"Returning Home"

January 25, 1998 message
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland  USA
based upon Luke 4:14-30

In every person’s life there comes a point when they, in some way, shape, or fashion, step out on their own. It is both an exciting and a frightening prospect. "Home" is the place where we have been nurtured. At some point we each have to leave that home to test our wings, so to speak, to see if we can fly. In many ways, this story of our Lord speaks to that person in each of us who has done so in the past, or anticipates doing it in the future.

Jesus was raised in Nazareth - his "home." The Bible doesn’t provide us with many scenes from the "growing up" portion of his life in this place. I believe that’s on purpose, so that we might imagine him sprouting and flowering like any kid, then or now. Oh, there are stories that circulated which portray him peforming miracles even as a baby, but these were wisely omitted from the gospels we have received.

Only one of these stories made it into the Bible, and it didn’t take place in Nazareth. This tale is of his remaining behind in Jerusalem when his family returned from the Passover celebrations one year. In one sense Jesus was a peculiar child, as this story makes plain, for he was not found playing in the arcade, or whatever the kid hangout of that age was called. No, they discovered him exchanging wisdom with his elders in the Temple, speaking with words beyond his years. Even so, like any pre-teen he was a handful for his parents - a source of worry.

Somewhere between then and the rest of the story he grew up. Along the way his step-father died. That’s what Joseph was according to the Bible, you know - a "step-dad" who accepted the responsibility of providing for and raising this child to manhood. He taught his adopted son a trade, carpentry. Unfortunately, at some point Joseph died - so, like many children, Jesus was raised by a single mother.

Then came the day for him to step out on his own. That, also, is not recorded in the story as we’ve received it. We can only imagine a mother’s tears as she let’s go of her own flesh and blood. Where he went, we have no idea, though plenty of rumors abound. Wise decision, again, to leave it up to the imagination, for though Jesus was the Son of God, he was still a man, somebody trying out his wings, just like everyone has to at some point in their life.

He appears on the scene for the first time as an adult, stepping into the water beside John the baptist. He is 30 years old. There a voice speaks from heaven as the Holy Spirit descends upon him, "You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased." From the Jordan river, Jesus is tested in the wilderness, and then begins his own ministry, teaching and healing people in Gallilee.

At this point in the story, he returns home. Isn’t that the dream of every person who has ever stepped out on their own, whether they have journied far away, or just a short distance? At some point we want to show off the person we have become, even those of us for whom "home" was not ideal, even those who have run away from home as fast as their feet could carry them. This story touches us, for it connects with that desire we all have, to prove ourselves to those who matter to us most.

Jesus returns to his hometown congregation as a man with a reputation. Mind you, it’s all good at this point in his life. His elders have heard of his work, and invite him to sit up front and read from the scriptures, taking a turn at interpreting God’s Word. At the appropriate time Jesus is called to stand and read, being handed the scroll containing the words of the prophet Isaiah. For some reason he is not entrusted with the Torah reading, the law which Jews consider more important than reading from the prohets.

Jesus unrolls the parchment and finds the reading for that day. "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." Then Jesus rolls it back up and hands it to the keeper of the scrolls to be placed back into the cabinet containing the holy writings. This part is finished, and so he sits down, for that is the custom. Every eye is upon this returning hometown boy who has made something of himself. It takes a village to raise a child, you know, and many hands and hearts have helped to shape this man.

There’s old Eliakim, who taught him how to read, sitting on his left; and Hannaniah to his right, with whom he explored the meaning of the words in preparation for his bar mitzvah. Over there is Josiah, a co-worker of his father’s, who used to tease him as a boy. In the women’s section looking through the grate is Bathsua, the lady who always had a smile and a treat for him when his mother sent him to buy her produce. On the other side of the room is Samuel, his boyhood friend and confidant, as well as Matthias, the fellow who used to bully them both. Over in the corner, by himself, is Gabbai, the town tax collector. Keeping an eye on him and everyone else is Gamaliel, the unofficial town "cop" sitting by the door. Among the women is the face of his mother, Mary, and next to her Rebecca who once upon a time dreamed of being his wife, perhaps she still did. All these familar faces surround Jesus in that synagogue. They await what he has to say. Will his words prove they have raised him well?

