"Clear" the doctor either asks or commands before putting the paddles to the patient's chest to jump start the heart. That's what I have to do today. I've got to shock you with two paddles to jump start your faith.
The first shock is "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs." That was a 2009 kid's movie featuring such shocking things as meatballs raining from the sky. Our text ends Cloudy with a chance of Jesus. His own hometown intends to throw Him from a cliff. Our English word precipitate' comes from the Greek word used here for throw down.' In fact this place is called the Mount of Precipitation.
You have to be jolted by this. It's not just random people from Jesus' hometown that seek to kill Him. "All the people in the synagogue" says the text drove Jesus out of town, took Him up to the brow of the hill, in order to throw Him off. These are churchgoing people. These are people just like you. These are people who knew Jesus' family. John 1:11 describes what's happening here. "He came unto His own and His own received Him not." Not only didn't they receive Him, they tried to kill Him.
But there's more to this first shock than good churchgoing people trying to murder the One they admit was preaching gracious words to them. It's darker than their rejecting a man they knew. They're rejecting God too. John 1 tells us this too. Verse 10 says, "He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him." Jesus shows that He is God in the flesh by reading their unspoken thoughts. And the fact that they knew of the miracles He had worked in Capernaum things even Pharisees were forced to admit only God can do also testified to them who Jesus was. Yet the good churchgoing people were furious enough to want to kill God in flesh and blood.
Let this sink in. These weren't Pharisees or Sadducees. These weren't the Heordians who plotted with the Pharisees early on to murder Jesus (Mk. 3:6). These weren't members of the Sanhedrin who concluded it was better for Jesus to die than they lose their positions. These weren't Roman officials who would shed Jesus' blood to keep the peace. These are people just like me and you who were driven mad with murderous rage. May this shock us good.
But what drove them to such a frenzied rage? In a word, grace did. The free, unmerited, unconditional grace of God did. How could grace do that? Because and this is paddle number two because instead of singing Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me," they sang like we do "Wretched grace that saved amazing me." You don't think that's what we sing? Well, that's for sure what the people of Nazareth sang.
They thought they deserved the same miracles He had done in Capernaum. They deserved their lepers to be healed; their widows to be helped; their dead to be raised. How could it be otherwise; they were that amazing! O but you don't think that's you, do you? What do you think is going on when you think God is not being fair to you? What do you think you're saying when you're angry because God doesn't answer your prayer when and how you think He should? When that evil little doubt bores into your brain that Jesus ought to do some miracle so that you might believe on Him, you're saying what the townspeople did: Physician heal yourself; take away the good reason I have for not believing.
Okay, maybe I do sing about amazing me, but I don't sing that first part. I don't sing of "wretched grace that saved amazing me." Let's go back to the people of Nazareth. The text opens with, "All spoke well of Him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from His lips." The text closes with "all the people in the synagogue" being furious with Jesus and trying to kill Him. What changed in between? Jesus showed them what grace really meant and it became wretched to them. It will to you too, and that's shock number two.
There were many widows in Israel who were starving. They prayed each day for daily bread. They believed God would provide for them. Yet to none of them did God send Elijah. God sent Elijah to feed a pagan widow. A pagan woman who did not pray, did not believe, was fed while many believing widows starved to death. They baked in unrelenting drought while the pagan widow baked fresh bread. And what about all the people of God who were lepers? O how they prayed! O how they believed God was merciful to them. Yet Elisha healed the pagan general responsible for defeating the people of God and oppressing them. Pious believers washed their skin off while Naaman was washing his leprosy off.
What they didn't want to hear, what shocked them so much, what should shock us, is that God was gracious both to the 2 He helped and the hundreds of others He didn't. Grace means God deals with not as we deserve or think we deserve but as He freely wills. Grace gave Paul both the apostolic office and the thorn in the flesh. Grace is what heals a person of cancer and gives it to them in the first place. God is being gracious when He answers our prayers yes' and when He answers them no,' yet, we don't think so. If God was gracious to me, I wouldn't have this or that affliction. If God was gracious to me, all my prayers would be answered the way I think they should be.
