Sunday Sermon: The Mission is Too Important

During his first inaugural address in 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt knew he had to provide hope to a nation that was deep in the middle of the Great Depression. The words he spoke then still vibrate today.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Roosevelt attempted to express his desire that fear would not hinder the nation’s growth, even when situations produced so much fear. His words apply to our personal lives, as well. Of course, for these words to be applicable, we have to believe them to be true. Fear can define us, and it prevents us from doing some amazing things in our lives.

When we think of fear, we thinking about the emotion that can overcome us when we are faced with difficult situations or challenges that seem unbearable. It is the feeling of dread when we face the unknown or the feeling of uneasiness when our beliefs are challenged by our peers or the world.

Each of us have faced fear at some point in our lives. Fear can be a distraction that becomes a hinderance to us. It prevents us from taking steps forward. Fear keeps us from taking on new challenges. When it comes to our faith in Christ, fear prevents us taking the next step in allowing the Lord to be the Lord of our lives.

Fear is common in our society today. It seems that everywhere we turn, something brings about fear in us. We seem to be fearful of everything and everyone. This is especially true within the church. I believe fear defines much of the church in North America and the United States. We are called to be missional communities who seek to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ through our words, service, gifts, and presence. Yet so often, we are fearful of this mission. We are fearful of being stretched beyond the comfortable, of being ridiculed by those who might disagree with us, and of a world and culture that is continually changing.

When the body of Christ, the church, is overcome with fear, it prevents us from being used by God to proclaim the Gospel and serve others. It prevents the church from being the witness of Christ to a world in need of hope and love. The results of this fear-based mission are common to us. Worship attendance is in decline. Church giving is in decline. Communities of faith are closing.

Fear is an element that is found in our passage from Luke 13:31-36. Here, Luke tells us of a group of Pharisees who come to Jesus with a message. The Pharisees were a group of religious leaders who sought to maintain obedience to the Law of Moses. It was a group that Jesus had confronted throughout his ministry, but also a group that saw some of its members align themselves with Christ. We’re not sure who these Pharisees were or their reasoning for visiting Jesus. Were they trying to trap Jesus? Were they wanting to warn him? No matter their reasoning, the intent of the message was to produce fear in Jesus that Herod was intent on killing him. Herod had already killed John the Baptist and wanted to see Jesus. Of course, when Herod has the opportunity to do just that, he doesn’t kill him. It seems, then, the Pharisees are delivering this message with the hope that it would produce enough fear in Jesus that he would stop teaching and leave the area.

Jesus’ response to this question of fear is important for us this morning. His response keys us into something about his ministry and also God’s desire for us. Jesus essentially tells the Pharisees that the mission is too important for fear to overcome it.

He tells the Pharisees to send Herod a message. It comes with Jesus calling him a “fox,” which is Jesus saying he wants nothing to do with Herod. His message to the Pharisees, to Herod, and to us is this: So what? So what if Herod wants to kill him? Jesus is telling the Pharisees, Herod, and us that he has work to do and he intends to fulfill that work.

Today, tomorrow, and on the third day, Jesus was going to continue the work he was sent to accomplish. The mission was the work of bringing forth the Kingdom of God and bringing people back into a relationship with the Father, through faith in Jesus, through the Holy Spirit. It was a work that was fulfilled through Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing. Jesus’ earthly ministry was about fulfilling the work that God sent him to do – teaching what it means to love God and to bring forth justice and redemption to all.

The mission is too important for Jesus to allow Herod’s threat to prevent him from fulfilling it.  The fear of death was not going to stop Jesus, because death was central to his mission. It wasn’t the death that the Pharisees were alerting Jesus to, but it was the death that he came to embrace as his divine mission. Jesus, the Son of God, was sent by the Father to be the High Priest who would offer himself as the atoning sacrifice for our sin and the sin of this world. It was something that could only be accomplished through his death, which would take place in Jerusalem.

Jesus didn’t fear Herod’s death threat, because he knew the mission was taking him directly to Jerusalem. It was a city that he knew would reject him, just as it had prophets of before. Yet, it was a city that was deeply on Jesus’ heart. His lament for Jerusalem is an expression of his deep love and desire for this city and its people. We see the compassion of our Lord being poured out in these words as he expresses his desire to welcome the people into his care. Even though Jesus would be rejected and die in this town, Jesus is holding out hope for the day that the people will see him as Lord.