He began, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." and he paused. Well said, bravo!, short, succinct, to the point. It is the duty of God’s people to care for the oppressed: the marginal folks, the forgotten, the hurting, the poor. Isaiah is a good reminder of duty. The scripture is fulfilled here and now by the person reading it, by the people hearing it. Blessed be God. Yes, this man will be an asset to his community. Who would have thought this possible of a carpenter’s son. Good things lie ahead for Jesus, and for Nazareth.

If Jesus had only stopped there, he would’ve had this town in the palm of his hand. His elders would have been so pleased, his mother so proud. These were good people. No doubt he loved them. It was not his wish to foolishly hurt them, but he did not end with the words of which they approved. He went on and spoke of his mission as it related to the expectations of those who loved him. That reading from Isaiah was not merely a good word to hear. In a way it summarized what Jesus was about - where he was headed. His sight was not limited to Nazareth.

These good people, who poured all this energy into raising him - just like they did with any child - these people wanted a return on their investment. Is that so wrong? It’s not easy to release a child who has grown up, to allow them their own mission in life - even though we work hard to instill in them a purpose and a drive. Is it wrong to want something back? Jesus had already built a reputation for himself as a teacher and healer, was it so bad a thing to desire his ministry to come home to roost?

Well, Jesus continued his interpretation of Isaiah’s prophecy, seeing in it his own calling. And that mission on which his heavenly "Father" had sent him was not limited by a hometown or a homeland. Retelling the stories of two other prophets, Elijah and Elisha, Jesus made clear that
                        the poor to whom God was sending him to bring good news,
                        the captives God was compelling him to release,
                        the blind to whom God was empowering him to give sight,
                        the oppressed God was directing him to release,
these people lived in other places than his own hometown. That in itself would not have been so hard to accept. However, to remind those he loved that, in the stories he told, Elijah and Elisha ministered to non-jews, to enemies even - was to imply that his own mission was to incorporate these people also.

This was not what his elders had wanted to hear. Hadn’t they raised him any better? Now, it’s hard for us to understand why they got so mad, but they did. They heard in his words a rejection, as well as a blasphemy. They became so angry, scripture tells us, that these people:

Gamaliel,
Matthias,
Hannaniah,
Eliakim,
Josiah,
Gabbai,
Bathsua,
Rebecca
(whatever their names were), grabbed him and threw him out of the synangogue, pushed him to the edge of his own hometown, where they came within an inch of stoning him to death. These were his neighbors growing up, and they rejected him.

Anyone who has ever left home, and who has that desire to return, also has a fear of rejection. Am I right? As Jesus said, "a prophet is not accepted in his own hometown." On that day, as he laid out his mission, Jesus was rejected by those he loved. Though he escaped death on that day (it says "he passed through the midst of them and went on his way"), the time was not far away when he would be rejected by more than his hometown, and strung up to die on a cross.

In so dying, though, he set free the oppressed and proclaimed with his death and resurrection the year of Jubilee for everyone: the people in his own hometown, as well as those they considered to be their enemies.

That’s a heavy story to tell, especially the second half of it. We want to be accepted by those whose opinions really matter to us. We each have a fantasy, I think, of going home and receiving the affirmation we need from those we love for who we are and what our purpose is in life, once we’ve set our course. Is that so wrong? No. Does it happen? Sometimes. It didn’t for Jesus. Of course, a lot depends upon whose affirmation we truly need, whose opinion we most desire, who we most want to please.

Quoting the Psalmist, we began our worship this morning with this statement: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer." (Ps. 19:14) As important as our "hometown" people may be, whoever or wherever they are, the One who matters the most is the One who calls us, who gives us a purpose in life, a sense of direction. Each one of us is anointed with a mission, as we respond to the call of the anointed One, the Christ. When we say "yes" to God, the Lord works in our lives, instilling a purpose. Can you speak what yours is? If you can, that’s wonderful. If not, keep praying and talking about it. It may not make everyone happy, sometimes the opposite. The only One we should desire to please in the long run, though, is the One who is the "rock" upon which to build our lives, our redeemer. As we please the Lord by living out what he is calling us to do, we become salt for the earth, a light on the hill, a seed of the word, a blessing.

1998Peter L. Haynes

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