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Sermon for January 30, 2022 – 4th Sunday after Epiphany

Speaking Of Life 4010 | Hitting Too Close to Home

We often say the phrase “too close to home” when we go through something embarrassing or uncomfortable that affects us directly in a personal way. A situation that would have made us shake our heads even when this is how Christ would have wanted it to be. Amidst our various personal experiences, let us continue to embrace the truth that our Father’s love is perfect and that he will always pursue to take us home with him.

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 4010 | Hitting Too Close to Home
Heber Ticas

Have you ever uttered the words, “That hit just a little too close to home?” It’s a familiar phrase we use when something is said that makes us feel uncomfortable or embarrassed because it touches on a sensitive or personal subject. The words spoken may be neutral or even positive, but if it connects in a personal way, we may try to put distance between us and what was said. So, we say something like, “That hits a little too close to home. Let’s talk about something else.”

Have you ever considered that hearing the Good News of Jesus Christ may have the same effect? The Gospel is the good news that God’s grace and love, forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation have been given to all in Jesus Christ. We may at first hear such a proclamation with warmth and joy but then some implications for us personally come to mind.

For example, if God has forgiven my worst enemy, I may have to forgive them too. Or, if God has reconciled all to himself in Jesus, then I may be expected to seek reconciliation with certain people I rather not have anything to do with.

Or, more personally. If Jesus is Savior of the whole world, then I will have to trust him as my personal savior. I’ll have to admit that I need saving and that I cannot save myself. In short, I’ll have to turn around and trust in this one who has saved me. You may want to respond with, “That is hitting just a little too close to home. Let’s talk about something else.”

Or the Spirit may be breaking in to form in you a different and better response. Perhaps a response like we see in Psalm 71:

In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me. Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel. For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you. 
Psalm 71:1-6 (NRSV)

If you feel like God’s Word is hitting a little too close to home today, consider this response of trust, and take refuge in him. In his love for you, the Father never takes back his Word. He means to “hit close to home” because our true home is with him.

Mi nombre es Heber Ticas, Hablando de Vida.

Psalm 71:1-6 • Jeremiah 1:4-10 • 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 • Luke 4:21-30

This week’s theme is speaking God’s word boldly. The call to worship Psalm is an individual’s prayer for deliverance emboldened by God’s faithfulness. The Old Testament reading of Jeremiah recounts the Lord’s empowering of his prophet to “speak whatever I command you.” Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us that only the words empowered by God’s love will remain. Our Lukan text presents Jesus as a prophet who speaks gracious words even while facing fierce opposition from his hometown.

An Unacceptable Prophet

Luke 4:21-30 (NRSV)

Today’s message comes to us around the midpoint of the Epiphany season. We have been traveling mostly with Luke this Epiphany season and today we will use Luke’s account to travel with Jesus as he returns to his hometown. Luke positions the narrative to correspond to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Because of this we can look at the story with an eye to Jesus and his ministry to see what epiphanies we may have by it. Remember, during the season of Epiphany we are looking at Jesus to see the mystery of God’s glory that he reveals. When we have a story about Jesus recorded in Scripture, we are seeing into the very heart of God, who he is and who we are in relationship to him. We will keep our eyes open for that perspective. In addition, we will be able to gain some insights into the ministry of the church as it participates in Jesus’ continuing ministry by the Spirit in our day and age.

To start with, the passage we have today is the second part of the passage that began in verse 14 and was on the liturgical calendar for last week’s message. In fact, the first verse for today’s reading was the last verse for last week’s reading.

Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21 NRSV)

For some context, Luke had just told the story of Jesus’ triumph in the wilderness over the devil’s temptations. Then Luke records Jesus as being “filled with the power of the Spirit” and returning to Galilee (Luke 4:14). In a synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus delivers his inaugural message. He does this by using a passage in Isaiah where good news is proclaimed. This message is well received, and everyone is excited about what they are hearing. But in today’s message he uses two other passages that have the opposite effect. We will see that epiphanies can often get a hostile reaction from eyes burned by the light that have been in darkness. But before we get to that reaction, we see first that the congregation responds positively.

