Updated: Feb 1

1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30

April 24th, 2018, started out like any other day for me. Well, like most other days. I was living in Marlborough, Massachusetts, and working part-time at a church in Framingham, Massachusetts. My wife had just gotten the job she currently has in Connecticut, and we were just a few weeks way from moving down there, and I had a virtual interview at a church using some silly video conferencing software called zoom. Good thing that would never become important in my life.

Around the middle of the day I started feeling sick to my stomach. The nausea worsened into all those food poisoning symptoms that that I won’t go into. Suffice it to say, I couldn’t keep anything down.

My condition continued to worsen throughout the day; by about 3PM I rescheduled my interview with that church. By 4PM, my wife and I agreed that I should go to urgent care, and our only debate was if I should drive myself or wait for her to come home. Thankfully, I waited for her to come home.

She took me to the urgent care at around 5ish as soon as she got home. It was a good thing she drove; I passed out in the car. Once in urgent care, when they saw me, they sat me down and almost immediately called an ambulance.

At this point I started to get worried, as ambulances mean that someone’s having an especially bad day. My wife followed the ambulance in her car, so I was relatively alone, except for the EMTs, who I’m sure did a fantastic job.

I know objectively that the hospital was just across town, less than 10 minutes away, but it seemed like an eternity in that ambulance. It was then that I began to pray, not a beautiful coherent prayer, but the mumbling constantly repeating words to the lord’s prayer- the “our father” prayer.

As for how this story resolves, I got taken into the ER and into the triage nurses’ office, where I promptly passed out again.

By the way, passing out in the triage nurses’ office is a great way to get seen quickly.

It turns out I was severely dehydrated- I was given 2 liters of fluids- and I was able to return home, not too much worse for wear except for a $900 “out of network” ambulance ride. I still don’t know how an ambulance can be “out of network.”

But that experience of repeating the lord’s prayer, over and over, as a source of comfort and peace in a highly stressful situation that was out of my control has stuck with me. It was a peace I have rarely felt since.

When we read our gospel story for today, we often focus on Jesus’ words, as we did last week, or the anger of the hometown crowd. “Truly no prophet is welcome in his hometown.”

Instead, I want us to think of this as a vivid demonstration of Jesus as the prince of peace.

Indeed, this is Jesus’ first brush with death; not at the hands of the Roman army, or an elite religious order, but from his own townsfolk. People he played with as kids, people his mother and father worked with.

Yet as the mob pushed him up to the edge of a cliff to trample him to his death, he walks through the crowd, unharmed. “But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”

I can only imagine the sort of courage, the sort of self-knowledge and self-mastery, The sort of inner peace that it must have taken to do that. I can only imagine Jesus silently mouthing prayers to himself as the crowd parted before him, as much of a miracle as walking on water.

Anyone who has dealt with crowds knows how fickle they can be, especially when one individual becomes the target of the crowd’s anger, as Jesus did.

Jesus was the target of the crowd’s anger because they knew he had the power to heal and deliberately chose not to do so in his hometown. They would have heard the stories from Capernaum and the surrounding villages, of a miracle worker.

I don’t know why Jesus rejected them so forcefully; maybe it was something about the remark “Oh, this is Joseph’s son.”

Maybe it’s that they didn’t want to recognize Jesus for who he was, leaving aside any Christological controversies, refusing to recognize him as a grown independent adult, rather than somebody’s kid. As the youngest of six children, I’ve only begun to be recognized as an actual functioning adult in the last five years. I get it, Jesus.

Or maybe they thought they had some special ownership over this man’s ministry because they knew his father well. Maybe it was the ancient equivalent of someone winning the lottery and suddenly, they have 25 cousins they’ve never met calling at all hours trying to get a piece of that pie. If there’s something we see repeatedly in the Bible, it’s that God cannot be owned, controlled, bossed around, or turned into a vending machine.

I won’t blame them too much for wanting healings and miracles to happen in their village. Let us remember that healthcare was even more precarious in the ancient world than it is now, even in Miami. As much as I can rightly complain about the bureaucracies of medical insurance, as exemplified by an out of network ambulance ride, someone going to a hospital can usually assume that the treatment will not actively hurt them.

