One Saturday afternoon I went over to Tammy's Lounge, a bar a few blocks from the church I was serving in Detroit, to see if there was anyone interested in talking about God.  I sat down next to a stranger.  We chatted.  "Look, if you're from a church, you might as well know, I don't believe in churches.  All they want is your money!"

"Check us out," I replied.  "If you catch us begging for money, walk out." 

"Can I buy you a drink?" 

"Thanks, I'll have orange juice."

"Goldie, give this man an orange juice."

We began to talk about God.  About Jesus.  Quiet conversation.  I wasn't preaching.  I wasn't trying to ram anything down his throat.  Suddenly, Goldie, the bar tender said, in a very loud voice, "Hey you!  Get out of here! We don't allow that kind of talk in here!"

"Can I finish my drink?"

"Okay, finish your drink, and get the hell out of here."

I could have talked about anything in that bar.   Dirty jokes.  Nonsense of all kinds would have been fine.  But to talk about God!  To share a word from the Lord Jesus!   That was too much for Goldie to bear.  Why?   What was it that aroused such anger in this decent woman?

For years the people of Nazareth hadn't paid much attention to Jesus.  He was a nice Jewish boy.  He worked hard, helped his family.  And when he read scriptures in the synagogue he could really make those words come alive!   It was a pleasure to listen to him read.  But no one took much notice of this quiet young man.

Then Jesus went away, like a lot of pious and not-so-pious Jews, to hear John the Baptist down by the Jordan River, and get baptized.  And ever since he came back, he's been acting strange!   What's become of our nice Jewish boy?  He doesn’t act the same.  He doesn't talk the same.  Who does he think he is?

It's the Sabbath, and all the folks are gathered in the synagogue.  It's Jesus' turn to read.  They hand him a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.  He unrolls it and begins to read:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor,
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.  And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  And he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
                                                            Luke 4:18-21

His friends and neighbors marvel at his gracious words.   But when Jesus says to them, "I am the fulfillment of this prophecy!"  they get nervous.  "We know this man.  This is Joseph's son.  Who does he think he is?"

Jesus begins to tell them things they don't want to hear.  He gives them truth straight out of heaven.  And what do they do?  They run him out of town!  They try to throw him off a cliff!  They want to kill him!


These are people he has known all his life.  His friends and relatives.  And now they want to kill him?

Well, when you think of it, why can't Jesus be a little more diplomatic?  Why does he have to stir things up?  If he wants a following, he'd better put a little more sugar on his message.  Today in our churches we know how to do it.  We know how to come up with a gospel that's "user friendly."

And yet…..when Jesus comes into our church….when he makes his presence known in our little synagogue, he does the same thing he did back there in Nazareth.   Not only does he speak words of comfort, he also give us truth that stings!  He makes claims which we find offensive!

When Jesus reads from Isaiah, it's like music from heaven.  But when he says, "I am the fulfillment of those words," we begin to wonder.

When he says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father but by me," that's when we start having our doubts.  

"Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it."
                                                            Matthew 7:24-27

"These words of mine……"  They are going to make you or break you.

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."

The people of Nazareth were not the only ones to take offense at this man's words.  There is a group of people who have been taking offense at Jesus' words for twenty centuries.  Like the folks in Nazareth, these people feel quite familiar with Jesus.  "We know him.  We've been around him all our lives.  He belongs to us." 

…..Until Jesus starts hitting them with living truth.  Then they want to run him out of town.  They want to lock him up in a back room.

Who are these people?  Professing Christians. 

We like Jesus.  We really like him…  until he gets personal.  Until he comes in close and begins digging at our hearts with truth.  That's when we hesitate.  Because we're not ready to get with his program, to push all the distractions aside and turn our lives over to him. 

But that's what his word calls for.  "He that is not with me is against me.  He that does not gather with me scatters."

We have reservations about those words of Jesus.  Some of them are beautiful and inspiring.  But some of Jesus' words are penetrating and hard.  What are we going to do with those words?

The entire seventeenth chapter of John is a prayer.  Jesus is talking to his Father about his disciples.  He's delighted with his motley crew!  He's pleased with them.  Why?

Because they're active in the synagogue?
Because they don't drink, smoke, or play cards?
Because they vote a certain way?

No, Jesus is delighted with his disciples for one reason:  because they take hold of his words and live them!

"I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them to me, and they have kept thy word."
John 17:6

"They have kept thy word."  That was the one thing that mattered to Jesus.  "They have kept thy word."

So here we have a church that has great possibilities:  this church!  Good things have been going on here these days.  We're breaking out of the mold.  The Spirit of God is helping us to understand that each of us is a laborer in this Vineyard.  Each of us has specific work to do, laid on us by the Lord Jesus himself.

But whether this stirring of the Spirit among us will produce lasting growth, enduring power, depends on what we do with these words of Jesus which have been coming to us with great power lately.    

"I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them to me, and they have kept thy word."

The Lord Jesus is manifesting himself to us in the same way he manifested himself to those first disciples: by giving us a living word. 

All we have to do is take it straight and put ourselves under its power, like those disciples did.

They weren't scholars.  They weren't geniuses.  And they certainly weren't pious wimps. 

They were fishermen, tax collectors, ordinary people like we are.  Far from perfect.  They stumbled and fumbled just like we do. 

But they held on to what Jesus said to them, trusted it, and did it!

"Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

They believed that.  And long after their eyes could no longer see him, they knew he was there.   His words were true!

"Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well."

Be about the business of the kingdom and the Father will provide what you need.  You don't need bake sales and fund raisers, and pledge drives.  The Father will see that you have the money you need.  Just stay focused on the kingdom.

They believed that.  And it turned out to be true.  No wonder they turned the world upside-down with their message!

"If you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go.  First be reconciled with your brother; then come and offer your gift."

They understood that the Spirit of the Lord could only move with power among them when they were one with each other around Jesus.  Where there was resentment, it needed to be dealt with.  Where there was friction between sisters and brothers, they needed to get things right.  And as they did, the power of the Master continued to move through them. 

Once we are convinced, as they were convinced, that Jesus is Lord…..and that his words are like no other words ever spoken on this earth, our days of stagnation are over.   We rise out of our graves of apathy and begin living under the power of those words.

And suddenly we find ourselves standing where Jesus stood that day in Nazareth.  Suddenly it's we who proclaim in truth and power:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon us,
because he has anointed us to preach good news to the poor,
He has sent us to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

In his name we too will say, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing," because the risen Lord is doing his redemptive work through us.

And this church will continue to grow in ways that you and I would never dream, as the Lord himself manifests his power through us.