C, Fourth Sunday after Epiphany “Are you open to Change?”
Luke 4: 21-30 The
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Today’s Gospel begins with an experience many of us have
had. This morning, Jesus goes home. He returns to where he grew up. He had been away for awhile, but
Some of us here this morning know what it’s like to go back to where we grew up—to revisit our hometown--where we went to school, where we hung out with our friends, to visit the home that we grew up in. When Jesus visited his home, I am sure he was greeted with hugs from friends and family. His family probably made a big deal about his return. If his visit was like times we’ve visited our hometowns I am sure people were glad to see him. They wanted to talk to him and they wanted to get caught up.
But like some of us may have experienced, Jesus didn’t come
back the same person he was when left.
Jesus was different. He had
learned some things and he had experiences that had changed his life. He had experiences that changed the way he
understood life...both his own and the lives of other people. In the scriptures we read that Jesus was
baptized in the
The changes in Jesus’ life were made clear when he went to the synagogue. We read that he took the scriptures and unrolled a scroll to read a particular portion from the book of Isaiah. Back in his day the prophet Isaiah had prophesied to the people—after reading the passage Jesus gets in the pulpit—so to speak—he looks at everyone in the synagogue his family, his old friends and neighbors. He looks at them and says ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ (vs. 21). He says, ‘I am the one the prophet Isaiah was talking about.’
Everyone froze. These words got their attention. You can just hear what people were saying to themselves: How could Isaiah have been talking about this guy? Who does he think he is? Isn’t this Joseph’s son? We know Mary and we know Joseph and their children. The prophet Isaiah was not talking about one of them. But Jesus is unphased and continues. What follows is actually Jesus’ first sermon. After they get over their initial shock, the people in that religious community begin to listen. And at first things go very well. In the text we read that ‘all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth’ (vs. 22). The people were listening and they were impressed with this boy they had known who had now become a man.
But then things took a turn. Remember, Jesus came back a changed person. He had changed from the person they knew when he left. Jesus now saw things differently. This becomes clear when in the midst of his sermon Jesus reminded them of two stories from the Hebrew scriptures of God’s grace and love being extended to non Jewish people. Jesus used these stories to illustrate the radical nature of God’s love. The implication being that God’s grace and love are not subject to limitations or boundaries. God doesn’t just love a certain group of people, but God wants to love and wants to work in the lives of all people.
The people in that religious community could not begin to entertain that idea. They disagreed so strongly they stood up and began to shout. When Jesus would not budge from his position, they became violent. They threw him out of the synagogue and wanted to kill him. In fact some wanted to throw him off a cliff outside of town, but he escaped.
Jesus had changed. His ideas and understanding had changed. But for the people in that community, they were the same as when he had left. They had not changed. They had put up walls, limits and boundaries in their life and in their community. Jesus was trying to teach them something new, but based on their actions, we see they were unwilling to change and unwilling to consider things in a different light. They rejected the very presence and teaching from God, in their very midst, because they were unwilling to change.
So how does this text apply to us today as a congregation and as individuals? When we are confronted with new ideas and new ways of doing things, how do we react? How sensitive are we to the voice of God when God asks us to change or consider a new way of doing things?
Now at first, nobody likes change. It is uncomfortable and can be unpleasant. When we change we stretch ourselves. We stretch our understandings…and we stretch our possibilities. When we are open to change, we open ourselves to the possibility of growth. That is what change ultimately brings. Positive change brings growth. When we are open to change we are open to growth—growth in our community, growth in our families and growth in our personal lives.
Like the people in the synagogue in
Over the years our Church has not been afraid to make changes. Since the year 1786 we have published five different editions of the Prayer Book. Our most recent, the ’79 Prayer Book allows for great variety and change at the local level, some of which you’ll notice that we have experimented with here at St. Philip’s. In addition to our liturgy we’ve varied how we worship. Over the years we’ve changed whom we ordain and those relationships we accept—and in some places even those we bless.
Like the people in the synagogue our first reaction can be to put up limits and boundaries. Sometimes we want to keep things exactly the way they are. But the downside is not being open to change inhibits our growth. Not being open to change inhibits our growth because we limit how God can work and move in our very midst.
While we maintain a foundation, hopefully we as a community are open to the possibility of change. Being open to change means that we are open to the Spirit of God working in and through us in ways we may not have expected. The spirit of God is living and moving and always active in this community, always active in our families and the Spirit of God is always active in our personal lives.
You know that’s another area: in our personal lives we can struggle with change. But all of us probably have something we could change for the better. We all probably could all make improvements such as a habit or two that we could break. For improvements we could make that would make us easier or more pleasant to be around each of us here could take the bold and courageous step of asking someone close to us what they think. We could ask our close friends, our spouses or partners to be honest with us. We could ask them what changes they might like to see in our lives.
In terms of our spiritual lives we may want to consider being open to changes. For instance, we may have put God in a box and put up limits or boundaries around how we think God works or doesn’t work in our lives. How we envision or imagine God’s presence and God working in our lives or not being able to work in a particular situation may be a perspective worth changing. Maybe all of us could integrate more fully our spiritual lives and relationship with God into our daily life.
It’s true: Change can be difficult. It can be uncomfortable. But change is necessary for communal, for personal and for spiritual growth.
In today’s text, Jesus calls a community of faith to get out of their comfort zone and to accept people that they normally would not accept and they responded negatively. How is the voice of God challenging us as a community of faith to get out of our comfort zone and possibly change? As individuals and as a community, what if we even asked God to help us change for the better?
God is always open to helping us grow, for our faith and spiritual lives to deepen. The question is: are we open to God’s leading and prompting--are we open to the changes that God would have us to make in our communal and personal lives?