In Jesus’ day, the cutting edge of medical science was Erasistratus’ theory of plethora, that ailments were caused undigested particles of food that settled in various organs.

Absurd as this may sound, the treatments recommended- good exercise, vegetables, and digestives- were much better in hindsight than the prevalent theory of the four humors in which ailments were often resolved by bloodletting, which usually left people weaker than they were before.

So, when a healer comes through town, perhaps it was more like hitting the jackpot than we can truly understand.

Either way, something upsets Jesus enough to reject his townsfolk vigorously, and in turn, they get enraged. The mob chases Jesus to the edge of a cliff, ready to throw him to his death.

When people say that being peaceful disconnects folks from society, or that it makes people aloof, a part of me wants to laugh. Although this Bible story isn’t often seen as such, it is a fantastic and relevant example of Jesus as the prince of peace.

As the crowd got angry and violent, Jesus could have summoned legions of angels to protect him; he says as much in the gospel of Matthew as he is arrested for his crucifixion: “Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?”

Yet Jesus does not continue the cycle of violence. He did not summon plagues, no seas turn to blood, no fire and brimstone rains down from the heavens. Jesus was no pushover, his way is not the way of passivity; but it was peaceful. Even in the face of great personal danger, he did not surrender to the whims of the crowd.

If anyone has been to a street protest where the tension has been high, this level of peace toward an angry crowd requires discipline and trust of self and others. To do this solo requires even more so; I think of the folks who put daisies into the barrels of rifles at anti-war protests, the Tank Man at Tiananmen Square, or the young black woman in 2016 who stood her ground in the middle of the road armed only with a sundress and inner peace, as she was violently arrested by heavily armed and armored riot police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

All those folks followed in the way of peace; bending, but not breaking, saying, and doing what needed to be done, but not striking back. I do not know the hearts of each courageous person, but I do suspect that at some level they were filled with an incredible peace. They had to be.

And you know what. That’s what God wants from all of us. There’s a reason that Jesus is the prince of peace; to serve him is to serve peace as well. Not to be passive, but to stop cycles of violence, to stand up for what we must, and to live lives of service and courage.

May it be so.


Updated: Feb 1

Psalm 19,' Luke 4:14-21

Who knows what an elevator pitch is?

No, its not the proper tone for the engine that a certain elevator makes, although that’s not a bad guess.

It’s a short- less than a minute- speech that explains a person, their project, or their mission. These are tightly condensed and designed to grab the attention of the recipient, inviting them to learn more.

It’s called an elevator pitch because the term originated with a magazine editor at Vanity Fair, who literally had the time of a 4 floor elevator ride and walk across the lobby to pitch story ideas to the magazine’s CEO.

These would be massive stories- 15,000 words- that’s about 10 times as long my sermons are, about 2 hours if you were to read them out loud, and this journalist would have to sell his editor in chief on them in about 45 seconds.

Imagine having a fantastic idea for a story, something that could blow the whistle on massive corruption, a story that could put a spotlight on an underreported war, a story that when it comes out could change the world. And you have about a minute to sell it, and really, about the first 2-3 sentences to grab his attention.

Now imagine doing that about your life, your mission in the world, what you are going to do that if it won’t change everything, it will change you and the work you do significantly.

I had one when I was searching for churches and eventually came here. Here’s mine, about 150 words adapted for brevity from my ministerial profile:

I am passionate about the local church reaching its full potential as an outpost and a signpost of the Kingdom of God. I believe that as a church, we need to reclaim and focus on what makes us unique in the world; the aspects of church life that are profoundly counter-cultural. For example, there are many places where one can hear wonderful music, but there are few where collective singing by non-professionals is not just allowed, but encouraged. Our uniqueness does not mean that we are or should be “separate” from the world, but rather that we are called to be in the messy middle of it, to remind our society that there is another way of being in the world. Instead of apathy, despair, consumerism, and hyper-individualism, the way of Jesus Christ calls us to justice, mercy, hope, and interdependent community. This is the calling of the church; to proclaim the gospel, and transform the world.

Jesus, being a better preacher than me, does his in about 1/3 of the space, about 50 words, in our gospel reading.

