• dlhawkins007

February 3, 2019 Sermon

“Whose Side is Jesus On, Anyway?”

Old Testament Scripture: Jeremiah 1:4-10

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."

Scripture Reading: Luke 4:21-30

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.

Sermon: “Whose Side is Jesus On, Anyway?”

Well, today’s the big day. And I don’t mean Four Chaplains’ Day, although today is Four Chaplains Day. And, I don’t mean Veterans’ Day in Thailand, or Heroes’ Day in Mozambique, although those are some of the things that are also being celebrated around the world.

No, today, in America, something a little more exciting, a little more sacred, and a little more close to home is happening. Today is Super Bowl Sunday, the main event, the Big Game.

It’s a huge deal, this Superbowl thing. And everybody wants a piece of it. Everybody wants to ride on the gravy train of endorsements, advertising, and media exposure. We’ve got the puppy bowl, and the kitten bowl, and some really funny commercials, and an amazing halftime show. And there’s even a football game that needs to be played, one that you can legally bet on in 8 states, this year with the cheating perennial patriots and the dirty defense Rams. It’s an exciting day. Well, actually, to tell the truth, I don’t really care who wins, as long as it isn’t the Patriots.

Now, I know that we all have our favorite teams, and we, along with our favorite players are hoping for every advantage in the game. Some of us are even praying for some sort of divine intervention, especially if it means stopping Tom Brady. We wouldn’t mind if God participated just a little bit in the game, and maybe tilted the odds in our favor, like giving Rob Gronkowski just a touch of the stomach flu. Nothing dangerous. Just little edge. And if the Rams win, we’ll assume that God probably had something to do with that. We have all seen players and coaches give thanks to God for a victory.

And I suppose that’s OK. I mean, we are called to give praise in all things, as the Apostle Paul reminds us: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Give thanks in all circumstances. That means whether you win or lose. Succeed or fail. That’s sometimes a pretty hard thing to do. It’s not that strange to see a player rejoicing after a big victory. But it’s pretty rare that you see folks giving all the glory to God after they lose.

It’s easy to think God had something to do with you winning the game. It’s a lot harder to accept that this it might be the will of God in Christ Jesus to get creamed by a better team.
Am I right? I mean, how often do we see a defensive end bumping his chest and pointing toward heaven after getting burned for a 50-yard touchdown pass? How often do you see or hear about a quarterback giving thanks to God for an interception, or a fumbled snap? Not so much.

You know, one thing I really admired about Tim Tebow, was that he was one of the only players that I’ve seen who really would publicly give thanks to God after a big loss. As much as his demonstrations of piety went against my Presbyterian style of private worship, he was genuine and humble in his faith, whether winning or losing, starting, or riding the bench. And it was authentic. It was who he was.

But for most of us, it’s really hard to give thanks in all circumstances. It’s easier to give thanks just in some circumstances. Mostly when things go well for us. When we get that new promotion, or that lucky parking spot, or when a diagnosis goes right for once. Thank God, we say. But when things go wrong, thanking God doesn’t come readily to our lips. When we are down, it’s easy to think that God has forgotten about us. That God has switched sides.

And maybe that’s because we tend to think that God is on the side of the winner. And of course, we want Jesus on our side. We want Jesus to be for us. It’s hard to imagine it any other way. In fact, there are songs written about that, songs that I like to sing, like, “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine,” or the opening words of “Shout to the Lord,” : “My Jesus, my Savior, nothing compares to you...”

And, again, there’s nothing really wrong with that, until we start to think that Jesus is only mine. That Jesus is only ours. Then we are surprised, or even upset when we are told that Jesus belongs to other people as well. That they have a claim on him that he honors. We don’t want to hear that so much.

But that’s what we see that in today’s scripture. Last week, we talked about Jesus coming home, to his family, to his people, to his home church. He carefully outlines what he is, and is not, all about. He says that the things that Isaiah says about God and his people are coming true, today, in him.

