Dark Hats or Dark Hearts 1-31-16

This morning’s sermon is based on Luke 4:21-30, though I also included the opening portion of the same story (verses 14-20). Jesus addresses the hometown crowd, and things get a little tense.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/dark-hats-or-dark-hearts-1-31-16

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

In recent years, I have noticed a trend with the entertainment realm dealing with the main character of various movies or television shows…the anti-hero…In short, the main character, or protagonist as they are called, has morphed from the typical good guy into the type that is way more ambiguous from the moral perspective.

The anti-hero acts in ways that normally we would consider to be negative, and yet, with the narrative of the story revolving around them, they remain the one that we root for…so much so that a movie from just a few years back actually came with the tagline “Get ready to root for the bad guy.” There are certainly a lot of examples of this, with a few recent examples including shows like Breaking Bad or the Sopranos.

As we continue to see this brand of story telling more and more often, it really reveals how much things have changed since the good old days…I can remember sitting and watching old episodes of Gunsmoke with my dad when I was younger…and even though I was clueless as to just who was who…I never had to question who was the good guy and who was the bad guy in any given scene.

The good guy always wore the white hat…and the bad guy was wearing the dark one. They put it right there on front street…but now…well, it’s a little harder to know just who we should be rooting for isn’t it? (pause) But you know what…that’s kinda telling of our day to day lives too isn’t it? Morality and choices…how we treat one another…how we act in our day to day…its all gotten pretty muddled…and at times I think it would be easier if everyone would just wear a hat that would show me in an instant, if I could trust them or not…a hat…that would reveal the color of their heart…but of course, that’s the not the case…and it’s a lot harder, at a glance, to pick out those with a dark heart, than it would be to see them wearing the dark hat. (pause)

Now granted, this isn’t a movie, and it certainly isn’t a western where everyone is walking around with a 10-gallon hat on their head and a revolver on their hip. Real life, we all know its different…and even if we did all wear a hat that revealed our intentions…we’d likely be switching back and forth from that white hat to the dark one over and over again…minute to minute…because human nature is fickle isn’t it? (pause)
Now we see this fickle nature on display here in the gospel lesson for today…that continuation of the same story from last week…as Jesus opens up his ministry in his home stopping grounds…going synagogue to synagogue…enjoying positive reaction after positive reaction…that is, until…he makes it home. (pause)

The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives…sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed…Jesus reads these words from the prophet Isaiah…and then as he opens his mouth the preach…the first thing he says is “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (pause) This all sounds familiar doesn’t it? We heard all this last week…but now today, we get the rest of the story.

Initially…the people here in Jesus home town…men and women that he had grown up with…friends, neighbors…aunts and uncles, people who have known him since he was a babe in Mary’s arms…initially, they’re all pretty impressed at this word of grace that he has uttered…and to hear him say that its now fulfilled through him? Wow. This…is pretty big news…and their astonishment is clear. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (pause)
And that right there…that question, that statement…which could be expressing amazed astonishment in recognizing the truth…or on the flip side snarky negativity wondering who this upstart that we’ve known forever thinks he is…could be either way…but this statement…sets Jesus…off.

That’s the thing that surprised me the most as I was working with this passage. Jesus almost seems like he’s picking a fight here…Jesus’ human nature along with its tendency to be back and forth, one extreme to the other…he is the one, who seemingly turns a little dark in order to take the first shot. (pause)
Doubtless you’ll say to me “doctor cure yourself” and then you’ll ask me to perform the deeds of power that you’ve been hearing about…and I can only imagine that the people are sitting there nodding, perhaps wondering why Jesus is starting to turn negative…but then he really pours it on…Truly I tell you…no prophet is accepted in their hometown. (pause) Jaws have to be dropping in the synagogue by this point…and people must be looking at each other with confusion…wondering just what he’s talking about.

If what he says is true…and the prophecy of the Lord’s favor being turned towards the oppressed…certainly that has to include us right? (pause) After all, the Jewish people know all about oppression…having been conquered over and over again…and now in Jesus time being subject to the Romans and whatever whims the government or the military throws out…they are very familiar with this frame of mind.

