Division in the Church – January 15, 2017 – Luke 4: 14 – 30

This is Jesus’ inaugural address and the crowd’s response to his announcement. Jesus had begun his ministry. News about Him and what He is doing has been spreading. He has been teaching in the synagogues and everyone loves what He has been saying.

Jesus goes to Nazareth to make His big announcement. On the Sabbath he goes to the synagogue where everyone knows Him because that’s where He grew up. He stood up and went to the front of the synagogue where He would read the Scripture from the scroll. The synagogue’s liturgist handed Jesus the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus found the Scripture He was looking for and read from chapter 61.

Jesus reads: the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord had anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the liturgist and sat down. The tradition was for the teacher to sit in a particular seat in the synagogue while he taught. When Jesus sat down, everyone fixed their eyes on Him waiting to hear how He would interpret the Scripture. Jesus said, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”

This wasn’t simply a reading of Chapter 61. This was an announcement. It was scandalous. Jesus had claimed the call of the Messiah. He claimed He was the Messiah. Messiah means Anointed One. Calling Himself the One the Lord anointed was to say I am the Messiah that God promised would come to save His people. These people have been waiting under the oppression of the Roman empire. They have been waiting for the Messiah to come and set them free. This was no small proclamation to say that He was the One they had been waiting for.

Jesus combined the calling of the Messiah as Isaiah prophesied from Chapter 61 and Chapter 58. Jesus read the calling according to Chapter 61 then threw in a couple verses from Chapter 58. Jesus says, “I’ve come for the poor, blind, and bound.” Everyone was excited that the long-awaited Messiah had finally come. They’re amazed that one of their hometown boys was the One God had called to be their Savior. Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they said. Everyone raved about Jesus and loved what He said.

But, this wasn’t a happily ever after story. The crowd turns on Jesus. Jesus responds. “You’re going to say ‘Doctor, heal yourself. Do here what you’ve done in Capernaum.’” They crowd remembers that they have heard what He had been doing in Capernaum. They remembered that He has been helping others. The crowd is concerned that this good news will be for others and not them. Jesus hears them say, “Jesus, take care of your own before you take care of others.” Kinda like saying, “charity starts at home. Then, you help others.”

Jesus knows the broad vision of His ministry will not be accepted by this narrow-minded people who are concerned only that they be saved. They want all of Jesus’ saving power for themselves, to make sure they’re saved, before He goes out and saves others. He is, afterall, their hometown boy, so He must help the poor, give sight, and liberate those in His hometown before He goes around helping other people.

Jesus tells them, “No prophet is welcome at home.” What He’s saying is, the work of the prophet is not easy, the message is not easy to hear, He is not welcome by everyone everywhere. Jesus reminds them that Scripture shows that the prophet is not always loved, because God’s calling extends to the outsider. That grace available for others is a tough pill to swallow. With that, the crowd’s attitude had completely shifted. They had rejected that last part and they were not only ready to run Him out of town, but throw Him off the cliff.

I want to focus on the crowd today, at how quickly they went from loving their son to wanting Him dead with just a few hard to hear sentences. The crowd loved what He had to say when they thought they were going to get something from Jesus, when they thought He was going to make their life easier. When He told them that He was going to help others also, their response wasn’t gracious. They were not a generous people and didn’t want grace for others. They wanted good for themselves and didn’t care about others. When Jesus said, I’m going to help others too, that was unacceptable.

Now, I want us to focus on the crowd’s response. I know it will be easy to make some connection to what is going on in the political world, but I don’t want to go there this morning. This is also not about me. Let’s stay focused on the crowd as a religious gathering. I want us to realize how quickly they went from excitement to division. It was scary how the crowd shifted so dramatically from love to hatred.

You know all-too-well what it’s like to have a crowd divided. At a time in your not so distant past, there was great division among you. You were not gracious and generous with one another. I’m beginning to see some behavior that is not healthy and if left to continue will lead us down the path toward division again.

When Rev. Anderson was here, she talked to you about triangulation. That is where 2 groups of people try to drag someone onto their side and pit them against the other. When a group of people are divided, they feel uncomfortable with people who are trying to stay out of it. The groups try everything they can to draw people into the problem by getting them to agree with their group.

Recently, I’ve heard some comments that start with “someone said.” “Someone said they don’t like this.” “Someone said they think this is going on.” “Someone said this doesn’t work for them.” What’s happening is that “someone” is trying to gather people from the congregation onto their side so they can affect the change they want by gathering more and more people onto their side.

There have been 2 problematic responses to these “someone said” comments. I’ve heard some attempt to assign value to the “someone” by asking if that person was active in the congregation. The problem with that is if there is a legitimate concern expressed it doesn’t matter if it is expressed by someone who comes every other month and gives $5 or if it is someone who comes every week and gives $500 a week. A valid concern is a valid concern regardless of who said it. So, from now on, there will be no “value” assigned to comments or concerned based on that someone’s participation in the church. We are all invested in this community and we are all equally valued in this congregation.

The other problematic response to these comments is that you are making changes based on the comments and concerns of one person when everyone else seems to have no problems. We have had an on-going experiment with the communion bread because there were multiple people with varied concerns. We continue to try to find a bread that most people agree is satisfactory. One person who wishes to remain anonymous cannot run this church and guide our actions. From now on, decisions are made by the Board collectively or a committee convened by a Board rep to share in decision making which is then reported to the Board.

From now one, no spreading of anonymous concerns. If someone wants to express a concern and have it considered, they must be willing to have their name included in the discussion. No more “someone said.” It is important for a healthy congregation to have open dialogue. If someone wants to remain anonymous, there are appropriate expression of those concerns. That person can go to Barb Oliver or come to me to share their concern then the Pastoral Relations committee will meet to discuss it and make a recommendation to the Board or work to resolve the issue. Anonymous concerns may only be considered by Pastoral Relations. The committee meetings are confidential.

To aid in this attempt to open dialogue and move toward greater transparency and better communication, the Board and I have decided to move to a weekly newsletter. This newsletter will be included in your bulletin like the insert today. It will include more information than we’ve previously included in the announcements insert. I have challenged the Board to better communicate with you through this weekly newsletter.

For this weekly newsletter to achieve its goal, we all need to make an effort to have your announcements included in the newsletter. You can contact me before noon on Thursday with your announcement to be included in the newsletter. Try to get information to me as soon as possible so we can get things announced a few weeks before the deadline. You can e-mail or text me. You can call me. You can send me a Facebook message. Include as much detail as possible and we’ll make sure we get it into the hands of everyone on Sunday.

If anyone has any questions about how to handle concerns or where to talk about concerns, please let me know. If you have any ideas about the weekly newsletter, please let me know. I hope we can all work together in love to continue to build this community of faith rooted in grace and fellowship. Amen.

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