Hometown Heroes

Luke 4:21-30

Jeremiah 1:4-19

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

San Carlos, CA

Prophetic speaking is hard work. It’s hard to hear the call; it’s hard to carry through and speak the truth; and then there are the consequences when people actually hear what your going to say.

And, it’s also no wonder that, when we hear prophecy, we find a way to clean it up, make it a little less offensive.

Take Rosa Parks, for example. She’ll be appearing in countless school assemblies for Black History month. The seamstress who finally decided she was just too tired to give up her bus seat for a white man and launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott. At the school where I taught in Chicago, our school president had been part of the Selma to Montgomery march as a young man so we were pretty serious about Black History month! But even there, the school assembly image of Rosa Parks was a sweet third grader playing Mrs. Parks, her classmates the bus passengers and the driver. And as soon as the confrontation on the bus happened, they all linked arms and sang, “We Shall Overcome.” (It made me cry and giggle at the same time.)

Just in time for Black History month there’s a new book out about Rosa Parks, The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks. In a column this week in the NYTimes, Charles Blow writes about how this book shatters our simplified, sweetened image of Mrs. Parks .

“Rosa’s family sought to teach her a controlled anger, a survival strategy that balanced compliance with militancy.”

Parks’ grandpa would sometimes sit on the porch with his rifle just in case the Klan showed up. She liked to join him because: “I wanted to see him kill a Ku Kluxer.” Once, as a child, when a white man threatened her, she picked up a brick and threatened him right back. She was raised in the Marcus Garvey Black Nationalist movement, and unsure that white people and black people really could live together, so while she fought for justice, she didn’t think there could really be peace between races. Her views moderated later in life, about the time of the bus incident. But she was not just an exhausted, beaten down seamstress. She was a dynamo who had been working hard in the prophetic civil rights movement for years. At the same time that this portrait of her deepens my respect, it also reminds me that the people who worked so hard for justice couldn’t be cute and cuddly. They were a force to be reckoned with. And they were a force that was trying to turn the world on it’s head.

We can pretty it up. But seeking justice is…almost scary.

Sometimes we get stuck thinking of Jesus as one who is only meek and mild. (A few years ago, there was a book whose title I loved: Jesus, Mean and Wild.) If you read our gospel lesson this morning very carefully, you’ll notice that Jesus is the one who actually picks the fight here.

When he puts down the scroll, people think well of him. That comment, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” is perhaps misread as a put down. They are impressed. He picked a lovely, poetic piece of Scripture. He read well. A hometown boy, grown up, so well spoken…

But Jesus doesn’t take the compliment. Instead, he gets up, and gets angry.  They haven’t really heard what he is saying.

“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.”

In other words, the whole world is about to turn upside down. And Jesus, the hometown boy, is the one who’s going to do it.

The people who know him best are not going to be thrilled with the results. They’re going to say: why didn’t you do it this way? Why didn’t you work the wonders here that you did in Capernaum (if you read the next chapter, you’ll learn that Jesus hasn’t even gone to Capernaum yet…he’s picking the fight before all the evidence is in!)

Hearing hard truths from the hometown boy isn’t easy, for the people or Nazareth…or for us.

I wonder sometimes if we have gotten all too familiar with Jesus. We celebrate his birth and watch him grow up. He is at the core of who we are as Christians. Is he our hometown hero? And can we really hear what he is saying? If epiphany has been the season of opening our eyes, really figuring out what Jesus is all about, have we seen, and have we heard, what Jesus is trying to tell us?

If we never feel a bit disturbed by what Jesus has to say, we are probably too comfortable. If it never costs us anything to follow Jesus, we might have misunderstood the directions. Maybe we, too, should be waiting for Jesus to pick a fight with us…

And that’s not even the hardest part of this. It would be one thing if we only had to hear the hard truths that Jesus has for us. But in this world that God is turning upside down, we are called to be disciples…

…and prophets.

It’s hard to hear what a prophet has to say. It’s even harder to be the one to say it. So many of those called to be prophets come up with excuses:  Isaiah says he’s not good enough; Jonah runs in the other direction; and Jeremiah claims he’s too young.

God doesn’t put up with the excuses, though. When I was teaching, I gave students an assignment to write an essay about the interaction between God and Moses. Moses holds a special place among the Hebrew prophets: he’s the only one who ever spoke to God face to face. But Moses was also the master of complaining about his call to be a prophet. There was one essay that pretty much summed the whole thing up in it’s title: “God Don’t Want No Lip.” (It was a horrible piece of writing, I’m pretty sure it was scribbled out in a study hall earlier that day…but with a title like that, you have to pad the grade just a little!)

The hardest call is to be a prophet in the places where you are at home.

If you look at the way prophets function in the Bible (and, really, everywhere else), there are internal prophets and external prophets. An external prophet comes in from the outside. God calls Jonah, for example, to go far away from home.

And then there are prophets who function from the inside. In the place they feel most at home. Samuel, for instance, is all but an official member of the court of the King of Israel.

In many ways, it’s easier to be an external prophet, because you don’t have to maintain a relationship with the people you are sent to. You can leave when you’re done upsetting them.

But if you are called to speak hard truths in a place you call home: where you live, where you work, where you go to school, among friends…you have to make sure you are heard without being sugarcoated, and try not to get thrown off the cliff.

Friends, here’s the hard truth about our calling to follow Jesus.

There are no excuses: age or ability, distance or difficulty.

And there’s no putting it in a neat little box that we only take out on Sunday morning.

We are called to bring gospel and grace into the world, into every place we go, no matter how new or how familiar that place is to us.

Sometimes people will speak comfort. Sometimes the broken will feel mended. The prisoners set free. The poor lifted up.

And sometimes we will hear the hard truths, and be called to give voice to them.

But never forget: God’s hand has touched us. There is nothing to fear. And

Through Jesus Christ, God has put his words in our mouths.

Thanks be to God.