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31st July 2022

Speech! Speech!

Passage: Luke 4;14-32

Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue (the place of worship), as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.
He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Party Speeches are many and variable. Some are meant to be funny; some intended to make the bridegroom at the wedding cringe with embarrassment; some are rallying calls to action and some just downright tedious. (I am glad they included the man sleeping through the speech in the party booklet)
But generally, any party speech begins with the reason why we are here. We are here to celebrate a wedding, a milestone birthday, an outstanding achievement, a party conference.

In our reading, Jesus was in the synagogue, which was the local place of worship. And, as with a church service, the event would have begun with an acknowledgement of why we are here- to worship God and to meet together. You cannot go too far wrong with that, can you? I do remember one Minister starting a Christmas service wishing everyone a very Happy Easter but by Christmas Day most Ministers are counting their brain cells in single figures…..

The party speech will then continue with an unfolding of the vision- what are we hoping will happen as a result of this celebration? That the bride and groom will have a long and happy marriage; that Granny will have a lot more birthdays to enjoy; that your political party will receive the commitment and inspiration to win the next election.
And the question I would like to “float” right now is what do we hope will happen as a result of this gathering here today?

The vision of worship in the Synagogue of Jesus’ time was one of re-creating the past. Jesus’ people, the Jews, had lived through one invasion after another and were now living under Roman rule, which could be cruel and oppressive in the extreme. Their history was known as a “Salvation History” in which God, many times, had come to the rescue of his people, getting them out of slavery, bringing them back from exile. And it was both political and religious salvation. Time and again, a people who had been drifting away from God, were brought back. Places of worship were re-opened; holy scriptures studied; children taught their religion; people inspired to pray. It was high time for another political and religious revival; worship in the synagogues centred on this. The scripture Jesus read, was part of a whole body of prophecy concerning a Messiah: someone who would come from God to those who were faithful; someone who would make the revival happen. And, as you heard, all eyes (and hopes) were fixed on Jesus.

So, let us ask again, what DO we hope will be the result of our worship here today? Why have we come?
There will be some who say, well I am here because I am on duty: with the Music Group or the Audio-visual rota or stewarding or making coffee. Well done and thank-you for being here. But you must have wanted to do this duty and agreed to go on the rota. I hope no-one had their arm twisted. The question still remains- why have any of us come?

For generations many people went to church because it was expected of them. Everyone went and often, your boss or your landlord wanted to see you there and you did not dare refuse.
Now most people do not attend church; it is not expected of them. Hardly anyone goes and in some cases your boss or your landlord might think worse of you for coming. So, you need a pretty strong reason for coming to worship and, as we engage in our own discussions about a vision for this church in the future, we need to keep asking what do we hope will happen as a result of this gathering? And next week’s…and the week afters?
We are going to stop for a few minutes now and listen to a worship song: WayMaker, which expresses confidence in the presence of God with us here now and prays for his direction in our worship and in our lives. If you want to sing along please do or just listen and reflect-WHY are we here today?

All in the synagogue spoke well of Jesus and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’ ”
“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.
I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.
And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.
They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.
But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath he taught the people. They were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority.

Oh dear. Jesus’ party speech did not go down too well, did it? He went off at what you might say was an unfortunate tangent.
I remember in our College Chapel, a member of staff was retiring and had been invited to preach a farewell sermon. He spoke warmly his years of service, then suddenly launched into a criticism of the chapel: I don’t like this chapel. I don’t like the sideboard-shaped altar. I don’t like the colour of the paintwork. I don’t like …And I noticed the College Chaplain, who had been sitting back with his eyes half-closed, smiling gently, suddenly sit up with a jerk, open his eyes wide and the smile vanished. This was not the expected script! I hope no-one tried to throw that preacher off a cliff but the atmosphere in the vestry afterwards might have been a bit tense.

The people in the synagogue were not expecting Jesus to say what he did. Basically, he was saying that the kingdom of God is not just about you. It is about the wider world. It is not about God slaughtering your enemies so that you can live in peace and prosperity but about God saving the whole world. You are not God’s chosen people in the sense that everyone else is rejected. You are God’s chosen people to embrace all nations, in the name of God, even the Romans. This was not what they expected or wanted to hear. Not in their synagogue; their own, exclusive safe place. They threw him out and tried to kill him.

I guess none of us find it easy to hear things which appear to criticise us, threaten us, undermine our confidence. We need to be very brave, then, in asking God to show us His vision for this church. It might be a vision you are not 100% happy with. In a turbulent world, our church can be our last safe place, and we do not want it threatened. And, perhaps more of a concern to many of us is that God might be asking more of us than we feel able to give. Jesus party speech was a huge challenge to his listeners, and they could not cope with it.

But, we heard, he went on to another town, a very similar place with very similar people, and there they did listen to him. We are told that they recognised his authority. I think the word “authority,” here, does not describe someone who is marching around throwing out orders but someone who is telling you the truth: truth about God, about yourself and how you fit into the scheme of things.
Thinking over some of Jesus’ sayings which we might consider as having real “clout,”’ you might include “Your sins are forgiven.” “Let the dead bury the dead- what is past is past.” “Faith as a grain of mustard seed can move mountains.” “The kingdom of God is within YOU.” “You will be given power from on high.” “I am the bread of life, the Good Shepherd, the true vine, the resurrection and the life.” None of this sounds like bad news to me. In the same way, the words Jesus read from Isaiah: there will be freedom and sight for those now trapped in dark places. God says, I am creating something you will enjoy!

Yes, we need to be brave in asking God to show us His vision for this church, but we also need to recognise his authority to speak truth to us. His vision is about truth: the truth about us, the truth about our world right now, the truth about what God wants to bring about through his people. And the truth is that if we accept the vision, we will also receive the power. Those who accepted the authority -the truth- of Jesus received immense power. If they had not, we would not be here today.

So, let’s ask ourselves one more time, what DO we hope will be the result of this gathering in worship here today?
That you will go home feeling more hopeful about yourself because you know that God has touched your life?
That you will look at the world with slightly less despair and find grace to see green shoots of peace, compassion and creativity?
That you will come closer to knowing and trusting the plan God has for your life?
That you will come closer to knowing and trusting the plan God has for this church, your place in that plan and the first steps you can see to making it happen?
That others around you may understand something of the reality of God’s presence by sitting near you, in what you say to them, how you listen to them, if you smile at them?
That you will be given strength to be a channel of God’s grace in the world wherever you go this week or whoever you meet and that, far from this leaving you drained and exhausted, it will gift you with ever more grace?
That you will feel it vitally important to return here next Sunday!
You decide. And God Bless you. Amen.