Sermons That Work

This Gospel Is about Jesus…, Epiphany 4 (C) – 1998

February 01, 1998

This Gospel is about Jesus, his miracle working, his truth telling, and his authority. The setting is his home town and the countryside near where he grew up.

In his home town he was rejected. In fact they were mad enough at him to kill. In Capernaum, they were astounded because he taught with authority.

What is going on here? In Nazareth he is rejected and Capernaum he is accepted.

There was no difference in him or what he said. Jesus is the embodiment of humanity, in flesh, incarnation of God. One of the stunning realities of the Gospel is its remarkable sameness. It is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. It is the same in all places. It is the same for the whole world. Different people, in different places see and hear it in different ways, but the Gospel is the same. So the problem that those in Nazareth had with Jesus was not related to the Gospel. And the acceptance that Jesus experienced in Capernaum did not come about because Jesus redid his message. Jesus was not a politician responding to polls and focus groups discussions about issues.

The difference in response was based in the difference of their experience with Jesus. Because the people in Nazareth knew Jesus from childhood, knew Mary and Joseph, they could not imagine or see him in a new light. From the text it seems that they wanted him to perform a miracle. If he could do that then perhaps he was who he said he was. But Jesus didn’t or wasn’t able to perform a miracle upon demand.

Miracles are interesting happenings. They defy logic. They are not predictable. While Jesus did heal some, he did not heal all. Those who have been touched by miracles say the same things now that those who received them when Jesus performed them as reported in the Gospel accounts. They are responses of praise to God. It may be that miracles happen in order to praise God rather than happen just because people perceive a need. The miracle seems to draw people into an intimate relation with God. Several times the miracle gives the person their destiny. In each and every miracle story, the kingdom of God is made known.

Miracles are not magic. God does not capriciously intervene in the creation just because the ritual is correct or the bribe big enough. Magic is supposed to change things in one’s favor. A college student once prayed before a major examination, “Oh God, help me make it through this exam, if you do I will go to church and I promise that I will study next time.” While the prayer may have been uttered with sincerity, it is not really a prayer. It is rather an attempt to get God to manipulate things in one’s behalf. That is magic.

The truth telling Jesus did and the authority he was given by God were the foundation of miracle. The people in Nazareth could not hear the truth and did not recognize the authority. The people of Capernaum heard the truth and saw the authority.

Some clergy report having seen miracles. But they also report that some times the beneficiary of the miracle rejects it. The reason for the rejection is usually couched in language of disbelief or unworthiness. Disbelief is the unwillingness to perceive the truth. We are all to some degree disbelieving because we are all sinners. The sin keeps us from seeing the truth that we live in. Sometimes we are unwilling to trust the motives of others. But what that says is that we are aware of our own untrustworthiness and can’t imagine that there are those who are. The truth is that Jesus came to save sinners. The very thing that keeps us from seeing the truth is the thing that Jesus has come to save us from. Through the grace of God we are able to see the truth. If you have trouble seeing what is true, turn the trouble over to God. God is intent on helping you to the truth.

Miracles seem to be more frequent in people who relatively free from disbelief.

The other thing that keeps us from seeing the miracles around us is our sense of unworthiness. Now, have no doubt, we are unworthy. But Jesus didn’t come to create a new round table full of worthy knights. Jesus came to save sinners by taking to himself all of our unworthiness. Somehow the Cross and Jesus’ death on the Cross absorbs all of our sin and unworthiness. It is overwhelmed in God’s love. As the sign of this new truth, Jesus was raised by God from the dead. Jesus is the sign of God’s love for us. Jesus presence with us in Word and Sacrament is a foretaste of our eternal relationship with Jesus and each other. If we say that we persist in unworthiness then we are saying that Jesus did not have the authority to forgive us and enable us to see the truth. So, accept that you are loved and forgiven. Give up disbelief. See the truth of God’s love. Believe that Jesus has the authority.

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Christopher Sikkema