“Befuddled by Grace”

Text:  Luke 4:14-21 (22)


 

Baptized by God he had been (cf 3:20-21).  Anointed (cf 4:18).

                                                                      Appointed.

                                                                      Sanctified.

                                                                      Consecrated he was to set God’s agenda for the world.

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.    Amen.

 

He began in Galilee.   An area in the north of Palestine.

                                    The name itself means “a circle” (cf H = galil).

                                    So-called because it was encircled by non-Jewish nations.

                                    And, because of that, new influences had always been a part of its life.

                                                                       Being the most forward-looking and

                                                                              …the least conservative part of Palestine, at least to

                                                                                 one historian of the time (cf Barclay Luke, p.40).

                                                                       And, to another, Josephus by name: 

                                                                                “They were ever fond of innovations and disposed 

                                                                                 to changes and delighted in seditions. They were

                                                                                 ever ready to follow a leader who would begin an

                                                                                 insurrection.  They were quick in temper and given

                                                                                 to quarreling”  (cf Barclay, 41).

                                    In this atmosphere, Jesus began.

                                                                    In Galilee.

                                                                    In the synagogue.

 

The synagogue.  The center of religious life in Jewish Palestine.

                            One wherever there were ten Jewish families, or so the Law said (cf Barclay, 41,43)

Synagogue.  A word that simply means:  “the place or house of gathering.”

                                      Gathering for worship,

                                                         …instruction,

                                                         …just plain “getting together” (cf IDB, v4, p.476).

                      A word that referred technically to the totality of the Jewish world,

                                                                         …all adherents of the Jewish faith, and

                                                                         …the “community,” which referred to only those who

                                                                             were Jewish, as it still does today, at least to the

                                                                             conservative Jew.

                      A word that had an emotional attachment to Mt. Sinai:  the place of the giving of the

                                                                                                              Law to Moses (cf  IDB, 4, 478)

                                      …because “synagogue” sounds so much like “Sinai.”

                                          The very symbol of the Old Testament.

                      And so, “synagogue” became a way for a Jew of proclaiming their loyalty to 

                                               …“the Sinai Covenant,”

                                               …”the Law,” and

                                               … their “righteousness” and “holiness.”

                                                   By going to synagogue.  (For some Christians, by going to church,

                                                                                            especially around 11am on a Sunday.)

                     But, the synagogue was not only “the house of the people” confined to religious

                                                                           worship, but it was also

                                                                       …the place where funeral eulogies were delivered,

                                                                           especially for “rabbis,”

                                                                                        …for “teachers of the law” who were

                                                                                            compared with “the ark of the Law” (cf

                                                                                             IDB, 4, 491),

                                                                       …the place used for political gatherings,

                                                                       …a place for lodging and caring of transients

                                                                           (hospice); and,

                                                                       …a law court where justice was administered.

                      There, in Galilee, “the circle,”

                              …in the synagogue, “the place of law,”

                              …in Nazareth, the place where he had been brought up, he set God’s agenda for

                                 the world.

 

Nazareth.  Located on the lower slopes of Galilee,

                            …near the Plain of Jezreel.

                  And from the hilltop above, see an amazing panorama:

                            …the history of Israel stretching out before one’s eyes.

                               There, the plain of Esdraleon where Deborah and Barak had fought,

                                                                           …where Gideon had won his victories,

                                                                           …where Saul had crashed to disaster and

                                                                           …where Josiah had been killed in battle.

                                                                              Where Naboth’s vineyard was and

                                                                           …the place where Jehu slaughtered Jezebel.

                        And there was Shunem where Elisha had lived.

                        And there was Carmel where Elijah had fought his epic battle with

                                         the prophets of Baal.

                        And off in the distance, the Mediterranean and

                                                          …the isles of the sea, and

                                                          …the world itself,

                                                                …unfolding itself from the hilltop of Nazareth.

 

Nazareth.  A town in sight of history,

                          …with traffic of the world at its doors.

                              The road from the south to Jerusalem.

                              The way of the Sea from Egypt to Damascus of Syria.

                              The road to the east, Arabia (cf Barclay, 43).

 

                              There, in Galilee, “the circle,”

                                      …in Nazareth, “gateway to the world,”

                                      …in synagogue, “the place of the law,”

                                              …he began God’s agenda for the world,

                                                               …with words of the Isaiah scroll (cf Isaiah 61:1-2;  58:6)

                                                                   given to him by the chazzan.

 

                                                 These words:  “preach good news to the poor,”

                                                                     …”proclaim release to the captive,”

                                                                     …”recovering of sight to the blind,”

                                                                     …”set at liberty those who are oppressed,”

                                                                     …”comfort all who mourn,”

                                                                     …”the day of vengeance of our God” (that is: “the

                                                                          removal of all obstacles to God”),

                                                                     …”the acceptable year of the Lord” (cf IB, v.5,

                                                                          Isaiah, 710).

                                                  And by these words, those who heard were “amazed,”

                                                                                                                     …”puzzled.”

                                                                                                                     …”confused,”

                                                                                                                     …”befuddled.”

                                                              Lost they were in the perplexity of the words he spoke (cf  ref

                                                                      Webster’s Dictionary, 1960).

                                                              For radical they were in his day,

                                                                                             …as the prophet’s,

                                                                                             …as our own.

                                                              For what “amazed,”

                                                                         …”angered,” and

                                                                         …”befuddled” them who heard was the apparent

                                                                             compliment that Jesus was paying to Gentiles (all

                                                                             those non-Jewish).

                                                               For the Jews were so sure that they were God’s people that

                                                                     they utterly despised all other peoples.

                                                               They believed, as one wrote, that:

                                                                        “God had created the Gentiles to be fuel for the

                                                                         fires of hell.”

                                                               And this Jesus, preaching as if Gentiles were especially

                                                                         favored by God too (cf Barclay, 44).

                                                               And, they heard correct.

                                                               For they were words of God’s grace,

                                                                                             …not Law, as they were accustomed to

                                                                                                 hear.

Befuddled by God’s grace, then,

                                        …as today still.

Befuddling to a society based on law.

                         Where justice is understood to be revenge, not forgiveness.

                         Where the poor are seen as a dredge on society.

                         Where a society wants “others” to be “like us,” rather than free expressions of

                                     themselves.

                         Where one society knows what’s good for another, never mind them.

Yes, God’s grace is befuddling.

                                Befuddling today, as then.

                                And yet, these things too,

                                          …obstacles as they are to God’s grace, must be removed, that we may

                                              know the power of God’s love.

 

 

Yet, when those who bear the name “Christian, “

                        …who claim to follow our Lord,

                        …but fail to show in any real sense that love, have been duped

                           into believing what is not of Christ, but of another name, and

                           …caught in what one has called  “the rut of stupid self-absorption” (cf IB, v.8,92).

                               Submitting themselves,

                           …surrendering themselves to the degradation of the human soul,

                                                 …which is not God’s agenda for the world he loved

                                                     that he sent his only son for.

 

For what Jesus came to communicate,

                                …to those who would listen, is that as people choose to 

                                                                              give their imaginations and

                                                                                          …wills in glad surrender to

                                                                                              the service of God’s kingdom

                                                                                              will all the glorious possibilities

                                                                                              within be released,

                                                                                          …the wonder,

                                                                                                …majesty and

                                                                                                …nearness of God seen.

                                                                                              Being befuddled by the

                                                                                                   wonder that is God’s love

                                                                                                   for even you,

                                                                                                   …and me.  

                                                                                                   A love that befuddles the world yet

                                                                                                      again,

                                                                                                   …even one more time.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. 

       Amen.