Plymouth First United Methodist Church
Rev. Dr. Byron W. Kaiser
January 23, 2022
“Pushed to the Edge”
Gracious God, you have set this wonderful world in motion. You have brought your people out of bondage through the water. You have taught your people through the words and deeds of the prophets. You have called your people to be in relationship with you through your Son Jesus Christ.
Like the people in the days of Elijah, we, too, have a thirst. We thirst for water during the heat of the afternoon. We thirst for companions in the lonely hours of the night. We thirst for wholeness in the presence of disease. We thirst for peace in a world of strife.
Like the woman from Zarephath, bless us with your presence. Bless us with water for our throats, with friends for our loneliness; bless us with wholeness and health, with peace in our strife.
In this hour of worship, motivate our hearts to move us to act in ministry to the people of this congregation and tis community that need you. Help us to reach beyond ourselves and be the hand that carries the cup, the friend, the healer, the peace of mind.
This we ask in Jesus’ name, as we pray the prayer He taught, “Our Father…”. Amen
Standing on the edge of a cliff may be a very scary thing.
My son Matthew and I hiked to the top of a small mountain outside of Issaquah, Washington. We did not know much about the area. We flatlanders trudged up to the top in our heavy hiking boots and the local teenage girls were walking up barefoot.
We noticed that many of the hikers going up had large backpacks. Much larger than what was warranted for even a week in the wilderness. We arrived at the top of the mountain at a cliff covered on the topside with AstroTurf. Those same people with oversized backpacks went to the edge of the cliff and jumped off!
It seems that we hiked to the top of the local parasailing launch. For $125 apiece, one of these jumpers would strap us to their rigs and push us over the edge with them. Neither Matthew nor I felt like flying that day.
Sometimes people want to push us over the edge for profit.
Sometimes, people push us over the edge emotionally. I read this week on Facebook from a mother who was talking with her husband about how exhausted she was because she was up with a newborn until 4:00 am. In an effort of sympathy, the husband suggested that she may not want to keep the baby awake that long the next night.
Sometimes, people push us over the edge intellectually. I read that by law you must turn on your headlights when it’s raining in Sweden, but how am I supposed to know when it’s raining in Sweden?
Prayer – Gracious God, help us to hear the good news of your love with open ears; help us to experience the energy of your vision for our lives as an adventure rather than as fear. Amen.
On the edge of a cliff, options are clear-cut. Choices have definitive consequences. A leap forward cannot be recalled; a leap backward gives breathing room. Often with those who know best our options teeter on the edge.
In the summertime of Jesus’ ministry, stuff goes well. No problems block Jesus’ admission into the synagogues. No confrontations raise the eyebrows of the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Everywhere Jesus preaches in Galilee, he gets rave reviews. Jesus’ fame spreads like butter on a warm biscuit.
Stories of his deeds in Cana and Capernaum filter through Galilee. The gossip passes from neighbor to neighbor down the streets of Nazareth. In Galilee, an area twice the size of Marshall County, three million people began to hear about a strange new teacher. A teacher of exceptional oratorical skill and learning. They said he came from Nazareth, a city of 20,000, laid out on the side of the hills. He came from the city that overlooked Shunem where Elisha had lived; Carmel where Elijah had fought his epic battle with the prophets of Baal; the plain of Esdraelon where Deborah and Barak fought; where Gideon had won his victories; where Saul had crashed to disaster and Josiah had been killed in battle; the location of Naboth’s vineyard and the place Jehu slaughtered Jezebel.
Beside Nazareth lay the Great Road of the Roman Empire. Roman legions marched to the outer frontiers; the merchant caravan routes passed from Damascus to Egypt. Just beyond Mt Carmel, lay the blue of the Mediterranean, the Great Seaway connecting all the Roman Empire.
From Nazareth, encircled by Galilee, framed by the history of Israel, a teacher emerged.
The teacher comes home. Each synagogue had a type of custodian. The custodian cleaned the synagogue, kept the scrolls of scripture and, as custom dictated, invited teachers to teach. Though any Jew could read and speak in the synagogue, the keeper of the synagogue arranged for teachers to teach on Sabbath mornings.
If the synagogue had enough wealth, it owned the scrolls of the Law and scrolls of the Prophets. Each week a portion of the Law and a portion of the Prophets would be read. Much like our reading of the Gospel. Unlike our contemporary practice, the custodian would only open the scrolls to the portion that was to be read that day. They only advanced the scroll once a week and only rewound the scroll once a year. What the custodian exposed to read was the only portion available.
Jesus came to Nazareth the same day these words of Isaiah appeared in the prophet portion.
“The spirit of the Lord is upon me
Because he anointed me to bring the good news to the poor.
He has sent me to announce release to the captives,
And recovering of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who have been bruised,
To proclaim that the year which everyone is waiting for has come.”
Jesus closes the scroll and sits down, as a sign that he is about to begin teaching.
