St Luke 4: 14 – 30 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 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, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
‘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 favour.’
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. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 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?’ He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.”’ And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 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. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
It was the 25th anniversary year of my ordination before I returned to my childhood church to preach. I suppose it never occurred to them to ask, or for me to offer to lead worship. 600 miles is a long way to travel to fill the pulpit and when I returned I was usually ready for a rest and a break.
There was of course the issue of what to preach. Do you just ‘tickle ears’ so they heard what they want to hear or do you pose a challenge? I usually try to preach ‘to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable’ – in a positive way of course! It seemed to go well since they asked me if I would consider becoming their minister because they were in vacancy. So at least I wasn’t run out of town and I have returned to preach a number of times.
It was important for me to preach there because it was in that church, and through the work of Scripture Union, that I came to faith. It was also in that church as a teenager that I first spoke, taking on the responsibility of doing the children’s address when the Youth Fellowship led the service. Just as Jesus was handed the scroll I felt that as a youngster I had been handed the gift of faith, not to be kept rolled up but to be opened and proclaimed in my words and actions.
When Jesus had finished he rolled the scroll back up again and handed it over. Symbolically it reminds us that the Word of God isn’t just to be kept for ourselves but to be passed on to others and future generations. I wonder who was the next person in the Synagogue in Nazareth to unroll that scroll and how under the guidance of the Holy Spirit they interpreted the words they read. How is God speaking to us through his Word today?
Dear God, as we receive your Word may we hear the words of challenge as well as those of comfort. May we be faithful as we live it, speak it out and pass it on to others. Amen
The Rev’d George Watt, Moderator of Thames North Synod