"When Truth Is Not Popular"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - February 1, 2004
Jeremiah 1:4-10; Luke 4:21-30
Go back in time and imagine
this scene: During his regular Sabbath worship experience, Jesus
read from the Isaiah scroll. When he finished reading, he spoke
about the passage. Our lesson reports, "All the people in the
synagogue had their eyes fixed on him. They were all well impressed
with him and marveled at the eloquent words that he spoke." (Luke
Jesus, however, did not quit
while he was ahead. He continued to speak causing a rapid change in
the mood of his listeners. Listen how the author of Luke records
When the people in the synagogue heard
his additional words, they were filled with anger. They rose up,
dragged Jesus out of town, and took him to the top of the hill on
which their town was built. They were going to throw him off the
cliff, but he walked through the middle of the crowd and went his
way. ( Luke 4:28-30)
Most of us believe ourselves
incapable of such a reaction. That is probably an accurate
observation. However, we are not always as thoughtful or careful
with our responses as we believe.
For example, in recent weeks
the media repeatedly recycled Howard Dean's enthusiastic response
following the Iowa Caucuses. Because of his emotional reaction, he
lost ground in the polls. His financial basis has eroded. We heard a
number of commentators say that such a display demonstrated that
Dean is not "presidential" enough. His 14 second exposure moved him
from first to third. Have we changed that much during the last
2,000 years? What is very suspect is how we choose to perceive.
I recall seeing a clever commercial during the Christmas holidays. A woman received a gigantic gift. Her face wore a bright, enthusiastic, glowing smile. She excitedly tore off the paper revealing a treadmill. Instantly her hands went on her hips and her smile was transformed into a look of irritation. She said to her mate, "So, you think I'm fat?" Within seconds she went from joy to anger. Have we changed that much in 2,000 years?
We toss the word "Truth" around
as though we are capable of recognizing it when it comes our way.
Perhaps we are overly confident in our ability to perceive correctly.
Imagine people being awe-struck by Jesus' eloquence one minute and in
the next minute being capable of such rage that they were prepared to
throw him to his death. We cannot imagine this. Yet it happened then and
it happens today.
Each of us has our own style of
expressing our discomfort and displeasure. Some people are very good at
hiding the fact that they are spiritually stuck. They behave as
though they have few tools for dealing with someone who does not fit
into the mold they would prefer. They quietly smolder, brood, remain
aloof and display a facial expression that communicates, "I don't care
if I ever see them again!" The truth is that we have lots of tools at
our disposal. We are simply choosing not to use them. Remaining in an
unforgiving posture is the choice of those who demand that others must
Our walk with God lifts the
bar on such responses and shows us what is possible. Our faith should
help us recognize that we never have to settle for remaining as we are.
It is quite possible for us to say: "You have an interesting point of
view, but I see things differently." "While I understand your response,
this is how I feel." Or, "I could never allow someone's smallness
to limit my enthusiasm for life."
Truth requires that we move
beyond where we are. The people
listening to Jesus had no tolerance for perceptions that were different
from their own. Jesus was only "eloquent" as long as he was reflecting
their understanding and beliefs. The minute Jesus started "meddling,"
by citing inadequacies in their faith, that is when they lost control.
Think about the last time you
felt judged, unrecognized, slighted, or hurt by someone's words or
behavior. What was missing that caused you to respond with feelings that
reflected, "I have no patience for his hasty remarks, her mistake in
judgment or her ridiculous over-reaction?"
When we walk by faith we
naturally remain open to different interpretations, different points of
view and insights that are much different from our own.
Because they lacked such flexibility, Jesus' listeners moved from awe to
rage in a matter of minutes. Regardless of what Jesus said, it was the
crowd's response that captures our attention in this passage.
Truth, by its nature, does not
inspire anyone to perceive without love. Jesus not only taught this
reality but from his execution device, he showed the universe that his
spirit was still capable of displaying compassion toward those who held
a vastly different point of view.
Truth may always remain
unpopular for many of us because it never points to where we are;
rather, truth teaches us to keep stretching, searching and reaching for
what remains unknown. Sometimes such a mirrored reflection is very
painful for us to see. Pain, however, is a very healthy sign. Pain
teaches us that there is more growth, more skills to develop and more
relationships to be refined. This is how God's plan unfolds. When we
have this understanding, life will always remain an exciting adventure
as we grow toward a never ending destiny of creativity. After all, this
is what Heaven is like.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
We thank you,
God, for lifting up a higher standard for us than we lift up for
ourselves. Every day, events challenge our skill level. We seek
security and stability while you invite us to live by faith. We want
"Your Word" to remain protected from distortion, as though our
understanding represents the truth. How many times have we
forgotten that our truth has caused you to call forth prophets
and teachers to correct us? Free our minds, O God, to perceive your
creativity in our midst. Enable us to surrender our orthodoxy for the
sake of new possibilities you would have us learn. Grant that we may
always remain humble and open to the flow of your spirit. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
With humble and always grateful hearts, O God, we come into our sanctuary to celebrate life and the incredible abundance of choices we have to reach for the stars. We have recognized that the ladder of our growth reaches so high that we cannot see the end of it. Yet you wisely have given us the choice to climb as we are able, to set goals and to reach for them. We have learned that no task is insignificant.
Thank you for the confidence
that allows us to step into the rapids of life knowing we no longer fear
the sounds they make or the pull from their currents. Thank you
for teaching us how to release to you the outcome of our next surgical
procedure, our business decisions and our choice to embrace our next
life-adventure, whatever that will be.
Inspire us to play big, to wear more
smiles, to shoulder our burdens courageously, to bring more laughter
into our homes and work place as we always remember how to be a friend
to those who may still be standing in their own shadows.
Thank you, God, for enabling all of us to sing our song. Together as a church family, perhaps we can help others to sing as well. We pray these thoughts of thanksgiving through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .