Sermon Reflections and More!
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The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany                                January 31, 2016

This Weekend's Readings (click each reading to view the passage)

Jeremiah 1:4-10Psalm 71:1-61 Corinthians 13:1-13;  Luke 4:21-30
Pr. Steve
Pr. Steve's Sermon: God Working Through Us
Children's Sermon: Sharing God's Love with Soup
Children's Sermon: Sharing God's Love with Soup

Choir Anthem: Be Thou My Vision
Choir Anthem: Be Thou My Vision

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Sermon Notes from Pastor Steve...

This fall, I'll be leading a trip to the Holy Land, and one of the places we're going to visit is Jesus' hometown of Nazareth, which is the setting of today's Gospel reading. And as I've explained to the groups who have come to the informational sessions, visiting the actual biblical places makes the story come alive in ways that it can't if you just read the story from a book. 
So when you visit Nazareth, you learn some interesting stuff. For example:
  • Nazareth is in the middle of nowhere! It's off the beaten path now, and it was in the first century as well... (this is why in John's Gospel guys like Nathaniel ask, "can anything good come out of Nazareth?!")
  • While the area around Nazareth is kind of pretty, it isn't spectacular and nobody would go there for the scenery. You might think this would be the case because Luke thinks it's built on the edge of a cliff, but it's actually on a hillside. There is a cliff, with a spectacular view of the Jezreel Valley, but it's a 3 km hike away ... (which is why, if Luke's version of this story is correct and people did want to throw Jesus off of the cliff, he would have had lots of opportunity to slip away...)
  • Today, Nazareth is a fairly good sized town. It's actually one of the larger cities in northern Israel. But it probably wouldn't exist at all today, except because of its association with Jesus. In fact, archaeologists estimate from the first century ruins that only about 200 people lived in Nazareth in the early part of the first century. That means that it's likely that there will be about as many people at worship in our church this weekend as lived in Nazareth while Jesus was growing up...
And knowing those things helps me to understand why, when Jesus returned to Nazareth after he began to become famous for his teaching, healing and miracles, probably most of the people in Nazareth figured that they were finally in for some serious recognition! 
They might be small, and out of the way, and not particularly noteworthy, but finally one of their hometown boys had made good! Jesus was becoming famous, and they could see that somehow God was working in him. And they probably figured that now they should get something out of this. Now that Jesus had come home, what would Jesus do for them?
As Luke tells the story, it seems clear that those folks in Nazareth expected that they should get something from God. Perhaps they'd finally become famous.  Maybe even Jesus would stay and make Nazareth the base of operations. And at very least, they figured they were entitled to a double dose of Jesus' miracles and healings. After all, they had raised Jesus, and shouldn't they get something in return now?
But when Jesus wouldn't show favoritism, or perform miracles simply for their entertainment, they got mad. They began to wonder if all they had heard about Jesus was really true. And they figured that if Jesus wouldn't do something spectacular for them, then they must not matter to Jesus' plans. And so they figured Jesus wasn't worth having around, and they chased him out.
The irony is that for 20 centuries Nazareth has been famous for being the hometown of Jesus. For 20 centuries, Nazareth has been one of the few places in the Bible people have heard of and can actually pronounce! And for 20 centuries, people have gone to Nazareth not because Jesus performed miracles there, but because it was through Nazareth that God raised up the Messiah.
So it turns out that Nazareth - and those 200 people that lived there - really were an important part of God's plan to redeem the world. But they were important not because God did something FOR them, but because God did something THROUGH them.
And while it's easy to criticize ancient people in Nazareth, it's often easy for us also to focus on what God has done for us, or what we wish God would do for us. Yet when we do that, we often we miss out on what God is doing in our world and in our lives, because we're not looking for what God is doing through us.
So on this weekend in which we have a congregational meeting and consider the future of our congregation, maybe it's good for us to think not so much about what God has done or might do FOR us. Instead, maybe it would be better for us to focus on what God is doing, and will do, THROUGH us.
So what might that look like for us? If we're to avoid the common trap that the congregation in Nazareth fell into, it's better to:
  • Focus on how we can be a community which empowers and equips people to share the good news of God outside of our congregation, rather than focus on what God is doing just for our particular group right now. I wrote in my Pastor's report that our congregations is becoming more and more transient, as people come and go more frequently than ever before, including the fact that we have lots of kids who grow up and move on to other places. What would it be like for us to make our goal, and to measure success, not in terms of how long people stay or how involved people become, but in terms of how we've helped people grow in faith so that they can share the good news of God in the next place they go in their life journey? After all, that's how people in Nazareth could have reacted to one of their kids going to a new place and sharing God's love ...
  • Consider how God has worked through us to help and give life to people we've never met and never will meet, instead of how God has helped us?  After all, lots of those folks in Nazareth never met anybody in Capaernum or some of the other places that Jesus went. Yet they weren't able to say, "Wow! God did great things for other people, and in a small way, that involved us!" Even when we collect casseroles and soup for folks in our community we'll never meet - and who will never know it came through us - we get to be part of what God is doing...
  • Realize that our purpose as a congregation is to perpetuate the story of Jesus.  That often gets lost in a meeting in which we talk about budgets and buildings and elections. Yet the purpose of the structures and the institutions is to continue the story of Jesus into the future. And if that happens, then we're doing our job, even if, in a few years, things look and function really differently than they do today... (most of those folks in Nazareth would have been amazed if they could have seen themselves as an important part of God's story for the world ...)
Jesus is still working in our world to shine the light of God's love all around us. And Jesus promises that God's light and God's love involves each and every one of us. But like those folks in Nazareth, the key to seeing the light of God is to look for the ways that God is working through us, instead of asking what God is doing for us. And the way to be significant and meaningful in the kingdom of God is to be open to being reflectors of that light, instead of just asking for the light to shine on us.