by Rev Dr. Helen Svoboda-Barber
Today’s Gospel shows us two different types of communities worshiping God.
The first community is the synagogue in Jesus’ hometown. This worshiping community is so focused on keeping things in good order and following all the traditions that they are blind to what could be. They knew Jesus as a child and cannot imagine him as anything more than that child.
Before this morning’s Gospel reading, Jesus had begun having some moderate success in other places. He was beginning to teach and to heal and to cast out evil in a number of places. And so he thought it was time for him to come home. He was ready to offer this same healing and teaching and casting out evil to his own hometown. But it turns out they were not ready. They could not see and they could not believe that Jesus is anything more than he used to be. The leaders of this worshiping community do not want disruption of the way things have always been.
This synagogue in Jesus’ hometown is like a church that believes its real mission is to draw people in and to form newcomers to become like the people who are currently members.
Whether or not this is the mission statement listed on any churches’ bulletins or website pages, in reality the synagogue in Jesus’ hometown is much like many churches today.
These churches want to grow. They spend much of their time thinking about how to draw more people in. Their worry centers on the fact that numbers are shrinking or that they are aging. The leaders’ focus becomes more on getting more people in the doors and less about how Jesus can shape and form the lives of the people who are already there.
If you notice: In today’s Gospel story, Jesus is not able to work effectively in a worshiping congregation like this. His hometown congregation is so focused on keeping things the way they are, that it misses out on the healing and the grace and the teaching and the casting out of evil that Jesus offers.
The second half of our gospel today actually has a model for a whole different way of being church. This model of being church is not about bringing people in the doors. It is about sending people forth. This model is not about how many people are in the pews on a Sunday morning nor is it about how many people watch the service each week online. This second model is about training up a small group of devoted people to go out and serve the world.
This second model for church is a model where individuals are in real relationship with Jesus. Where people have set down what they thought they knew in order to make room for a new thing. Where all sorts of different individuals sit at the feet of Jesus and learn. These people have given up an old way of life and have invested in learning a new model for living and a new model for being faithful.
And when this small group of people have enough of an understanding of who Jesus is and what Jesus can do, then Jesus sends them out, with power and hope and clarity. Jesus sends them out knowing there will be places they can share the gifts of Jesus and other places where those gifts will be ignored.
In this second model, Jesus does not gather people together and hope more people will join them. Throughout the gospel, Jesus forms those who come near, and then sends these people out.
In today’s gospel, this small band of followers of Jesus were ready. They had the formation they needed — not as much as they could ever have, but enough to get started. Jesus does not keep them close– he send them. These followers of Jesus went out. They lived IN the world, and were able to share the healing and the teaching and the casting out of evil that Jesus was unable to do himself within his hometown worshiping community.
This second type of community from today’s Gospel is a model that really excites me for St. Luke’s. What would it be like if St. Luke’s set down that old model of church- the one similar to the first part of today’s gospel? What if we spent less time and energy on drawing people in and forming them to be just like us?
What if St. Luke’s became a church like the community described in the second part of today’s Gospel passage? What if our buildings and our website and our Facebook page were places where faithful people came to be deeply formed by the words of Jesus? What if these places were where we shared with one another how we have seen God at work in the world? What if our buildings and our gifts were a resource to the wider community? What if St. Luke’s became not a destination to “be church”, but St. Luke’s became a place to be sent from — to be Jesus’ hands and feet and work and witness in the world?
I would like to lead a St. Luke’s like this.
Are you ready to become a church to be sent from? A church that equips people for ministry out there in the world? A church where we gather for support and deepening our understanding of what God is up to in our own lives and in the world around us. A church that makes a difference in the community, in the world, and in each of our lives.
This is the invitation within today’s Gospel. The choice is ours. What will you choose?