YEAR C, EPIPHANY 4 

Sunday 4, Jan 28-Feb 3

 

Luke 4: 21-30..                        (Sermon 1: “Jesus was Catholic”)

                                                            (Sermon 2: “Knowing Our Limits”)

1Cor. 13:1-13...

Jeremiah 1: 4-10...

Psalm 71: 1-6

 

PREPARATION

 

The love of Christ Jesus be with you all.

            And also with you.

 

Once again, God offers us an hour of special opportunity;

            We are in the presence of an amazing grace.

 

We have been called together by Jesus of Nazareth.

            He is the Host in this house of prayer.

 

Here all distinctions of age, sex, race or class mean nothing.

            Here our oneness in Christ means everything.

 

OR—

 

Love! Just love!

Above all other gifts, there is love.

            The source and goal of Christ’s worship and ours..

 

Love. The ground and guide for our dealings with one another.

            The heritage and hope of all races and nations.

 

Love. The delight and destiny of those filled with the Holy Spirit.

            Above all else there is love.

 

Let us worship God, the fountain of love.

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

God of incomparable love, you have shown us in Jesus of Nazareth that all people are embraced by your graciousness. Enable us to relax ourselves in that universal fellowship which flows from sincere worship. Living closer to you and to one another, may we touch the pulse and purpose of existence, and be enabled to live lovingly and bravely as brother’s and sisters of the one Saviour.

Amen!

 

CONFESSION

 

All have sinned, and fallen short of the glory God has shown us in his true Child, Messiah Jesus.

Let us pray.

 

With confidence we come before you, loving God, for your goodness can display its glory in the midst of our spiritual bankruptcy.

 

Have mercy upon us, O God, for we have all sinned and fallen short of that glorious humanity displayed by Jesus Christ. Holding nothing back, we make our silent confession to you:

 

                                                                                                ---silent prayer--

 

You understand our corrupted nature much better than we do, and you precede us with light and hope. Grant us the grace of repentance.

                                                Grant us your peace.

 

You anticipate our need for forgiveness and provide a way of healing which is open to every sincere soul. Grant us the grace of repentance.

                                                Grant us your peace.

 

You have tireless patience, relentless mercy, and refuse to be put off by our repetitive sins and stupidity. Grant us the grace of repentance.

                                                Grant us your peace.

 

Please continue to deal with us, loving God, not in the way we want but the way we really need. Wipe out our shame and restore us to the joy of your holy friendship.

 

Through the saving grace of your true Child, Christ Jesus.

Amen!

 

ABSOLUTION

 

“The love of Christ Jesus is patient and kind. His love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. His love will never end.”

 

My friends, secure in the saving love of God, I declare to you that your sins are thoroughly forgiven, your guilt is wiped away, and your highest hopes are restored.

 

Thanks be to God!

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            Plant Your Smile in me

 

Dear Lord Jesus,

your smile is much nicer than my grumpiness,

and it is far shinier than even my best smiles.

 

Please print you smile deep within me.

Then, no matter what happens,

I shall have a happiness within me

which even the nastiest thing can’t squash.

 

Will you do that, please?

Thanks.

Amen !

 

PSALM 71:1-6

 

In you alone, Holy Friend, I seek asylum,

never let me be dismayed or disgraced.

 

In your justice, rescue and liberate me,

hear my prayers and heal me.

You are the bedrock on which I stand,

the Uluru at the centre of my salvation.

 

Deliver me from the hands of rogues,

from the grasp of ruthless injustice.

For you, God, have been my sure hope,-

my true Friend from my childhood.

 

From the hour of birth you have carried me,

supported me from my mother’s womb.

Always you have been there for me.

I will never stop singing your praises!

                                                                                    Ó B D Prewer 2003

 

UNTIL

Luke 4: 20-28

 

And all spoke well of him

and of his gracious words

            until he called their bluff

            and demanded much more

            for the outcaste and poor;

then they got rough.

