Inclusive Love Can’t Be Driven Down – January 30

Inclusive Love Can’t Be Driven Down
A sermon based on Luke 4:21-30
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on January 30, 2022
by Rev. Scott Elliott

Last Sunday we talked a little about the need to consider scripture in context. Today’s lesson evidences that point. The Lectionary cutting plops us right in the middle of an event, with Jesus referring to certain words of scripture being fulfilled, words we really need to know to understand the reading.

Earlier in Luke 4 we learn Jesus had been teaching to great praise in neighboring villages and he’d just arrived in Nazareth, his hometown to attend synagogue on the Sabbath. In the synagogue he stood up and read these words from the scroll of Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

After Jesus finished the reading he “rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.” Then we are told, “The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.” The lesson today takes it from there with Jesus’ next words, “‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”

Luke’s suggests those words pleased the gathered, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” Seeming to claim him as a local boy done good they proudly add, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” Apparently the congregation understood Jesus to be positively referencing them as aiding the fulfillment of scripture, and they seemed to think since he was from Nazareth Jesus would be providing them with exclusive special care.

Their thoughts and mood were quickly changed as Jesus continued on. Whether they liked it or not, he was not giving them credit or exclusive care. First he pointed out their desire for that exclusive care, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” Then Jesus zings in the truth that his Way, God’s way of loving, is not exclusive. He notes essentially that the inclusivity of His Way, and God’s love was not likely to make them happy. It may upset them because those the culture considered low– like an alien widow, such as the one Elijah helped; and those the culture hated like alien soldiers such as the one Elisha helped– are meant to be included, not excluded.

Here’s how Jesus put it; he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

If we think about it, helping an alien poor widow from Sidon and a diseased Syrian general matches up with the good news Jesus read from Isaiah. That sort of good news, according to Jesus, was being fulfilled in the crowds’ hearing– now, and had been fulfilled in the past when others were cared for. Jesus’ Way, God’s way of love then and now requires loving then and now. Neither are exclusive. The only exclusions are those imposed by those who limit it and fail to fulfill the good news by not fully participating in it like in Elijah’s day when other widows were not taken care of; like in Elisha’s day when other lepers were not taken care of. The good news that Jesus was including those the culture considered low in his work, as well as pointing out that God has long helped such people, went over about as well as pointing out in our own country, that those the culture considers aliens, lowly and enemies are cared for by God and that God’s servants, God’s prophets, God’s people, are called to care for them too.

Back then, and even today, the response by some who don’t want those they consider aliens or lowly or enemies to be loved try to drive Jesus and his Way down. This is even true of some Christian communities. They try to dismiss or hide or drive down the all-inclusive love part of Jesus and his Way. In our reading today such a faith community’s response reportedly looked like this: “[they] were filled with rage. They got up, drove [Jesus] out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.”
Of course, not all faith communities opposed Jesus and his Way back then or today. As a Jewish movement headed by Rabbi Jesus back in the day Jesus’ Way and life was not driven down as our lesson indicates. When the angry crowd chased him to the brow of a hill to hurl him off Jesus “passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” Jesus’ teachings and ministry found positive traction with other Jewish communities and peoples, and later with Gentile communities. But not with all communities and peoples. Today that’s true of even some Christian faith communities and Christians who try and dismiss Jesus’ inclusive way and God’s inclusive love. Yet Jesus passes by them and finds a way to continue his Way. He won’t be driven down!

Jesus’ Way and God’s love are forever meant to “bring good news to the poor . . . to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

That good news continues to be fulfilled today within everyone’s hearing. It’s good news intended for each person whether they are poor, captives, blind or oppressed neighbors or strangers; even those the culture might consider alien, lowly or enemies. There are simply no strings attached to God’s love!

And faith communities that don’t like that truth have a long history of unsuccessfully trying to drive that good news and its bearers off a cliff of one sort or another. It happened in Jesus’ day; it happens today. And it is quite remarkable that each and every time, even when Rome crucified Jesus, the Way lives on, the good news lives on, Jesus lives on! Jesus is resurrected again and again passing through the midst of those who would stop him, his Way and God’s love. It continues to this day. May it ever be so. And may we always be a part of the resurrected Jesus’ Way and God’s love . . . that has NO strings attached. AMEN