The mission is too important for Jesus to be overcome with fear, because just as he was lamenting for Jerusalem, he was lamenting for us. We can hear Jesus’ compassion for us in his words for Jerusalem. We can hear our names, the names of our communities, our nation, and even our world on Jesus’ heart as he speaks of his desire to bring us back into his care. Jesus desires us. In this season of Lent, we have the opportunity to think about how Jesus cares for us and accept his grace that is freely offered to us. That is what redemption is about. It is seeing our lives, how God deeply loves us, sent his Son for us, and calls us to come home and find our place in his care.

The mission is too important for fear to overcome Jesus, because we are too important to our Lord. Nothing was going to keep Jesus from fulfilling his mission of bringing forth the Kingdom of God and being the atonement offering for our sin on the cross.

What about us? Is our mission of being a witness of Jesus Christ too important for it to be weakened by fear? Our journey through the season of Lent allows us to examine how we are participating in the ongoing mission of Jesus Christ. It is a time where we can see how the world’s attempt to produce fear in our witness has affected us. There is much in our world that can produce fear in our witness: the economy, criticisms from those outside the church, a changing world, and so on. Will we allow this fear to cripple our witness of loving God and loving others through our words, gifts, presence and service?

Our mission is too important for us to allow fear to keep us from loving God and loving others. It is also too important for us to do it on our own. The good news is that we are not on this mission alone. We have the confidence of the presence of our Lord with us as we seek to grow deeply in love with the Lord and to express this love to others. That is the joy of Easter and the Resurrection. The resurrection is our hope. It is the hope that Good Friday is not the end of the story. It is our hope that as surely as our sins have been redeemed, so do we have the presence of Christ, through the Holy Spirit, with us always.

We do not have to fear growing closer to Christ, because our Lord is with us showing us the way to the Father. We do not have to fear reaching out to our neighbors and communities, because the Lord is already at work showing us the way to love and serve.

As we continue through these next few weeks, and as we approach the Easter celebration, think about how much fear is in your life as it relates to your walk with Christ. Is fear keeping you from the mission God has for you to love the Lord and to love others through acts of service? Is fear of what others might say, think, or do keeping you from a life devoted to the Lord? Is fear preventing our mission from being fulfilled?

The mission was too important for fear to define Jesus’ ministry. The mission is too important for us to allow fear to keep us from loving the Lord and loving others in response.


Pastoral Lessons from the Maternity Ward

The last few days have been some of the most wonderful of my life.

On Ash Wednesday, my wife and I welcomed our first child, Noah David, into the world. After more than nine months of preparation, excitement, and, yes, a little stress, our son is here in our arms. It is a great joy to have him here. I can’t wait to see all that life has in store for him, and how he will bless others through his love and care.

My wife is doing great. I attribute much of that to the great care she received at Central Baptist. From her doctor, to her nurses, to even the housekeeper and cooks, Abbi was well cared for and loved. It took away a lot of my stress from what had been a stressful few weeks.

Watching Abbi’s care team at work got me thinking about how their care was symbolic of great pastoral care. How they cared for my wife, and my family, I believe offers lessons for pastors on how we can care for our communities more effectively. What follows are five lessons of pastoral care I learned while observing maternity ward nurses care for my wife and baby for three days. Continue reading

Adjusting to Being a Dad: Lessons I’ve Learned the Past 39 Weeks

Today is Game Day in the Blosser household. No, I’m not writing about an upcoming West Virginia basketball game, nor am I thinking about tonight‘s State of the Union Address.

I’m talking about the birth of our son, whom we have affectionately nicknamed “Little PK” until we announce his name. Tonight, my wife will be induced and will begin the long process of labor, which will lead to the miracle of the birth of our first child.

We are excited. We are anxious. We are nervous. We are tired. We are everything you could imagine, and much more.

Personally, I find myself reflective today. This isn’t much of a surprise. I tend to be a very reflective person. My reflections are on lessons have learned over the course of this 9-month journey. These are lessons based on my experience as a father-to-be who is anxiously waiting to hold our son and teach him the “First Down Cheer.”