 

And all spoke well of him,

“A nice bloke, Joseph’s son”;

            until he stepped outside

            their polite comfort zone

            where brave souls walk alone;

then they deride.

 

And all spoke well of him,

an honour to their town;

            until he made it clear

            that those of alien race

            also received God’s grace;

then they showed fear.

 

And all speak well of him,

from Broome to Airlie Beach,

            until he invites the sad

            pros and junkies to share

            in his house of prayer;

then they get mad.

                                                                        ©  B.D. Prewer 2000

 

COLLECT

 

You have called us, holy Friend, not because we have earned it, but because you are a gracious God. You heap bonus upon bonus, and the profound complexity of your ways exceeds all human comprehension. Please increase in us the desire to respond to your call, and the capacity to love as you would have us love. In the name of Messiah Jesus our Redeemer.

Amen!

 

SERMON 1: JESUS WAS CATHOLIC

 

Luke 4: 28-29

 

When they heard this, all those who were in the synagogue became furious, and they went for Jesus, to eject him from their town. They hustled him to the brow of the hill, on which the town was built, in order to fling him over the cliff.         Luke 4: 28-29

 

There is a persistent furphy [in Aus lingo “furphy” = rumour, or misleading story] doing the rounds of many religious people. It says ¾

 

            If we do the right thing by God, we will become successful and popular.

 

It is extremely difficult to eradicate this furphy, this false expectation. Christians should know better. Yet it persists.

 

At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus was rejected and threatened with murder, by being thrown from a cliff top.

 

Why? Why was Jesus rejected by his own people, in his home town, where he had been raised since a child? Why did they get angry enough to want to kill him?

 

Among explanations given, the most common is that good citizens of Nazareth were angry because Jesus quoted a prophecy from Isaiah and then applied it to himself. They were appalled by his apparent claim to be God’s Messiah. To them is was a disgusting blasphemy.

 

RACISTS?

 

I don’t buy that explanation. I think it had more to do with racism.

 

If we look again at the Gospel passage we see that after Jesus made his announcement, Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing, they were all excited and very proud of him.  We read: All commented favourably, and marvelled at the gracious words which flowed from his mouth; and they said: “Isn’t this our Joseph’s son?”

 

At this stage in the episode, Jesus was popular.

Yet a few minutes later he was rejected and outcaste.

What made the difference?

 

Looking carefully at the text, we discover that Jesus went on to talk about God’s grace towards despised Gentiles, those non-Jews who were regarded as unclean and hardly human; despised and unfit for the company of decent Jews. Created to be “fuel for the fires of hell” as one rabbi suggested.

 

(Uncomfortably close to how many European colonists of the nineteenth century treated the indigenous people of this continent. Instead of the old English fox hunts, they indulged in what they called “boong” hunts.”)

 

Jesus spoke of the legendary prophet Elijah, who in a time of famine did not precipitate a food miracle for Jews, but did so for an alien widow in the Phoenician province of Sidon. Jesus drove home his message by also reminding them of the case of the prophet Elisha, who although there were many lepers in Israel, was used by God to heal a leper called Naaman; a man from hated Syria.

 

That did it. Their good mood turned foul. Praise turned to scorn and anger. I quote: When they heard this, all those who were in the synagogue became furious, and they went for Jesus.

 

[Not so unusual. As recent as the 1970’s, I knew some church ministers were rejected and almost “run out” of country towns when they sided with aborigines]

 

This was the crunch. It appears that it was Jesus’ declaration that God loved Gentiles as much as he loved Jews, that enraged the people of his home town. He had stirred the bile of racists.

 

They had no time for his inclusive message, it disgusted and infuriated them. What had seemed a kindly congregation, basking in the glory of one of their own “making good,  turned into a wild mob bent on lynching this upstart who dared to challenge the presumption of God’s favouritism towards the Jews.

 

JESUS WAS CATHOLIC.

 

You may wish to say to me: “Hold a moment. Jesus’ mission was to the Jews, wasn’t it? He did not go to the pagans, the Gentiles?”

