"Keep Broadening Your Horizons”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – July 5, 2015

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 48, Luke 4:16-30


    Our Gospel lesson this morning really exposes what happens to us when our present understanding and circumstances are disturbed.  Today we are going to explore why our smiles can rapidly change into frowns, why our easy-going attitudes can melt into rage and why our desire for truth can dissolve in a moment's notice.  What happens to us when someone rocks our boat?

    Those of you that enjoy counting the number of Republican candidates entering the race for the Presidency of the United States next year may remember that one of the recent entries was Donald Trump.  All was going well during the speech when he declared his candidacy until he disclosed his thoughts about the quality of illegal immigrants that were crossing the southern borders of the United States.

    A truth that most Americans hold as sacred is the right of free speech.  The quote that goes to the heart of this belief states, "I may vehemently disagree with what you say, but I will die for your right to say it."  Sometimes that belief is set aside when someone crosses the line of social appropriateness.

    After his speech, the sponsoring television network of his Miss USA and Miss Universe beauty contests cancelled its contract to carry the programs. Macy's, one of the prominent departments store chains in the U.S. is dropping the Trump line of clothing.  There are scores of nations, high profile personalities and other entities that have distanced themselves from Mr. Trump.  The damage his words have caused may only be in the early stages of development.

    As Americans approach their November elections in 2016, the political circus has already begun where anything and everything will be said about political opponents that makes the name-calling here in Bermuda look more like a tempest in a pot of tea.  The political rhetoric becomes ugly at times!   One of the redeeming qualities about American politics, however, is that when all the shouting is over and the votes are counted from the Electoral College, most people, except the politicians, settle down and allow the newly elected officials to show the country what they can do.

    Jesus experienced a similar rejection from his home town neighbors.  Jesus read portions of the Isaiah scroll and then made numerous comments about the reading.  The people were pleased.  This was one of their own citizens and he was making quite an impression on his listeners.  However, Jesus continued with his commentary.  He mentioned that when people begin to speak prophetically, they are never welcomed in their home communities.

    Did Jesus stop there?  No, he continued to give people a message that greatly disturbed them. This is the moment when their proud smiles instantly turned into the venomous wrath of a mob mentality.  They grabbed Jesus and drug him out of town toward the top of the hill on which Nazareth was built.  Their intent was to throw Jesus off the cliff.  He escaped.  What in the world had Jesus said to evoke such a bitter response?

    Jesus had ended his remarks with two illustrations that communicated that God's love was so broad, so deep and so extensive that it included Gentiles.  Remember, the Jews had been taught for centuries that they were God's chosen people.  The thoughts that the Jews held about all infidels was summed up in this fashion, "God had created the Gentiles to be fuel for the fires of Hell."

    What were those two illustrations?  During a four-year drought in Israel where there were many needy widows, God sent the Prophet Elijah only to a widow in Sidon, a Phoenician city on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea.  Secondly, Jesus said that when leprosy was spreading throughout Israel, God sent the Prophet Elisha only to the Assyrian Military Commander for healing.

    The Jews were not prepared to hear that God's love was more extensive than what they had been taught.  Their lives were based on the understanding that they and they alone were loved by God.  To their understanding, Jesus was teaching heresy and their response was violence.  Today, most Christians are in a much different place, or are we?

    It was not that long ago when Christians responded the same way when the beliefs of some people differed from the orthodoxy that was tightly controlled and maintained by the Roman Church.  Today, a message still cherished by most Christians is that salvation only comes through Jesus Christ.  The rest of the world's people are not in on this exclusive right of Christians. 

    How do we feel when we hear that?  Do we remember the song we learned in Bible school, "Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world"?

    Many Muslims have the same exclusive understanding that there is no other god but Allah, and Muhammad is the only prophet.  As we have mentioned before, the radical Islamists of today are behaving the same way as Christians did during the eighth Century.  Anyone who would not submit to Christ was beheaded by Charlemagne, who was blessed by the Pope for doing so.  

    Hindus of India have a very different belief structure.  They know nothing about the fall of man.  Their beliefs center on the absolute loyalty to one's duty within their caste.  There are four separate castes in their population each with distinct duties.  One might say that there are four unique populations living in India that have little to do with each other.

    The Buddhists are totally committed to ridding themselves of any sense of being an individual.  All desires and emotions are to be as non-existent as a pond whose surface has no ripples.  As much as we enjoy being around people with warm, gregarious personalities that also have a wonderful sense of humor, it is very difficult for us to imagine that anyone's goal in life is to remain in a body where no one appears to be home.

    Every major religion in the world believes that they have the path to enlightened living. They have the message of eternal life.  They have the corner on truth.  Jesus threw the first pebble in the pond that caused serious believers to question their exclusive relationship with the Creator of the Universe.  God was not the creator of Christianity.  We forget that Jesus never was a Christian.  Christianity evolved from what people thought about Jesus and his teachings.

    How can we understand what Jesus was teaching so that we can incorporate it into our life-patterns?  Most of us have had moments in our lives where we have either questioned, been in denial or in rebellion when we have faced challenges to our beliefs.  This is what Jesus' listeners were experiencing in his home town synagogue.

    Should we let go of something when our sense of worth and the things that we value are connected to it?   Yet, what do we do when our horizons are good limited and our understanding of God is too small?  Can we get to a point where we think of God as being big enough to have a plan for the billions of people who will never abide by what we personally hold sacred?

    Jesus was pointing to living in God's Kingdom here on earth. Cultures from the Far East and the Near East are accelerating toward the cultures of the West. We are coming together whether any of us like it or not. We have become bound together economically.  Many of today's large companies have no national boundaries.  What experience do most of us have in common that might breathe clarity into our response to cultural and religious differences?

    Lois and I were working in the kitchen recently and the radio was playing.  Lois said, "Please, turn off that racket."  I totally agreed and the radio was turned off.  The music that was playing featured percussion instruments and very repetitive rhythms on the guitar.  Over and over again the same measures were being played.

    It would be interesting to hear much younger generations discuss the music they listen to.  One wonders what will happen to their preferences when they move through the ages of their 40s, 50s and 60s. Will they long for the good old days and relax to the music the likes of which was playing on our radio that afternoon?   

    When the United Methodist Women recently had their final meeting for the summer at The Royal Palm Ascot restaurant, a different kind of music was playing.  One of our women commented to a member of the staff that she knew, "I really like your choice of music." It was Andrea Bocelli.  Another piece that played featured The Three Tenors.  While we were eating, we heard Bocelli and Charlotte Church singing together the song, Our Prayer. We should never surrender our preference for the music we enjoy nor the faith that has sustained us since we were born.

    Jesus wanted to expand the nature of God's love for his listeners.  They wanted no part of his message.  If we have made any progress in our responses toward others, it has been in the area of our tolerance of beliefs that are foreign from our own.  What someone else believes and what attitudes spring forth because of those beliefs, all have resulted from the choices those people made.  

    During his ministry, Jesus set before his listeners an entire banquet of attitudes that pour forth from living in the Kingdom of God.  Jesus sent his followers into the world to do the same thing he was doing, i.e., pointing to the Kingdom life with attitudes, words and actions that are anchored in love.  What is interesting is that he was teaching The Golden Rule, and the Jews were unable to recognize one of their own primary teachings. 

    We do not have to surrender anything that is inspired by our love for one another.  Humanity remains in an evolutionary process that is continuing to accelerate.  Let us remain faithful to our beliefs and how they govern our decision making.  Also, we need to allow God, and God alone, to do the creating. This is how we got here.  What Jesus taught works.  As his disciples, that is all we need to know.