What follows are a few of the lessons I, and truly my wife, have learned. Continue reading

Why I Respect Pope Benedict XVI’s Decision

This morning, the world is in a state of a shock with the announcement that Pope Benedict XVI will resign effective February 28. It is the first papal resignation, of any kind, for almost 600 years. Pope Benedict’s resignation was due to his health. At 85, Benedict felt that he could not longer effectively serve.

Here is what Benedict wrote to Cardinals gathering to decide on the potential canonization of new saints:

After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.

I have a lot of respect for Benedict’s decision. His decision to resign is honorable. Benedict prayerfully made the hard and difficult decision to step aside, recognizing his own frailty and the demands of ministry.

The demands of daily ministry are intense and requires a pastor to be in their best health. There is much that goes on behind the scenes of Sunday morning that requires a pastor’s entire physical, emotional, and spiritual well being. The demands are increasingly more so for the person who occupies the papacy. That person is responsible not only for the demands of ministry, but for the administrative task of leading 1 billion people and being a key political leader in the world.

It is not an easy job to be a pastor. It is not an easy job to be a pope.

Benedict’s resignation is not from his calling. He is not resigning from his primary call to be a follower of Christ nor his vocational call to be a minister in service to the Lord. Benedict is simply stepping away from one avenue of living into that ministry. There will be other opportunities for him, I am sure, to serve the Lord through his gifts, talents, service, and presence.

I applaud him for that and hope it provides guidance for others. When the demands of ministry becomes too much for us to handle on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level, we owe it to the church and ourselves to prayerfully consider other avenues of ministry. It is not a failure. It is a recognition that God can use us in many ways. Our talents can be used to serve the church and proclaim the Gospel in other avenues that are less demanding.

Today, my prayers are with our brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church as well as for Pope Benedict. This is an important time for the church, and much will be said about the future direction of the papacy. For today, I simply want to give thanks for Pope Benedict’s leadership and his willingness to step aside when his health became a concern.

I have a lot of respect for him today.

Sunday’s Sermon: Will You Listen to Him?

In between coughing fits and bits of exhaustion, yesterday afternoon, I was able to watch one of my favorite movies on television: Glory.

The movie tells the story of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, which was one of the first units in the Civil War to include African-American soldiers. It stars Matthew Broderick as Col. Robert Shaw, who helps to bring together a group of former slaves to fight for the Union. Many of the soldiers, including Shaw, ultimately gave their life to that fight during the Second Battle of Fort Wagner.

Also starring in the film is Morgan Freeman, who plays the role of the fictional Sergeant John Rawlins. Though his performance pales in comparison to that of Denzel Washington’s Trip, he stands out in his role as a gravedigger who becomes a leader among the enlisted soldiers. His voice and presence quickly places him in a leadership role among the men in the regiment.

That is almost appropriate. When we hear Freeman speak, we can’t help but be mesmerized and listen. We also can’t help but think, “Is this what God sounds like?” We like to think that his baritone voice is what God would sound like. It has that comforting and authoritative tone that we might expect how God’s voice sounds. Of course, it helps that Freeman has played God in Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty.

To be sure, we don’t know how the voice Peter, James, and John heard on the mountain sounded. We do know that the voice they heard was the voice of God and is heard at the end of an intense and powerful moment. Today is Transfiguration Sunday, which is the day that we remember how Jesus gave a glimpse of his full glory to Peter, James, and John on the mountain. It is a moment that set the stage for what was to come: Jesus’ singular focus on going to Jerusalem to fulfill the mission he came to accomplish.

For Peter, James, and John, God’s voice delivers an important message. We are told that it is one they keep to themselves until after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. The message announces who Jesus truly is. What takes place on this mountaintop and what is said is not just for Peter, James, and John, but for us as well. The message speaks to us as we embrace this week and the beginning of the season of Lent. This entire scene and the words that come out from the cloud offer us guidance of what it means to enter a deep relationship with the Lord.

Jesus’ transfiguration follows another important moment in his ministry and relationship with his disciples. Prior to taking Peter, James, and John to the mountain, we have a critical moment where Jesus is alone with his disciples and asks them, “Who do people say that I am?” It is Peter who gives the declaration that Jesus is the Messiah. Peter makes the claim that Jesus is the long-expected Messiah who would redeem the people. Jesus follows Peter’s affirmation with an interpretation. He says the “Son of Man must suffer many terrible things.” Jesus makes an announcement that the Messiah has to die in order to fulfill the mission of redemption.