 

Well that is partly true. He did not go to Greece and preach, or to Egypt or Rome. He stayed in his own familiar territory, smaller than the State of Tasmania.

 

Yet his mission remained a universal, inclusive one, and he proved this by including in his outreach the hated Roman and the mongrel Samaritan, the Greek and Phoenician. As well as this, he made sure he included all those disgraced Jews, the outsiders who would no longer have been welcome at the synagogue.

 

If the word catholic means  universal,” or “for all people” then then Jesus was catholic in belief, attitude, word and deed. His love was inclusive.

 

This inclusiveness even shaped the selection of  the disciples. Think about it. Didn’t he choose some disciples with Greek names like Philip and Andrew? What good, pious Jew would give his sons Greek names? And what was Matthew, a tax pimp for the Roman occupation force, doing among the Christ’s disciples?

 

Also within the land, especially in the Galilean region, some cities had become so influenced by Greek and Roman culture that orthodox Jews black-listed them as Gentile territory. The towns of Tiberias and Tarichaea on the shores of lake Galilee, Scythopolis south of the lake, Sepphoros close to and just north of Nazareth were among those black-listed by the pious. (Nazareth itself was an orthodox town.) Yet Jesus moved freely among those black-listed towns of Galilee.

 

Jesus refused to classify people or racist, cultural, or any other lines. He did not categorise folk as either pure or impure, righteous or unrighteous, worthy churchgoers or the unworthy outsiders, Israelites and pagan Gentiles, God’s people or the unwashed mob. His love was radically inclusive.

 

That is what appears to be what “got up the noses” of his fellow citizens in Nazareth. He arrived at orthodox Nazareth from among the black-listed towns.

 

[It is significant that it is Luke who tells this story. Among the Gospel writers it is Luke who especially emphasises the inclusive mission . In common with Paul, that once-uptight Jewish bigot who was rocked to his foundations and converted to Jesus and his ways, Luke delights in the inclusive love of God]

 

God’s grace in Messiah Jesus did not discriminate. He embodied the catholic spirit. That led to his own rejection, even by those kindly folk with whom Jesus had grown up in Nazareth. He refused to classify people, so they angrily classified him as an impious trouble maker.

 

LET ‘S TEST OURSELVES

 

Our faith and service and worship must be always catholic; that is universally inclusive, or it is not Christianity.  Yet we tend to slip into the exclusive mode without hardly noticing it. Let’s test our attitudes?

 

-What kind of people do we seek out and talk to in those informal throngs which gather after our church service is over?

-Who among congenial neighbours or work colleagues would we prefer to haveas fellow members of our church?

-How cherished and respected would left-wing unionists be if they wanted to be membersof our congregation ?

-How many ordained, indigenous ministers in Australia have been “called” to care forwhite congregations?

-Would  repentant ex-prisoners, or prostitutes ,or gamblers or be really welcome within our denomination?

-How eager are we, or even willing, to include drug addicts, alcoholics, or the unwashed homeless among those we call fellow members?

-Can gay people or the long-term unemployed, the illiterate or the politically radical student, really feel they belong with us?

-In times of inflamed national patriotism, how respectful and loving  are we of those in our midst who sincerely oppose aggressive politics of our government towards other nations?

 

My fellow Christains, I have and uneasy feeling that if Jesus should come among us in the flesh today, challenging our church to embody God’s free grace for all types of people, we might find it expedient to edge him out? (You will notice I say “edge” not “throw” because we these days may be too “nice” to use physical thuggery. “Nice” people are usually more subtle in their rejections).

 

Am I wrong in fearing that we might not willingly surrender our opinion of ourselves as respectable citizens, or put the reputation of our church at risk, for the sake of those whom Jesus would include?

 

Jesus was not a popular success at Nazareth. Doing the right thing led him to be pushed to the edge of a cliff by the good people of his home congregation. True godliness, does not directly lead to acceptance and praise. In fact, “Woe unto you when all men speak well of you.”

