1. Epiphany 3.19 “Get A Grip” Luke 4:16-30

The notion of a free gift sounds great at first to all ears. Something for nothing! Yea! Who doesn’t like free stuff? Well, lots of people, as it turns out. Most everyone, ourselves included, really, at least initially. Let’s start with the easy reasons we reject certain “free gifts”. The free trip to Florida as long as you listen to the 3 hour sales pitch for time-shares is not really “free”. I’d rather have dental surgery than listen to a 3 hour sales pitch, with stale cinnamon buns, big video screens…

The “catch” is what keeps us from most of the “free gifts” we see advertised relentlessly in modern media. The free warranties that are unenforceable or the free returns that don’t mention the 10% re-stocking fee. Not to name names, but “Evangelical Bibles” up in Richmond, Virginia is one such outfit. Indeed, Christian groups and churches can lead the list in “free stuff” that isn’t free at all. No membership dues in most congregations I know, but you have to listen to relentless stewardship sales pitches from pulpit, video screen, phone calls (I also regard oral surgery as preferable to stewardship sermons, myself, so if you’re just chomping at the bit to hear one, I’ll probably disappoint you, I’m afraid. Maybe the vicar will surprise us one Sunday, but I doubt it). So many churches operate as pyramid schemes, don’t they? They want you to join only as long as you’ll be an effective recruiting operative to get more members, and will tell you this is the Great Commission, that Jesus demands recruiting of all of us—it’s the “missional mindset”. We despair of ever enjoying a truly free lunch and maybe begin to suspect that even Jesus’ feasts have hidden catches…

Having been fooled, pitched, swindled, hornswoggled a few times, we become savvy consumers, wary and cynical of anything that claims to be “free”—especially from the modern church. We don’t want to be fooled again, so we come in with our guard up, especially to a Christian Church. And that’s one reason why we don’t like free stuff—it’s all marketing, right? We don’t want to look like perfect fools and naive children. We’re from Missouri. You have to “show us”, prove it. We don’t take no one’s word for nothing!

There may have been a few folks like that in the synagogue at Nazareth that Saturday morning when Jesus came in, read the lesson from Isaiah, the place where it says “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor, He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free all the oppressed; to proclaim the Jubilee Year of the Lord”; but I don’t think that was the main reason for most of the opposition to the Free Gifts Jesus is bestowing by His Word, here, today. I’ll tell you why I think this:

Jesus is pretty much the only One who’s onto the Pharisees and their game, denouncing their missional mindset that makes them travel land and sea to win one convert as the pure hypocrisy of sons of hell (Mt. 23:15). Most people think the Pharisees’ tit-for-tat message that God will help those who help themselves, but really pours it on those who help Him save the lost and less righteous. Most figure “Freedom isn’t Free!”—especially the Divine variety(!). You’ve got to earn it! But Jesus’ denouncement of the missional-minded Pharisees only got Him nailed to a cross. The Pharisees were wildly popular in the first century. No one saw them then as pyramid scheming hucksters—except Jesus and His apostles (and even the apostles didn’t get it till after the Resurrection). So maybe there were a few who rejected Jesus that day because they thought there must be a hidden catch, a gotcha that would demand something to deserve these “free gifts”. But I doubt there were many, if any…

No, there is a deeper reason we recoil from the offer of a free gift. It’s called Pride. Listen again to the audience to whom Jesus promises Freedom: “the poor, brokenhearted, captives, blind, oppressed”. To which ancient Israelites and Modern Americans alike stand up with one voice and say: “Who you callin’ poor, broken, blind, Mister? We’ll show you how poor and broken and blind we are! You want a piece of us, Jesus? Why don’t you come on over here and git you some!” That’s Southern Text Tradition, NIV, marginal reading…

Now, it takes about 5 minutes for the penny to drop for most of them. At first, they marvel at His gracious Word, the power in the proclamation which stuns and enchants as visions of Heaven and real Freedom dance before all eyes. And it looks good. It looks Real Good! But then they go, “Wait a minute! Is this not Joseph, the carpenter’s son? Maybe he can fix a broken chair, but a broken person? C’mon!” But Jesus gets them before they get themselves. He says “doubtless you’ll say ‘Physician heal yourself’!—do some of those miracles we heard You did down the road in Capernaum.” (They are miffed the first stop on the Messiah Tour was not His hometown but the neighboring and better regarded city of Capernaum where He’s been hanging out). Fix some broken people before our eyes and then we’ll talk!

But Jesus shoots back: hey, there were lots of widows in the days of Elijah; but to none of them was Elijah sent except a foreigner in Sidon. Many lepers were around in the time of Elisha but he healed none except the Syrian general Naaman. Prophet without honor in His hometown and all. They were too proud to admit they were broken and so refused any free repairs. And that really ticked them off! Not only is He calling them poor, broken; but stupid and stubborn too!

So, they thrust Him out of the city, led Him to the brow of a cliff to throw Him down and Jesus just passes through their midst, goes His Way. Which I love, because here is the miracle! Literally they can’t get a grip on Him(!)—His Body just slips through their fists and fingers—much the Way He will pass through the Stone on Easter morning or the locked door in the Upper Room that night. But they don’t appreciate this miracle at all. It just makes them madder!

It’s tough to give a gift to someone whose hands are perpetually balled up in fists to strike anyone who insults their Pride; tough to heal broken people who insist they’re Whole. But, before we rise up to condemn that generation, we might look in the mirror and see: we do this stuff all the time, ourselves! We’re always trying to justify ourselves, show some reason why Jesus saves us—some talent we have for the Kingdom, some superiority of ours that makes Jesus choose us. No church body has been worse about this than our own over the last 30 years!

Getting a grip on Jesus is tough, as the people in Nazareth literally discovered. When you try to force your way into His Kingdom, make Him do your will, He slips through your fingers in the most miraculously frustrating manner. It will drive you crazy! But there’s a solution: just admit He’s right: you are poor, broken, captive (not very clever, either). He’s gotcha! But here’s the Jubilee Year—which in the Bible is a free vacation year, to do nothing, no work, just Feast with God and enjoy His gifts, lolly-gagging around with Jesus enchanted by His magical means of Grace. It’s the freest, most wondrous Way to live!

You can’t get a grip on Him; Jesus gets a grip on you. At His Word, Heaven’s gate swings wide open; Neverending Feast, free for all—bestowing Peace, surpassing all understanding, guarding heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.