We know that Peter had a difficult time with this message, and perhaps so too did the other disciples. It is hard to hear that this person you believe to be the Messiah now is telling you that he must die in order for salvation to be accomplished. I wonder if this difficulty gives us a clue into what takes place on this mountain. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John – his inner circle – to the mountain to pray. In Luke’s gospel, prayer is a signal that something significant is to happen. Prayer was significant in Jesus’ ministry and guided him throughout Galilee, but when we see him praying in Luke in particular, it is typically followed by a significant moment or revelation.

Here, we receive a revelation of Jesus’ true self. The disciples had perhaps only seen Jesus as a human who taught with a deep understanding of Scriptures and who could do some amazing things. They saw him as a great prophet, but hadn’t fully grasped who Jesus truly was. On this mountain, as Jesus is in prayer, the disciples experience a taste of Jesus’ true self. The see his face change, his clothes become “dazzling white.” Jesus is seen in new light that brings about a deeper understanding. He is seen in his divinity. Jesus shows his disciples, and all of us, who he truly is. He is fully human and fully divine. He is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity.

It is an eye-opening experience that isn’t quite finished. As this is going on, Peter, James, and John see two men next to Jesus. It is Moses and Elijah, who were two great prophets of the Scriptures. They are speaking with Jesus about his “exodus.” Luke is the only account of the transfiguration that gives us an account of what was being said. The word “exodus” is significant and brings to mind the Exodus of the people of Israel and how they were redeemed from slavery in Egypt. What is being discussed on this mountaintop is the exodus that Jesus must take on. His exodus would lead to his death. In order for humanity to be redeemed of its sin of disobeying God, the Son of God must be offered as the atoning sacrifice for all of humanity and creation.

The discussion gives confirmation to what Jesus has told his disciples about his mission, but so too does the presence of Moses and Elijah. Not only were these two very important prophets of Scripture, but they also represented the law and the prophets. Their presence on this mountain gives confirmation that all of Scripture look to this moment when the Messiah, the Son of God, would come and redeem the people from their bondage to sin. From this moment on, Jesus would be focused on this exodus and Jerusalem. His focus would be set on the work he came to accomplish.

If all of this wasn’t enough for Peter, James, and John, there would soon come one more bit of revelation for them. After Peter speaks about making a shelter for Moses and Elijah, a cloud overshadows them. The presence of a cloud is symbolic of God’s presence. This was the case during the wilderness experience for the people of Israel as the cloud guided them on their journey out of Egypt and into the Holy Land.
As the cloud covers them, we hear a voice coming out from it. The voice, God’s voice, announces that, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him.” It is a word of confirmation that is given to the disciples and any who would hear. The voice tells us that Jesus is the Son of God, the divine redeemer sent to rescue the world from its sin. It is appropriate that the voice comes here. This confirmation comes as Peter, James, John, and the other disciples, are wrestling with exactly who this Jesus truly is. Peter has announced that Jesus is the Christ, and the voice from God is saying this is the case and telling them and us what this means. Jesus is the one chosen to bring about redemption and to inaugurate God’s kingdom. This isn’t the only time that a voice from God brings about confirmation to Jesus’ identity in Luke’s gospel. Jesus himself receives confirmation of his identity at his baptism when he is told that he is God’s “dearly loved son” who pleases him.

The transfiguration scene brings us to a deeper level of understanding of who Jesus is. He is the Son of God sent to the world for the purpose of an exodus, a mission of redemption, that would bring the people back to the Father through faith in the Son. What may appear at first glance as a difficult scene is truly a powerful experience of God’s love for us to send us his Son for the purpose of our salvation.

Which is why the last words the voice from God says are important for us today. God says “listen to him.” It is an imperative of response. God says if you truly believe that this is my Son, that he has this mission, and will accomplish it, then listen to what he says. To listen to Jesus means to take what the Lord says and make it true in our lives and the way we encounter others. It means to allow the words from the Lord to be made real in us and to transform us through the power of the Spirit. In the context of this passage, listening to Jesus also means to believe that he must suffer for our sins.

