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Luke 4:14-30, Sermon at Nazareth

Although Jesus didn’t begin his ministry in his hometown, it was one of the first places he visited during his ministry. Word had already spread to Nazareth that Jesus had been teaching and healing throughout Galilee. At first, people in Nazareth welcomed him openly, marveling at his words in the synagogue. But the tone took a turn when Jesus implied that the good news was not for them, but for outsiders. Nobody wants to be told they are not worthy to receive something good. Jesus’ words were hard to hear, as prophetic words often are.

In 2009, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to open ordination to the LGBT community. As a voting member of the assembly, I had the privilege to witness all the conversations leading up to the vote. Many voters wanted to open ordination to all. Other voters either were opposed to endorsing the LGBT “lifestyle”, or were concerned for the future of the church. Many had family members that had threatened to leave the ELCA if the vote was passed. They were heartbroken that they might no longer be able to commune with their loved ones, and the possibility of splitting the church was heart wrenching. Many prophetic words were spoken at that assembly. Some were angry. Some were eloquent. Some were hopeful. In the end, the vote was passed with the exact vote needed (one fewer vote, and it would not have passed), and the LGBT community was invited to serve openly as ministers in the ELCA. Some mourned. Others rejoiced. Everyone was stunned and humbled by the gravity of the decision. Whether or not you agree with the ELCA’s decision, the point is this: the prophetic words on both sides were hard to hear. Undoubtedly many were swayed one way or another simply by the voices that spoke with passion and conviction. It was evident just how powerful words can be. The outcome of that prophetic event changed the shape of the ELCA forever. Jesus knew—as we know—that words with power must be spoken with humility and respect, because words can change lives forever.


Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “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.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.