And his home congregation is amazed. In fact, I can imagine that they are downright thrilled. And maybe a little bit proud. “This is our boy! Our very own prophet, and he’s famous! He’s already done incredible things, and he’s just getting started! The world knows about him, and because they know about him, they know about us. The world knows about Galilee! Because he’s famous, we’re famous! Because he’s amazing, we’re amazing!
For a little while at least, they’re riding on the gravy train of Jesus’ success. And they feel good about it. But not for long.

Because Jesus evidently senses their growing belief that he belongs to them. He can tell that they feel like they have some sort of exclusive claim on his time, on his attention. He knows what they’re thinking, and he names it: “You all think that I’m going to stay here, don’t you? You think that the good news I have for you is only for you. You think I’ve come to help you, and only you.

“You think I’m on your team, don’t you?”

And Jesus is just getting started. He reminds them about one of their heroes, the prophet Elijah, who, when he needed food, water, and shelter, turned to a stranger, an alien, a foreigner, a cast out marginalized widow, from a different country, who worshipped a different God. And this woman took care of him, and when she did, her food never ran out, her water never ran out. It wasn’t her faith or her ethnicity or her nationality that brought God’s blessing. It was God’s decision to bless the widow that brought God’s blessing.

And then Jesus goes one further. He tells the story of Naaman, the general of the enemy army, a Syrian, a gentile, and a leper. In every way, this man was anathema to the Jewish people, unclean, unkosher, un Jewish, yet the prophet Elisha healed him of his leprosy. Even though Naaman was sure that the whole thing was a hoax, and mocked the whole process, his leprosy was taken from him, not because of his faith, or his fervent prayers, but because of God’s decision to heal him.

Our God is unpredictable. He’s not on anybody’s side. He’s on everybody’s side. This is a hard thing to accept.

And Jesus’ hometown doesn’t accept it. It drives them crazy to think that Jesus might be sent to other people, and other places that he might be called to bring God’s message to the outside world. “What happened to our Jesus? How can he possibly want to love and serve people that we fear and hate? We can’t have this. Either he’s on our team, or he’s not. We won’t share him. He’s got to make up his mind. Is it us, or them?

And they get violent about it. His own people, so enraged by the idea that Jesus might love their enemies as much as He loves them, they form a mob around him, the push him to the edge of a cliff. They are willing to kill this man because he doesn’t swear exclusive loyalty to them, and to their cause. He refuses to be only on their side.

But here’s the thing about Jesus. You can’t box him up. Even pressed against the edge, surrounded by a mob screaming for his death, Jesus continues to be who he is. He simply makes his way through the crowd and continues on his ministry.

We don’t have an exclusive hold on Jesus. He’s not on our retainer. He isn’t ours to direct with our prayers, or to claim for our own plans. He doesn’t march to our drumbeat, and he doesn’t enlist in our crusades. He’s not on our team. Jesus is not on our side.

He’s on everybody’s side.

When he tells these stories of the widow at Zarephath, and the Leper Naaman, he’s telling us that he’s on the side of the stranger, the foreigner, the poor, the hungry, the outcast, the diseased, the ethnic minority, the enemy, and even those of the wrong religion.

And that might be hard to hear. We are used to thinking of Jesus as our own. We are used to Jesus being on our side. It’s hard to think of him ministering to, and blessing, and forgiving, those people we hate, fear, or despise. It goes against our grain. It doesn’t make any sense.
But, I believe that it is in this wideness of God’s mercy that we find true good news.

Because Jesus is for the world, and for the most unlikely of sinners in it, he is also for us. Regardless of your past, or of your sin, or of the decisions you have made that you are ashamed of, Jesus is also for you. The very moment that you think you are beyond Jesus’ ability to save, that is the moment that Jesus becomes real, and takes your hand, and becomes your own. Because Jesus is for all of us, he is also for each of us, and he is for you, and he is for me.

And at our table today, we see the proof of that. Jesus calls us to this table to take strength from him, to find comfort in him, to receive forgiveness by him, to be bound to him, and to live with him, forever and ever, and ever.

This is the good news of the Gospel. Jesus is for us. All of us.

Thanks be to God. Amen.
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