Listening to Jesus may be one of the most difficult things we do, because it means we are allowing the words to become real in us. We are not just saying that we believe what Jesus has said to us, but those words are becoming power and real in us.

As we enter the season of Lent on Wednesday, and truly after having gone to the mountain and hearing this voice, we are asked a simple, but profound question: Will we listen? Will we listen to the voice of God and its announcement that Jesus is truly the Son of God, who came to die not just for the world, but truly for us? Will we listen to what Jesus has to say to us about what it means to live as a faithful disciple in this world? Will we listen to Jesus when his words challenge our beliefs, desires, and agendas and allow those words to be transformative in our lives?

The season of Lent allows us to reflect on how real Jesus is in our lives and how deeply we listen to what he says. Starting Wednesday, we have a 40-day period, not counting Sundays, to enter a time of reflection on how well we are listening to Jesus’ words. We have the opportunity to give up things that distract us and focus more on the power of Christ working in us and through us to transform us so that we may transform others.
What is preventing you from truly experiencing the mountain experience of Jesus’ true self and his love for you? What keeps you from listening to Christ’s message and words? What is holding you back?

My prayer is that this season will be a time of deep transformation for you, for me, and for all of us. My prayer is that we will go to the mountain, like Peter, James, and John, and see Jesus for who he truly is: the Son of God who came to the world with a purpose of redemption. My prayer is that we will hear the depths, love, grace, and hope of God’s love and desire for us in this season of preparation.

Why Do We Go to Church?

Much has been said about the church’s declining influence in North America. Church membership is down. Church attendance is down. The number of people who proclaim faith in Jesus Christ is down.

While there are several reasons for these trends, every church – both big and small – are working to counter this by making their communities more attractive to new people and those who have stopped attending. We’ve changed our style of worship to accommodate more appealing musical elements. We’ve removed pews and made our churches more comfortable. We’ve even added coffee bars.

Many of these changes are necessary to reach the current culture. The changes allow us to be more contextual with the message of Jesus Christ’s love for all. Even as we have made these changes, I have noticed that people still wonder why we need church. We can still hear the questions about its importance and purpose for our lives and faithful living for Jesus Christ. Lost in these needed changes has been a deep perspective on why the church is important for believers.

We go to church, because we believe the church is the ongoing mission of Jesus Christ. This is what the church has been since the days of the Apostles when the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost. The church is the living witness of Jesus Christ. It is not perfect. We are humans, after all, seeking to grow in Christlikeness. The church is going to get it wrong. However, we are what God has given the world to witness to the truth of God’s love for all. You have to love that!

We go to church to worship the Lord. By worship, we mean praise God for who the Lord is, has done, and continues to do in our lives and throughout the world. Worship expresses our heart to the Lord. Corporate worship allows an entire community to join together in singing praises, reflecting, and sharing with others. It is a participatory act that invites an entire community to worship as one through word, table, and service. In a culture that tells us to worship sports and entertainment icons, community worship is a counter-cultural expression of God’s truth and love. The church is a message of hope given to the world.

We go to church to be strengthened and encouraged by other believers. Our individual tendencies are to believe that we do not need anyone else but ourselves. We believe we can worship the Lord alone. This is hardly the case. We need the church and the community of believers to strengthen us in our discipleship. The church is the place where we are held accountable for our actions and taught what it means to follow Christ. We are encouraged by the love and presence of others as we seek to be faithful in our love of God with others.

We go to church to be sent out to be the church. The church is not just a building. We are the church and are sent out to the world to be the church through our witness of Christ’s love toward others. Worship sends us out with a blessing of encouragement to take what we do together and apply it to how we care for others each day.

The church is the world’s hope. My prayer is that we will see the church not just as a place we come to on Sunday mornings if it fits our needs, but it truly becomes our identity to where we can say, as the song does, that we are the church.

Sunday’s Sermon: Sometimes You Can’t Go Home

Country roads, take me home/ To the place I belong/West Virginia, Mountain Mama/Take me home, country roads.

I am confident that this may be the first time John Denver’s “Country Roads” has been quoted during a sermon on this side of the Big Sandy River. I make no excuses for the fact that I am from the place known for coal mines, Hatfields, WVU football, pepperoni rolls, and cole slaw on a hot dog. I am from West Virginia, though Kentucky has grown on me in the nearly six years since I moved here from North Carolina.