 

MORE THAN  MATESHIP”

 

Here in Australia, in spite of our myth of “mateship” and an egalitarian “fair go,” the faithful church, or faithful minister, might not be marked by booming congregations and community admiration any more than Jesus and his disciples were.

 

Inclusive love, when it moves beyond mere religious sentiment into nitty gritty truth and action, remains a scandal. It will offend some. Those who once spoke well of us, can quickly turn on us and reject us when the truth of Christ starts to bite.

 

To love and follow Jesus is a risky way to go.  Yet it is the only way that leads to abundant, exponential life and light and holy joy.

 

 

SERMON 2: KNOWING OUR LIMITS

 

Jeremiah 1:6

  Then I said: “Ah, Eternal God! Look, I am just a youth and I don’t know how to preach.”

Luke 4: 23                  

  The congregation were surprised at the gracious words that came from his mouth; they  said: “Isn’t this just Joseph’s son?”

 

You now how it goes? When we are asked to accept some new responsibility, sometimes we may swiftly respond by saying: “I’m afraid I can’t help. I do know my limitations.”

 

But do we ? Do we clearly know our abilities or lack of them? Is our estimate of ourselves valid? Do we truly know our limits?

 

MY RECENT EXPERIENCE

 

Recently I paid a visit to my home state, Tasmania. Including my home town, Launceston. One part of me loves returning to the beauties of Tassie, with its numerous mountains, clean air and kindly people. And it is very good to catch up with relatives and very dear friends.

 

But I have a confession to make. Another part of me finds the experience discomforting. Whenever I visit the city of Launceston, I seem to shrink!  Not physically, of course. But as a person.

 

I shrink back into the self-image of childhood and youth. I shrink back into what seems like the iron yoke of my family’s social status in that community. I become just Cliff Prewer’s son; the boy who daily rode his bike, not to one of the elite schools, but to the technical college. The person who for pocket money was a delivery boy for a local butcher, with the big meat basket tucked between the handle bars of his bike. The teenager who was shy outside his close circle of friends and incredibly immature in his dealings with girls.

 

I shrink. I really do. I start seeing myself as I saw myself then

 

TWO FORCES AT WORK

 

There are forces at work that would severely limit us. Negativities inhibiting our full development as children of God. There are two on which I ask you to focus. These two factors contribute to my discomfort when I am back in my home town.

 

The limitations which we impose on ourselves.

 

The limitations which others project on us.

 

A limiting view of ourselves.

 

We can underrate our abilities, and inhibit our own development as Christian citizens. When challenged to attempt greater things for God, we hesitate, not necessarily because we don’t want to serve God but because we see ourselves as inadequate. This is not humility but a genuine inability to see ourselves as God knows we could be. Self imposed limitations.

 

Others can try to constrict us.

 

They have their own expectations. Family members may try to impose limited roles  on us. Neighbours, friends, work colleagues join in, keeping us “in our place.” Even our church congregation can try to impose on us limitations that are not of God, and confine us to roles that do not stretch our capacity or foster our growth. Limitations are imposed by others.

 

WHAT ABOUT JEREMIAH AND JESUS?

 

Jeremiah

 

Jeremiah, when called by God to be a prophet, struggled against his self-imposed (and maybe family or community imposed) limited self image.

            Read verses 1: 4-6:  briefly expand on this theme..............

            Jeremeih did not know his limits; God saw something much greater.

 

Jesus

 

With Jesus, it was the home community and home church .

They projected their limited view back upon to Jesus. He would not have got into trouble if he had stayed within their view of him.

            Read verses 4: 21-33               expand.........

            Note also the added details in Matthew 13: 55-56

            Jesus knew his limits were not what others thought they were.

 

Us

 

It is unfortunately common that our own stunted self-image conspires

with the low expectation of other people to keep us in captivity.

