Sunday, February 3, 2013

Jesus And The Home Field Advantage: A Sermon

A Sermon Preached At Christ the King Chapel, Crown Village of Ralston, CFB Suffield, Alberta Sunday, 3 February, 2013 Texts for Lectionary Year C: Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6,1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30

"When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage." (Luke 4:28)

Martin Luther once said something to the effect that the work of the Reformation was accomplished by the Holy Spirit while he and a friend sat in a tavern and drank good Munich beer. On Friday I was sitting in a pub with my friend Father Gene, drinking two excellent pints of Canadian beer, and discussing this Sunday's readings. To be honest, we were both hoping the other would give us an idea for a sermon. Gene directed my attention to the end of today's reading, the disastrous conclusion to Jesus' debut sermon in Nazareth, and the phrase "all in the synagogue were filled with rage". He noted that usually the phrase "filled with" in the gospels and epistles is followed by "the Holy Spirit" as in Luke 4:14 when Jesus returns to Galilee "filled with the Holy Spirit". Unfortunately for Jesus, the Holy Spirit doesn't take with his home town audience. Rage wins the day.

If you follow sports you will know the term "home field advantage", when the crowd is cheering for their team and hoping that the out of town visitors will get a good thumping. The theory is that the crowd's energy and noise will inspire the home team and intimidate the visitors, though as the 2012 World Series reminds us, it doesn't always work that way. At the beginning of today's gospel reading, which continues from where we left off in Luke 4 last Sunday, Jesus appears to enjoy the home field advantage. We hear that everyone "speaks well of him" and is "amazed" at what he has to say (Lk 4:22). Their reaction reminds us of the story of the youthful Jesus in the Temple, when everyone is "amazed" by the lad's understanding. It all looks like a successful launch for Jesus' ministry, but then it all goes off the rails and the Spirit inspired preacher inspires rage in the home crowd. What goes wrong?

Perhaps the home town crowd can't get past the fact that they know Jesus as the carpenter's son, and so can't take him seriously. That might explain the testiness that Jesus seems to show in verses 23-24, when he attacks them for a scepticism that, oddly, no one has shown yet. A more important reason for their coming rage, I think, is the two bible stories that Jesus tells in verses 25-27. Jesus uses two stories about foreigners, non-Jews, who are favoured by God, to make his point that "no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown". In doing so, he seems to be consciously and deliberately rejecting the whole idea of the home field advantage and even of the home team. It would be like the star New York player stepping onto the field at Yankee Stadium for a key at bat, and pausing to tell the cheering crowd that he wasn't swinging the bat for them. You can imagine the cheers quickly turning to boos.

Why does Jesus seem to bring all this hate on him? The best way I can explain it, if I can pursue my rather lame baseball analogy, would be for thenYankee star to say that he was swinging the bat not just for the home team crowd, but for all baseball fans everywhere. Jesus starts his ministry by saying that God is for everyone, and not just for a favoured few. Jesus' preaching is thus a continuation of what John the Baptist says to the crowds about how they cannot count on being ancestors of Abraham (Luke 3:7-9). John thus sets the stage for the good news of Jesus, that God does not limit himself to a chosen people, but rather that God choose all people.

So why are the people in the synagogue in Nazareth filled with rage?

I have two possible answers to this question. The first answer may lie in the problem of grace. It’s hard to disentangle our sense of entitlement from the idea that God loves and redeems us. By entitlement I mean our sense that we tend to think of ourselves as being somehow worthy of God’s favour, but those other guys (insert name of group, denomination, disliked person) here. I think that’s one answer. For the home town crowd in Nazareth, it was easy for them to hear their native son proclaim “the year of the Lord’s favour”, provided it was proclaimed for them. We might ask ourselves, what if God’s favour is just as freely available to everyone here in Ralston who spend Sunday worshipping at the temple of ice hockey rather than here, with us, in the base chapel that we lovingly maintain and keep going. Is that really good news to us?

The second answer may be in the sheer seductiveness of rage. Rage, or at least anger, is easy enough to slide into when our sense of entitlement is somehow thwarted. I may begin a conversation with a customer service representative all polite and silver tongued, in the expectation that I will get my way, but I have found that when things don’t go my way then I can get surprisingly and easily unpleasant. It would me good, and perhaps you as well, to meditate on today’s second lesson, when Paul says that “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor 13:4-6). We may be tempted to gloss over this text, often heard at weddings and sometimes dismissed as being saccharine, but it is in fact powerful and important, and deserving of a sermon in its own right. Paul speaks about love as a spiritual gift rather than as an emotion we manufacture out of romance or sentiment, and the solution to the seductiveness of rage is there if we want to pursue the spiritual gift of love more fervently. Be warned, though, that in pursuing that gift, we must set aside our senses of entitlement.

For Jesus leaving the synagogue that day in Nazarath, he certainly lost his first home game – in fact, the home crowd wanted to kill him! But Jesus didn’t give much though to home and away games. He played for everyone, which is why I am always evasive when people ask me to pray for their team in a big game. I answer that God isn’t much interested in sports events. Like his son, he wants everyone to win. Our question, the question that any athlete must ask, is this: what of ourselves do we want to give in order to win?

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Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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