January 30, 2022 Sanctuary Worship, Sermon, “Good Trouble”

January 30, 2022

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Scripture: Luke 4:21-30

   In a tweet in June of 2018, the late Congressman John Lewis wrote:

Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.

   The phrase has stuck.  “Good trouble.”

   I think that’s what Jesus was up to in the synagogue in Nazareth that day long ago.  Jesus was stirring up some “good trouble.”

   Last week, we heard the story of Jesus’ inaugural sermon in the synagogue in Nazareth.  He read from the scroll of Isaiah,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

   because he has anointed me

   to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

   and recovery of sight to the blind,

   to let the oppressed go free,

   to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.1

   These words of hope and the vindication of the marginalized were well received by the congregation in Nazareth.  Luke tells us that “all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”2  So far, so good.

   Then Luke tells us, “They said, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’”3  Some commentators see this as a negative – a put-down.  That would be heard as something like, “Just who does he think he is?”  But that does not line up with the “gracious words” that we are told of in the first half of the verse.  What if the congregation isn’t really riled up?  Who started the controversy that nearly led to Jesus being killed?

   It might well have been Jesus who started the whole ruckus.  How? Why?  Look at what he says.

   Jesus says:

Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb,

‘Doctor, cure yourself!’

And you will say,

‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’4

Nowhere in Luke’s telling of this story does anyone in Nazareth ask Jesus to do anything.  No one requested a healing or a display of divine power.  Could it be that Jesus is egging on a controversy?  Could it be that Jesus is stirring up “good trouble?”

   What really gets the congregation fired up are these words:

But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up 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.5

What’s so bad about that?  Well, Sidon was a Gentile city in northern Israel.  Naaman was a Syrian.  Is Jesus saying that God was working miracles among Gentiles, even at the exclusion of the Jews?

   Would that be enough of a radical idea that the congregation might rise up to kill the preacher?  Would the idea of a radically inclusive God be accepted calmly and quietly – perhaps even “decently and in order?”  Would a dramatic reminder that “the love of God is broader than the measures of the mind, and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind”?6

   Jesus is telling those who hear him – then and now – that God does not belong to one people, one group, one person.  God is the God of all.  God’s love and mercy flows to all.  God’s provision and protection extends to all.  And for some people, that is not good news.  But it’s “good trouble.”

   Will Willimon, former dean of the chapel at Duke University and a United Methodist bishop, tells of seminarians who were engaged in a discussion of student sermons in the preaching class. One of the members of the class had preached last Sunday in his church and had been saddened that a number of his rural parishioners expressed anger because of his sermon. One man had even walked out before the singing of the final hymns.

   Attempting to be helpful, members of the class jumped into a discussion of what the preacher had done wrong. Had he overstated his arguments in the sermon? Had he spent enough time developing personal relationships with his people? Had he spoken in too strong or harsh a tone of voice?

   The crusty old homiletics professor listened to the discussion and then finally said, “Did it ever occur to any of you that perhaps what he did wasn’t wrong; it was right? I’m bothered by the assumption that many of you seem to have that there is some way to talk about Jesus without getting hurt for doing so. Let me assure you, none of you are smarter than Jesus. Jesus got into trouble for his preaching; so will you!”

   This is always the preacher’s dilemma.  How far do I go?  How much do I say?  Am I being too this or that?

   It is a leadership dilemma as well.  Do we continue doing what have always done, or should we try something new?  Are we in preservation mode or expansion mode?  Are we living up to the promises we make to God, to ourselves, and to the church?

   It’s a discipleship dilemma too.  How do we speak of faith without offending?  How do we live out our faith but not seem pushy?  How can we engage with people with whom we strongly disagree without coming off as superior or judgmental?

   It is not easy.  It is never easy.

   But no one ever promised easy.  Sometimes being a follower of Jesus means engaging in “good trouble.”

   Being a follower of Jesus means that from time to time we will be hurt.  Being a follower of Jesus means that we will routinely risk the danger of losing a friend or a loved one because of what we believe and do.  Practicing the love that Jesus calls us to share will offend some who cannot imagine how God could love this person or that person.

   And there is the dilemma.  Do we follow Jesus and do what Jesus calls us to do? Or do we play it safe?  Do we speak or do we stay silent?  Do we act or do we abstain?

   Jesus got into trouble for being who he was and doing what he did.  Why should we expect to avoid it.

   Oh, and Jesus’ kind of trouble is what John Lewis called “good trouble.”
Don’t avoid good trouble.

   Not now and not forever more.  Amen.

1) Luke 4:18-19

2) Luke 4:22a

3) Luke 4:22b

4) Luke 4:23

5) Luke 4:25-26

6) Frederick William Faber, There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy

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