Beyond Good Guys and Bad Guys: Who Wins? 1-27-13

For the whole month of January in my sermons, I have been arguing with Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association, who declared after the predictable Newtown, CT massacre that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” When I heard him say that I felt that the theological assumptions of that statement are totally contrary to basic Christian values. I decided to take this month to try to unpack the theological assumptions and examine how Jesus asks us act and believe. Last week, I talked about idol worship and how all of us are inclined to worship idols rather than the Living God, to hide from God’s calling rather than to actively engage with the world. Today, we read one of the most powerful statements Jesus made in his life about how he felt people should act and believe. We’re slated to read half of reading this week and half next week, but it’s so important I’d like to read it all both weeks to close out this series.

Luke 4:14-21 Jesus returned to Galilee powerful in the Spirit. News that he was back spread through the countryside. He taught in their meeting places to everyone’s acclaim and pleasure. 16-21 He came to Nazareth where he had been reared. As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written, God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, To set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is God’s year to act!” He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.”  22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”  23 He said to them, “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.’”  24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.  25 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;  26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.  27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”  28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.  29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.  30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Jan. 27, 2013

Beyond Good Guys and Bad Guys: Who Wins?

Jesus was the quintessential hometown boy made good, wouldn’t you say? Everybody was so excited when he came back to town to speak. It’s like he comes home from Harvard on spring break, and stands up to talk to the church, and people nudge each other and say things like “I had him in kindergarden; he was always ahead of everybody else!” or “He was always helping the younger kids when he was in youth group.” We could hardly wait to hear what he had to say.

We started getting a little uncomfortable when he started talking about welcoming the immigrants, opening up the prisons, and giving to people that he knows we know will only waste the money. But we would have been fine if he stopped right there. We’ve ignored lots of other preachers in the past. But then he started really meddling, saying he’s not going to help us before those others get help, saying God’s always about helping the poor first.

“Whose bright idea was it to ask this guy to preach?” “I thought he would be a little more gracious, didn’t you, after all we did for him?” “Who does he think he is now that he went to that fancy college? He act like he’s the son of God or something!”


Last Sunday a dear brother pastor friend of mine preached at a nearby church on the same text I preached on last week – that great story of Gideon, the timid warrior who God uses to lead a mighty army. He made some of the same points I did, and he used the text in a similar way to challenge people to think about deep and overwhelming problem of gun violence in our country. After church a new member who had pledged a significant amount of money to the church wrote to my friend and told him he would not come back to church because he didn’t want to hear political opinions in church. Of course, my friend felt a little like Jesus run out of town on a rail, the people trying to throw him off a cliff.

When I heard about that, I felt grateful that this congregation makes a little more room than that for discussion and different opinions. But it also gave me pause, realizing how hard it is to talk about gun violence without raising serious hackles. I’ve been trying to not talk so much about guns, as about the theological issues behind the disagreements we have in our society over guns. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have that other conversation.

I’ve been trying to talk about good guys and bad guys, and our assumption that we are the good guys.  In our passage for this morning, Jesus clearly tells his hometown synagogue that they are not the good guys; and even if they were, they are not the first priority of God. He has developed this great reputation for healing and good works, and he tells them he can’t help them because he’s going first to the poor, the blind, and people in prison. It’s like he’s saying “the ones you thought were the bad guys are God’s first priority, and you’re not really as good as you think you are.”

How you feel about guns has a lot to do with where your hometown is, don’t you think?  If your hometown is a little country town in the middle of Wyoming with a long history of hunting and fishing and living off the land, you’re going to feel a lot differently about guns than if your hometown is a big city.

Twenty years ago a guy who lived two doors up from my house in Philadelphia went into a little coffee-shop up on 45th St. If I remember correctly, he had his hand in his pocket and told the shop owner to give him the money from the till. He was a “bad kid.” The shopkeeper had a gun and shot and killed the boy. It turned out the boy was holding a comb in his pocket. The shopkeeper had no way of knowing that. He was never charged.

This is about the worst example I could use for my case, don’t you think? The kid really was a bad egg, a troubled youngster taking out his troubles on the world. Only a few mourned, really. Years later, though, when I moved in I noticed that his sister had his name tattooed on her neck. She named her second child after him.

My point is that you are going to feel really different about guns if you are from Wyoming and everybody hunts as opposed to being from Philadelphia and your brother was killed by a gun, and one in six of the guys in high school are carrying, and you can’t send your kids out to play because there might be a fight. It makes a difference what your hometown is and how you grew up. But all of us are trying to figure out how best to protect our hometown, our home, our loved ones and friends.

There are still a wide range of views, but there’s a lot more energy in the city where 300+ are killed every year for doing something about illegal handguns and limiting the carnage any way you can, even if it means limiting some individual freedoms in favor of a stronger, more viable community and sense of community.

My impression is that the voices of folks who call their hometown a big city do not carry as much weight in the conversation as the idealized small hometown in the Midwest. Because folks in the big city are thought somehow to be “bad” and causing the violence through their inferior values, they do not have as strong a voice in the discussion.

Jesus calls us to community, declares that God cares for the poor and the oppressed with a particular passion. Paul says, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored all rejoice.” (I Cor. 12:26) We all lose when we don’t listen to some people because we have defined them as “bad” and we only listen to people like us who we think are “good.” All of us fall short of God’s desires for us. All of us are called to be part of God’s beloved community, as beloved children of God.

God loves each one of us, loving especially that place where we are hurt and falling short and in need. God in Christ will set each of us free to be part of God’s community, to spread the good news to the poor, to be part of the healing of the blind, to set the captive free and to declare the year of God’s favor, the year when God will make things right.

This is God’s good news.

Responsive hymn: “Live Into Hope of Captives Freed”