Toorak Uniting Church

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Out of our box

1 Kings 17: 1 – 16     Psalm 19     Luke 4: 14 – 30
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
9:30am, 24 January 2010

What intrigues me about the passage we read this morning is that Jesus could easily have prevented setting up the whole town against him. Why, after behaving as he should on his Sabbath visit to his hometown, does he suddenly start singing to a tune that is bound to set up the hackles of those who are listening to him?

One can just imagine them, a community not unlike our own: come to the synagogue to meet their friends, to listen to a good sermon, and go home satisfied they have done their bit for the week. The presence of Jesus and his friends on this particular Sabbath a bonus making their day and giving them something to talk about. It must have been great to see one of their own, who has made some ripples in the villages around the country side coming home to show his tricks and no doubt longing to bathe in their benevolent approval. Look what great son Nazareth has produced! Proud and proprietal they are, of this son of theirs, the boy they’ve seen grow up in Joseph’s carpenters shop and who played with some of their children. Look at him! The whole country is turning out to see him! And the stories they tell about him! Miracle working, and fantastic public speaking skills. Ours! Our Jesus! Who said nothing good ever came out of Nazareth! He is showing them, isn’t he!

They are proud. And rightly so. This son of theirs is well and truly something to be proud of. Why doesn’t Jesus let them have their day and obediently suffer them cooing over him over a cuppa at the end of the service? He could have disappeared into the country side again after that I am sure, as long as he’d come back regularly to give them their gush of pride and make them feel good.

So why spoil the party? Why not perform a couple of miracles and give one of his inspiring sermons? It would have been so easy, and they would have loved him for it.

What Mark tells us is that Jesus could not do any signs in his home town. Could not. Wasn’t able to. Was incapacitated, made impotent by what he encounters.

Is it that he feels how easily they will turn against him if he doesn’t do exactly as they please? Or is it because he knows that if he lets himself and his ministry be appropriated by them they will distract him from his true calling? What is it that paralyses him?

Luke’s interpretation of this phenomenon is different than Mark’s. In his gospel Jesus himself connects it to something similar which happened to the prophets. To two of the greatest prophets to be exact: Isaiah and Elisha. They too found themselves, at some point in their ministries unable to do anything for their own people. And subsequently found themselves outside the boundaries of their own community performing miracles and making God’s saving presence be felt.

I am not yours, says Jesus, it is with me like it was with Isaiah and Elisha: I have come to venture beyond the boundaries of my own, and reach out to the world outside your (and my) frame of reference. I haven’t come to satisfy your pride and confirm your complacency. I have come to make the Kingdom happen, not as an insiders party at the synagogue, but in the world that surrounds it.

It is one of the most important themes running through the gospel of Luke that surfaces here: Jesus who has come for people outside the immediate frame of reference of his people. And to his detriment.

They don’t like it, and they don’t want it. It upsets their applecart, it upsets their rhythm, the way things are, their world, and their understanding of what is right and proper.

I am sure they didn’t feel narrow minded and inward looking, but they were. A village, where life ran (even under the Roman occupation) its course, with the occasional hick up, but mostly, fairly, calm and comfortable. I am also sure they felt deeply offended: They were prepared to love Jesus, to pamper him, to surround him with pride and admiration. As long as he would acknowledge he was theirs and pay tribute to them and their needs at least.

It is only human. I am sure you wouldn’t like it if one of the famous sons or daughters of Toorak would turn on you when invited to give a talk at one of our breakfasts or at Morning group and tell you you were stifling them with your pride and admiration, that you didn’t understand the first thing about their mission and ministry and that they would go perform their miracles elsewhere because they didn’t feel they could do anything positive in the environment you provided for them. I am sure anger and resentment would stir very quickly and a very cool and cold goodbye would be imparted on them. Not impolite, but cold. If you don’t like us, well: fine!

It is very difficult to hear the positive challenge Jesus provides, and the town of Nazareth most certainly proved not to be ready for it. What? No miracles for us? A one liner instead of one of the inspired sermons we heard about? OK! If that’s what you want - go and find somewhere else! We can do without you! And this after all we have done for you, providing you with a great place to grow up, we would have thought some gratitude would be in place!

Would Toorak be able to hear the challenge? To change the self absorbed navel gazing into an open appreciation of what is happening in the world around us? To react with joy and approval to a proposal to take the miracles and the inspiration beyond the village perimeter to find a world that needs to be fed and healed outside it?

As one of you, who has grown in ministry in this place for six years now, I challenge you to see if it would be in your hearts and minds to let go of what is familiar and comfortable, to let go of the desire to direct the blessings and inspiration God has given towards the few faithful meeting on a Sunday, but to direct them out: Outside the box, outside what we are used to, outside what we assume Church should be like, outside what we have presumed our ministry should be directed at.

This place has incredible potential to become a Church of the future, instead of a complacent dinosaur ready to lay down and die. If only we will move out of what we know towards whatever it is God may have in store for us.

What did Jesus need? How could his village have made a difference to his ministry? How can this, our, village make a difference to his ministry? Not by demanding his miracles and inspiration for ourselves, but by wishing them, praying them, showering them, onto others. Not by suffocating the work of the Spirit by what we think we know about it. Not by clinging to the worship we feel comfortable with. But instead opening ourselves to worship where the Spirit is invited to blow whichever way it wants, sharing whatever is available with anybody that happens to walk into or outside our box. Be it on a Sunday or at any time during the rest of the week. Trusting that if we give we will receive ten times more.

We’ve got a cafe out there, full of people ready to talk about inspiration and waiting for miracles to happen in their lives. We’ve got a Kindergarten, with children who love bible stories and parents curious to know what makes a Christian tick. We’ve got a daycare centre for the elderly out there, with elderly people longing for the sound of familiar songs and gentle prayers.

No, they are not that keen to enter this building when we are here on the Sunday. And we may well wonder why. Is it perhaps because we find it difficult to divert our gaze from the friends we’ve come to meet and the worship we have grown to expect to others who live way outside the boundaries of what we find comfortable and familiar? Is it because we expect them to come to us and forget to go to them?

It doesn’t really matter! Whatever it is, Jesus has come this Sunday to challenge us to let the Spirit work within us and look to Zarapath and Sidon, to people who are different from us, longing for our ministry to be extended to them in the places where they are. Jesus has come this Sunday to ask us for prayerful support and openness to his mission to the world, asking us to let go of the boundaries we have thrown up around ourselves that limit the Spirit free and unrestrained access.

Let it go! Give up whatever it is that keeps you inside, and move out. If you are not young and energetic enough to take on the more active parts of the ministry that calls us, pray for it, meditate on it, support it, but, for God’s sake, let go of the fear that has the potential of preventing miracles from happening!

Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2010


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