 

BEWARE OF THE LOW EXPECTATIONS OF OTHERS

 

We need to be on guard. Not only when I am back in the scene of my childhood and youth, do I need to be aware of the danger of allowing others to project on me their limiting views. It can happen anywhere, anytime. As God’s children, and a joint heirs with Jesus, we can’t permit ourselves to be put in little boxes by some group or by a dominating individual.

 

Beware of the generalisations¾

National culture  We Australians are.....................

Professional : “We teachers, builders, nurses, home-makers, farmers, doctors, plumbers,

             students, taxi drivers, ministers, are...............................

Religious: We Baptists, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Uniting Church, AOG’s,            Anglicans, Churches of Christ, Salvation Army, Society of Friends are.....................

            Family: We McPhersons, we O Reilleys, we Norton-Smiths, we Rigonis, we Goldsmiths,

 Johansons, Stravinskys,  Georgios, Cordells, Schimdts, Garibaldi’s are............................

 

Sweeping generalisations like these will, if we allow them, inhibit our development.

 

On top of that, there are specific opinions and attitudes that make us “shrink.” Dominant characters may try to impose their view of us. Religious discussion can often turn into one of the discussers trying to brow beat the other into submission.

 

Warning! Sometimes those whom we respect most, and those whom we love most, can in fact be the very ones (often unawares) who project constricting frames on to us.

 

SOME OF THE SELF LIMITATIONS ARE INVALID

 

Many a self image is our of touch with reality.

 

The opinion we have of ourselves, an amalgam of the image projected on to us plus self-spun image, may become comfortable yet may be actually damning. They are often not objective assessments, but fictions.

 

Perhaps we prefer to say “I know my limits” because it suits us. It is in our comfort zone. To confront the fact that we may be able to be and do far more than our past, is threatening  to our settled existence. Change and growth always involve some travail. Therefore some of us embrace stunted self-definitions rather than face the pain of growth.

 

Be on guard against the following type of generalisation ¾

            I am just a dumb blonde.

                        I am a respectable citizen.

                                    I’m a born loser.

                                                I’m a victim.

                                                            I’m an incurable joker.

                                                                        I’m no good at public speaking.

                                                                                    I’m trapped.

                                                                                                I’m not an intellectual.

                                                                                                            I’m not an emotional person.

                                                                                                                        I’ll never amount to much.

                                                                                                                                    I’m too old to start learning new tricks.

                                                                                                                                                I’m a born sceptic.

                                                                                                                                                            I’m a  mediocre Christian.

 

Jeremiah did not clung stubbornly to his limited self image. If he had not allowed God to stretch him, the world would have missed one of the greatest prophets that has graced human history.

 

Jesus had to break free. If Jesus had conformed to the image his home town had of him, it would have been a tragedy of universal dimensions.

 

SETTING VALID BOUNDARIES

 

One proviso: beware of overestimating.

 

Although many of us underestimate ourselves, there are some who overestimate themselves. It is also a curse to have an inflated opinion of one’s capabilities. Overreaching is as dangerous as under-reaching.  We need to seek a realistic assessment of ourselves. This is not easy. We need to set realistic boundaries, that are neither selling ourselves short nor lusting for the impossible. How do we do this?

 

Suggestion 1: Start with the Bible.

 

             Set your potential first by taking to heart the affirmation that in Christ you are a child of God. You are loved and treasured by an incomparable Lover.

            Take seriously the Bible  teaching about gifts. We have God given gifts of which we are stewards. It’s a damnable thing deny these gifts, or to bury (metaphorically)  these gifts in the ground. Gifts are given to us, not for self adulation, but for the building up of  the faith community; for the expression of love.

            Trust God’s Spirit to sharpen, discipline,  direct our gifts to where they are most needed. We never undertake new venture alone.

 

Suggestion 2: Take counsel.

 

            If you still are in doubt about accepting new responsibilities or taking new directions while following  Christ, consult with other Christians. Don’t think you can sort out everything in isolation. Independence is a good thing up to a point, but it can also became a grave folly.

