Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Easter 5A ● Morning Prayer II
May 10, 2020
Gospel: Luke 4:16-30
Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, May 10, 2020
We live in society that shouts “What can you do for me?” In corporate settings, there’s “WIFM,” which stands for WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME? Referring to what a consumer is always asking of a service or product provider which will convince them to buy in. Janet Jackson’s 1986 single, “What have you done for me lately,” was a hit song that transcended diverse music genres making it a classic song today. Several years ago package delivery company, UPS, launched a very successful tagline that spoke to the heart of the American consumer entitled, “What Can Brown Do for You?”
Our gospel passage in the fourth chapter of Luke today, took place at a time when Jesus’ public ministry was already in motion in Galilee and the news spread of his teachings in the synagogues, garnering praise from the surrounding areas. When Jesus arrived in Nazareth, he was a guest in his hometown. As a faithful Jew, Jesus customarily went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, and it was customary to invite the guest in the synagogue to read from the scroll of the Prophet.
Jesus was given the scroll, unrolled it, and found the place where Isaiah’s prophetic words about him were written (v. 17). He began, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor,” and he concluded with, “to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” The prophet’s words would have been very familiar to the hearers. At that point Jesus rolled up the scroll, returned it to the attendant and sat down. Why is this important? In the synagogue, the custom was that one stood to read scripture and sat down to teach. Notice that after reading the prophetic words of Isaiah, Jesus sat down. It was time for him to teach. And Jesus’ teaching began with, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v.21).
The promised Messiah, the one sent by God to save His people, was with the people, claiming his identity, and laying down some inconvenient truths for them. By the end of this passage the enraged people drove Jesus out of his hometown and tried to erase the truth by throwing him off the cliff. The people’s murderous rage exploded not because Jesus claimed his identity (v. 21); they rose up when Jesus went off script, and called them out for their praise of him which was not a result of knowing who he was or even a desire to follow him; but out of the ulterior motive grounded in “What can this prophet do for us?”
During Jesus’ teaching he said to them, “You’re going to tell me to ‘Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” (v.23). But no prophet, he said, is accepted in his home town. He reminded them how the prophet Elijah was not sent to the MANY widows in Israel suffering during a severe famine over the land; but to one widow in Sidon—a gentile. How Israel’s MANY lepers did not receive cleansing from the prophet, Elisha, yet the ONE Syrian—the gentile Naaman, was cleansed. The rage of the insulted people makes sense now.
So, what was the point in Jesus’ visit to his hometown? Was it to teach the people? To warn the people? To enrage the people enough to cause self-examination, that would focus on what God was calling His people to do—to repent to and return to Him? I suspect that “Yes,” “Yes,” and “Yes” would work. And yet, the sting of Jesus’ truth-telling led the people to unsuccessfully attempt to kill the truth. But Jesus, the truth, the way and the life, passed through the mess and moved on.
Three years ago my ministry at our Episcopal chapel center at the University of South Florida was beginning anew. The first student who ever showed up to the center was seeking not only answers to his religious questions; he was truly seeking a meaningful relationship with God.
It was a joy to walk with him in his journey and to be taught by his insights and observations when he sat down with me and with other students. One Bible study turned into a study of the Episcopal Church’s 1982 Hymnal.
The student said to us, “Have you ever noticed that the hymns in this book are all about God and who God is?” Then, he hijacked my laptop to play some music on Youtube to play the church music that he had grown up with in order to illustrate the contrast. He said, “Listen to these songs. They are all about what God can do for me.” Since I grew up with these hymns in the 1982 Hymnal, someone who was experiencing them for the first time, made me aware that I had taken them for granted, and that I didn’t truly appreciate the level of focused praise to God that those hymns provided. Now, when someone comments about a hymn in worship that they don’t particularly like, I think about my wise student who would probably respond, “You don’t have to like that hymn; that hymn isn’t about you, it’s about God.”
As we move through the devastation of this pandemic—which has inflicted physical, emotional, economic and spiritual violence on individuals, and certainly the broader human collective, we, as Easter people, must look to the truth of the risen Christ. God knows that we are incapable of saving ourselves, and for our salvation, he sent his only Son. And, as Jesus Christ sits at the right hand of the Father, he is still teaching. He is still warning. He is still stirring up souls calling all to repent and turn to God.
What Jesus can do for us—for you—has already been done on the cross. He has already brought good news to the poor, and we choose to uphold unjust structures in society that lock people out of needed healthcare with unfulfilled promises of resources necessary for basic human survival. He has already let the oppressed go free, and yet we choose oppression, for ourselves and for others, refusing to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being. We keep begging Jesus to save us from this deadly virus when He has already given us the blueprint to follow in the example of his life—a lifeline for saving humanity from its sinful self. Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father and He is still teaching and still warning that he is coming back and that our time is not unlimited.
And, though Jesus is physically absent from us, the savior of the world is spiritually present at all times and through all times. This is the truth that will ground you when the world around you feels like, looks like, sounds like, it is crumbling. As we kneel in prayer, let us be intentional about first giving glory to God—in prayers of thanksgiving that God is God; praise for who God is; and that through his steadfast love, he revealed himself to us through his only son, Jesus Christ.
 Harper Collins Study Bible, NRSV. p. 1769.