Sunday, January 27, 2013

Nehemiah 8:1-10
Luke 4:14-21

I got my new license last year and, yes, I actually paid money for a really bad photo!  The photo was not quite as bad as others in the past, but it was still a typical "driver license photo".  As I was looking at that photo and wondering if there is any merit to "practicing" a smile in the mirror, I remembered something told to me a long time ago when I was upset about another picture which had been taken of me: "You can't lie to a camera.  That's really what you look like."  As if I didn't feel badly enough. 

Then I remembered something I read several years ago (the author's name escapes me) in which the self-styled philosopher said: "If you don't like your driver license photo, you are either too vain for your own good - OR - you don't like what others see"; meaning we may be looking at our own photos through undistorted lenses.  We may be seeing something about ourselves we've spent a lot of time and energy trying to hide.  Yet we cannot deny that what we are seeing is really what there is to see!

The season of the Epiphany through which Messiah continues to be revealed, we are confronted with a rather bold proclamation that compels us to see something other than this "driver license photo".  The "home town" Jesus everyone seemed to know growing up, the carpenter's son, maybe the mischievous boy (according to extrabiblical sources) was taking upon Himself the responsibility of fulfilling Isaiah's vision.  You and I have no problem with what is written in Luke's gospel because we have 20/20 hindsight and already know how the story turns out, but the people to whom Jesus is speaking are really up in arms about this very bold, perhaps even arrogant claim.  And we should wonder why.

Though these were obviously not the same "persons", this was essentially the same "people" to whom Ezra read the book of the Law of Moses.  The context and setting are substantially different, but the people cannot be much different even though the people of Ezra's day were returning home from Babylon and rebuilding after the Exile.  They had just been put through the wringer and were thankful to be home, thankful that the Lord had been true to His Word and had not forgotten them in their Exile.  They were being blessed, then, not only with the Word of the Lord - and responding appropriately! - they were also blessed with the fruit, the real evidence of the Holy Covenant! 

They were home in the Promised Land again after having misappropriated, misused, and abused the blessings they had enjoyed before being run out of their homes and their homeland by conquering armies.  They were perhaps hearing the Word they had not heard since being driven from their homeland, that Word they had long ago learned to take for granted to the point that this very same, very eternal Word of the Lord had become empty and meaningless for them.  And they celebrated!

Isaiah's prophecy is also a cause for celebration, but for some reason the people of Nazareth (under Roman rule, exiled in their own country!) responded not only with doubt but with downright hostility and outright rejection - not because of the prophecy itself but because of Jesus' claim of ownership of the prophecy.  But I wonder what it was about this moment that caused the people to react so violently.  Why were Ezra and the Law embraced "with tears" and with "amens" while Jesus and the promise of fulfillment of the prophesy were rejected with anger and hostility?  Was it really only because Jesus was "home grown"?

The answer could be as simple as whatever may be going through your mind at this very moment while you are listening to (or reading) this message - if you are listening at all.  Did you come to worship prepared to "receive" a message, whether through Word or song?  Did you come prepared to find fault?  OR - are you sitting still only long enough to "endure" yet another sermon?  Did you come prepared and expecting and willing to be transformed through the whole of the worship experience which means your life will not be the same from that moment of transformation?  OR - are you quite comfortable where you are and prefer to be left alone; in your life, in your habits, in your practices and personal doctrines, in your place, in your chosen ministry (or your choice of no ministry at all)? 

Because it occurs to me that even as I have heard from so many here and in other churches I've served that I have "stepped on toes" or "skinned a few", nothing much seems to change.  Because we like things just as they are?  Because we're comfortable?  Because we can come and go as we please when it pleases us?  Because we see no need for transformation?  Oh, we can see "others" who need to be transformed, but ourselves?  Not so much.  We believe.  We're good.

It is like the driver license photo.  We may not like what we see on the surface, but we learn to accept it rather than deal directly with the deficiencies.  "It is what it is", as some like to say.  There were years I hardly noticed how much weight I was putting on until something in me finally clicked.  I had simply resigned myself to the reality reflected in those awful photos.  I was pretty sure I was stuck with that present "truth" and that what I really needed was not "change" or "transformation" but rather a "New Age" philosophy that would fit me right where I am and ask nothing of me. 

Oh, I "wished" plenty, but what was it that was lacking in my acceptance that things needed to change?  A lack of willingness to confront what was - and a lack of will to change.  I had the desire, of course; I wanted the necessary changes to take place, but I did not want to be "put out".  I wanted to be "magically transformed" but without any effort or commitment or discomfort or inconvenience on my part.  In other words, I wanted my "world" to change around me while I remained steadfastly unchanged.

The people of Jesus' time were living under Roman rule; exiled in their own homeland, and they didn't even know it.  These were presumably "faithful" Jews who considered anyone and anything outside of their parameters as "unclean".  Clearly, however, they were still allowed to gather in synagogues and worship their God.  Clearly their Scriptures had not been taken from them, but equally clearly they had learned to accept "what is".  In return for their acquiescence to the Gentile Romans, they were "allowed" their places of worship; they were "allowed" their traditions.  So within this framework, what was so "radical" about Jesus that they were unwilling to even listen, let alone accept this "new thing" from the "old boy"? 

What is so radical, so offensive about Jesus "mission statement" claiming to have been "anointed to bring good news"?  Not to "rule"; only to "proclaim" something wonderful, something promised long ago?  Could it be they thought He was calling them "blind"?

This "Mission Statement" is not so radical, so offensive.  It is that the "driver license photo" image we have of ourselves is not real.  It is that we do not wish to be held accountable for our place in the Body of Christ.  We have "justified" ourselves right where we are.  We have convinced ourselves that "transformation", real "transformation", is just a Bible story.  More than this, we don't like being told that we can - and must - do better because that is like being told we're WRONG!  Few of us will sit still for that.

The State, the "empire", gives us one shot, and one shot only, to project an image.  Once that image is captured, it becomes a matter of STATE record.  According to the State, THAT is who we are, like it or lump it.  THAT is who we are "allowed" to be.  And THAT is where the people of Nazareth were.  THAT is where the people of Nazareth believed Jesus should have been - WITH them in their acquiescence to the Roman Empire; just suck it up and learn to live with it.

When we are willing to admit and confess our Lord is truly our "Shepherd" and our "Teacher" and our "Master" and not our "facilitator" who seeks to make us comfortable right where we are, only then can real transformation take place.  When we are truly prepared to submit ourselves to His sovereignty, His authority, His Way, His Truth, and His Life - and not our own; then we will find our lives and the Life of the Church will never be the same.  Then, and ONLY then, will we be truly able to say, "Free at last" from the ugly reality that is the "driver license photo", the STATE'S image, and regain - and RECLAIM - that Perfect Image in which we were created.

No comments: