Jesus's First Sermon
When I was preparing this sermon at the Goshen Brew, as soon as I began to write I was interrupted by two seminary friends who spotted me across the room. “You are writing a sermon aren’t you?” they said. “How did you know?” I asked. “You look like you are in the pit of despair” they replied. The pit of despair. Yeah that’s about right.
Why was I in the pit of despair you might ask? Well did you hear what Jesus said? Did you hear how people reacted? This was Jesus’ first sermon and man was it a doozy.
“A prophet is never welcome in his hometown.”
Why am I in the pit of despair? Well I don’t really want to be thrown off a cliff if I say uncomfortable things. While I trust you Bonneyville not to inflict literal violence, I do worry what would happen if I spoke with such boldness as Jesus did.
Jesus basically stood in front of people he knew and said, “Your religion is not for you.”
It would be like if I stood up in front of you and said, “Look friends, Jesus did not come for you. Church is not about you.” Jesus looked people in the eye and dared them to be offended. And, he was telling the truth. A very hard-to-swallow truth. So how do we tell the truth without getting thrown off cliffs?
Part of the problem is that there are so many opinions and quotes about speaking the truth. There is the classic Ephesians quote about speaking the truth in love. Which is unfortunately, often used as a defense of being very unloving in your truth telling.
There is Emily Dickenson poem:
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
Jesus surely didn’t dazzle gradually. He was born dazzling. And then there is what people say about Trump, that they admire that he “Says it how it is.”
Clearly our culture, our society, values honesty. But man do we have a hard time with the truth. The problem is that we use “honesty” as an excuse to be mean. We use it as a weapon. We can get a way with being cruel by “just being honest.” In other words, “Brutal honesty is just an excuse to be brutal.”
It is not helpful to try to be honest and tell the truth by beating it into people.
But then what is the right way to reveal uncomfortable realities that need to be brought to light?
I think that the answer to this question is far too complicated for this one sermon… But I think we can explore how we should react when someone says something that makes us uncomfortable.
And I don’t mean uncomfortable like an inappropriate joke uncomfortable. I mean that moment when someone says something to you and your insides twist up and a voice inside of you says, “Oh shoot, they might be right.” Or even worse, “What if I was wrong?”
All of this is an exercise in self-awareness. Do we know ourselves well enough that when someone says something to us that hits home, that we can recognize the inner icky-ness that is going on inside of us—not judge it—but acknowledge it before we react violently? Before we lash out because of our own discomfort?
I am going to illustrate this by re-telling the Luke story in my own words, and then I will offer an alternative ending. You can call this the “Pastor Mariah Translation”:
Jesus, with the power of the Holy Spirit, got up the courage to go and preach where he had grown up. Where everyone knew him and gossiped about him. He went to church, as usual, but this time he was the one to stand up and read. He took a deep breath and said,
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, I am the chosen one, anointed as messiah to bring good news to those of you who worry about where you will find your next meal. I am sent to break people out of jail, to free people from their addictions, to sever the grip that the powerful have on powerless. I will shed light on what you would rather ignore. I will open the eyes of those unwilling to see where there is hatred and inequality. I am here to bring back into the fold those who have been forced to the outside. Those who have been deemed unworthy to be one of ‘us.’ Those who have been pushed down, dehumanized, despised, ignored, they will be the ones lifted up when my Kingdom reigns. No longer will they sit in the shadows of those who call themselves ‘the great’.”
Then, with a dry mouth and an uncomfortable cough, Jesus rolled up the scroll, trying to cover up the tremble in his hands. He gave the scroll back and sat down. His work wasn’t over, it had just begun. Sitting down meant that it was time for Jesus to preach. It was time for him to bring the prophet Isaiah’s words to life. He had aligned himself with the prophets of old and now it was time for him to bring it home.
He began again, “What I just read? Yeah I was talking about me. I am whom Isaiah was talking about. I am the one that will make these words a reality.”
Murmurs started going through the crowd.
“Who does this guy think he is?”
“Uhhh well I think that’s is Bob’s son…”
“No, no that’s Joseph’s son…”
“Oh that’s right.”
Jesus knew he was losing the crowd but he had to keep going. So he said, “I know what you are thinking, ‘ok if you think you are so great, prove it’ but look friends, if I do, you all won’t be able to handle it. You will reject me. No prophet is accepted in his hometown. Listen, remember Elijah? Remember how there were a bunch of widows in Israel when he was alive? Yeah there was a famine, times were rough. But Elijah’s job wasn’t to help them it was to help that one weird widow who was on the outskirts, the widow no one wanted to have over for dinner. Ok and think about Elisha and all those folks in Israel who had leprosy. Yeah Elisha didn’t help any of them, he only helped Naaman from Syria.”
You get the idea. Prophets aren’t popular because they constantly remind people that they aren’t the center of attention. It’s the ones on the outside that really need the help anyway.
As you can probably imagine, this was a self-fulfilling prophesy. Those listening to Jesus’ sermon didn’t take it well—to put it mildly. They actually wanted to throw him off a cliff and stone him to death. But somehow Jesus escaped without a scratch. It’s almost like he was the son of God or something.
Now imagine if this sermon had gone differently. Imagine Jesus preached to a self-aware, emotionally mature crowd, one that wasn’t quite so volatile. Imagine the inner dialogue of someone hearing Jesus’s words.
“Oh! That’s Isaiah this Jesus guy is reading from, I remember because of the bit about the poor. I always liked that part.”
“Ok…so Jesus just said that HE is the one chosen by God…so he is like the new Elijah?” “Ok, interesting, lets see where he goes with this.”
“Oh, he thinks we will reject him because he is like radical and stuff…ok…I guess that is valid.”
“Oh ouch. We synagogue folk aren’t really poor, blind, or in jail…so he is saying that God has come to Earth, but not for us???”
“But I want to be included…”
“I guess he has a point. I mean my life is pretty good. I have lots of camels and no one in my family has leprosy. I am not exactly oppressed. And only my weirdo nephew is in jail.”
“So does that mean I get absolutely none of the Jesus pie?”
“Hey, hey Simon, you know this Jesus guy, right? Well what is his deal? I’m not a widow but I want to hang out with Jesus, what do I have to do?”
“Sell all my stuff and follow him? Like all my stuff? Wait will we be the ones feeding the poor and healing people? Yes? Wow. But I really like my camels…”
Wouldn’t that ending have been nicer?
I like the quote by Aristotle that says, “You can entertain a thought without accepting it.” This serves me really well when I enter into hard conversations. You know, the real conversations in life when you try and learn and think about the ethics of a thing.
What would it mean to talk to someone who was in jail for assault of a police officer and hear why she did it? If she tells us, and we don’t chastise her behavior, does that mean that we condone her actions? No, but she might seem more human after we hear about her life circumstances and why she did what she did. I am not talking about a hypothetical situation here; I have actually had this conversation with someone.
We can talk to people with varying beliefs about politics, religion, philosophy, sexual ethics, war, etc. without having to agree. And sometimes, though our beliefs may appear to oppose each other, they might very well both be true, existing in paradox.
Two different things can be held together and be true at the same time. The fact that Jesus was fully God and fully human is a paradox. See, you already do this kind of thinking without even realizing it!
The sticky part is when you hear something that cuts right to the core of who you are.
To illustrate this I am going to give a really simplistic example. Now this is really hard for me to admit, so don’t make fun of me.
I get really offended when people say that I don’t have green eyes. I think I might have yelled at Nick once when he suggested that I might have hazel eyes. My eyes are not hazel. They are green with brown spots. There is a difference.
Now, I don’t actually get that offended, but I have told people, since I was little, that my eyes are green. It makes me feel special. Green is the most unique eye color in the world. Only 2% of people have green eyes. And yes I did google that statistic for this sermon. 
Having green eyes is part of what makes me, me. It is part of my identity as Mariah Martin.
What is something that you hold dear, that is core to your identity? Maybe it is being a Christian, and if people attack Christianity, whether you mean to react this way or not, an attack on Christianity feels like a personal attack on your very identity.
That’s basically what happened in the synagogue. Jesus cut to the core of who people were. He was an earthquake, breaking up the foundation that built these people.
I wonder how I would have reacted if I were sitting between Simon and Matthew in that Synagogue. Would I be scared? Jesus was speaking like a revolutionary. He would be cracking up my worldview and pushing me to think from a different perspective.
I like to think that I would have taken the advice of my therapist and when I felt a big emotion bubbling up, that I would pretend that it was in a lovely snow globe, floating around. I would look at that emotion, and I would say, “Oh, anger, interesting.”
I wouldn’t judge it. I wouldn’t say, “Mariah you are a terrible person for feeling this way.” I wouldn’t analyze it. I wouldn’t say, “Ugh Mariah, why are you always like this, why are you always so ready to throw people off cliffs.” I wouldn’t try to fix it. I wouldn’t say, “Mariah, look at the bright side, the Romans are still in control, they won’t let Jesus get away with this.”
I would simply say, “Hmm anger.” And let it float around in the snow globe. If I needed to cry I would try and find a place to let my tears out. If I couldn’t figure out what I was feeling, I would recognize that it’s ok to feel weird sometimes. Good, in fact, because that probably means I am being stretched, that I am growing.
I heard a comedian one time tell men that they need to step up in their relationship game, that they need to treat their partners better, show interest in what their partner finds interesting, buy flowers, be affectionate.
After she said this, making sweeping generalizations of course, she is a comedian that’s her job, she said something that I will never forget.
She said, “Now men, please, I am not talking about all of you. I am talking to those of you who feel particularly defensive right now. If there is a little spirit inside of you wriggling around saying, ‘No…no,’ then I am talking to you.”
I use this as a measuring stick for my own reactivity, for my own emotional state-of-being. If I feel something defensive bubbling up inside of me, if I get the urge to throw people off of cliffs for their ideas, then I try and step back, and say, “Interesting, I am feeling particularly volatile right now, no worries, this might be a sign that I need to pay attention, that I need to learn something from this situation right now. Perhaps something that was not meant to be personal, has felt personal. What can that tell me about who I am? About what I value?”
So, my friends, writing this sermon feels like being in the pit of despair because, simply, it’s hard to talk about hard things. But, like one of my life mantras, dear one’s, “You can do hard things”.
The Interpreter’s Bible: Luke
The IVP Bible Background Commentary
Craig S. Keener
The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts A Literary Interpretation
Robert C. Tannehill
 Ephesians 4:15
 Tell All The Truth But Tell it Slant (1263)
 I heard this quote in a sermon by pastor Kevin Goertzen in Virginia.