My home state has played a significant part in my life. Those 22 years in the Mountain State formed me as a person and helped shape me as a follower of Christ and a pastor. From Martin Hall on the campus of West Virginia University, to a journalism classroom at Shady Spring High School, to the newsroom of several newspapers, the memories I have of West Virginia are special to me.

As much of a blessing West Virginia has been to me, I know that I cannot go home. This might seem like an odd statement, but I know it is true. I cannot go back because my home rejected me. Through words and actions, I have been told that I am not a true “West Virginian,” because of my willingness to challenge known “truths” and to suggest alternatives to norms that go against commonly held beliefs.

The hurt of lost friends and connections has been painful. Rejection is never easy or pleasant. So too is the realization that I will never serve a place I called home. Over the years, and especially now that I am in the ordination process in the Kentucky Annual Conference, I have come to terms with this.

For many of us, an illustration of this kind of rejection of this magnitude is one that is unfamiliar to us. Most of us still live in the same communities we grew up in. It is a blessing that we give thanks to God for. The rejection we are most familiar with is the personal. It is the rejection that comes with losing a friend, a loved one, or someone else over some dispute that causes irreconcilable differences between the various parties. That is the rejection many of us are familiar with.

Being able to call upon our past experiences with rejection will help us understand what is going on in our passage from Luke 4:21-30. This morning, we have a continuation of the story we encountered last Sunday. As you will remember, Jesus has returned home to Nazareth after spending time in ministry in Capernaum. Words of his ministry greeted him upon his arrival. The people of Nazareth were excited to see and hear from Jesus. At the worship services on that Sabbath, Jesus preached on the text from Isaiah 61:1-2 and applied it to his own Messianic ministry. His words were well-received by the people in attendance.

But something happened by the end of Luke’s story. Something happened that moved the people of Nazareth from accepting Jesus, at whatever form or level it might have been, to a place of outright rejection. At the end of our story, Luke tells us that Jesus has to avoid a mob that was attempting to kill him. This doesn’t seem like a hometown reception that went well.

Something changed inside the people of Nazareth who had gathered to hear Jesus speak. Their progression from acceptance to rejection is something to pay attention to this morning, especially as we seek to understand what this passage from Luke might be saying to us.

The end of the story is not expected when we focus only on the initial response to Jesus’ words. After preaching that today the Scripture had been fulfilled in their presence, the people of Nazareth were amazed at what they had heard. Amazed that they could confirm in their hearing the reports of what Jesus had been preaching throughout the region. Amazed at the depths of the knowledge “Joseph’s son” had of the Scripture. Amazed that this man, whom they had known for so long, was standing before them as the long-expected Messiah.

It was the beginning stages of wrestling with the person they had known with the person they see before them. While they believed Jesus spoke well, they couldn’t disconnect themselves from the person whom they knew of being “from Nazareth.” His words hadn’t made a deep impression in their souls.

The reason is that the people of Nazareth, and especially those gathered at the synagogue, wanted to see Jesus at work. They didn’t just want to hear Jesus preach, they wanted to see Jesus “do something” for them. Reports of Jesus’ miraculous acts of healing in Capernaum, a place heavily populated by a non-Jewish people, had made their way back to Nazareth. The people figured that if Jesus did these acts of healing to people “outside the faith,” what more would he do for those inside the community of faith, and especially his beloved hometown?

It is here where the conflict between the Jesus they wanted and the Jesus that stood before them begins to show. It is a conflict that Jesus is fully aware of, and makes note of. He makes note of their desire by quoting a Proverb: “Doctor, heal yourself,” which he interprets through their desire for this hometown prophet to do wondrous things for them. He follows this with something very interesting. He says that the conflict between the Jesus they knew and the Jesus that is the Son of God will lead them to rejecting him. A prophet, he says, is not accepted in their hometown.

What does Jesus mean by this? Even though the people of Nazareth are wrestling with what they see before them and their desire to have something done for them, there is nothing yet to indicate the pain of rejection that is to come. Jesus knows that the truth he has come to present will not be accepted. They will not accept his prophetic voice, which will lead them to rejecting him all together.

