Sunday’s sermon: A Question of Credibility

bible

Texts used – Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Luke 4:14-30

  • [hold up Bible] The Word of God … Holy Scripture … the Holy Writ … the Good Book … or one of my favorites, Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth (it’s a little simplistic and theologically problematic, but you have to love a clever acronym!) There are a lot of names for the Bible, aren’t there? But whatever we call it, there’s no denying that this is a book that elicits a lot of reactions.
    • Those who are indifferent – who find it no more compelling than any work of fiction you may pull off the shelf at your local library
    • Those who reject and ridicule it
    • Those who even fear it
    • Those who love and revere these words
      • And even among Christians – even among those of us who hold this up as our sacred text – there are vastly differing opinions concerning this book.
        • Differences in translations
          • Straight translations (NRSV)
          • Paraphrases (Good News)
          • Stick close to the original languages (ESV)
          • More colloquial (The Message)
          • Amalgamation of the approaches (CEB)
        • Differences in approach/theology of Scripture
          • Inspired?
          • Inerrant?
      • Yet despite all those different approaches to this book right here, it remains the most read, most sold, and most translated book in the history of the world, with an estimated 100 million copies sold every year in 469 different languages.[1] In my office alone, you can find 12 different versions of the Bible – different translations, different formations, some study Bibles, some regular Bibles … the list goes on and on. So we cannot deny that these words are powerful, powerful words, can we? They carry weight. They carry influence. They carry inspiration.
  • No denying that God’s Word is powerful
    • In texts for today, see …
      • Captivating power → both involve large crowds who, when hear Word of God, are riveted
        • Neh: Facing the area in front of the Water Gate, [Ezra] read [the law] aloud, from early morning until the middle of the day. He read it in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand, and everyone listened attentively to the Instruction scroll.[2]
        • Lk: [Jesus] rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him.[3]
        • This is God grabbing the attention of the crowd – of the masses – through the reading of the word. I think that if you were to turn either of these passages into a scene from a movie, they’d be the kind of moment when the background music pauses and everything is silent. The camera pans slowly over a motionless crowd before focusing in on a few faces – people whose eyes are full of excitement and expectation. They don’t know what’s going to happen next, but they know it’s going to be significant.
      • Significant because of transforming power
        • Transformed the lives of the Israelites
          • Neh back story: written after people had returned from Babylonian exile – Jerusalem had been devastated; temple (God’s holiest place) had been completely obliterated; people had been separated from the heart-center of their faith and culture for hundreds of years à And it was into the midst of this weariness, this desolation, this lostness that God’s Word returned to the people in such a powerful way – a way that inspired them to repent and taught them how to rejoice and celebrate again.
        • And the passage from Lk makes it clear that we all need that powerful, transformative Word of God: speaks of the Messiah coming “to liberate the oppressed”[4] – Gr. “oppressed” = literally “the broken ones” → That’s a category we all find ourselves in sometimes, isn’t it? And there are all sorts of ways in which we can be broken: physically, emotionally, spiritually. But the good news of the gospel – that living, breathing Word that interacts with our lives – reminds us that Christ came to set us free from all of those things that break us … to restore our wholeness and to put us back together again.
    • And that brings us back to what’s so amazing about God’s Word: it truly does interact with our lives. There are no boundaries it can’t overcome. There are no situations it can’t speak to. There is no darkness it can’t brighten. So I want you to think for a minute about which Scriptures have brought you inspiration or strength or comfort. This is the Word interacting with you – God reaching down and touching your life.
  • But the Word of God requires more than just simple, passive reading. It requires engagement. The phenomenon of God’s Word being active and interacting with our lives today isn’t complete unless we react – unless we do what we can to be that Word for the world around us. And that’s where our Scripture stories diverge for this morning.
    • Response in Neh – text: They read aloud from the scroll, the Instruction from God, explaining and interpreting it so the people could understand what they heard. Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all of the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Don’t mourn or weep.” They said this because all the people wept when they heard the words of the Instruction. “Go, eat rich food, and drink something sweet,” he said to them, “and send portions of this to any who have nothing ready! This day is holy to our LORD. Don’t be sad, because the joy from the LORD is your strength!”[7] → These people are thrilled to be hearing this Word, even though, being an “Instruction scroll from Moses,” it probably sounded something like this: The LORD said to Moses: Command the Israelites to bring pure, pressed olive oil to you for the lamp, to keep a light burning constantly. Aaron will tend the lamp, which will be inside the meeting tent but outside the inner curtain of the covenant document, from evening until morning before the LORD. This is a permanent rule throughout your future generations. Aaron must continually tend the lights on the pure lampstand before the LORD.[8] It may not have been the most poetic, awe-inspiring work, but remember that these Israelites had been exiled for generations at this point. They hadn’t been able to hear the Scripture of their God in their holy place for more than a century, but here they finally were back in Jerusalem, back at the site of the temple (ruined though it still may have been), listening to the word of their God for them. And they rejoiced! Oh, how they rejoiced!
