Scripture: Luke 4: 21-30 (NRSV)
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.
Hopefully your church's annual meeting will not resemble Jesus' experience preaching in the temple. What a testy, ornery lot his congregation was that day!
Assuming that you never had the experience of an angry mob to toss you over a cliff after your sermon, it can nevertheless be challenging to encourage a congregation with words of renewal and hope. Sometimes our congregations seem content to wax poetic about the way things "used to be," without any vision about new possibilities if we dared to imagine beyond the box, the usual, or the ordinary.
The multitude threatened to kill Jesus that day. They crowded around him to block any possibility of escape. Yet Jesus "passed through the midst of them and went on his way (v. 30)." So my prayer for annual meetings and the year to come in our churches is this:
God of our congregations, large and tiny, urban and out in the sticks, vibrant and near-comatose…
May we overcome obstacles that hinder our path to faithfulness.
May we be willing to listen to surprising voices and attentive to those who say the unexpected.
May we have eyes that allow us to take a second look at those whom we are too eager to dismiss or ignore.
May we be open to the surprising direction in which the Spirit may be leading us. Let us not be too hasty to "recalculate" to the overly-familiar or revert to the too well-known. Instead help us dare to strike out in a new, perhaps untried, venture.
May we do more than talk about what we "wish" our church would do and instead dare to act, in faith, and break through apparent boundaries and restrictions.
May we, like Jesus, speak words of new life that celebrate Good News for the poor, release for the captives, freedom for the oppressed, and sight for the blind.
Please bless our congregations today and in the future. Amen