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July 9, 2006 (Sunday 14 • Time after Pentecost)
Pastor Bruce P. Craft
Today I would like to introduce you to the “Craftonian principles” of reading scriptures. When we are reading the Bible, we are reading the powerful Word of God; that is, in reality, the love story of God for his people. It is to be read as a story, not as the daily newspaper or the dictionary. Many people read scripture in their best monotone voice. There is no life; no excitement. I would encourage you, if possible, to take your Bible off where you can be alone and read it out loud with feeling. Read the various speaking parts as if you were doing a play. In other words, get into it!
Secondly, I would urge you to use your imagination; identify with the personalities in the story. That shouldn’t be too hard with today’s Gospel, as who among us hasn’t tried to “go home again.” You will remember that was the title of a classic novel written by Thomas Wolfe. Rather strange that Jesus had that same experience 2,000 years before Wolf’s famous book.
Now if you had read this passage using the Craftonian method as I asked you to, you would have to feel the disappointment and rejection that Jesus did.
Why do you think that Jesus couldn’t go home again? Why couldn’t his hometown accept him? If we put ourselves in the role of the townies here, we know that it was partly an expression of petty jealousy, but that it was also a failure to take ourselves seriously. Why, after all, should there not be a prophet among us? What is there about us that rules out such a prospect? We need to remember that in the Bible a prophet was not a fortune teller or a predictor of the future, but first and foremost a prophet was a spokesman for God.
Now then, all of us are in a sense called to be prophets or spokespersons for God in our community, as well as in our congregation. In other words, it is vital and crucial that in some way we witness to our faith in Christ! If then we are willing to take this risk to be a Christian where we live, then we must be prepared for disappointment! Now, if we were really into this story, then we know that, like Christ, we must be prepared to do our best and then move on to make our witness somewhere else. That is, if we take the Bible story seriously and are ready to live it out!
The problem that Jesus’ Nazareth audience has with him is that they know him. They have already relegated him to a secure and definite pigeonhole in their world, and they are not inclined to take him out: “Isn’t this the carpenter?” “Don’t we know all his family?” “Who does he think he is?”
To accept Jesus as something more would mean a major reconstruction of their world. It would mean learning that God still intervenes in their apparently closed system and changes things.
You might remember that one of Jesus’ greatest problems throughout his ministry was getting people to hear something new. Of course, we too are often like that ourselves. Sometimes even today, it is hard for Jesus to slip in a new and revolutionary thought past our well-guarded perimeters?
This is one reason for His use of parables—so that we will get involved in the story. Even then we don’t always get it. The story leaves us with, say, the older brother of the prodigal son, who, to our normal way of looking at things, is clearly in the right, but whose insistence on that fact winds up excluding him from the life of the family. You see how difficult it is for us to look at things differently, even when Jesus is teaching us.
In Nazareth, nothing works because Jesus is too familiar. This should rightly alarm us, for Jesus is too familiar to us, too. It is to our advantage if we have really allow ourselves to get into the story. Then we immediately recognize that Nazareth is not “them”. It is not another place and time that we read about out of historical interest. Nazareth is us! Nazareth is every Christian congregation.
It will be difficult for us to hear new things from Jesus because we are convinced we already know everything there is to tell. Unfortunately, the Jesus we know is usually a domesticated Jesus, fully assimilated to the worldview of our particular Christian tradition. The challenge for us today is to let Jesus change that. It will be difficult to do if we insist on reading the Gospel in our best monotone detached voices and do not permit the Holy Spirit to place us in the story and allow us to see and hear Jesus anew.
Christianity, after all, was not the goal of Jesus’ ministry. The goal was a humanity renewed by forgiveness and moving us toward a love founded on our recognition of God’s love toward us. Christianity is a blessing when it conveys that message and a curse when it obscures it.
Once again it is important for us to find ourselves in the story and begin to see where we are in need of conversion to a more profound faith in God.
It is really ironic when we realize that we have pretty well bought into the conventional human wisdom that “You can’t go home again,” and then scripture leads us to a whole new promise.
Please close you eyes, and in the silence let yourself be in this story already in progress:
So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was lost and is found.” (Luke 15: 20)
In God all things are possible. We have the promise that when we are finished with our journey in this foreign land that we are most welcome in our Father’s house.
Copyright © 2006 Bruce P. Craft
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