Do you remember slap bracelets? They were those bracelets that would roll out into a ruler-like thing, but when you slapped it against your wrist, the band would curl around and be like a bracelet. Very, very cool, but also very, very, dangerous. You see, inside was a thin piece of metal, and at the peak of their popularity, there were all kinds of injuries that occurred because the metal of the bracelet broke through the fabric and cut children’s wrists. After a while, they were banned from schools. Banned. As in illegal. Not allowed. All because they put the person wearing the bracelet at risk of being harmed.
But what amazes me is those were the bracelets that were considered dangerous. Meanwhile, another popular bracelet back then was not considered dangerous at all. In fact, people were encouraged to wear them. Do you remember WWJD bracelets? What would Jesus do? What would Jesus do bracelets. They were handed out by churches to children by the millions. They were everywhere. And they were viewed as so…nice. Sort of, morally up right. You were a good Christian if you wore one. They were meant to keep kids in line – from being mean to their sister or swearing too much. But no one ever banned them from schools. Ever.
I can’t figure that out. Because if we take Jesus seriously and we take what we just heard in the gospel of Luke seriously – where Jesus almost gets thrown off a cliff because of the sermon he preached- then a WWJD bracelet is the most dangerous bracelet in the world. Because Jesus has a tendency to do things and say things that make people want to kill him. What would Jesus do? According to Luke, something that might put your life at risk. But no one ever thought that wearing a WWJD bracelet would ever put our life at risk, or else schools would have banned them too.
Most Sundays, you all listen to me stand up here for ten, maybe fifteen minutes, and preach on the Scriptures. And you are usually quite kind. You make good eye contact. You give a helpful nod every once in a while, showing me that you understand and you are following along. Some of you will even sometimes give a reflective facial reaction, indicating that you really get what I am saying. And then afterwards, you all shake my hand and sometimes you say, “Nice sermon, pastor,” or “That was interesting, thanks.” But never once have any of you ever tried to throw me off a cliff for something I preached.
Now on my drive home, I am usually appreciative of that fact. But in light of today’s gospel reading, I’m having second thoughts.
Jesus has just returned home. And he is preaching his first sermon at his home church. That can be pretty intimidating, right Jimmy? Anytime a hometown hero returns, it gets everyone’s attention. I mean, it’s like when the musician Owl City comes back to Owatonna. He is on the front page of the paper and everyone is talking about it.
So you can imagine that the temple was packed that day because Jesus, Joseph’s boy, was back in town, and didn’t you hear? He’s gonna be preaching the sermon on Sunday. So everyone crowds in, his old neighbors, his former basketball teammates, his old Sunday school teachers… everyone is there. People who never in their life thought that that pain in the neck of a kid would have amounted to anything, let alone a preacher.
And things start off well enough. He reads from the book of Isaiah. And everyone is just delighted with him. “Look at how well he reads the scripture!” They say. “Look at how nice he looks in his Sunday best.” But then by the end of the story, everyone is enraged. I mean, they are really, really, angry and they end up chasing Jesus out of town to throw him off a cliff. Now either it was a really bad sermon…or the deeper truth about this text is that when the gospel of God is truly preached, when it is really spoken, people will want to kill you. You see we don’t like it when people tell us the truth about ourselves. We tell our children to tell the truth all the time. But then as adults, we aren’t so fond of the truth. We don’t like people knowing or pointing out the truth about us. But that’s what Jesus does in his preaching. He tells the truth.
So I’m having second thoughts. Because if I am really preaching the gospel, if I am really speaking the truth, if I am really saying what Jesus would say, you should be mad at me each Sunday. So enraged that you want to silence me. You should maybe even want to throw me off a cliff afterwards. Jimmy, you know what I’m talking about. You just preached your first sermon here a couple of weeks ago. Did anyone want to throw you off a cliff? No? Which means maybe you and I are not good preachers. Or maybe we are not Christ-like preachers.
So what was it? What truth did Jesus proclaim that got the folks in Nazareth so riled up, so offended that they wanted to destroy Jesus?
