Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, on February 3, 2019
[sermon begins after two Bible readings; see end of sermon for last week’s reading from Luke that is the first part of Jesus’ sermon here]
Luke 4:21-30 Then [Jesus] began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 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?” 23 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.’ ” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 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; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 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. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Oh, Jesus! Really?!! Upsetting your listeners again? How quickly things go downhill too. Just before he’s nearly hurled off the cliff, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” If only Jesus had stopped with his gracious remarks before he launches with prophetic grace. “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ‘em,” Jesus. Timing is everything and Jesus’ timing with the people hearing his sermon was way off. We hear the end of the story today begun in the Luke reading last Sunday. Jesus “went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom.” Of course it was his custom, being a first century Jew and all. Jesus was Jewish through and through. He stood to read from the scroll of Isaiah and sat to teach. His named great prophets of Israel, Elijah and Elisha, alongside the widow at Zarephath in Sidon and Naaman the Syrian. Naaman and the widow were outsiders. By telling those stories from Jewish history, Jesus pushes his home-town people hard on the outsider message. A message long embraced by Jews about Elijah and Elisha who also summoned prophetic grace for outsiders. This was not a new message, although it was apparently an infuriating filled one.
Prophetic grace is not neutral. There’s usually some kind of reaction. People love it or people hate it. Either way, prophetic grace often pushes people which means that people will often push back. A couple weeks ago, I marched in the Marade celebrating the work and birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faith leaders prayed about loving our neighbors by taking action; as politicians spoke with different perspectives on equality and freedom; and as I looked around at people of all ages and skin colors, I wondered if I would have had the courage to march with Dr. King over 60 years ago. Many white people thought he wanted too much, too fast, for black people and that his rhetoric was too risky for everyone. Many moderate whites who were on his side in theory, couldn’t bring themselves to show up with him in actuality, although some did. The same could be said of Harriet Tubman. She was a former slave, political activist, and conductor of the Underground Railroad that rescued slaves before the Civil War. It’s ironic that her image will grace the $20 dollar bill given that Ms. Tubman lived at a time when the economy depended on black slave labor who received none of the financial reward. Both Ms. Tubman and the good Reverend King acted from deep faith.
If Harriet Tubman and Dr. King are too much prophetic grace to contemplate, let’s try Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Pastor Bonhoeffer is often lifted up by Lutherans as an exemplar of prophetic grace. He lived and died in Nazi Germany working to overthrow Hitler first by speaking out against him and then by trying to assassinate him. He was executed days before the Allies liberated his concentration camp. The good Reverend Bonhoeffer is obviously inspiring for what he was willing to risk and the faith that was his strength. Similarly to my thoughts about Dr. King and Harriet Tubman though, I wonder how I would have responded to Pastor Bonhoeffer had I been a German Lutheran of his day.
I wonder because of their inspiring lives that they risked daily. I also wonder because of Jesus’ reading from the prophet Isaiah in the verses 18 and 19 from last Sunday. When Jesus unrolled that scroll in the synagogue, and stood to read, here’s what is quoted from Isaiah:
“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.”
Jesus’ reading from Isaiah, echoes the Spirit filled words of Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon earlier in Luke. People will argue about whether Jesus’ words are meant personally or prophetically. Aren’t we all on some level poor in spirit, blind to truth, captive to sin, and oppressed by shame? We talk about those experiences regularly and I often preach Jesus’ promises for all people as a direct word of grace. For God’s sake (literally), I experience comfort in Jesus’ personal grace myself for all those reasons. But it’s difficult for me to imagine that Jesus only meant these words on a personal, spiritual level. If he did, what do we make of the likes of King, Tubman, and Bonhoeffer whose deep faith shapes actions on behalf of people who are actually poor, captive, and oppressed? One of the things I find fascinating about reviewing history is how it can help with perspective today. Which leads to the other question I’ve been noodling. Who are the voices of prophetic grace are right now? Your homework this week is in the form of a question. Who are the people you think give voice to prophetic grace even though it’s a tough message? Perhaps it’s a message that rankles and gets under your skin, makes you uncomfortable and antsy for some cliff hurling. Let me know who you come up with and why. Here’s the question again. Who are the people you think give voice to prophetic grace even though it’s a tough message. Before we get too far on that homework, I’d like us to add to the mix of prophetic grace the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 about speaking with love. To paraphrase Paul, speaking without love ends up being a whole lot of noise for a whole lot of nothing.
Some of us have tasted this love that Paul is talking about. We’ve experienced the grace of the gospel in the unconditional love of Jesus that means there’s nothing we can do or not do to make God love us any more or any less. It’s deeply personal and it’s transformed our lives. I first heard this gospel when I was 28 years old. As it fell into my ears week after week, I would sit in that sanctuary and wonder what the people around me were hearing. The gospel, my husband, and my congregation at the time, started nudging me to seminary. Six years ago yesterday, I was ordained and installed here, with you, as a pastor. You just never know what the gospel is going to do with you once it’s had its way transforming hearts with love that bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things. This is true whatever your vocation. Gospel love is a personal grace.
Gospel love is also prophetic grace. There are moments when other people say hard things but we’ve still experienced this gospel love. It’s harder to hear the love through a tough message but it’s in there. We question motives and meaning before we even realize we’re doing it. Consistently, Jesus’ voice of prophetic grace is for the outsider because all people are included in the love of God – even that person you wouldn’t mind hurling off a cliff – prophetic or not. Jesus’ voice of prophetic grace is for the outsider because Jesus loves the world, everything and everyone in it. This means that grace in the form of unconditional, gospel love is personal for you and prophetic for everyone else. For this, and for all that God is doing, we can say hallelujah…and amen.
 Luke 4:16
 David Schnasa Jacobsen, Professor of the Practice of Homiletics and the Homiletical Theology Project, Boston University School of Theology. Commentary on Luke 4:21-30 for February 3, 2019 on Working Preacher, Luther Seminary. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3955
 Saja Hindi. “Martin Luther King Jr. Day Marade Sends Thousands Through Denver.” The Denver Post, January 21, 2019. https://www.denverpost.com/2019/01/21/martin-luther-king-day-marade-denver/
 Audio and Document to Letter From Birmingham Jail by Dr. King. Have a listen: https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/letter-birmingham-jail
 Harriet Tubman. History. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/harriet-tubman
 Victoria Barnett. “Dietrich Bonhoeffer.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. https://www.ushmm.org/information/exhibitions/online-exhibitions/special-focus/dietrich-bonhoeffer
Luke 4:14-21 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 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, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 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. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”