“They Drove Jesus To The Cliff!” – 02-03-13 – Epiphany 4 – Cycle C

Listen to the sermon here: 

Scriptures:     Jeremiah 4:1-10     Psalm 71     1 Corinthians 13:1-13     Luke 4:21-30

Yes, they did.  Who did?  The people in the home town of Jesus which is Nazareth – that is who  drove him out of town to a cliff!  Some versions of the Bible say “dragged,” some say “led,” or “cast him out,” or “put him out,” or “they ran Jesus out of the town.”  Do you know this story?  Did they actually push Jesus over the cliff?  No, they did not.  How did Jesus rescue himself? This is how: “But He passed (or slipped, walked) through the midst of them and went on His way.”  In the later words of John, “It was not yet time for Jesus to die.”

Why would the hometown people do this to their native Son?  Well, as you may know, Jesus did not always speak in easy-to-understand terms.  Jesus spoke very frankly.  He neglected to take the Dale Carnegie “How to Win Friends and Influence People” course.

Last week we focused on our own “words” and how our own words should be kind and loving or we should not say them.  Well, Jesus had His own style of using words.  His speeches or sermons were often puzzling, and, yes, even tough to accept.  The people were left saying, “What was that all about?” or “What did He mean?” or “Did Jesus really mean what I think He meant?”  Even the disciples of Jesus did not understand His speeches.  So Jesus would explain in a more understandable way to the disciples.  Why was this His style?  Maybe you have an opinion.

So back to the cliff story.  Why were his own people so angry with him?  Because Jesus had just reminded them of the times in the Hebrew scriptures that the prophets were not sent by God to be helpful to the Israelites, but rather to go outside the circle of Israelites to other cultures, other ethnic groups.  One example was Elijah being sent to the widow of Zarephath in Sidon and we have the miracle of the flour and oil lasting the length of the drought.  Later, Elisha was used by God to cleanse Naaman, the Syrian, not an Israelite, of leprosy in the muddy Jordan River.  Jesus boldly made the point that prophets in their own hometown are often ineffective.  Belief and acceptance are in short supply in one’s hometown.  Was this not little Jesus, the son of Mary and Joseph, the carpenter?

Yes, this was Jesus, the little boy.  But this little boy was more special than other little boys.  Don’t we know – this little boy is the Son of God, the very Son of God!  Decades ago, I was taught by parents and Sunday School teachers and preachers about this little baby who, in young adult years, died to protect all of us from our own sins.  For me, it is so easy to believe.  I never questioned.  Never.  But, if I had played with Jesus, if I had gone to synagogue with Jesus would I have noticed his “specialness?”

Maybe I would have noticed because in my elementary school was a very intelligent person.  He could out-think me by a mile.  I was not happy, but I did respect him and knew that he was special.

But, do you know which people in junior and senior high school gradually emerged as great in my mind to this very day?  They were the people of the quiet religions.  They knew Jesus far more profoundly than I did.  Because they came from quiet religions, they were quiet people.  They watched the others of us become excited about social activities, as we ran after false gods.  These quiet people were the solid people.  They found wonderful soul mates later – not at the all-important dance, but in their own venues they found other quiet people who did not have to be making spectacles of themselves while flirting with each other.

Sometimes we need to pass through time before we have the right perspective on things.  Did these fellow Nazareans of Jesus ever see the light while they were living on earth?  I don’t know.  Do you know a place in scriptures which says that the Nazareans came to their senses, that their eyes were opened to this light in their midst?

This reminds me that just as the people of Nazareth could not even trap Jesus to be pushed over the cliff, we cannot trap Jesus to speak what we want to hear.  We need to let His words to us, in 2013, hit us as a strong flow of water through a hose.  We may turn a deaf ear.  We may symbolically push Jesus over the cliff.  But do you know what happens?  Jesus does not give up on us as He did with his own hometown people.  We are not fellow Nazareans.  Jesus knows the possibilities that exist within us.  Jesus knows the plans that the Father has for us.  After all, Jesus is one of the three persons of God.  Jesus is God.  He knows!

