Rev. Barbara Kershner is a retired pastor having served a small-town church in Pennsylvania for 14 years. Currently she is doing pulpit and/or organist supply in western MA and northwest CT.
Scripture: Luke 4:21-30 (NIV)
He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”
Everyone was raving about Jesus, so impressed were they by the gracious words flowing from his lips. They said, “This is Joseph’s son, isn’t it?”
Then Jesus said to them, “Undoubtedly, you will quote this saying to me: ‘Doctor, heal yourself. Do here in your hometown what we’ve heard you did in Capernaum.’” He said, “I assure you that no prophet is welcome in the prophet’s hometown. And I can assure you that there were many widows in Israel during Elijah’s time, when it didn’t rain for three and a half years and there was a great food shortage in the land. Yet Elijah was sent to none of them but only to a widow in the city of Zarephath in the region of Sidon. There were also many persons with skin diseases in Israel during the time of the prophet Elisha, but none of them were cleansed. Instead, Naaman the Syrian was cleansed.”
When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was filled with anger. They rose up and ran him out of town. They led him to the crest of the hill on which their town had been built so that they could throw him off the cliff. But he passed through the crowd and went on his way.
Reflection: Small Towns
Norman Rockwell pictured the small town as a warm, friendly, charming, and unchanging place. Small towns can be charming, and tourists flock to Stockbridge to experience the beauty and warmth of Rockwell’s town, BUT sometimes the avenues of any small town can be as mean as the streets of a big city when faced with something new or unpleasantly true. In ancient Nazareth, an agricultural village, the folks initially were eager to welcome back their ‘hometown boy’ Jesus, now famous for his healing and preaching powers around Galilee. But maybe it was time to take him down a peg or two, to remind him of his humble beginnings as ‘Joseph’s son.’ As Jesus stood in the synagogue, he noticed the smirks and nods; he heard the snide remarks. “He heals others. But he hasn’t done anything special here. Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.”
In Nazareth, Jesus faced a double challenge, preaching in a small town that was also his hometown. He knew how difficult it would be. “I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his hometown.” He gave Biblical examples of others who had tried to tell the truth to those close to home but were far more successful in their ministry to strangers and outsiders. This testimony only aggravated the audience even more. The prophet Jesus was not accepted in Nazareth, and the folks ran him out of town, hoping to throw him off the cliff!
Even today, in your hometown or elsewhere, small-town churches still present their unique challenges to pastor and laity. It is likely that the pastor was trained in a seminary located in a big city where the focus is on urban ministry and the diversity, energy, challenges, and resources present in a metropolitan area. In reality, small-town and rural churches make up the majority of congregations in the US and around the world. If you are called to serve a rural or small-town church; if you are a member of such a congregation, where do you find resources and training for your unique and vital ministry?
Small-town congregations are often made up of extended family and friends who have known each other since kindergarten. Small towns have long and sometimes unforgiving memories. Small towns have social and political systems geared to maintain the status quo. Woe to the pastor who dares to challenge the system. Woe to the prophet who proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor that includes a wider circle beyond the familiar, familial small town. Woe to the one who’s truth clashes with town tradition.
Sometimes ministry can still feel like you’re being pushed off a cliff! But the reaction of small-town Nazareth didn’t silence Jesus nor stop his ministry. “He walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” Jesus continued healing and teaching and welcoming and freeing those who wanted to receive, who wanted to be transformed, whether they lived in the countryside, or in villages, in towns or big cities. Jesus calls us to continue on our way and to remain faithful to the gospel, while trusting the results to God.
Holy One, Breath of Life, fill your people with new hope. Grant us courage, no matter where we are, to speak the truth in love, fearlessly following the Way of Jesus. Amen.
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at email@example.com
January Prayers from Rev. Darrell Goodwin:
Rev. Goodwin has asked for special prayers for the month of January as we enter 2022.
Week 1: Lay members and leaders within the SNEUCC
Week 2: All Authorized Ministers and MIDS in all settings of our conference
Week 3: All of our National and Local Covenant Partners
Week 4: All those serving in the capacity of Conference Staff
He also encourages you to continue to pray for first-responders, and healing in our world.
Prayers of Intercession:
- For the families and friends of more than 862,000 who have died due to the Covid-19 disease
- For the people of Ukraine as tension continues to rise in the region
- For the people of Tonga as they recover from the eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- For the beauty of a fresh winter snow
- For department of transportation workers who work in poor weather conditions to make our roads safer
This Week in History:
January 25, 1924 (98 years ago) The first Winter Olympics began in the French Alps. The games included 14 events from six sports. Nearly 300 athletes competed in Chamonix but only 13 women – all figure skaters. Norway was the biggest medal winner of the games including all but one of the nine skiing events. The 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing begin on February 4 and will host an estimated 2900 athletes from 110 countries.
“Study the past if you would define the future.”