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Jesus Neighborhood:
Da Odder Guys

a sermon based on Luke 4:21-30
by Rev. Thomas Hall

This morning imagine yourselves under a cabana tree instead of a pew. You’re lathered up, straw bent, shades on. Born and raised on Molokai or Maui, you’re enjoying a day off. Here’s how you might hear the gospel lesson for the day-made possible by Wycliffe Bible Translators.


Jesus wen closed da book and give um back to da helpa guy, an sit down. All da peopo inside da Jewish church wen look at him. He say, "What you guys jus wen hear from da Bible, stay coming true right now."

Everybody dat when hear him wen talk good bout him. Wen blow dea minds cuz he talk good. Dey say, "Eh, dis Joseph’s boy, yeah?"

Jesus say, "Fo shua you going tell me wat our ancesta guys wen say, ‘Eh docta! Make yoaself come good! Do da same ting ova hea in yoa own home town, jalike we hear you wen do inside Capernaum.’ Dass how you guys stay! But I telling you, ‘One guy dat talk for God, he no mo respeck inside his own town.’ Tink! Dass true dat befo time, wen Elijah stay alive, had plenny widows inside Israel an neva had rain from da sky fo three an one half years, an neva had food all ova da land. But God neva send Elijah fo help one widow inside Israel dat time. He wen send um fo help one widow inside Zarefat town, Sideon side. Same ting, wen Elisha was da talka fo God, had plenny lepa guys inside Israel. But God neva make one lepa guy inside Israel come good, dat time. Ony Naaman, da foreigna guy from Syria, God wen make him come good."

All da peopo inside da Jewish church get real huhu wen dey hear him talk good about da foreigna guys . . .

Holy huhu! Just when we were slipping into a dreamy fantasy, Luke comes by and kicks sand into our cabana aloha. Tries to agitate us into a holy huhu against the hometown crowd.

Let’s review the first part of the story that we heard last week. Jesus has come home for the weekend and joins his family and friends at the local worship service. As a guest, he is invited to read from the sacred texts. You know what that’s like. A college kid comes home and attends the church where she has been active. As a kind gesture, the pastor might invite her to help lead in worship on that Sunday. So Jesus is invited to read the lectionary text of the day and to offer some appropriate commentary that he’s gleaned from rabbinic study. The lesson happens to be Isaiah 61-a favorite passage no doubt that proclaimed a new day of reversals and surprises. In the day that Isaiah 61 would be a reality impoverished people everywhere and those bent-over with despair would finally get the news that had power to make them satisfied and hopeful. Isaiah saw a day when news about God’s Servant would be so awesome that those enslaved to things, relationships, jobs, drugs, fears, or self-destructive habits, would suddenly have the power to be free. Isaiah 61 packed a wallop of good news!

So Jesus reads the lesson for the day from Isaiah 61 and adds a brief commentary: "Wat you guys just wen hear from da Bible," the hometown boy proclaims, "stay coming true right now."

That final comment ignites a commotion that makes the ancient text sizzle with relevancy. Jesus dares to slap a timeline on Isaiah’s ancient prophecy when he says "right now." Not only that, but he puts himself forward as the one who will begin this good news work. Talking heads heatedly whisper between each other and soon the worship service erupts into a full-blown town meeting. Jesus, now the focus of heresy brings the whispers into every ear. "I hear what you’re saying," he says. "You think you know me-‘isn’t this Joseph’s son?’ you ask. So why don’t you perform in Nazareth what we hear you’ve been doing in Capernaum!"

Commentators have long puzzled over how to interpret the crowd’s question and Jesus’ response. On one hand, maybe what troubles the crowd is the old familiarity breeds contempt syndrome. In this interpretation the crowd refuses to believe that Jesus is anything special-he’s simply a Nazareth peasant, nothing special. "Jesus a miracle worker? That’s a lot of bull! We know this guy; he’s little Joshua-his dad is a volunteer fireman and the tail twister at the Lion’s Club and his wood-working shop sits on the edge of town. Heck, we’ve known Jesus since he was knee-high to a grasshopper. Big time prophet? Yeah right. But we know the truth about him-he’s one of us. Nothing more." Rank disbelief based on familiarity. That’s how some biblical scholars explain the confusion.