Our lack of courage or our pride cannot prevent God from demanding what God has planned for us.  We can even try jumping over the cliff ourselves in order to hide from the words of God in our minds and hearts.  Jeremiah in the Old Testament who was a prophet before the exile to Babylon, is one of us.  “No, God,” Jeremiah cried.  “No, I cannot do what you ask.  I am too young!”  Did that stop God.  No!  God said, “Listen here, Jeremiah.  I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.  I have plans for you.  I consecrated you to these plans.  Here, I have put my words in your mouth, Jeremiah,” said God.

Furthermore, God said, “You are to go, go, go to the nations.”  Listen to Jeremiah’s job description.  God says, “See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow.”  But God does not stop with this assignment of doom.  God continues with, “to build and to plant.

Does this not correlate directly with Jesus?  Jesus was charged with building the kingdom of God on earth.  There was destruction of the old ways, the idol ways, the selfish ways.  For Jeremiah, there was destruction of the temple, of the nations of Israel and Judah.  There was destruction of the pride and willfulness and silly governance of the religion of the day.  But what came afterward?  The nation of Israel was called home to rebuild.  A resurrection.  Yes, a resurrection.  Then, for Jesus, the resurrection happened!  What a day!

Oh, don’t we know how we are constantly being challenged by God to put away our selfish ways, our silly and fruitless ways of governing each other?  Don’t we know that we are our brother’s and sister’s keepers?  We are not to be individualistic.  We are to be in community, sharing and caring for each other.  We are to abide by the basic rules of God for a workable community – you know, the Ten Commandments – and we are to practice an all-encompassing love.  We are to look for the miracles of God in our lives.  We don’t know how Jesus “walked or passed” through that crowd of hometown people but He did.  It was not His time; so, he was saved.

Can you think about a time when you felt pushed or dragged to a cliff?  How many times did this happen to you?  Did you ever learn to turn the tide away from yourself as target?  Did you develop some technique to overcome the situation?  Did you draw on your own resources or did you invite God to handle things?  Did you say, “Your will be done, not mine?”  Wow, we are about to be lynched and we say, “Your will be done, Lord.”

Our Lord Jesus did that after He had just said, “Take this cup, from me, O my Father.”  I was reminded recently that Jesus knew he was not just going to receive all the sins of the people then alive.  Bad enough, don’t you think?  But, Jesus was accepting the sins of all the people who would live, and therefore sin, until He would come again.  That is how we come into the picture.

God does not always have happy, carefree plans for us.  We may dread what is in store?  Why then are we still Christians?  Why don’t we bow out of this strange belief?  Why indeed!  Does not God give free will to us – the freedom to accept Him or walk away?  Many of us believe that we have this freedom, this “free will.”  We may have family members or friends who have chosen to walk from this belief in God called Christianity.  Can we blame them for taking an easier road?  Have we ever given another path a try?  What happened?  Have we returned or are we still walking an easier path?

If bad things happen to good people what is the good of forsaking the world’s way and placing our eyes on the light of God?  Well what happens if our career slides into a ditch?  What happens if we hurt someone else badly?  What happens if we can’t work because of illness?  What happens if the person, whom we love dearly, dies?

What, or who, is out there in the world providing comfort and presence and healing?  The Psalmist in Psalm 71 had his act together.  We read, “For you are my hope, O Lord God, my confidence since I was young.  I have been sustained by you ever since I was born; from my mother’s womb you have been my strength; my praise shall be always of you.”

Then Paul, this zealous apostle for Jesus, offers this idea called “love.”  Paul is not talking about a love which just wants companionship and ownership.  Paul is not talking about loving a chocolate peanut sundae or a Big Mac or about loving a house.  Paul is talking about a love that truly exists through all kinds of hurt and doubt, through  all kinds of jealousy and wrong-doing.  It is God’s brand of love for us.

We respond to this love and we are able to practice this love, not as fully as God does, but as God enables us to increase this genuine love, bonding us with our brothers and sisters –  be they Christian or not Christian.  Let’s let love be our style of being.  Let us not push people to the edge of the cliff; let this love give us respect and belief in each other – even our siblings, our classmates, our workmates. It is this love that accepts all people on earth as being created by our God.  Yes, indeed.  Let us invest in this love.  It is available from God.  Let’s go for it!  Amen