"When Truth Is Not Popular"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - February 1, 2004

Jeremiah 1:4-10; Luke 4:21-30

     The episode recorded in our Gospel lesson this morning demonstrates once again that humanity has not changed much through the centuries.  We still allow other people to control our state of mind by the words they say or by the behavior they display.  We can be totally enthralled with a person one minute, and within a very short time, they can produce emotions within us that are at the opposite extreme.

     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 4:22) 

     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 their reaction, 

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 change.   

     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. 


    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.


    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 . . .