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22 NRSV)

Their rhetorical question about Jesus’ lineage is not to be understood in a negative sense, like it does in Mark’s account. No, for Luke, the hometown crowd is not offended by this. This is not a case of “familiarity breeds contempt.” Rather, the way Luke is telling it, the hometown crowd sees this as an opportunity that is too good to be true. If Jesus is all that he just proclaimed himself to be, a herald of good news, the Lord’s anointed, who proclaims the benefits and blessings of the Lord’s favor, then certainly this means his own longtime neighbors and family will be the main recipients—perhaps the only recipients. It is like hearing of an old high school buddy who just won the lottery and now everybody thinks they are entitled to some preferential treatment. But Jesus knows their hearts and he anticipates their reaction. He also knows they need to see that he is not the son of Joseph, but the Son of God.

He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” (Luke 4:23 NRSV)

There is nothing more frustrating than someone putting words in your mouth that say the very thing you’d rather keep concealed. Jesus hits his mark. The proverb “Doctor, cure yourself” means that the one who can heal or be a benefactor should take care of his own. It is not implying that Jesus has a problem that he needs to attend to first. Jesus’ next statement about Capernaum is clearer. If Jesus has done wonderful miracles in Capernaum, then certainly he should do the same in his own backyard. And maybe there is more to it than that.

Capernaum, since it was situated along one of the major international highways that connected Egypt with Mesopotamia, tended to attract a wider diversity of people. This meant that its population was made up of both Jews, and to their discomfort, Gentiles—and lots of them. Capernaum in this story serves as a contrast to the hometown Jews of Nazareth. If Jesus is doing miracles in such a questionable place like Capernaum, then he will have to prove his loyalty to his own hometown by doing the same in Nazareth. But Jesus will not be manipulated by the assumptions of people who thought they knew him best.

And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” (Luke 4:24 NRSV)

The irony of this statement is that the word “accepted” here is the same word used in verse 19 where Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah. The prophet who is to proclaim the “acceptable” year of the Lord is himself not “accepted” by his own people. And with Jesus equating himself to a prophet, we get one of our epiphanies about Jesus’ ministry. It’s a prophetic ministry. This means that Jesus is the proclamation of the kingdom. He is God’s Word spoken to us, proclaiming the good news to the whole world—Gentiles included.

There is no other word spoken to us that gives us the proclamation that brings healing, release from prison, sight to the blind or freedom from oppression. As we, the church, participate in Jesus’ continuing ministry, we find that it has not changed. We too are to proclaim the kingdom in Jesus Christ. This means we point to Jesus in all that we say and do. We don’t proclaim ourselves or any other counterfeit “good news.”

Notice how Jesus goes about the business of proclaiming in his prophetic ministry: He uses the Scriptures. Last week we saw that Jesus gets a good response by citing Isaiah. This week we will see that he will get a hostile response by quoting from First and Second Kings. God’s Word always gets a response. Sometimes positive, sometimes negative. This is an important “epiphany” to remember when proclaiming the good news.

As members of the church, we are not trying to get a response— we are only trying to be faithful in proclaiming the Word. The response will follow, and we have no control over it.

Let’s see the passages Jesus uses to expose the hearts of those in his hometown.

But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian. (Luke 4:25-27 NRSV)

Jesus reminds them of two stories of the prophets Elijah and Elisha who were rejected by their own people. The first story is about Elijah providing an unending supply of food for a lowly Gentile widow and her son. In this story no provision is made for any of the Israelites. This is found in 1 Kings 17:8-16. Then Jesus refers to the story of Elisha, who healed Naaman, a Syrian army officer who had leprosy. This story is found in 2 Kings 5:1-14. Both stories show that the grace and favor God pours out was to their enemies, weak and strong alike.

The proclamation Jesus has is of a Father who does not show partiality. This did not fit well with the Jews’ expectation of the Messiah. The Messiah was supposed to come and destroy Israel’s enemies, not bless them. The Jewish people of that time pretty much had two basic beliefs about the Messiah. First, every generation believed that the Messiah would come soon and probably in their lifetime. Second, this soon-coming Messiah would vanquish the Gentiles and bless and restore Israel.

