Sermon notes 01-30-22  The Trouble With Truth-Telling[1]           

[1 Corinthians 13:1-13] If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. [2] And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. [3] If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.  [4] Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant [5] or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; [6] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. [7] Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  [8] Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. [9] For we know in part and we prophesy in part, [10] but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. [11] When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. [12] For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. [13] So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (ESV)

 [Luke 4:21-31] And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” [22] And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” [23] And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” [24] And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. [25] But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, [26] and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. [27] And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” [28] When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. [29] And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. [30] But passing through their midst, he went away.  (ESV)

I think every one of us here today would say that truth is important to us.  I believe we are all seekers of the truth, we all aspire to be able to tell the difference between what is true and what is not true, we all want to know the truth … that is, as long as it doesn’t get too personal, right?  We don’t always like hearing the truth about ourselves; we don’t enjoy being confronted with truth that causes us to realize things about ourselves that we would rather not admit.

Yet, we all need people in our lives who are willing to tell us the truth about ourselves, even though we may not always like hearing it: people like wives or husbands, moms, dads, good friends who love us.  I often think how grateful I am to have three siblings who, especially when we were growing up together, reminded me often, in various ways, of the truth that I was not the center of the universe.  I’m not sure they always reminded me in a loving way, but I knew they loved me nonetheless, and I am glad for it now, even if I didn’t like hearing it then.

We need truth-tellers in our lives, and sometimes we are called to be that person for others, to speak the truth in love, to be willing to tell the truth to others in a loving way, out of our love for them.  The problem is, even when it is spoken in love, people don’t like hearing truth that does not affirm their lifestyle, their behaviors, their choices, their views, their ways of thinking.  So even when we speak the truth in love, it is not always well received, as we see in our Gospel passage this morning.

Our passage from Luke’s Gospel picks up where we left off last week; in fact, the passage Brenda/Karlie read for us from Luke actually overlaps with last week’s reading from Luke’s Gospel.  Luke 4:21 was the last verse from last week’s reading, and Luke 4:21 is the first verse in this week’s reading.   In my Bible, and in our pew Bibles, the two readings, from last week and this week together, make up a section that has the heading, “Jesus Rejected at Nazareth.”

Now, we know that Nazareth was Jesus’ hometown, it is where he grew up; and the story of his rejection there raises a lot of questions, at least for me.  So, for the next few minutes I want us to think about some of these questions together; questions such as: Why exactly was Jesus rejected in his hometown?  What did Jesus do to fall out of favor with his fellow Nazarenes? What caused his own people to turn against Jesus, so suddenly and so dramatically, and to be filled with wrath toward him?  What connection does this story have with our first reading from 1 Cor. 13?  And finally, what does this story about rejecting Jesus have to do with us?

These are some of the questions I want us to think through together this morning.

Let’s begin by reminding ourselves of what had been happening up to this point in Luke’s Gospel.  After John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus, and the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for forty days (we will be emphasizing that story again early next month when we enter the 40-day season of Lent).  Luke tells us that after the devil departed from Jesus, Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to begin his ministry in Galilee, the territory in the land of Israel that included Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth.

You may remember what came next from last week, when we read that, very early in his ministry, Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath (as was his custom, Luke tells us), and stood up to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.  In doing so, Jesus effectively claimed to be the anointed servant of the Lord, the Messiah.  Jesus said, quoting Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, release for the captives, liberty to the oppressed, recovering of sight to the blind.”  After sitting back down, in order to make sure that the people clearly understood that he wasn’t simply reading Scripture but was referring to himself, Jesus told them explicitly, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

We might think that was what turned the people against Jesus.  He essentially told the people of his hometown that he was the fulfillment of Scripture.  He claimed then and there to be the long-awaited Messiah.  No wonder the people responded the way they did.  We might respond similarly if something like this were to take place here at Faith Harbor.

Imagine if someone who was once a part of our church, someone who grew up in this church and community, maybe someone you all have known for many years, has been away for a while.  You might be able to think of someone who fits that description.

Then, let’s say that person were to come back here to church one Sunday, and during worship, claim in front of all of us to be the fulfillment of Scripture.  What would you think?  It is no wonder that the people were ready to run Jesus out of town.

But let’s hold on for a second before we jump to that conclusion.  That is not what happened, not at this point, anyway.  In fact, the words of Jesus seem to initially have the opposite effect on the people.  Instead of wanting to run Jesus out of town after he claimed in verse 21 to be the fulfillment of Scripture, verse 22 says, “And all spoke well of himand marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.”  So, it seems that at first, the people accepted the claims of Jesus.  They were apparently thinking and saying, “Wow, the way this guy speaks, he must really be who he claims to be, the anointed One, the fulfillment of Scripture!”

Okay, then the turning point in their attitude toward Jesus must have come with what happens next.  As we continue to read in verse 22, Luke writes: “And they said, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’”  We might assume from these words that the people must have suddenly realized, ‘Now, wait a minute; what are we saying here?  We know this guy; this is Joseph’s son; we watched him grow up.  How dare he come back here and claim to be God’s gift to humanity!  Let’s throw him over a cliff.”

But, if we were to make that assumption at this point, we would still be getting ahead of ourselves.  There is no reason at this point in the story to assume that the people were not continuing to marvel at the claims of Jesus, perhaps even with a sense of pride at the dawning awareness that they could claim the Messiah as one of their own, someone whose dad Joseph they were on a first name basis with, someone they knew well!

