And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.”
Most preachers have a good “first sermon story.”
There’s the tension of having gone from one side of the pulpit to the other, the expectations of all the people in the pews being somewhat responsible for the first time preacher, and the confounding hope that this call is, in fact, real.
I have a friend who was so nervous to prepare and preach his first sermon that he bought a book of “famous sermons” and decided to preach one of them rather than his own.
I have another friend who got up into the pulpit, poured her heart out, and was asked if she would consider being the next pastor of the church she had just preached in right in front of the current preacher!
I was a teenager when I preached for the first time. I felt called by God to the work and when I told my pastor he immediately put me on the schedule to get up in the pulpit. The assigned text was from 1 Corinthians about the body having many members each with their own responsibility. And afterward, I had people tell me again and again, “That’s the best sermon I’ve ever heard!”
Let the reader understand: they all lied. But at least they were kind in their falsehood.
For a long time I’ve thought about the impulse of that congregation to compliment my homiletical efforts despite the fact that it was terrible, and I eventually realized that they loved it not because of what I said, but because I was the one who said what I said.
That is, in me they were seeing themselves – they witnessed God working through one of their own. And they loved it.
And yet, Jesus’ first sermon, and the response from the gathered people, was completely different.
Jesus does all the things any good student of the scriptures would do – he takes the scrolls, reads the text, and sits to teach.
But he doesn’t offer exposition, he doesn’t give the gathered people three ways to be better adherents to the Law, he doesn’t even give them a good joke to cut through the tension of the air.
Instead, Jesus says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing it.”
As in, “The Messiah is here and he is me.”
And the people don’t rush forward to congratulate Jesus on his preaching, they don’t offer him a position as the new rabbi in town. No, they say, “Who the heck does he think he is?”
Jesus applies the prophet’s words to himself; he is the herald who announces a transformation of grace, freedom from sin and suffering, and impossible possibility.
The people, having heard this word, demand a sign. “Prove it, you son of a carpenter!”
Jesus rebukes their desire, noting that “no prophet is accepted in their hometown.” And the sleepy little gathering of the faithful turn into a lynch mob. They march Jesus to the edge of a cliff to end his life, but he mysteriously and miraculously makes his way through the crowd and he leaves.
Jesus is rejected, not for preaching about better behavior, not for strict commands, but because he proclaims the gospel. The gospel is offensive to those who hear it because it runs counter to just about everything else in life – it is everything for nothing, it is the proclamation that we can’t save ourselves but someone can and will, it is the announcement that things are changing for good and we aren’t the ones who are doing the changing.
And we can’t stand it! When God in the flesh comes to us and offers us the greatest gift of all, we chase him to the edge of the cliff and eventually we nail him to the cross. But the Good News is that, three days later, God comes back to us.
The gospel is one of the strangest things around: God does what God does for you and me without us having to do anything in return. But that’s also why we call the Good News good.