Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Epiphany 01/31/2016

Last week Pr. Geier preached on the same story I get to share today: Jesus preaching in his hometown. One story has been split into two – with Pastor Geier focusing on Jesus as he is delivering the message and my reading dealing with the aftermath. The connecting point is Verse 21, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And the Scripture he’s referring to is the one from Isaiah, the one Jesus opens up to as he unrolls the scroll.

Last week in Luke Chapter 4, Jesus was preaching the good news to the people of Nazareth, in effect saying “It is I, I have been sent to” :

  • bring good news to the poor
  • proclaim release to the captives
  • bring sight to the blind
  • let the oppressed go free
  • and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

As Pr. Geier told us, on that day, Jesus was “rocking the boat.” He was telling those gathered that the words of the prophet Isaiah aren’t for the future, but for today. And further – these words of hope aren’t just for the Chosen of Israel, but for all – and “all” includes outsiders.

As we continue in our text today, we’re told that the whole group listening in the synagogue initially goes on to speak well of Jesus. They’re amazed at the kind and generous things that are being said, and they’re marveling that these are the words of Joseph’s youngster. You’d think that this hometown son would be pleased as could be – and maybe he’d even be a bit relieved that he’s made it through the reading and actually done well in front of people who’ve known him for years, those who’ve watched him grow up in Nazareth. Kind of a “Whew! Glad that’s over with.”

Jesus has been doing so well with the crowd.

But we really have to wonder why he doesn’t leave well enough alone. Because the next thing we know, he goes and stirs things up with people, getting right in their faces: “You want me to show you special consideration and favor? Do some miracles like those I’ve done in Capernaum? You want proof that I am a prophet?

It isn’t going to happen. He’s not there to serve their interests. He has come for the whole world. And especially for those who are most vulnerable: outsiders: the poor and oppressed, those who are in prison, the blind and the brokenhearted, and those who need comfort.

Jesus goes on to quote 1st and 2nd Kings, Hebrew Scripture about God choosing outcasts, and his audience knows these stories about their prophets Elijah and Elisha. Jesus reminds the Nazarenes about the Lord’s grace toward outsiders when Elijah helps the Gentile widow and her son, saving them from starvation. And then Jesus digs in deeper still and talks about Naaman the Syrian – a Gentile, a powerful officer who is healed from leprosy, thanks to Elisha . . . two Gentiles, one a woman and the other a man, who come to understand that the Lord is the Lord not just of Israel – but of all the earth, both men and women . . . And it’s not like the people of Israel haven’t heard that God’s grace is for all – the promise that goes back as far as Abraham, when in Genesis the Lord says “in you, Abram, all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Grace, grace for outsiders, is right there in Hebrew Scripture and has been there for generations. But it just so happens that the people, this day, aren’t wanting any reminders. How dare Jesus!  Instead of profiting from a relationship with Jesus, the hometown folk are put in their place. And their reaction? They are furious and want to throw him off a cliff. And if that doesn’t kill him, they’ll pick up stones to finish the job.

Now that is anger, and it’s hard to imagine. What could possibly be so bad about showing concern for the outcasts, for those who are vulnerable and on the margins of the community or beyond? How can anyone possibly be annoyed with the belief that God’s grace is for all?

The idea of being annoyed by God’s grace reminds me of my time helping out at Bay Pines Correctional Facility in Escanaba, and I thought I’d take a couple minutes and tell you what it was like there. . Bay Pines is a detention center – a holding spot for young felony offenders between the ages of 12 and 20. They’re kids, mostly, who stay confined an average of eighteen months. Very often they’re being treated for drug addiction in order to get cleaned up before heading back to court for sentencing into another Michigan facility. For the most part, these kids have done some very.bad.stuff. They’re under lock and key for criminal acts; like stealing, abusing, dealing drugs, assault, even torture and manslaughter.

Once a month I’d head over there on Sunday nights as a “church lady.” I would go in and sit and talk with them and often ended up listening to some pretty heart-wrenching stories of pain and loss – missing their addict mothers, absent fathers, and siblings and cousins who had died from drug overdose or suicide or gang violence. The youngsters weren’t allowed to share specifics or justification for their crimes, but reading between the lines, it was pretty obvious there was an enormous amount of underlying abuse the kids had lived through.

Church at Bay Pines happens twice a week, Wednesday and Sunday nights, and the kids are used to a handful of different church people showing up. Baptism is a big thing at the detention center, with young people wanting to be baptized or wanting to affirm their baptisms at special church services whenever there is a fifth Sunday, (like today). As one of the regular “church ladies”, I was there to provide a semiweekly piece of Christian hope. I’d go into one of the pods that had earned “church time”, carrying copies of Luther’s Small Catechism, enough for six to eight girls. And for these inmates, it never seemed to get old talking about baptism. I’d help them find Luther’s section on the Sacrament of Baptism and start talking about forgiveness of sin. Because kids are always entering or being released from Bay Pines, sometimes I’d end up talking with girls who had never heard the gospel and who had no idea that forgiveness was actually possible. “You mean God will forgive me no matter what I’ve done?” I would watch their eyes open wide, watch the puzzled looks that said, “You’re kidding me right? I can be forgiven? I can be washed clean?”

Then we’d look around in the Small Catechism and we’d see references to forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer, in the explanation of Communion, and in the Apostle’s Creed.  And all was good.

That is … until one of the girls in the group would realize that forgiveness extends to all who believe. It was totally unfair to them that those who had hurt these girls, their abusers, the drug dealers, the pimps – it was totally unreasonable that the Good News of forgiveness was available even to them.

The joy would be gone. It no longer made any sense.

  • Forgiveness for me?: Fantastic, life-giving.
  • Forgiveness for the outsiders in their lives?: for other sinners? Beyond understanding.

These kids were annoyed, actually angry, that God’s grace extends to all.

(Pause …)

I’m sure that we can say that the response of girls like those at Bay Pines has no connection to our reality.

We’re perfectly comfortable with grace being extended to all, right?     … Maybe not.
We who are faithfully present in the pews “most” Sundays and regularly do good works for others and try to do the right things ethically and morally – shouldn’t we, like the hometown people in Nazareth, have a bit of “an edge up” on the outsiders in our lives? Aren’t we just a bit more deserving of Jesus?

The problem with this thinking, this very natural and selfish reasoning, is that, when Jesus walked the earth, he was the outsider. He was never a part of the inside group. As former professor David Lose would say: “Whenever we draw lines between who is in and who is out, we will find Jesus on the other side.”

Sometimes it’s tough to respond with openness and grace and understanding to the good news of forgiveness of sins for all through Jesus Christ. It’s challenging to be welcoming to others and willing to share this good news through our words and actions. It’s definitely easier to simply keep the message between us insiders.

But, help us Lord, each day, to remember that Christ’s love and forgiveness are “for all”.  Amen.

Vicar TerryFrankenstein

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
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welcomes me, and whoever
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