The role of a prophet is to speak God’s truth and to alert us, as Katherine Lewis suggests, to where God is active. A prophet challenges known truths and helps to bring us to greater dependence and realization of the love of God. A prophet calls attention to our held beliefs and helps us see that God’s truth might be calling us to take on a different set of beliefs or a new life. Jesus knew that this prophetic role would go unheard, because when someone close to us challenges us and what we know to be true, we become defensive or angry.

Jesus’ challenge to the people of Nazareth comes in the application of his Messianic role. The call to bring Good News to the poor, the imprisoned, the oppressed, and the blind includes all people and not just those within the Jewish community. The Good News, he says, is good news for the people of Capernaum, and other Gentiles, as much as it is for the people of the Jewish faith.

He expresses this out through two stories from 1 and 2 Kings where Elijah and Elisha went out to serve the Gentile population. He speaks of how Elijah, in 1 Kings 17:8, was sent to care for Zarephath and how Elisha, in 2 Kings 5:1-14, cared for Naaman.

Jesus is using Scripture to make a point about God’s love for all. He is reminding the people of Nazareth about how God’s love reached across divisions, even in the days of the prophets. He is sharing truth with them in the hopes that it will bring them to a deeper level of trust, faith, and hope in the Lord.

It is this truth of God’s love that was too much for Jesus’ hometown. They were unable to hear Jesus’ words that the mission of God extends not just to the chosen few, but to all people. They refused to hear that God loves the Gentile as much as the Lord loves them. It created a rupture in their love for Jesus, and they rejected him. They refused to hear a deeper reality that extended beyond what they knew, and they reacted as perhaps any of us would when confronted by someone close to us. They got angry. They got mad. They cut their ties with Jesus.

The story of Jesus’ hometown rejecting him is difficult and uncomfortable. I recognize this. We are uncomfortable with the fact that an entire community would refuse to walk with Jesus, especially when they have known him for so long. However, I think it is difficult and uncomfortable for another reason this morning. As much as it is uncomfortable to think about how Jesus’ hometown rejected him, it is even more so to think about the times that we have rejected the Lord when Jesus’ truth challenges us.

Each of us, at one point or another, have rejected Jesus’ truth. Through our words, actions, and deeds, we have made the choice to disassociate ourselves with the difficult task of following Jesus’ words and examples. The temptation to reject Jesus is as real for us when challenged by God’s love and truth as it was for the people of Jesus’ hometown.
There are several ways we do this. We reject Jesus by minimizing his words. When confronted by Jesus’ truth, we’ll twist the meaning of his words to make it agree with what we want it to say. We’ll reduce the truth to conform it to the beliefs we want to hold. At the same time, we can reject Jesus by saying Jesus’ truth doesn’t apply to us today. We say we are living in different times and that Jesus’ words are not applicable to us in our more “modern” context. Finally, we reject Jesus by simply walking away. When Jesus’ truth hits home, and we refuse to listen, we might simply say “no” to walking with Christ any further.

Do not be in despair, there is hope for us this morning. The good news is that rejection is not the end of the story. Our acts of rejection are what led Jesus to the cross. The grace of our Lord offers forgiveness to us all when we face times we are unable to hear what Christ is saying to us. Even when we say “no” to Jesus, the Lord continues to say “yes” to us. That is the amazing nature of Jesus’ love. To paraphrase the communion liturgy, “even though we rejected Christ, the Lord showed his love to us.”

In a moment, we will come to the table to celebrate communion together. Part of our communion liturgy is a prayer of confession that calls to mind our acts of disobedience, our moments of rejecting Christ’s truth. As we say these words together, I hope we will take a moment to reflect on when we’ve rejected Christ. Where have we refused to follow God’s truth and leaning? In the saying of our confessional prayer, give this rejection over to the One who came to set us free and show us the truth of God’s love. Be transformed by the Living Presence of the truth of God’s love for us all.

Today’s story is a sad one. An entire community who had known Jesus for so long refused to walk any further when the truth of God’s love went against their known beliefs. It doesn’t have to be so for us today. Allow the Spirit of God to examine our hearts this morning to see where we might have turned away from God when challenged by the Lord’s truth. May today be a day known for our acceptance of God’s truth, instead of our rejection.