January 23, 2022

“Who, Are You?”

(From Luke 4: 14-23)

      James was an awkward boy who lived on my block when we were growing up.  James had a lisp, and he stuttered some with his words when speaking.  Most of the kids on our block did not take the time to listen to James when he spoke.  His family was friendly with mine, so I had spent a good deal of time with James and his siblings, and I understood what he was saying through the lisps and stutters.

     James was actually smart and funny, but few people took the time to listen to him or paid much attention to him.  So, James became shy and introverted.  He was a marginal student in his schoolwork, mostly I believe, because he received so little attention, and he rarely spoke in class.  I was tracked with the “smart” kids soon along in my educational career, and James was left to deal with his world of mediocrity.

     As James grew older, he overcame his lisp and stutter with the help of speech training.  The problem was that nobody paid attention.  Even his parents often compared him to his fast talking, athletic and straight A student brother, who was bound for college with a scholarship.  James graduated… marginally.  He then went to work in a local butcher’s shop, married, divorced, and finally moved away from the area.

     I met James several years later.  He had grown a beard to change his looks, and he got some new contemporary glasses.  He looked great.  James shared with me that moving away was the best thing he could have done.  James went to college, I think to study IT and computers, and he now had a good paying career, not merely a paycheck.  He had found a niche in life where he belonged.  Recognizing that his surrounding environment and past were holding him back, James became a new man by finding a new and supportive community in which to make his life.  James finally discovered his gifts and became all that he could be.

     When we are viewed a certain way by others, based on our own differences or idiosyncrasies, or because of difficulties and problems from our past, it can be hard for us to make any real forward progress.   There seem to be those who choose to remember us a certain way no matter how we may have grown or changed with time, no matter what gifts we discovered we have been given.  Jesus, himself, experienced this same phenomenon in our scripture lesson today. 

    Raised in Nazareth, Jesus returned there after his baptism and time spent in the wilderness in temptation and preparation for his ministry.  He entered the synagogue and read a scroll from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”, Jesus said.  These words amazed those in the synagogue.  “Is this not Joseph’s son?” they asked.  And there it is, friends.  Jesus could perceive that the people were asking around and wondering how this son of Joseph, whom they knew, now spoke with such “gracious words.”  Jesus knew that he would not be able to do all that he was doing in the surrounding regions in Nazareth.  So he proclaimed to them, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.”  Though Jesus came to his own people with power, the people responded only to the Jesus they had already known as the son of their neighbor Joseph.  Jesus knew and shared, both with his Disciples and the gathered crowd at the synagogue in Nazareth, that he would have to move on to other regions to preach the good news that the kingdom of God had come, and to fulfill his healing ministry.

      One of the truths that comes through loud and clear in the passage of today’s gospel lesson is that the Bible is filled with stories about real people, people who live and react in very real and human ways.  One of the amazing things about the Holy Scriptures is the fact that they reveal to us how God’s plan and purposes are often accomplished as much in spite of as because of human interactions.  It has always been a source of comfort and hope for me to read about the many people who responded to Jesus in very stubborn, selfish and human ways; and yet, Jesus was able to work them into learning opportunities and to use them for his good purposes.  I can relate to stories like today’s lesson because they show Jesus’ understanding of human ways, and his insight into the best course of action to follow in these tricky situations.  If Jesus could use a messy situation like this for learning and good, then there is hope that he can do the same for you and me in the messy life situations we encounter.

     We have all heard the adage “haters are gonna hate,” and that is another important truth lesson for us today.  It means that there are always those who are ready and waiting to put us down, put us in what they believe is “our place”.  They may use our past and some of their own preconceived notions about us as the basis for their conclusions about us before a word even proceeds from our mouth.  Even Jesus had to deal with people who treated him in this very manner during the time of his ministry.  We can succumb to and cave in under the drama these folks create for us.  Or, like Jesus in our lesson today, we can rise above it and walk on-head held high-to the place of acceptance of who we are and the gifts we have to bring today.  My friend James discovered that he could accomplish his dreams if he stopped listening to the negative voices and embraced something new for himself.  A wise teacher once taught me that yesterday is a cancelled check, and tomorrow is only a promissory note.  Today—today is cash in the hand.  How we spend today is a reflection of who we are… today.  The past is in the past, with all negativity and sin washed away for believers by the cross of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus.  We have his life in us and his example to guide our way.  Paul reminded the Corinthian Church that “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”  We are not merely the sum of our past experiences, we are wonderful new creations with abundant new and eternal life in Christ.  We have the blessing of a loving and diverse community of believers to support us as on our path of self-discovery in the Spirit of our Lord.  So, I ask you today, brothers and sisters in Christ, who, are you?  Amen.