Reflections from The Hill – Questions and Promises – Luke 4.21-42
It’s hard enough just visiting one’s home town without having the difficulty of taking a service in the church you grew up in or wearing the embarrassment of preaching a sermon.
The closest I’ve ever come to doing any of that was to give the eulogy at my Dad’s funeral. The Requiem and all the other bits were done by the Rector.
There is a case to be made for not playing the Hometown Boy/Girl Made Good part. Just allow the one who has the job to do the job.
However, it did strike me the other day that we clergy actually have our own version of Hometown Boy/Girl whenever we take services and/or preach in a parish we’ve previously worked in. I suspect it happens quite often.
No matter how much people remember about us, foibles and misadventures are always overlooked; we are still treated like family; the congregation is still pleased to see us and proud that they’ve had some input into who we are today.
“Why, he was just the son of a humble carpenter when he left us. Now look at him. Born to it, he is. I always knew he was special.”
So, what went wrong? How could a homecoming turn so ugly? One minute people are amazed at his gracious words; next, he’s criticising them by assuming what they’re thinking: “No doubt you’ll quote the proverb …” That’s always a good place to start a blue.
It’s his fault really. He’s probably offended that they’re surprised at how well he’s done. And he’s turned around the warm-fuzzy they gave him about his genealogy and turned it into a challenge: “Isn’t this Joseph’s boy?”
Perhaps he’s just sceptical about every attempt they’re making to be nice. Perhaps he feels he can’t trust them. Perhaps he’s just having a bad hair day. We’ll never know.
What we find out is this: his listeners might have reckoned that they knew him – and they may well have, at least to a point – but he knew them better.
For starters, he’s talking globally, not locally. He’s declaring something about God’s concern and love for all people, not just for the mob who are standing in front of him; his friends, neighbours and the kids he went to school with.
His use of the Isaiah quote (we heard/read it last week) is as important for what he doesn’t read as it is for what he does. He doesn’t read the nationalistic bit about crushing
’s enemies, for example. Israel
He only reads about God having a special focus on the poor. There’s an important difference right there.
For this global view to become real, he’s saying that there’s going to have to be some changes. Just doing the logic will show that if God is to raise the lowly, then the powerful will be brought down.
Simple maths tells us that, in order for the poor to be fed, the rich are going to have to go away empty. The pie is only so big.
No, this speech isn’t about who’s The Favourite. It isn’t about The Big Man, who s/he is or where s/he comes from. It’s about change and the challenge this brings to the gatekeepers.
The sadness is, as we watch Luke unfold his Gospel, that it’s the messengers, the ones who have the vision, the dream, who pay the price, often at the hands of the gatekeepers.
The only thing that keeps our heads above water is to keep looking to him, the only one who God raised from the dead. The rest have gone the way of all flesh.
But he’s still out there, bringing forgiveness and grace – passionately and relentlessly – to all of God’s people.
We can start this new life by giving up the pretence of being perfect, of having it all together, of being able to make it on our own.
It ain’t easy, as I keep saying, because making a promise and then doing it can be really tough. The promise is that God will fulfil his word and, really, that ought to be enough to propel us all into a life of service, purpose and meaning.