Teaching and preaching in Jesus’ day was more of a dialogue with the students and spectators. The Gospel writer Luke preserves the bullet points of Jesus' teaching. At first, the hometown crowd receives his words well. Then the crowd turns into an angry mob and pushes Jesus to the edge of a cliff on the edge of town. The crowd holds its breath for the final shove. Jesus walks slowly and quietly through the midst of the mob leaving them on the edge.
Who was pushing who to the edge? Who went over the edge? Whose tolerance ran out.
Indeed, Jesus pushed the people of Nazareth to the edge.
God begins the Good News in the location where people expected the divine word to begin. However, trivial or boring the church may be, God begins the message of the Good News in an ordinary synagogue. God begins the message in a gathering of ordinary, local people – just like you and me. By doing so, “God remains faithful to himself and to his covenant and it is the ancient world of Israel that lays the groundwork of the new.” (Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Luke, p. 88).
Luke records the short sermon by Jesus. The sermon speaks of Elijah and Elisha. Jesus tells how in a time of drought, only a widow in Zarephath, a Phoenician city to the north, received God’s blessing by Elijah’s hand. Only a foreigner – an immigrant. Jesus tells how even though there were many lepers in Israel, Elisha healed Naaman, a Syrian. Only a foreigner – an immigrant. Both people who received blessings were foreign to Israel. Neither Hebrew. Both received a blessing from God in lieu of Israel.
This new message that Jesus spoke told of God’s favor on the non-Jew. This is the first mention by Jesus of God’s unconditional grace available to the non-Jew.
The crowd turned mob plainly saw the discontinuity between the old and the new. Much like many of our American church goers today, the listeners in the synagogue could not tolerate the thought that God’s favor was not just for them. They attacked Jesus.
Jesus did not only announce forgiveness and freedom, but he also brought them. He demonstrated them. During anger and hostility, Jesus walks away. Sacred history records the cycle of human rebellion and God’s gracious response.
Jesus pushes the Nazarenes to the edge. The Good News that Jesus bore pushes the crowd to the limit of their tolerance. “It is the protest of the ‘devout’, who think they have a claim on God and cannot understand unconditional grace,” (Schweizer, p. 91). Jesus offered a radically new message. Rather than change their attitude, rather than change their belief, they rejected Jesus. Pushed to the limit of their tolerance, they pushed Jesus to the edge of a cliff.
The message of God’s grace cannot be heard without this possibility. It provokes hostility. The hostility initiates Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. The hostility initiates his journey to Jerusalem (9:53). The hostility accompanied his stay in Jerusalem (19:39). This hostility will bring him the death that he dies for us. Jesus pushed Nazareth to the edge. Jesus pushed Israel to the edge. Jesus pushed the world to the edge. Does Jesus push you to the edge?
When push comes to shove, where is your edge of tolerance?
I have an edge of understanding. I get pushed to my limit when I consider the suffering of people. I cannot comprehend emotional pain so deep that it causes self-destruction.
I cannot grasp the collective pain of the people who watched subversives raise a flag other than the United States flag over the capital.
I get pushed to my limit when I consider the distrust differing interpretations of scripture cause. It is the Book of Life; yet we divide mercilessly over it.
I get pushed to my limit when I experience the absence of God. Jesus tells me he will always be with me; yet, at times God is so transcendent, I shudder at the distance.
I have an edge of belief.
What do I do when my reason contradicts the Bible? What do I do when my reason tells me my experience is unreal, that it isn’t consistent with my past? I reach the end of my rope. I come to the end of my tolerance.
When the inconsistencies in my understanding or belief push me to the edge, I am like the crowd in Nazareth. Jesus pushed them. They exploded, rejecting him, pouring out their hostility upon him. I experience such mental pain that I, too, feel like exploding.
We have several options to us to reduce that pain.
We may choose to reject. We may not attempt murder as the crowd in the synagogue did, but we may discredit the source of our pain. How often have you not liked some new insight and found yourself responding to the messenger, “Well, he’s not really a Christian,” or, “She doesn’t belong to a Bible-believing church.” We discredit the source to reduce pain.
We avoid. We avoid church or God or people or a spouse because we want to reduce pain.
We deny. I change what I know. I reinterpret what’s real. I may say something like, “he’s not really black; he’s got some white blood in him.” I reinterpret reality to keep from feeling mental pain.
We reinforce our opinion like Henny Penny calling out the sky is falling.
However, we may open ourselves to change. I may change rather than discredit avoid, reinterpret, or reinforce our own silos of opinion. I can turn around. I can give myself over to God.
When I feel pushed to the edge, God may be trying to tell me something. To keep from being like the “protest of the devout” in today’s Bible story, who thought they had a claim on God. I need to remain open to a fresh word from God. But if I throw Jesus over the edge every time, he mentions a fresh word then I shall certainly never know what that new message is.
We presume that we will allow the actions and the words of Jesus to confront us. We presume that we will hear his words of freedom and his words of forgiveness. Before that can happen, we must back off the edge. We walk slowly and quietly, leaving the edge of our intolerance.
William Barclay, The Gospel According to Luke.
Fredrich Danker, Luke.
Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Luke.
The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.