Well, Jesus told the truth about God’s love. But to the people, to his people, he became a traitor that morning. Right there in his hometown pulpit. Jesus spoke of God’s love not for the people in the pews, but for their enemies.
Jesus does this by telling them two stories. Now, the people at church must not have known their Bibles very well because these stories weren’t new. They came right from their own Bibles. He tells them how Elijah, their prophet, a prophet from Israel, skipped over the starving widows in their land, to bring food to a widow in Sidon. A woman who was a gentile and a foreigner. An ‘illegal alien’ if you will. Then Jesus reminds them that while there were many lepers in Israel, Elisha, another prophet from Israel, went and healed Naaman, a leper from Syria. Another foreigner. These are stories about God’s healing love going to someone who was outside. Someone who was not part of “the chosen people.”
A widow from Sidon and a leper from Syria. These were enemies of Israel who were healed by the God of Israel. Do you see what Jesus has done? Not only has he told the truth about God’s love, but he’s also told them the truth about themselves. He’s exposed their prejudice. That they only want God’s love for themselves and no one else. He has said, “You are only concerned for yourselves. You only worry about your country and your people. But God doesn’t work that way. God doesn’t play favorites.”
While he was a traitor to them, he was a truth-teller for God. Jesus tells them a truth about God they didn’t want to hear. About how God’s love stretches farther and wider than Israel. And what do they do? They try to kill him for it. That’s what we do to truth tellers.
I want to tell you a story about a man who is considered a traitor in this country. A man who told the truth for God, I think, and is being punished dearly for it. In late 2009, or early 2010, Bradley Manning, a young man in his twenties who was serving in Iraq, came across a video that he should have never seen. He discovered a classified video that showed an American army helicopter fire at and kill unarmed civilians and two journalists in Iraq. Then when people came to retrieve their bodies, they shot at them too. Even children were hurt in the midst of all of this violence.
Bradley Manning decided to leak the video through a website called WikiLeaks. To reveal the truth about the awful things that our country was doing. The sacredness of human beings were being damaged and destroyed. And then he was arrested. Put in solitary confinement for 10 months. He was denied social interaction, sunlight, and sometimes he was denied the dignity of wearing clothes. He has been in jail for 981 days. To this very day, he still sits in a prison cell in this country and will soon be on trial with the possibility of life in prison. All because he discovered how human beings were being destroyed by the actions of our government. Children were being hurt! No wonder this was classified information. If the American public knew this, we would be outraged. And so Bradley Manning revealed to us the truth. And we should be outraged. Yet Bradley continues to spend each night in jail, perhaps for the rest of his life.
Before leaking this information, Bradley Manning asked someone online, “If you had free reign over classified networks… and you saw incredible things, awful things… what would you do?” Maybe we should also ask, What would Jesus do? Would Jesus leak the video? Or would he ignore it?
We don’t like it when the truth about our lives is revealed. The hard truth. The life-threatening truth of today’s gospel is that God’s healing love extends far beyond whomever we would think is in or out. It reaches even into enemy territory. And that truth almost gets Jesus killed. In a couple of weeks, we will learn that in the end, that truth does get Jesus killed on the cross.
In the words of Barbara Brown Taylor, while God is possessive, God is not possessed. We cannot control God or tell God who to care for and who not to care for. God goes where God chooses. This affection and care that God has for this world -it is a crazy and wild, uncontainable kind of love. It’s wrapped itself around you and your shoulders like a prayer shawl knit together by loving, church ladies. But this love is also like a drape that has blanketed the earth, reaching far beyond where your mind and body have ever been. Reaching out and grabbing a hold of the foreigner thousands of miles away and the enemy who lives next door. This beautifully broad love of God will not be possessed. It will not be contained. It belongs to no one. But is given for all. That is Jesus’ truth.
Will we speak that truth? We just might be called a traitor if we do and we know what happens to traitors. But we might also be a truth-teller for God. What would Jesus do? Amen.
To find out more about Bradley Manning: http://www.bradleymanning.org