So why would Jesus start talking so negatively…and why on earth, would he go on in the way that he does? (pause) In Elijah’s day, Israel was filled with widows during a famine…but God sent the prophet to a Gentile woman….and Elisha, he could have healed countless Jewish lepers, but it was the foreign general that received the healing. God’s blessing, which should have gone to his chosen people, were instead bestowed on their enemies. (pause)
I can only imagine when Jesus makes this bold statement there amongst his friends and neighbors…there must have been a shocked silence for a moment…until anger boiled out of them…because Jesus seems to be telling them…Yes…the favor of God is fulfilled through me, but don’t think that just because you know me that you automatically get it…You’re not privy to anything here. (pause) Mind…blown…and not in a good way…

And how do we see them respond? These people, who only moments before we’re astonished and joyful are not full of anger…and wrath…and they grab Jesus and drag him out to the gate of the city, where they fully intend to toss him right down the mountain…You ungrateful brat…how dare you treat us this way…You were raised here…you know our struggles…you know our traditions…you know that we are good people…and that we are God’s chosen people…how dare you say that we don’t deserve this blessing? (pause)

That’s the rub…that’s the tension…the thing that sets them off…when they are faced with the truth that their culture…their heritage…their family line…their pedigree…earns them nothing. (pause)

But it goes even beyond that. God’s blessings, foretold centuries before by the prophet Isaiah…now coming to fulfillment…and instead of being given to those who thought they were chosen by God…its offered to their mortal enemies…the absolute worst of the worst…to those who would be wearing the black hat if this was an old western. (pause)

And so we ask the question of just what does this mean for us today…when God in human form tells us that our association gets us nothing…and that the blessing is instead offered to those that we feel have no right to it what so ever? (pause) Here’s that offensive nature of the gospel that we’ve talked about before.

That the good news doesn’t just apply to certain people who look a certain way, or talk a certain way, or think a certain way…but that maybe, just maybe when we hear that God so loved the world that he gave his Son that maybe, just maybe that really means that God really does love the entire world.

Think about the people that shouldn’t get it…that don’t deserve it…the liars and the thieves…murderers and rapists…atheists or agnostics…or hindu’s or buddists…and maybe I’ll ruffle some feathers with this…but what about Muslims, or homosexuals…or on the other hand the ultra right wing fundamentalists who end up borderline cult-like and condemn everyone else to hell if they don’t think exactly the same way…When I ask you to mentally list those who don’t get the gospel…those who fail to grasp it…those who sure don’t deserve it…I’m guessing that every single one of you can make that list. It will have different types of people on it depending on who you are…and yes…full disclosure, I’ve got that list too…I am just as prone to the need to justify myself at the expense of others as anyone, sinful though that is…and I know it is…because the second I make a list of that includes those who I deem as unworthy of the gospel then I have just placed myself in the judgement seat…I have just set myself above God…I have put my way as the only way.

But my way, its not the right way…because I’m pretty sure that this random carpenter 2000 years ago named Jesus made the statement that I am the way…and if scripture shows us anything its that when someone things that they’ve got it all figured out, Jesus tends to get a little harsh with them…but when someone finds themselves on the outside…marginalized…outcast…that tends to be the one that Jesus is hanging out with.

It seems that the scripture shows us that anytime we, or anyone else for that matter, draws a line in the sand dividing those who are right from those who aren’t…dividing us from them…Jesus is typically standing on the opposite side of that line. (pause)

As I stand up here saying all this…I wonder how many of you are thinking that I’m coming off pretty judgmental…I know I sound that way…and yes there are times when I think that way…times when I hope for more from our congregation and get frustrated when I feel like I’m not seeing the results that God desires…but when I boil all that down I know that its just another case of me placing myself into a spot where I have no business being…and my pride has tripped me up again.

This is the human condition…we don’t all wear white hats or dark hats…because our human nature is too wrapped up with the flawed reality of sin…but there is good news here.

Even though Jesus gets a little harsh with the people in his hometown, he does tell them, Today, this is fulfilled in your hearing…and Jesus is not just saying that it is fulfilled in me…though that is true…but it is fulfilled…the gospel is fulfilled…the release of the captive is fulfilled in YOU hearing it.

You are set free when you hear the good news that God loves you as you are…that Jesus has redeemed you as you are…and at the beginning of worship when we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves, then we hear those words, spoken in the authority of Christ that you are forgiven…and all of it counts. Jesus died for all sins…even THAT one. (pause)

If we are honest with ourselves, we know that we should all be wearing the dark hat…because it speaks to the truth of a dark heart within us…but praise be to God that he loves us enough to meet us in the darkness…to bring that darkness right up in our face…where we cannot deny it…and then through Jesus Christ that darkness…is…no more.

This is the promise given to us through the waters of our baptism…that we are a new creation, and sin, though it is still present, no longer holds sway. We recognize it, we confess it…and we hear those sweet words from God that you…my child…are forgiven.

These are the words of grace spoken by our Lord…they are spoken for us to hear each and every time we stumble…and likewise, they are for us to share as well….not because we have to…not to earn ourselves brownie points or to erase enough checkmarks on some cosmic bad-deeds list…but we share it because it is good news…and it does grant freedom…and because it is intended for everyone, whether we like it or not…because as Jesus has told us…it IS fulfilled…and there’s really nothing we can do about it…except maybe, to share it. Amen.

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