      • Rejoiced in the hearing
      • Rejoiced in the freedom to hear
      • Rejoiced in the interaction
      • Rejoiced in the ability to once again practice their faith and their culture completely unhindered and unoppressed
      • This is the type of response we want to have when we hear the word of God, isn’t it? Joyful … overflowingly joyful! Attentive. Worshipful. Abundantly thankful.
    • Contrast that reaction with the reaction we encounter in our NT story – text: He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.” Everyone was raving about Jesus, so impressed were they by the gracious words flowing from his lips. They said, “This is Joseph’s son, isn’t it?” Then Jesus said to them, “Undoubtedly, you will quote this saying to me: ‘Doctor, heal yourself. Do here in your hometown what we’ve heard you did in Capernaum.’” He said, “I assure you that no prophet is welcome in the prophet’s hometown. …” When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was filled with anger. They rose up and ran him out of town. They led him to the crest of the hill on which their town had been built so that they could throw him off the cliff. But he passed through the crowd and went on his way.[9] → At first, the crowd is amazed by Jesus’ interpretation and teaching. They’re impressed. They’re blown away. But then they start muttering. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son? The carpenter’s boy? Who is he to interpret Scripture? He is no priest. He is no legal expert. He has no training. Who does he think he is?” And suddenly who he is has clouded their eyes and stopped their ears, keeping them from recognizing the Messiah standing right in front of them simply because they knew him – because of their preconceived notions and assumptions and shared history.
      • Jesus’ comparisons admittedly don’t help the situation
        • Prophet Elijah performing a miracle not in drought-ravaged Israel but in neighboring territory of Sidon (present day Lebanon on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea)
        • Prophet Elisha performed miraculous healing not for any of the people of Israel but for Naaman, high-ranking official in the Syrian army – rival, foreign army
        • These two examples most certainly riled up the crowd around Jesus. Did they make his point? Surely. But maybe Jesus went a bit too far with this one because before he knew it, the crowd was not only running Jesus out of town by trying to run him right off a cliff!
      • One of the most intriguing and enigmatic verses in Scripture: But he passed through the crowd and went on his way.[10]
        • No hint as to how Jesus passed through the crowd
        • Gr. “went on his way” = word that occurs often throughout Lk whenever the gospel writer is speaking specifically of Jesus’ journey to the cross → significant because from here, Jesus travels all over the countryside teaching and preaching … but never returns to his hometown
        • So already, Jesus is making his way through one difficult situation for the sole purpose of facing the most difficult one of all – crucifixion, death, and resurrection.
  • Think about the world around us today, friends. Think about the headlines. The social media storms (because, let’s face it, there’s a new one every day). The political commentators and pundits who all seem to need to get their opinion aired no matter the cost. No matter what side of the aisle you fall on, I think we can easily agree that the tone of the nation has turned quarrelsome, belligerent, and ugly.
    • Oxford English Dictionary picks a Word of the Year every year – word that reflects “the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year” → And the word that OED chose for 2018: TOXIC. Toxic. Poisonous. Corrupting. Ruinous. Deteriorating. And friends, as much as I hate to say it … as much as we don’t want to hear it … we are part of the problem. In his hometown, Jesus spoke hard but honest words, and they tried to run him off a cliff. In this day and age, how often do we try to run people out of town, off a proverbial cliff (hopefully not a literal cliff!) simply because we don’t like what they have to say? We’ve decided what they’re saying can’t be true. Can’t be credible. Can’t be important. Just because we don’t like it.
      • Scholar: [Consider] the twenty-first century, with its endless conflicts among nations, political parties, and church factions. In such times, people are quick to demonize one another, and slow to imagine they could learn from someone from another party or faction. Yet churches could be centers of respectful conversation, wellsprings of deep dialogue that leads to discernment. We could hear the Spirit’s voice in one another’s speech and see Scripture fulfilled before us. Perhaps then we would be more able to answer our call to bring and be good news.[11] → Today we heard a tale of two crowds: one that put innate credibility in the word – believed it, revered it, and called it good; the other that cast the word in suspicion, in doubt, in fear. How will we react when it’s our turn to choose? Amen.

[1] http://ingcointernational.com/the-20-most-translated-texts-in-history/

[2] Neh 8:3 (emphasis added).

[3] Lk 4:20 (emphasis added).

[4] Lk 4:18.

[5] Ps 139:4.

[6] Ps 139:14.

[7] Neh 8:8-10.

[8] Lev 24:1-4.

[9] Lk 4:21-24, 28-30.

[10] Lk 4:30.

[11] Ruth C. Duck. “Luke 4:21-30 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Luke, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 106.