see if some of these words (like those printed above) sound faintly like what Jesus might have been singing as He passed through a murderous crowd and went on His way.

Luke 4:21-30  21 Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." 22 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?" 23 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.'" 24 And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. 25 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; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 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. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Everything was going so well.  Jesus makes his proclamation, preaches his nine word sermon and the applause rains down.  I know, that isn’t the way you remember the story.  Wasn’t he rejected, didn’t they say he was just a hometown boy getting too big for his britches?  Well, not exactly.  Not at first.  Look again.  “All spoke well of him.”  They thought, wow!  A hometown boy made good.  He’s one of us!  He’s ours.  Aren’t we special?  Aren’t we cool?  That little phrase at the end of verse 22 wasn’t disparaging, it was pride.  He’s like us.

If Jesus has stopped there, it would have been a glorious homecoming.  They would have slapped him on the back and invited him to dinner and talked about the good old days when he was a boy and things were so much better back in the Nazareth that used to be once upon a time.  Jesus would have been a minor celebrity and they’d all wave to him in the Walgreen’s parking lot, and want to sit by him in the bleachers at the high school basketball games.  He could have done well back there in the little town.  

But he didn’t stop talking.  He had a bigger vision than one small town in the hill country of Galilee.  So he says, I know you want me to settle down here, because here is where all the people that matter are.  I know you don’t understand why anyone would want to leave Nazareth and go on to other towns and other countries.  But you don’t need me here.  You won’t hear me here.

Wait, he said that?  “No prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown.”  Different translations have us remember those words in different ways.  But what does it mean?  Why did he say it?  Because he knew what was underneath their approval.  And he knew they didn’t want to hear what he came to say.  He came to say they were important - that much they heard.  God is going to get the kingdom going right here, in Nazareth.  That’ll show the folks down the road, in the next county, in the next country.  God’s kicking things off right here!  Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.  Yee haw.  He came to say that they were important.  But that they weren’t the only important ones in the world.  He came to say that God thinks even the stranger, even the foreigner, even the enemy is important.  Important enough to save.  Important enough to love.

This has been God’s plan from the beginning, Jesus says.  You remember Elijah?  You remember that story of the widow?  God thought she was important, saved her, blessed her, loved her.  She wasn’t one of us.  You remember Elisha?  You remember that guy, that foreign general guy, with the skin problem?  That guy was an enemy, a conqueror of people like you.  God healed him.  God blessed him.  God loved him.  Get this, he was Syrian.

Syrian?  Wait a minute here Jesus.  A refugee from Syria?  He might be wanting to hurt us.  He might be hating us.  He might tell us he’s running for his life, but maybe it is just a plot.  To catch us with our guard down.  Maybe he isn’t really sick.  Maybe they aren’t really refugees.  Maybe they haven’t lived their whole lives in fear of their lives, surrounded by war and killing and living in an unjust system that doesn’t value them as human beings but rather sees them as pawns in a terrible game of power.  Maybe we should protect ourselves first, think of ourselves first.

How dare you, Jesus, tell us to love even those who are different from us.  Heck, we struggle to love the others in our pew, don’t go asking us to love across the boundaries that are there to keep us safe.  No wonder they got angry.  No wonder they turned into a mob.  You can’t blame them really.  Jesus was inconveniencing them something awful.  Asking them to make accommodations, to change ingrained habits, to think differently about who and what a neighbor really is.  That’s crazy talk.  So, they barked and barked and barked, drove him out of town, wanted to toss him off a cliff.  But he just left.  He had places to go, a Word to proclaim, a world to save.  He went on His way.

Perhaps the saddest verse in the whole Bible.  Evidence that God doesn’t force us to change, to grow, to love like He loves.  Doesn’t demand that we become something more, something riskier, something with the potential to change the world for the better.  To be more like it was supposed to be in the beginning.  When God created the heavens and the earth and said it was good!  It was good.  We don’t have to be a part of the making good.  But Jesus isn’t hanging around.  He says follow me.  And goes on His way.