You, my friend, want nothing to do with grace. You're a person of the Law. If you do your part, believe in Jesus, come to church, receive the Sacrament, God had better do His part. If you mind your diet, take your exercise, give up tobacco, and don't drink too much, then by golly God can't give you cancer. That's against the Law, but it's not against grace.
Your kind of thinking is what changed our Collect. The original doesn't say as our insert has it "we cannot always stand upright." That implies we sometimes can stand upright. If you think there are times that you can stand upright, even if only 1 time in a thousand, that's the time you think you deserve a miracle, an answered prayer, that your will should be done rather than good and gracious will of God.
Queen Elizabeth, an Anglican, changed the prayer in 1558. The original which dates about 1,000 years earlier says "we cannot at anytime stand upright." If you know you can't at anytime, not in church, not at home, not at work, not in the world stand upright without God's strength and protection, then you are dependent 100% on God's grace. Dependent on what He wills to give when and where He gives it.
Shocking: Church people reject the Man, the ministry, and the God, Jesus. Shocking: grace is not a sweet sound to sinners who think they can in any way deserve it. Clear? Ready for the Good News that jump starts faith?
Jesus is the Great Physician of body and soul. In order to heal us, He didn't heal Himself. Though He had a perfect human body and human soul, though He did deserve perfect health, He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows instead. All the pain, all the shame, all the guilt that we should rightly bear for the evil we do and the good we fail to do, the perfect Jesus bore in our place. But I have pain; I have sickness; I have disease, yes but done of that is in payment for sin. All of that is yours by God's bottomless grace. Jesus, never, ever having sinned or being sinful took in His perfect body and soul the guilt, shame, and grief, we should bear. Zap!
You know what this means? If Jesus already bore your guilt, shame, and grief for sin, you are to quit bearing these. You don't have to; God certainly doesn't want you to, and God the Son certainly doesn't need you to. God deals with you now not according to your sins, not as your guilt tells you He should, but according to the grace God the Son won for you by His perfect life and innocent suffering and death.
Jesus has come to our town, to our Church, to do greater miracles than He ever did in Capernaum. Having paid for our sins means He owns them. We don't. He can do with our sins what He wills. He can drown them in the font. He can send them away by Absolution. He can forgive them by His Body and Blood. Having died the death you deserve, Jesus can give you the death He deserved: free of sin, free of guilt, as a dear, holy child of God. And that's what He gives you in the Waters of Baptism, in the Words of Absolution, in the Body-Bread and Blood-Wine of Communion. Having crushed the head of Satan while in your flesh and blood, Jesus places your foot on Satan's neck. Satan has no part of those clothed by Baptism, declared clean by Absolution, joined to the Body and Blood of Jesus.
It is a greater miracle to deliver a body and soul from sin, from death, and from the devil forever than to deliver a body from disease, hunger, or death for a time. It is a greater miracle to wake up every morning forgiven than healthy, guilt free than cancer free, holy in Jesus' name than happy in the name of love, health, or wealth. But I will show you a still greater miracle.
The gods of the Greeks and Romans often came down to men. When they did and were not recognized, let alone rejected, the gods brought judgment down upon the offending mortals. They turned them into trees, into animals, into rocks, into disgusting things. But what does our God do? Though they are intent on murdering Him, though they have rejected the words of grace streaming out of His mouth, Jesus "walked right though the crowd and went on His way."
Though these were ungodly sinners, though these were enemies of His, Jesus went on His way. His way was that of bearing the sins of the world. His way was that of bearing the griefs and sorrows of even His ungodly, enemies. Jesus' way was that of sorrowing, suffering, and sighing, and He continued on it for us and for our salvation. Rather than changing those who didn't recognize who He was or rejected Him into creatures, He went on His way to make us a New Creation one that can't be convicted of sin, cannot die, and from whom the Devil must flee. Clear? Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (20130203)