• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

Jesus Gets Riled Up

Closer to God, a Lenten sermon series from Luke, Week 2 of 5

Preached February 28, 2021 for the 9:30am Worship


Context

Caitlan and I are calling this Lenten sermon series “Closer to God.” For the first five Sundays of Lent, we are staying right beside Jesus as he heads toward Jerusalem. We know where he is going. Will we believe, trust, and follow closer and Closer to God every step along the way?


Let’s pray, and listen for the word of the Lord…

Pray


Scripture Luke 13:10-35

10 Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.


12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.


14 Now the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to give it water? 16 Then ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom the adversary bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; but the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.


18 He said, therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”


20 And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”


22 Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” Jesus said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter but will not be able. 25 When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply the Lord will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But the Lord will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ 28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrown out. 29 Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. 30 Truly, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”


Sermon Jesus Gets Riled Up

A woman, plagued for 18 years with an arch in her back so severe she couldn’t walk comfortably or stand up straight, finds herself muscling through the synagogue crowd to get closer to God. Some make themselves closer to Jesus to hear what he might say. Some want to be closer to Jesus to see what he might do. They are there for the show. She wants to get closer to Jesus to be healed, to be made whole, to be saved.


She gets herself into a place Jesus can notice her, and his compassion does the rest. “Woman, you are set free from your illness.” She knows it’s a sabbath day but needs the healing. He knows it’s a sabbath day, but knows the sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the sabbath.


In Luke, Jesus hasn’t arrived at the Temple in Jerusalem yet. He hasn’t gotten so angry and frustrated by the religious leaders that he flips over their tables and calls them out, yet. But the pattern of religious leaders using religion and power to block people from hope, healing, justice, and wholeness is beginning to stick in Jesus’ craw. (Please tell me yall know that expression?)


The chief priest challenges Jesus for doing works of healing and wholeness on the sabbath and challenges the people for coming to the house of worship looking for works of healing and wholeness on the sabbath. It's as if the religious leaders are saying, “on the Sabbath, we don’t come here to get something from God. We come here to give something to God.” That theology sounds a bit tempting. Yes, worship is more about God than us, and yes, we should be coming here to be servants. But then again…


If you’re like me, it’s a little exciting and a little scary to see Jesus get riled up. He turns on those with religious expectations of the people and ridicules them. “You hypocrites. On the sabbath, you will untie your own animals so they can eat and drink, but you won’t unburden the people you are here to lead and serve so they can be fed the healing they need and drink the living water?”


In our world today, there’s lots of talk about unity, ending the divisiveness, putting differences behind us, and being less accusatory or confrontational. Jesus is the prince of peace and did come among us as one of us to reconcile all brokenness. But let’s notice how Jesus moves people or communities from division and brokenness closer to God.


When people are in trouble, and leaders are unwilling to sacrifice and help them, Jesus is not concerned with unity, lowering the temperature, softening the rhetoric, or smoothing over differences. He takes the side of what is right, helpful, and best for the people in need, not the side of those in power. Jesus’ expectation is that those in power will use the privilege of their power to help, heal, serve, and bring wholeness to the people in greatest need, the ones they were put in power to serve in the first place. When leaders do not, Jesus calls them out. Jesus advocates for the weaker, sicker, poorer, outcasts, and expects leadership to bend their rules, use their authority, space, and energy, and give their attention and resources to helping the children of God who need help. Jesus doesn’t mind confrontation or accusation to reveal the misuse of power in leaders.


That’s what Jesus did. Is that what we are supposed to do? How are we supposed to know when we are doing more harm than good or just picking a fight, versus when we are courageously advocating for what is good and right? Notice what Jesus says next. He tries to find some analogies for the Kingdom of God.


He gropes for two metaphors. “The Kingdom of God is like a tiny little mustard seed. Just the tiniest little bit of Kingdom will grow and benefit all kinds of creatures beyond the one who planted it. The kingdom of God is like the tiniest pinch of yeast in a big mound of dough. Just a little bit of Kingdom across all the dough will make the whole loaf rise.”

Everything Jesus is doing is to reveal and to exhibit the Kingdom of God, the great community God created and envisions for us, the great society God wills and is bringing for all God’s children. The Kingdom of God is how Jesus decides when to confront or to be silent, to resist, or to go along. Whichever decision will best reveal and embody God’s beloved community, that is Jesus’ choice.


Jesus is trying to teach his disciples and the crowds (and us) how to know when to confront or resist. If our words and actions, no matter how small they seem at the time, are done to grow something beyond ourselves that will benefit others beyond ourselves, then go for it. If our words or actions will equally raise the status and standing of everyone, not just ourselves, then go for it. Even the tiniest little action or word of resistance or confrontation, if it reveals and embodies God’s kingdom, can grow and improve the lives of many. But if rules or words or actions are meant to protect something of ours from others, to grow something just for us not to share, or to make our little loaf rise while others stay flat, well, that’s not Kingdom, and shouldn’t be done or said in God’s name.


It feels like a complicated path to walk. Perhaps that’s why someone asks him, “Gosh, then is anyone saved?” Why did that someone ask that question? Are they more interested in entering into the kingdom themselves, or are they willing to sacrifice so that many strangers, friends, even enemies might all enter the Kingdom?


Jesus measures the question and responds something like, “Anyone trying to get in themselves will find themselves blocked, even thrown out. But anyone trying to lead all God’s people home will find themselves at a big glorious feast.”


There it is again. If the person was asking how to get themselves closer to God, they were already moving farther away. If they weren’t worried about themselves but were trying to serve and lead others closer to God, they were already there.


To God be all glory and honor, now and forever. Amen.


Benediction

Now, Blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forevermore.

Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

Pastor, Presbyterian Church of Chestertown

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In 2002, I left my corporate career, and went to seminary. Since 2005, I've been serving churches, and trying to follow Jesus, and lead others in doing the same...

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