THE 3RD SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY AD 2019
TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
REV. KURT E. REINHARDT
Neh. 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel.  So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month.  And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.
 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood.  And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, "Amen, Amen," lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.  Then he said to them, "Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."
1 Cor. 12:12-31
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
 For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body.  And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?  But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
 The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."  On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,  and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty,  which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it,  that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.  And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.  Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?  Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?  But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.  And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  And he began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."  And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, "Is not this Joseph's son?"  And he said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Physician, heal yourself.' What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well."  And he said, "Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.  But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land,  and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.  And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian."  When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath.  And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.  But passing through their midst, he went away.
“Take a hike Jesus!” or better yet, “Go jump off a cliff! Here, let us give you a hand with that!” that was the hometown crowd’s reaction to Jesus, when He sat down in their midst and opened up His mouth to teach them. Sure, at first they’re pleased, as they marvel at just how good He is … how gracious the words are that are coming out of His mouth. They marvel at Him. They’re impressed. They do wonder at how the carpenter’s Son came by such words, but they are impressed, and maybe, even a little proud.
Notably they don’t take offence at His claims about Himself, claims that would get the Pharisees hot and bothered later on. No, they’re okay with His claims that He is fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecies, which make no mistake about it was a pretty big deal. The high claims about Himself don’t offend them. Him being a somebody wouldn’t be a bad thing for them and their backwater town after all. It might even put them on the map.
No, they don’t turn ugly until His opened mouth has something to say about them. As long as Jesus makes them look good, it’s all good, but the moment that He hits a little closer to home, the marvelling hometown crowd turns into a murderous mob. The change is dramatic and striking, like a quiet cuddly pet turning into a snarling snapping beast. Scary, yes, it's certainly that. This is no righteous anger but an all consuming wrath. It’s so over the top, that you can’t help but get a sense of the demonic with it. Anyone who has had someone turn on them, or been overcome by such feelings themselves, knows just how scary the whole thing was.
A mob turning on Jesus and driving Him out of town up a hill to do Him in? Sounds a lot more like a Lenten reading doesn’t it? If Epiphany is all about Jesus revealing His glory, why are we hearing about this murderous mob and their rejection of Him? Now, there is a miracle here, a rather ironic one, because, even as this fired up crowd drives Jesus up the hill to shove Him off for not doing a miracle for them, He miraculously passes through them unharmed. But you know, it’s all in keeping with the rest of the text, because even as Jesus tells them that Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in their hearing, they fulfill it as they reject Him right in that moment.
This, you see, is where we get into the reason why we’re hearing about Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth in these Epiphany days. When we think of Christ manifesting His glory, what comes to mind is His miracles, like the one with the water and the wedding wine that we heard about last week. And we’re not wrong to think of them, they do after all reveal who Jesus is - they manifest the glory of the only begotten Son of the Father. But what goes hand in hand with them, even though it’s not so nice, and not as appealing, is the rejection of Him. What?! You might want to say. But it is true, nonetheless, as Jesus makes clear in Nazareth today.
One of the sure signs that Jesus is, who He says that He is, is that He is rejected. Even as Nazareth drives Him out of town to do Him in, they are proving that He is the long promised Prophet. Prophets aren’t acceptable in their hometowns. Elijah wasn’t. Neither was Elisha. Nazareth’s rejection is a further sign that Jesus is one of them. And so it is a revelation of His glory. The fact, that the world, that is firmly in its Dark Prince’s power, turns on Jesus is proof positive that He is the only begotten of the Father.
Beloved, this truth is one that we need to keep in mind in these gray and latter days, when so many have not only turned their back on the Church, but actively hate her and do all that they can to destroy her. We also need to have it firmly in view, when we see the empty pews in our churches, and are tempted to wonder what we’re not doing right. The miracles are as wonderful as they are wondrous, but we mustn’t forget that the rejection of Jesus is as great, if not an even greater witness to His majesty and glory.
Of course, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do all that we can to give an account of the hope that we have in Christ to those who don’t know Him, or that we shouldn’t run out to the prodigal children of our congregations, but we must not, no, we must not mistake the rejection of the World and trials of the Church in this present time, as a sign that something has gone terribly wrong with Her, or that She is facing something new. The Christ is despised and rejected. It is a sure sign that He is who He says that He is.
Sure, if Jesus tells people what they want to hear - that they’re good people and just Jim dandy the way that they are, they can get behind that. They can even put up with Him telling them that they should be nice and kind, even giving and thoughtful. But if He’s going to point out just how poor and miserable they really are … if He’s going to get into just how desperately they need Him, well, “Take a hike, go jump off a cliff and here let us give you a hand with that, Jesus.” Yes, beloved, sinful nature rejects its Saviour, because when you get right down to it, sin doesn’t believe that it needs one. It doesn’t want to hear that it really does and it certainly doesn’t want to receive Him.
What makes sinful nature sinful is that it believes that it can get by on its own. What each of us needs to think about today, is that this is not just true of other people’s sinful nature, but of our own as well. Yes, believe it or not, your sinful nature and my sinful nature doesn’t believe that it needs Jesus. It rejects Him, as surely and completely as that hometown crowd in Nazareth did. Given the chance it would drive Him up the hill to shove Him off, or at least do its best to steer clear of Him and His opened truth filled mouth. Every Sunday the new man in us, that God has created in our baptism, has to drag the sinner in each of us kicking and screaming to Church. The fact that that happened this morning is a sure sign of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
I encourage you, beloved, not to let the empty pews take away from the incredible miracle that you and I are here this morning. Because whether the sinner in us would want to admit it or not, which I can tell you he would not, You and I are only here because God in His mercy by His Spirit has drawn us. So too, this day, as you come forward to Jesus as He is here in His body and blood, the only way that you can come humbly before Him with cupped beggar’s hands to receive the forgiveness that He wants to pour into every corner of your lives, is if that same Spirit is at work in your hearts to do it. And if you are going to go out of this place today and really live in the truth and joy of that forgiveness, by letting it really be the answer for all your brokenness, instead of beating yourself up about it or trying to excuse it or make up for it, that same Spirit is going to have to overcome your sinful nature and help your heart to cling to that forgiveness and it alone.
In the face of so many who reject Christ, in light of the struggle that we face as a congregation to carry on with fewer and fewer it seems who want to have anything to do with Him, our wonder should be all the greater, beloved, over the miracle that God is doing in our midst, that we are still drawn to this Jesus of Nazareth and put our trust in Him as our Saviour. That He is that is made clear in Narzareth today, as it is made clear at the altar here this morning.
This truth is made plain by those four last words of our Gospel.“And He went away.” It sounds like judgement, but in fact they are the most beautiful Gospel words. Because where did He go away to, beloved? Golgatha. For the people of Nazareth. For all those in our world who don’t want to having anything to do with Him. For the prodigals of this congregation. For you and for me. He went down Nazareth’s hill to climb up the Hill of a Skull to be rejected by God for all those who rejected Him, that they might be welcomed into the Father’s house forever through His forgiveness.
And that, beloved is the good news and liberty that the Lord wants proclaimed to you today. May His Spirit grant you ears to hear it and open hearts to receive it and hold on to it. Amen.