Gracious Words

God so loved

Meditation on Luke 4:21-30

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH

Feb. 3, 2019

       21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’23He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ 24And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ 28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They 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. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

 

***

 

Yesterday was my first funeral here in Coshocton. Thank you to all who helped minister to Elva’s loved ones through so many acts of kindness. I was nervous as I was preparing for the service the day before, because I didn’t have a chance to meet Elva, who at 102 years and 8 months, was our oldest member. The more I learned about her, the more I was amazed by her– the spiritual gifts God had given her and her faithfulness to use them.

I had been studying the passage in Luke this week–you know about Jesus’s first sermon in his hometown. And how it didn’t go well. I didn’t want anything even close to being almost hurled off a cliff to happen to me!

I was worried Friday night about every word that I was going to say, fearing that I might get something wrong and somehow let Elva and her family down. Or that maybe I wouldn’t be accepted by them because I am new here and perhaps not what they were expecting or used to.

But then, yesterday morning, the Spirit came to my rescue, reminding me that it’s not about me. Whenever and wherever I preach, the words that come out are empowered and governed by the Spirit.

It doesn’t matter that I have only lived in this community for a month! I can’t be an outsider or stranger in the Body of Christ. His Spirit overcomes any social boundaries or actual walls that human beings build up to keep out people they don’t like or simply don’t want to be bothered with.

That’s how it was with Jews and Gentiles in Bible times, but that is not the way of the Lord. Ephesians 2:14 says, “For he himself (Jesus) is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace.”

Paul writes in Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.“

And though we have different gifts and talents, the ONE gift that we all have access to is the most excellent gift of all!! LOVE. As Paul tells the Corinthian church, divided into clichés and drawn into egotistical squabbles, “If I don’t have love, I am nothing!”

Elva Sauer had the gift of love.

Of all the beautiful things that were said about her, one story stood out above the others. Elva’s thank you notes! She wrote thank you notes for every act of kindness, seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary. Whenever her grandchildren or great grandchildren wrote her a thank you note for something she had given them or done for them, she would write them a thank you note for their thank you note!

Hearing that story, I am persuaded that if I had been able to meet Elva, she would have had gracious words for me. She would have encouraged me in my ministry for the Lord because she loves the Lord and she loved the Church, her church.

Friday night, when I went to sleep fretting about my first funeral at Coshocton, I asked the Lord to give me gracious words.

 

***

 

Jesus spoke gracious words in his hometown of Nazareth in Luke 4, our gospel reading today. He goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath “as was his custom;” it was the only synagogue in a town that was probably 100% Jewish. The Spirit that strengthened him to fight temptation in the wilderness leads him to proclaim the words of Isaiah have been fulfilled in their hearing! And “all spoke well of him,” says verse 22, “and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”

When I read this, all I can think is Nazareth must have been a tough neighborhood that they were amazed at his “gracious words” to them. And Joseph must have been an interesting character for them to be amazed that someone who spoke with “gracious words” could be related to him. Everyone in Nazareth would know Joseph and Mary and all the kids, for Nazareth was a village of not more than 400 people and possibly more like 150. It was a remote area of perhaps 60 acres; most of it, empty space. It was far from water in a culture that took boats or walked for transportation–15 miles west of the Sea of Galilee and 20 miles east of the Mediterranean Sea.

It is significant that this is the village Jesus left to begin his ministry. And he didn’t take any friends from Nazareth with him and invite them to be his disciples. And no matter where he goes and what deeds of wonder and acts of grace happen in his ministry, he will still be called The Nazarene, which wasn’t a compliment.

As Nathaniel said when his friend Phillip wanted to introduce him to Jesus of Nazareth, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

But being from Nazareth fulfills OT prophecy of the Messiah. Nezir is Hebrew for branch. Isaiah 11:1 says, “a branch (nezir) shall grow out of (Jesse’s) roots.”

Well, the town wasn’t ready to embrace Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah. Jesus isn’t surprised. “Truly I tell you,” he says, “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.”

He anticipates a sarcastic retort when he says, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself,’ meaning they expect him to work the miracles in his hometown (for his own kin and neighbors) that he had done in other places. But they are missing the point; the miracles are meant to reveal Jesus’ true identity as the Son of God, not the son of Joseph. Miracles won’t happen in a town that lacks faith. Jesus will tell his disciples in Matthew 10 when he sends them out on a mission, to shake the dust off their sandals and leave any home or town that refuses to welcome them and heed their words.

They become enraged when Jesus quotes Scripture that challenges everything they have always believed and are proud of –that God only loves them. Israel. Going with this false assumption, therefore Israel’s enemies must be God’s enemies. But the examples Jesus gives to open their eyes to the sin of their prejudice are the well-known miracle stories of Elijah and Elisha, whose miracles benefit the widow at Zarephath in Sidon (he raises her son from the dead) and Naaman, commander of the Syrian army (he heals him of leprosy). This reveals God’s love for all humanity, as Jesus will tell Nicodemus when he comes to him secretly at night in John 3:16-17,

“For God so LOVED the WORLD that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

The Nazarenes hadn’t ever heard such gracious words before–and they didn’t want to hear them ever again.

 

***

 

The Lord answered my prayer. He gave me gracious words for ministry yesterday, but it wasn’t when or where I expected. The first time I was aware of His gracious words was when I spoke at length with one of the female funeral directors during the drive to the cemetery. I felt led to encourage her. Grateful tears shone in her eyes. And the second time was at the graveside service, when I sensed the powerful presence of our loving and gracious God, who keeps his promises. “Blessed are those that mourn,” says Jesus in Matthew 5:4, “for they shall be comforted.” There, as we shivered together in the cold and damp, standing by Elva’s stone, we had the miracle of Christ’s peace. The gracious words were contained in the committal service, taken straight from the Bible, beginning with, “I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord. Those who believe in me, though they die, will live. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

As we gather around the communion table today to remember and give thanks for Christ’s work on the cross for our sakes and be re-membered as the Body of Christ, made one in Him, let us seek the greatest gift of all–LOVE, for the good of the whole Body. As you partake of the bread and cup, ask the Lord to show you if you are holding any grudges or have prejudice or dislike for anyone –so that He may forgive you and release you from the burden of sin. For this IS the gracious God that we serve. The Lord who speaks through Isaiah in 1:18, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…”

May the Lord grant us all gracious words to bring hope and healing to the world God so loves.

 

Let us pray.

 

Thank you, Lord, for your gracious words that bless and heal us and also awaken us to our sins and stir us to confess them. Give us the courage to be like Jesus and speak boldly to our own kin and neighbors, seeking to bring them closer to you, the one whose love and mercy far exceed the limitations and boundaries of human love and mercy. Forgive us for being too self- conscious when we seek to minister in your name, worrying about how people might perceive us and respond to us. Take away our fears and insecurities, resting in your promises to complete the good work in us that you have begun and to use us as instruments of your peace. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

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