I spent two years in North Carolina in graduate school. While there I was the pastor of two small rural United Methodist congregations. It was in these two church that I was introduced to something I had never experienced in Ohio-- Homecoming Sunday. On Homecoming Sunday, people who grew up in the church but moved away came back and attended worship on Sunday morning. It was also a Sunday when we could expect to see our inactive members who attended church on Christmas and Easter (the C, E, & H Christians). One of the congregations I served usually had a guest preacher on that Sunday while the other expected the current preacher to give one of the most inspiring sermons all year. After worship was over we would gather outside at the church cemetery for a prayer and then to the fellowship hall for a potluck dinner. Homecoming Sunday was not the time to preach the difficult word and irritate the congregation. It was a time to fellowship and reflect upon the congregation's history. It was to be a joyful occasion.
The first and only homecoming sermon Jesus preached in his childhood home of Nazareth did not inspire good feelings nor did it create joy. Jesus not only angered the people with his words, he sent them into a rage.
At times I have said things that anger people. I suspect that just about everyone has. But I don't believe I have ever said anything that has made anyone want to kill me. But prophets have, at times, found themselves in danger from those who not only take offense at their words, but see them as a threat to their way of life. In our Old Testament lesson for this Sunday, Jeremiah protests his call from God. He knows the danger of speaking the divine word that will not be well received.
By the time Jesus is finished preaching, his hearers will be so angry with him, they will attempt to kill him by throwing him off a cliff at the edge of town. Isaiah's words in chapter 61 are being fulfilled in the person of Jesus. To encounter the divine prophetic word is to encounter Jesus; and the fulfillment of Isaiah's words will not look as Jesus' contemporaries expect. Jesus' words threaten their reality, their construal of the Scriptures and God's ways with Israel and the Gentiles. He must be silenced.
Reading the Bible is dangerous business. When it is opened to us we risk change, we face the painful and difficult possibility of transformation. And just as Jesus opened up the Scriptures to the two disciples on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:13-25), so Jesus can unlock the divine word to all of us; for all of it points to him. Some will find that compelling; others will be offended, even outraged.
So much for a warm welcome home.
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)