At this point in the story, the people might have been seeing Jesus as a claim to fame.  They might have begun to imagine how impressed people would be with them down the road when they bragged about how they used to hang out with the Messiah.

All right, so if the people have not turned against Jesus just yet, it surely must be in what happens next.  Jesus says to the people in verse 23, “Doubtless you will say, what we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown.  But truly I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.”  Maybe that’s it: the people turned against Jesus when he indicated that he would not do the miracles there in his hometown of Nazareth that he had done elsewhere.

But again, that assumption is not really supported by the text.  Luke does not tell us that the people asked Jesus to perform any miracles, or to do anything for that matter; Jesus simply anticipated that they would ask.  The people would not likely have decided to turn against Jesus for not doing something they had not asked him to do.  The fact is, Luke has not described anything thus far in the story that would explain the people turning against Jesus the way that they did.

No, Jesus does not fall out of favor with the people … until he confronts them with the truth in verse 25.  Notice he says these words: “But in truth, I tell you….”

So here, friends, we finally get to it.  Jesus tells the truth that turns the peoples’ favor toward him into murderous wrath!

And just what is the truth he tells them?  Jesus brings up the example of two Old Testament prophets, Elijah and Elisha, who each went beyond the chosen people of Israel to minister to Gentiles, foreigners, outsiders.  Elijah went to the widow of Zarephath in Sidon, and Elisha healed Naaman, a leper from Syria.  Sidon and Syria were not in Israel; they were areas where non-Jews lived.  Jesus says, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, and there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha, but none of them—he says that twice—none of them received assistance from Elijah or Elisha.

To understand why this truth would have sent the people of Jesus’ hometown into a rage, we need to ask, why exactly did God reject the people of Israel in favor of Gentile outsiders during the time of Elijah and Elisha?

The answer is found in the books of 1 and 2 Kings where the stories of Elijah and Elisha are told.  In those stories, which the people in Jesus’ audience would have known full well, we read that God rejected the people of Israel because they had rejected the commandments and statues of the God of Israel.  God’s chosen people, the Jews, had conformed to the culture and the practices of the pagan people God had repeatedly warned them against through his prophets.  The Israelites rejected God’s prophetic words and worshipped false gods and engaged in pagan practices, which resulted in God withdrawing his favor from them, and blessing other people instead.

This is what finally caused the people to turn on Jesus.  This is what caused all the people who spoke well of him in verse 22 to suddenly be filled with wrath toward him in verse 28.  This is why the people, who mere moments earlier had been marveling at him, brought Jesus to the brow of the hill in order to throw him down the cliff.  It was not about who Jesus claimed to be; the people spoke well of him after that.  It wasn’t the realization that he had grown up among them; they seemed to be good with that as well.  It wasn’t that he implied he wouldn’t do miracles for them; they hadn’t asked him to do any miracles.  No, it was the truth Jesus reminded them of, that when God’s people violate God’s commandments and laws and reject His prophets, God sends his prophets elsewhere, even to despised Gentiles.

You see, the Israelites had a sense of entitlement about God.  They expected to automatically be God’s favored and privileged ones, the insiders, and they were looking for Jesus to affirm this sense of entitlement, and stamp his seal of approval on them.  But Jesus reminded them in the stories of Elijah and Elisha, that when God’s people were unfaithful and rejected God’s truth, God rejected the so-called insiders and blessed outsiders instead.  This truth made them want to throw Jesus over a cliff!

Now, what does this have to do with 1 Corinthians 13? We are used to hearing 1 Corinthians 13 read aloud at weddings, and this passage is certainly a beautiful reminder of the kind of love that a man and woman are to have towards one another.

But an interesting thing about this passage is that Paul was not married himself, at least as far as we know, and he was not directing this passage of Scripture toward newlyweds.  Paul was writing to the Christian church in Corinth, a church in conflict.  Paul was teaching them that instead of comparing themselves and their spiritual gifts to one another, they were to practice love toward one another.  They were to regard their own gifts as worthless if they were not used in love.  Paul was telling them that all the things they were bragging about and claiming for themselves were worthless apart from love.  The Corinthians who heard these words of truth-telling from Paul may have been just as shocked and angry as the congregation in Nazareth who heard Jesus speak the truth about them.

So finally, brothers and sisters, what about us?  When the truth of the Bible is revealed to us, how do we respond?  Do we think because we call ourselves Christians or Methodists, we are automatically entitled to God’s favor, whether we are faithful to God’s Word or not?  When the teachings of Jesus or the words of someone else who loves us confront us with truth that does not affirm our lifestyle, our behaviors, our choices, our views or our ways of thinking, do we receive that truth in the love with which it was intended?  Or are we inclined to want to throw the truth-teller over a cliff?

Friends, we all need persons in our lives who love us enough to tell us the truth about ourselves, and there will be times when we are called to speak the truth in love to others.  In our conversations with one another may we seek always to exhibit the kind of love described in 1 Cor. 13: patient and kind, not arrogant or rude, not irritable or resentful.  May God grant each of us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to be seekers and lovers of the truth—even when it gets personal, even when it calls us to think and to live differently—for the sake of the One who loved us enough to die for us so that we might live differently, for Him.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

[1] Some insights for this sermon were derived from Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 1, Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.  302-313.