He’s in his home town, a crowd around him wondering about this man who grew up there, went away for a while and has come back. We can imagine the crowd waiting for him to read scripture and preach- maybe for 5 minutes, maybe for an hour.

Jesus takes about 30 seconds.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

That’s it. He drops the proverbial mic and sits back down, adding, this scripture has been fulfilled in your presence.

This is Jesus’ elevator pitch, his mission and vision statement, the thirty seconds to tell the story. This is of course, not the entirety of his work, just as a 15,000 word story can’t be told in 150, nor can a movie be told in a trailer. But it is the core of his work.

So what are we to make of this little elevator pitch?

Two things: first, trying to understand Jesus’ life, work, death, and resurrection is the work of a lifetime- multiple lifetimes. More has been written about what Jesus’ life means than probably any other single subject in history. Short phrases or verses like this one help us find the center of Jesus’ teaching, because trying to take all of it in at once is too much. This short section is as good of summary of Jesus as any in the gospels.

Secondly, Jesus’ teaching in this form, using scripture to explain his mission in a succinct way, inspires us to do the same for our own lives, our own missions, our own ministries in the world. Indeed, get ready for it, there will be homework for us after this worship service: what is your elevator pitch?

What Jesus did was hard; doing an elevator pitch is hard. Indeed, anyone who writes professionally or regularly knows that writing shorter pieces is usually harder than writing longer pieces. When writing and thinking in shorter formats, you have to be really focused on what you want to say and be very precise with your language. There’s as much editing as original writing involved.

We see this in the passage- or well, the passages that Jesus uses. That’s right; Jesus actually does a little bit of editing here. As for a tiny bit of background, in Jesus’ day there were two major versions of what we call the Old Testament; the Hebrew, and a translation in the Greek. As with any translation, there slight differences between them. The editing here is that is what Jesus reads doesn’t actually line up perfectly with either the Hebrew or the Greek version.

To proclaim what Jesus needed to, he has to edit. He can only leave in what is essential, and excise all else.

In a format like the Sermon on the Mount which contains the beatitudes, or even in a parable like the prodigal son, there can be some extra details, either for setting the scene or making a moral point. Here there is no room. 51 words.

That’s why a passage like this is so useful. Everything else in Jesus’ life can be read as an extension of these words; this is his mission. His healings, his teachings obviously, but also the harder parts, like his death and resurrection.

This is useful in those places where the Bible is a little more mysterious, where we don’t exactly get what’s going on. When we can’t make sense of a piece of scripture; let’s apply this lens. How does it bring Good News to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. How does this let the oppressed go free and proclaim the year of the lord’s favor.

The issue with this, of course, is that eventually, if we keep asking this of the Bible, eventually it asks the same of us. How do we do those things, as individuals, as a church, as a society? Think the bible is hypocritical sometimes? Hard to understand? Has some pretty gnarly stuff in it? Sure. But we so are we.

Indeed, I think this passage must inspire us to go through this process of editing and clarification about our lives and mission, what the core of our values are. As a church, as a people, as individuals.

And before you think I’m pulling this from a 90s business book, there’s actually a pretty famous example of Jesus try to get the people around him to do this just a few pages later.

In Luke chapter 10, a scholar challenges Jesus with a question. This was pretty typical and not really seen as rude. It’s how teachers and students interacted in that part of the world. We even see it in the works of Plato. Anyways, this scholar asks Jesus “what should I do to inherit eternal life?”, but if we read carefully, Jesus doesn’t actually answer the question himself; he lets the man answer the question. Indeed, the man’s answer is good, indeed probably as close to correct as anyone gets in scripture; love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your strength and your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. Jesus simply says that he’s correct. Jesus provokes he man into answering his own question. Jesus helps him write his own elevator pitch.

I hope that Jesus can do that for us too.

So I have homework for us this week; take some time and write your elevator pitch. Consider your core values? How do we succinctly get across the essentials of who we are and what we stand for? What words do we want people to interpret our lives by?

How do we want to be known to our friends and around town? What do we want people to say about us at our funerals?

Jesus’ elevator pitch was this: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

What’s yours?