Psalm 146 p.868 Voices United; Luke 4:14-30
Do you know the phrase “Dropping the Mic?” It started out in the rap and hip-hop music scene and now it’s everywhere, from the Instagram accounts of teenagers to a friendly Twitter rivalry between the Obamas and Kensington Palace – with Justin Trudeau getting in on the action. It came from the practice of rappers delivering their final line then dropping the mic, as if to say, “that’s it, no-one can top that”. It’s come to mean getting the better of someone or calling someone out so hard that you walk away indisputably victorious. (The Urban Dictionary)
The passage we heard today contains two mic-drop moments. The first is good news for the people of Nazareth, when their local boy, their home-grown rabbi, comes into town, and delivers the reading from the prophet Isaiah. When he declares “today, the Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” it stops everyone in their tracks. But the response, despite the controversial nature of the statement, is generally positive. They’re impressed by his preaching. Jesus could walk away right then with pats on the back and “attaboys” from the hometown crowd, having made his declaration and “dropped the mic”.
But he goes on – and this time, they don’t like what they hear. For some reason, he declares – before anyone has said anything negative about him or judged him in any way – that he will not be able to heal their sick or cast out their demons or do any of the works he will become known for in other towns. He tells them that they will reject him, because that’s what people do with the prophets who come from their midst. And predictably, what he says is exactly what he gets. Maybe he knew something about them that they didn’t recognize about themselves. Maybe he’d experienced some of that judgment growing up as a boy of somewhat questionable birth in a small town in the backwater of Nazareth. Maybe he just knew that though they approved of his preaching in theory, they weren’t going to actually follow up by changing their lives in any way. Who knows?
But his friendly neighbours turn into an angry mob, who take him to a cliff, ready to push him off and put an end to any more offensive statements. But then Jesus has a silent “mic drop” moment. Somehow, he just walks away. No-one knows quite how. He’s just suddenly not there – and they’re left to face the fact that the guy they were just about to lynch has something about him that they cannot explain. Perhaps, just perhaps, the Spirit of God truly IS with him, and they better just stop trying to get in the way!
It’s a strange story, really. One wonders why it’s even in the Bible. After all, why do we need to know that Jesus wasn’t accepted by the people who thought they knew him best? Why is that important? Is the story shared simply to establish his credentials as a true prophet? To foreshadow all the opposition he is going to face in his short life? I don’t know.
What I do notice, is how quickly good news can become bad news to some. I notice that hearing about the goodness of God and the call of Jesus to transform lives – a call we share as his disciples – becomes bad news if we find ourselves looking in a mirror and seeing that what Jesus says about the people of Nazareth might be true about us too!
It made me wonder about good news and bad news for us here at Gordon United – especially as many of us are sitting down to write reports on the year past, and your leaders are preparing goals and a budget for the coming year. What’s our good news?
What I’m really aware of is how much really good ministry and mission is happening through the people of Gordon United Church. I’m not talking about my ministry; I’m talking about YOURS. I’m talking about the hundreds of hours put in by members of the congregation in praying for those needing support, visiting, phoning or sending cards to the sick or shut-ins or those who are grieving, feeding people in the community who need a healthy meal and some company, sharing faith with children and their parents and grandparents, leading prayers, Scripture, and music on Sunday mornings, making people feel welcome in the building and in worship, offering meals or rides or clothing, collecting Christmas gifts for street-involved people, making teddy bears, quilts, blankets or home-made dresses or shorts, donating good used clothing, or emergency funds, or food at the food bank, gathering and packing goods to go overseas for relief projects… the list could go on and on.
Members of this congregation participate in groups that shelter refugees, lobby for the release of those unjustly imprisoned, provide medical services to children and their families, work on supportive housing for youth, provide bursaries to needy students and experiences of the wider world to high school and college age students, entertain seniors in care, provide mobility assistance to those with physical challenges or medical issues, run programs that help elders keep active and engaged in the community, coach junior sports where children learn about teamwork and commitment, and offer music programs where young people develop their gifts and their confidence… again, the list goes on.
Members of this congregation are encountering and meeting spiritual, physical, mental and social needs of many, many people of all ages and backgrounds. As members of the United Church of Canada, we are also part of the provincial, national and global work on issues of social justice. We are active in environmental issues, addressing poverty and homelessness, combating racism, addressing the need for reconciliation with our First Nations neighbours, engaging in interfaith dialogue, and more. I think some of us might have been more active in those areas when we were younger, but I know that some of you out there have real passion around those issues and are active in both church and secular groups that are working in those areas.
When I think of all of those things, I am amazed – and I see in them an echo of Jesus’ call to bring hope and life and liberation to the people of his time. So there’s the good news – that we are truly active, taking on the call of Jesus and making it our own.
But then – there’s that other piece. What would make us so mad we’d want to push Jesus off a cliff? Probably each of us could answer that question differently, if we took a hard look at ourselves. I know one I’ve come up against many times in ministry as that Jesus doesn’t let up. He doesn’t let us retire. Sometimes I wonder if Jesus had lived into his 40s or 50s, whether what he taught might have shifted at all. As it stands, this firebrand of a 30something is pretty darn clear. We take up our crosses, and we don’t lay them down until our life is over. Yep – I think there are days I might want to push him off a cliff for that – days when I find discipleship draining and difficult, and I just can’t seem to muster the energy I’ve had at other times.
Jesus comes to my rescue on this one too. Remember, that this sermon comes soon after he has come back from 40 days of fasting and prayer and testing. He is certain, in this moment, of what his ministry is about. Later on he needed to take time other times to pray, to reconnect with his purpose and the Divine voice within. Life in Christ is life empowered by the Holy Spirit. As the apostle Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
When I try to operate under my own power and out of my own limited human resources, the result is burnout. I’ve been there, and so have many of you. It is only when I take time to reconnect with God, to refill the cup I have recklessly poured out, that the bad news of the cost of discipleship becomes the good news of what is possible when inspired and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. I look at people like Don and Sylvia Hatfield, who in their 70s and 80s have been putting in 80 hour weeks in the service of those who most need our help. The only way they can do that, as Don pointed out not long ago, is through the power of God.
As the psalmist said in the Scripture passage today: “Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God”. The teaching of Jesus – even the part that might feel like bad news to us at times – becomes good news through the grace and power of the most High God. Thanks be to God. Amen.