I was born in December and carried to church in a Christmas stocking. I have endured a lot of sermons. Preaching is a challenge both for those who preach and those who have to listen. For the most part, church people are indulgent and even pleasant to their preachers. Until they quit preaching and “go to meddlin” that is. If you are wondering what "meddlin" is, Jesus gives a perfect demonstration.
“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit; and news about him spread through the whole countryside.” (Luke 4:14)
People who minster in the “power of the Spirit” usually do preaching that feels like “meddlin”. Apart from that power sermons can be academic and never travel from the head to the heart. Or, they can be topical offering Band-Aid solutions to deep wounds caused by selfishness. They may make people think, laugh, resolve, or sleep but they never stir anyone up to real action, either good or bad.
Jesus had just spent weeks fasting and fighting against strong temptation. And he won. Now he has the authority of empathy and the authority of victory. We so need preachers whom the Holy Spirit has carried through life and into the pulpit with genuine power and authority.
He returns to his hometown church in Nazareth :
“The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
'The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim
Freedom for the prisoners
And recovery of sight for the blind,
To release the oppressed,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’” (Luke 4:17-21)
Jesus does nothing unique at first. He followed the same liturgy this little congregation in Nazareth had observed every Sabbath, but it gets electric with one word, “today”. With that word Jesus pulled the truth out of the attic of scripture and made it a reality that those people, that very morning, had to deal with. That brings God too clo
se. Preachers “go to meddlin” when they do that.
As long as we are dealing with inert doctrine we are fine. As long as “truth” remains on the flannel-graph in Sunday School class, no one will be too upset. Nobody has a problem with truth in theory and at a distance. But when a preacher takes God’s word and shows us what God is doing and what he expects us to do right now, things can get a little dicey.
God expects his word to be
“fulfilled” every time we hear it. He expects us to actually incarnate his truth in our obedience today where we live. There are habits we need to break, relationships we need to mend, clients we need to break with, and causes we need to take up today.
We are not living as believers until “someday” becomes “today”.
That sort of preaching brings God too close. So we play games.
“All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. ‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son?’ They asked.” (Luke 4:22)
Jesus had said that the poor, the oppressed, the prisoners, the blind all will be blessed. But it requires “today” obedience. So, while they acknowledge the goodness of the message, they subtly undermine the messenger.
“Well, that was a nice sermon, but that’s just Jesus, he is just a carpenter’s son, he isn’t really an expert is he?”
Sounds very familiar to our dismissive statements:
“He doesn’t understand my business.”
“They haven’t been where I have been,”
“That Bible was written in a world completely different from ours. It has some nice ideals but no one can really expect us to take it too seriously.”
We use these defense mechanisms to hold the immediate demands of the word at bay. And, if the word refuses to be polite and let us off the hook, we get angry with the messenger.
“Jesus said to them, ‘Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum!’” (Luke 4:23)
There are some opportunities we get just once. Jesus is warning that if they resist too many ‘today’ moments there will come a time when we will get angry seeing God bless other lives, heal other communities, revive other churches because they heard and responded while we rationalized and ignored the truth. That is bad enough. But then Jesus does the next thing that constitutes “meddlin”
He makes God’s love bigger than we are comfortable with.
He reminds them of two stories in which the chosen people miss God and gentiles, one a woman and one a leper, receive a blessing and healing. The point of both is that God is willing to bless anyone who is ready to obey him; even bless people you don’t think deserve to be blessed.
The sermons that most often have religious people ready to run a preacher out of town are the ones that tell us the truth about God’s radical grace! You can beat them over the head all day long with harsh laws and legalistic demands. The majority of them will respond by patting you on the back and telling you how courageous and bold you are. But if you start telling church people how much God loves all those lazy, no-good, non-church going, welfare check collecting, sexually promiscuous, liberal, (add the tag you use) people out there; brother, hold on to your hat!
There is always this desire in us to want the qualifications and clarifications of God’s love clearly spelled out. I want to be able to tell God who he can be friends with. I want God’s love to be made smaller! What I do not realize is that is the same heart as an idolater.
Idolaters always want a God that is powerful enough to do what they need him to do, but small enough for them to control how he does it. Whether we try to control God with our sacrifices, incantations, legalistic obedience, or our theology that arrogantly presumes to understand how God’s grace works and for whom it is meant-idolatry is idolatry.
When a preacher in the power of the Spirit, starts challenging us to immediate action on truth and reckless love for others, well, he has “gone to meddlin”.
Apparently Jesus felt it was worth the risk...
So, I am going to risk it with you in a small way. What part of scripture needs action in your life today?
What person, or group of people, have you felt a justified dislike for that you need to repent of?
Just a thought.