Dear friends in Christ, grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well, this afternoon at 5:25, the waiting and the hype and the promotion will all come to a climax, as the Super Bowl unfolds in Houston. Most years, it is the Super Bore, the game is over by half-time, and the more exciting moments happen during the commercials. And unless you are a fan of the Panthers or the Patriots, the game probably doesn’t matter anyway.
It’s an interesting phenomenon, the Super Bowl, because rarely is there a home team, like the World Series in baseball, or the Stanley Cup finals in hockey. But further ironic is this fact; that few residents of Houston will see the game in person. They are hosting the game, and have put up with media mania for two weeks, and yet most of the tickets to the Super Bowl will go to fans or corporate sponsors across the country. It just doesn’t pay to be the hometown for the Super Bowl.
And apparently the same can be said for being residents of Jesus hometown of Nazareth. Though he was born in Bethlehem, he was raised by Mary and Joseph in the town of Nazareth. He probably went to school there. Residents of that village no doubt watched Jesus grow up, they saw him play ball, or skip stones, or do whatever children did in first century Galilee. What they did not know was that Jesus was God. So thirty years later, when word began to trickle back to Nazareth that Jesus was performing miracles, the residents of Nazareth began to plan the homecoming party. They must have mentioned to one another “If Jesus turned water into wine in Cana, he can do that here. If Jesus could feed 5000 with a few barley loaves and a couple of fish somewhere else, he could do that here. If he healed all sorts of blind and sick and lame people down there in Capernaum, just imagine what he will do when he comes back home again.”
Well, Jesus does come back home, and immediately goes to the synagogue and begins to teach — and the people are amazed. Such knowledge. Such authority. And to think he grew up right here in Nazareth. But they must have been wondering out loud about the miracles he wasn’t performing. Under their collective breath, they were wondering when Jesus would deliver the goods. What about us? What good is it to be Jesus’ hometown if Jesus doesn’t work his power here? They assume that Jesus owes them a miracle.
Jesus doesn’t agree. In fact, Jesus reminds them that God often by-passes those who think they are deserving of his blessing, and blesses instead the least deserving. And the residents of Nazareth are enraged. They bring Jesus to the edge of town with plans to kill him, but Jesus walks away without a scratch.
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So what does this story mean today? Why would the early church decide to include this vignette in the scriptures for generations to come? Unless, of course, the early church thought that believers of every age would be inclined to assume that Jesus owes them a blessing. We’ve trusted him with our lives. We’ve risked our reputations by professing him to our friends. We’ve given our money, our time, our attention and our devotion to him, so what about us? Where’s the home field advantage?
In a few weeks, when the Season of Lent begins, we will again use that beautiful liturgy called “The Holden Evening Prayer.” Listen to the words that we will sing together, as taken from The Magnificat:
You have cast the mighty down from their thrones
And uplifted the humble of heart
You have filled the hungry with wondrous things
And left the wealthy no part.
Great and mighty are you, O Holy One
Strong is your kindness everymore
How you favor the weak and lowly one
Humbling the proud of heart
Now, before I go any further, let me say a word about God’s faithfulness. When we come into the Kingdom of God, whether through baptism or conversion, we receive God’s absolute promise that he will always be with us. God marks us as his children and assures us of his forgiveness, God guarantees us life in the Kingdom forever. But that’s as far as the assurances go. He does not guarantee that our lives will be free from suffering and pain. He does not pave our paths with health and wealth and power. He does not promise us the house of our dreams, or the spouse of our dreams, or healthy children or loyal friends. What he promises us is that he will go with us through every storm, and prepare a place for us on the other side.
But when our lives become difficult, we begin to wonder “where is God?” When religious people struggle with illness, or unemployment, or grief, or injustice, or failure, as we watch unreligious people seemingly sail through life with good fortune, we are inclined to say “What about us? What about me?” I’ve done that; haven’t you? I have assumed that because I have said my prayers, and memorized scripture, that I will be first in line for God’s blessings. Like the residents of first century Nazareth, I expect God to reward me because I got in early. Like the laborers in the parable who worked all day long in the vineyard, I assumed that I would get a bonus from God because I labored over a lifetime. Like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, I have assumed that my religion has to count for something. What about us? What about me? I’ve asked that question; haven’t you?
In the Christian life, there is a prevailing dichotomy that appears nowhere else on the planet. For on the one hand, it’s not about us at all. This ministry we share in the world as a Christian Church is not about us, it is about others. St. Augustine said that “the Church is the only club in the world that exists for people who are not yet members of it.” When William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, was dying, he pulled one of his associates close to his mouth and he whispered his final word: “Others.” And even the purpose statement of this congregation proclaims this unselfish tone: “Grounded in faith, gathered in love, and sent with a purpose, so that others may gain the kingdom!” What about us? What about us? It’s not about us, it’s about others.
On the other hand, it’s all about us. It is entirely about us. When you come forward this morning to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, you will be reminded again that it is all about us…all about you. Pastor Keith will place the wafer in your hand and speak the words that have been spoken to Christians throughout the ages: The Body of Christ, broken for you. You. Not for the masses, not for the multitudes, not for others…but for you.
It’s about others. It’s about us. It’s about a God whose mercy is so great, he wants everyone to know. It’s about a Savior who died. It’s about a church that proclaims God’s grace to all people everywhere. It’s about time. Thanks be to God. Amen.
— Copyright 2004, Steven Molin. Used by permission.