            Open your heart up to your pastor or to those members in the congregation with whom you feel affinity. To be realistic about your capabilities, we all need outside assistance.

 

I suspect that most of us set the boundaries too narrowly.

We like to set them well away from the possibility of failure, and therefore under-perform as God’s children. Maybe the boundaries need to be set in the risk zone, where we might succeed sometimes and fail at other times. Christians who know that they don’t have to earn God’s favour, can afford to take risks and sometimes fail to the glory of God!

 

SUMMARY

 

Remember Jeremiah: 

A mere youth called to be a prophet to the nations. Reluctantly yet faithfully he accepted the call of God in spite of all his doubts and fears, and became a giant among prophets.

 

Remember Jesus: 

The son of a village tradesman, defying the low expectations of his family and community and daring to go out and fulfil his potential with sheer glory!

 

God is the loving shatterer of limitations.

By grace we can be the always-growing children of God, for whom surprising things are possible if we dare to believe.

 

 

THANKSGIVING

 

Holy Friend, we give thanks for those open hearted people who are channels of your love in our personal pilgrimage.

            For those who gave us birth,

            and in the weakness of infancy

            nurtured and treasured us,

            sheltered and guided us..

 

Thanks for friends who bear our faults and affirm our strengths, and the those both young and old who share our tears and laughter.

            For those who at every stage

            teach us trust by trusting us,

            who enable us to love others

            because we have first been loved.

 

Thank you, loving Friend, for people of daring, dazzling faith who stretch our understanding and enlarge our capacity believe.

            For those who gladly include us,

            and especially those choice souls

            who taught us warmly love you

            rather than being afraid of you.

 

God of welcoming love, for the knowledge that we are yours without conditions,

            and that the best is yet to come,

            we praise your holy Name.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        ©  B.D. Prewer 2012

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

Loving God, please continue to embrace this world with your inclusive judgement and mercy.  We pray for humanity with all its fear and division, self deceit and injustice.

 

For bigoted groups who feel so sure of themselves that they exclude from their fellowship all other races, cultures and religions;

And for those who are so unsure of themselves that they are constantly pulled this way and that without any security or peace.

 

For some churches that have turned in on themselves, shutting out all other opinions and behaviour;

And for those churches that in trying to be open to the world are in danger of losing their basic integrity of faith.

 

For country folk who having endured the shrinking of their towns and the loss of key services, and now strongly resent the cities;

And for urban communities who have been hit by the closure of industries, and the take-over of companies, and imagine that rural people have it easy.

 

For arrogant and powerful nations who seek to manipulate, dominate and ruthlessly exploit other countries;

And for smaller nations that have much to offer the world community but are too reticent or afraid to stand up and be counted..

 

For workplace situations where cliques and power groups manipulate or bully others for their own personal prestige and profit;

And for those workplaces where employers and employees work together in good humour for the common good.

 

For those fortunate people who, though ill or injured, have swift access to the best doctors, clinics, hospitals and surgery;

And for those less fortunate who remain on waiting lists, or spend long, painful hours on trolleys in casualty wards..

 

For any in this congregation today who have found their faith strengthened, their hope uplifted, and their love deepened;

And for any who may still be feeling barren of soul, or anxious and depressed about the future.

 

God of our salvation, please draw all your children closer into your inclusive arms and to one another, that we may experience the healing of Christ and enjoy the freedom of the Spirit.

For your love’s sake. Amen!

 

SENDING OUT

 

Because God loves Gentiles as much as Jews,  and sinners as much as the saints, you and I will never walk alone.

 

There is no fault in our lives that is beyond God’s power to remedy,  nor any gift that is too small for God to celebrate and use. 

 

God is in the business transforming plain or warped things into a beauty exceeding our holiest expectations.

 

Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory, through Jesus Christ.

 

May God, Jesus and the Spirit bless your ways;

God bless the ground beneath your feet,

God bless the road or which you travel,

God bless the friends with whom you stay,

Each day and night, each night and day.

Amen!

                        (From an old Celtic prayer)