However, on the other hand, if you listen closely to the two examples that Jesus gives in response to their whisperings, you might opt for the other interpretation. We could call this interpretation the "Us Four and No More" syndrome. "Remember the days of Elijah?" Jesus says to them. "Who could forget? No food anywhere, for anyone. Yet God singled out a lone widow and provided for her needs-and oh, did I mention, she was an outsider-outside the neighborhood of Israel." Jesus then follows up that allusion with a second: "Now think about Elisha. There were a lot of lepers around just like today. And guess what? God comes and heals one of them! But surprise! The healing doesn’t come from the Jewish quarter-God heals someone outside of the neighborhood of Israel." God heals a gentile leper!

That, I believe, is what really caused the holy huhu. What angers the hometown crowd is that anyone would dare to suggest that God wants to walk into other neighborhoods with the good news. That good news is for everyone. Period. But how sad. To encounter such a powerful presence of healing, justice, and hope, but yet to begrudge others who could also benefit from hearing it?

Oswald J. Smith, founder of one of Canada’s largest congregations and one that has consistently given over one million dollars a year to missions said, "No one has the right to hear the gospel twice until everyone has heard it once." Yet how often I’ve forgotten that dictum. "Mission," however-so I’ve been told-"begins at home." Forget about those on the other side of the globe, we’ve got enough to do in our own neighborhood. That is true enough, isn’t it? We do have a lot on our own American plate. But sometimes the mission-begins-at-home crowd equates mission with maintaining personal comfort levels of music, style, tradition, and protocol at the cost of reaching outside our churchly neighborhoods.

I recently became painfully aware of what it feels like to an outsider. I was away on vacation and when Sunday came, I headed to a nearby church. Once inside I moved as inconspicuously as I could to a pew. The service cranked up with an informal, homespun flavor; you might say the congregation was a happy family. Families are okay. But when you’re not a part of the family, such informality and fellowship can reinforce just how much of an outsider you really are. Well into the worship it was time for prayer.

"Martha’s knee is still mending," said one supplicant, "remember I told you about her last week; continue to remember her in prayer." Time wasn’t a problem apparently so twenty minutes pretty well covered John’s back, Bill’s gout, the upcoming football game, those serving our country, those present and those who couldn’t be there due to sickness, ending with "traveling mercies" for Jane who was away visiting her sister, etc. With each inside joke, with each first name, and each conversation between members, I felt more and more isolated and an outsider. Good folks all of them. But I couldn’t help wondering how well they were doing outside their little family-like neighborhood. And I wondered how interested they really were to welcome outsiders to their worship.

I’m not going to be too hard on these folks. For in my own way, I’ve been one of them for years. I have acted and worshipped as if God was made for me and my neighborhood of Christian friends. I have too often acted as if I were the object of God’s delight. For too long I have sung hymns, then choruses that keep Jesus in my comfortable neighborhood. Songs about my love for Jesus, my heart for God, my joys, my peace, my praise, my . . . my . . . my . . . Oh my!

Luke wants to remind us through this story that God yearns to walk through the other neighborhoods all around our churches and synagogues and schools and into the midst of our worst community problems and into our deepest despair, armed only with the good news of Isaiah 61 and some willing feet, hands, and lips. God seeks to bring justice, healing, compassion, and reversals to da odda guys through Jesus Neighborhoods just like ours.

Have you seen this already happening? Absolutely! Have you noticed that beyond worship wars and all the chattering about styles, volume, syncopation and the organ or drums issues is a new realization that we must not, we cannot keep Jesus in our own neighborhoods any longer. Sure we’re making mistakes in our feeble attempts to "be relevant," but more importantly, they’re fresh mistakes! We’ve never made them before-isn’t that terrific! Many congregations are truly making courageous and noble attempts to follow Jesus into other neighborhoods because the good news is so awe-some and so worth sharing.

You’ll never guess what Jesus did when the synagogue service broke up that day. I’ll let Luke the Hawaiian tell you: "Den Jesus go Capernaum town, Galilee side." Yeah. There he goes back out into a new neighborhood to exorcise an evil problem, then on to bring wholeness to a mother-in-law on his way to bring good news hope to hopeless fishermen.

So go we-if we take following Jesus as seriously as we take our salaries. Jesus will still lead us outside of comforts and familiarity into new adventures, new opportunities and new possibilities to not only share the good news, but to embody the good news of God’s kingdom that is in the making. To whom will you bring justice and hope? Could begin in your own home, could lead you to get involved in your community in a new way. However the Spirit leads you, know that with each place God brings you, you will truly bring hope, love, and justice with you. For such is the kingdom of God. Amen.