Monroe Congregational Church, U.C.C.
January 7, 2001 - Bill Comfort
Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD." Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."
Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." 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?" 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.'" And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. 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; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 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. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
The people in Jesus' hometown of Nazareth did not recognize him as the anointed one of God. In fact, the scene foreshadows the end of his life. The people of Nazareth, Jesus' homeys, are so enraged when he claims this for himself that they drive him out of the town and would have thrown him of a cliff to his probable death but by some grace he escaped them and went on his way. It is easy for us to say that we would have been different than Jesus' friends and neighbors,. But if we are honest we probably have to admit that if one of our own got up and began to make these kinds of claims we might not have tried to kill the person but we would certainly have tried to silence them.
In the very funny play, Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead, there is a roving band of tragedians. At one point the leader of the band explains that everyone must die in the end of their tragedy because, "the audience knows what to expect and they won't believe anything else." This is true in all of life as well as in entertainment. We have certain shared assumptions and we tend to discount anything that is does not correspond with this rather fixed worldview. Every once in awhile - more often for those who strive for an open mind - a new idea will penetrate the haze of our consciousness and all of a sudden we see things differently. God was doing a different thing in Jesus. The people of Nazareth were not ready to see or hear the new thing of God and it made them mad just to hear Jesus talk about it.
Throughout the Bible there are times when God is doing a new thing and the people of the Bible always lag behind God's vision. One of the things you can say about God with certainty is that God is always doing a new thing. Our purpose in life is to witness the new thing God is doing in our lives and testify about it to the people who have ears to hear.
One of the things we can say about Jesus is that he knew how to listen for the prophetic voice of those around him. That is to say when someone around Jesus would testify to the new thing they had witnessed God doing in their lives or in the life of the community Jesus had ears to hear. When he explained, for instance, to the Syro-Phoenician woman that his ministry was just for the people of Israel he listened when she responded that even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table. Her words penetrated to the heart of him and from then on he had a new thought. In today's reading the examples he uses show that he now believes that the good news is for Gentiles as well as Jews. Thus, Jesus models for us one of the most important parts of his message. God is ready in every moment to do a new thing. We are called to witness God's new creation in every moment and testify to what we have seen and heard.
Another thing you can say about Jesus is that he knew who he was. In today's reading he proclaims that he is the anointed one of god - the messiah. Part of the point of his mission among us is to bring us into a new understanding of who we are in relation to God. We are the recipients of the good news if we have ears to hear and if we are poor or poor in spirit. One of the ways to look at the release of the captives is the release of any who will hear Jesus' words from the collective hypnosis of who we think we are as individual and as a society. The good news is that God is ready to do a new thing again in this very moment and those who have ears to hear will know about it. We are called by Jesus through word and example to live Gods good news in this moment now.
Another aspect of today's Bible readings is the call to find and use our own prophetic voice. Throughout the Bible God calls people to speak on his behalf. The scene of the call is almost always the same. Today's reading from Jeremiah is typical. God says, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." Maybe it is just because of the poetic way that God calls, but the people called in the bible all respond the way Jeremiah does, "But, I'm only a boy." You can figure out for yourself what your excuse would be. I'm too young. I'm too old. My voice isn't very good. Many of us who are confident in our abilities in other areas are reticent when it comes to speaking for God. This is another side to the problem of believing what you expect based on our ordinary experience. We think that God will call us to do something that we cannot do. We believe that because we stammered around yesterday when we were trying to explain something in front of the teacher at school or in front of the boss at work that we would stammer around while trying to testify to the new thing God is doing in our lives. Gods assurance to Jeremiah is part of the good news for all of us, " you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you." Then god put words into the mouth of Jeremiah and he continued to do that faithfully for years and years.
Just before the New Testament story that we are reading today is the story of Jesus fasting in the desert for forty days. After his baptism by John the spirit of God drives Jesus into the desert. While in the desert he aligns his will with the will of God. This is the key to his ministry and the key to your ministry as well. Line up your will with the will of God and all things are possible. At one point the disciples were lamenting about how hard the lessons were that Jesus was teaching them and Jesus tells them, " "Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible." Everything is possible with God. I suggest that you test this out. Give God a try. I think you will be surprised. When you have aligned your will with that of God whatever you are called to do you will be able to do.
I allow the highest part of my being to speak truth through me.
I am one with the clear, unclouded mind of Jesus Christ. I think clearly
and act wisely.
I am one with the clear, unclouded mind of Jesus Christ. I think clearly and act wisely.
God is doing a new thing in this moment.
We are called to witness and testify.
We are called to hear the words of the prophet when they are spoken to us. They might come from anyone.
We are called to deliver the word of God.
We are all worthy to do what we are called to do.