Jesus’ proclamation that “Today” this time of blessing had come fit nicely with their first expectation. But by announcing that “no prophet is accepted” and using Elijah and Elisha blessing Gentiles over Jews, Jesus completely shattered their second expectation. Here is their reaction.

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. (Luke 4:28-29 NRSV)

The proclamation of the universal nature of the Father’s favor turns their initial favor of Jesus into outright hatred. They wanted to “hurl him off a cliff.” Like Satan who wanted Jesus to prove himself by throwing himself down from the temple, these Jews wanted the Messiah to answer to them and fulfill their expectations. This is an extreme hostile reaction. But Jesus did not soft-pedal what they needed to hear. He did not shy away from offending their pride and hurting their self-centered identities. True prophets are like that. They proclaim God’s word without compromise. May we as the church do so today even when our “hometown” turns hostile.

Unfortunately, the very favor and blessing Jesus’ hometown wanted Jesus to give was rejected. Jesus is the Father’s favor that is proclaimed. Like the hometown Jews, we too can fail to receive this favor when we want it on our terms.

  • When we harbor hatred in our hearts towards those who have hurt us, we are not receiving the favor the Lord graciously pours out on all.
  • When we size up our neighbors as people beyond the reach of God’s grace, we expose our own hearts of pride and prejudice.
  • When we determine who is worthy of God’s favor, we bring assumptions and expectations that are out of line with God’s grace.

It is not up to us to draw lines of division between who is poor and who is rich, who is blind and who is enlightened, who is in captivity and who is free, who is the oppressed and who is the oppressor. Jesus is the Prophet who comes to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free. He’s the only one who proclaims the acceptable year of the Lord, and that proclamation is made to all. But what if we are like Jesus’ hometown and we struggle to accept it? We have one final verse to consider.

 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. (Luke 4:30 NRSV)

This passage ends with Jesus escaping being hurled down the cliff by somehow slipping through the crowd and going on his way. Throughout Luke’s Gospel we see Jesus go through the crowd many times, all the way to the cross. Nothing will stop the favor of the Father being poured out on all his children. Even the animosity we turn towards him does not prevent God’s favor toward us.

Praise God that Jesus is the Prophet sent to us. His word trumps any word we try to give ourselves and any word we try to give each other that is not from him. We can pray, thy will be done, because his will is perfect and brings light to our darkness, even when the light hurts. He loves us that much and he is faithful.

As we come to believe and receive this amazing grace, we can then turn to our neighbors and even to our enemies with the same grace, forgiveness and favor the Father has for us. In doing so we join Jesus in proclaiming the good news of his kingdom.

Filled With Expectation w/ Joseph Tkach Jr. W5

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Filled With Expectation w/ Joseph Tkach Jr.
January 30 – 4th Sunday of Epiphany
Luke 4:21-30 “Fulfilled”

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Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Can you think of an example of something “hitting too close to home”?
  • Can you think of different ways that hearing the good news of salvation can “hit too close to home”?
  • The Speaking of Life video ended with the reminder that the Father in his love never takes back his Word. When his word “hits too close to home” or offends us, how might the reminder of this truth help us?

From the Sermon

  • Have you witnessed the dynamic of a neighbor or family member reaching some level of success and everyone close to them wants preferential treatment? Discuss how Jesus’ hometown may be thinking of Jesus in this way. What do you think they want from Jesus? Can you sometimes see yourself in the hometown crowd in your relationship with Jesus?
  • What were some of the assumptions Jesus’ hometown held about him, about themselves or about others beyond their village? Can you relate to those whose assumptions were exposed by Jesus? Why is this experience painful?
  • What insights do you see with Jesus having a prophetic ministry, a ministry of proclamation? How might this inform the ministry of the church and its members?
  • What insights do you have with Jesus citing two Old Testament stories to correct the thinking of his hometown? How does Jesus’ use of Scripture to confront sinful hearts shed light on how the church addresses issues in its own communities?
  • Can you identify why the hometown reacted so violently to Jesus? What expectations were shattered and why were they so offended? Can you think of times that you were angered because Jesus did not do something on your terms?
  • What good news do you see in Jesus passing through the midst of the crowd?
  • Were there any additional epiphanies you had from this story told by Luke?

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