Other Voices

February 3, 2019

Series: February 2019

Category: Communion Sunday

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Luke 4:21-30

21Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?"

23He 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.'" 24And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. 25But 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; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." 28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They 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. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD. 

Other Voices

          Today’s passage follows directly last week’s gospel reading.  Jesus has just announced good news to the poor, proclaiming the release of slaves, the restoration of sight to the blind, and the forgiveness of economic debts.  The people are amazed by what they hear, and Jesus might have done well to leave good enough alone.  Instead, he proceeds to remind the people of a series of moments when other voices, those outside the chosen people, have been the source of wisdom or faithfulness.  It’s then that the notion that the prophet is not accepted in the prophet’s hometown begins to come to fruition” (Lk. 4:22). 

          On one level, this passage is obviously about Jesus speaking a bold word.  Sometimes I think we assume all of life, certainly the life of faith, is about finding the right words, novel words, to speak.  And yet, what’s interesting here is that most of what Jesus says here is either a quote of the prophet Isaiah or a recalling of their shared history.  It is the context in which he shares these familiar words that drives the peoples’ resistance to him.  Because of it, they are unable to hear what he has to say.    

          On another level, therefore, this passage is about our ability to hear truthful words and be shaped by them.  In a world in which we are so calloused to others, so quick to decide who is detestable, do we value the ability to hear and be shaped by another’s words, others’ voices, a spiritual practice?  Now at this point, this sermon could go in one of two directions.  It could go, as the church has often gone, in the direction of pointing out all the ways in which people don’t get it, don’t listen, or refuse to recognize God’s voice.  You can read Scripture that way, as repeating cycle of the people not listening, falling out of favor, and then being drawn back in by a loving God.  Yet I’m not sure how much that reading, at least solely that reading, does for morale, not to mention shaping people for right action and transformation.

          So, the other way this sermon could go, and will go, is lifting up our capacity to shaped by other’s words, to show how people have been powerfully shaped to live the good life simply by taking in the wisdom right in front of them.  There’s a book one of you, Polly Chandler, shared with me called Leading from Within that captures this beautifully.  It features a number of leaders from business, government, and the community, asking them what poems have moved them.  On one page it displays the poem and on the adjacent page each leader includes a couple of paragraphs that shares how the poem has shaped them.

It was great fun to explore this book.  You may remember a couple of weeks ago, my spouse Sherri shared during the Joys & Concerns prayers for the Bogle family.  Jack Bogle, who had just died, had been a member at the congregation where Sherri served as a pastor, and if you know anything about the investment world, you will know the Vanguard Group, which Bogle founded.  Bogle revolutionized the mutual fund industry, and he was a deeply principled man.  Wouldn’t you know that flipping near the back of the book, I found on page 210 a selection chosen by one John C. “Jack” Bogle.  Bogle explains that after living with a failing heart for 30 years, rescued finally by a transplant, his career with Vanguard was over, but his life was not.  He describes feeling “a shiver of recognition,” when reading Tennyson’s “Ulysses," for the way it helped him recognize his own odyssey still had legs ahead. 

I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
life to the lees: All times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore…
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honored of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am part of all that I have met…


Ulysses gave Bogle the courage to continue on his own odysseys.[1]

Here’s another:  Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, founder of AmericaSpeaks, an organization dedicated to engaging citizens in democracy turns to the poet Wendell Berry to tell us about how she is restored in the face of work that can easily leave someone callous and exhausted.  In his “The Peace of Wild Things,” Berry writes,

When despair for the world grows in me

 and I wake in the night at the least sound

 in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,

 I go and lie down where the wood drake

 rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

 I come into the peace of wild things

 who do not tax their lives with forethought

 of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

 And I feel above me the day-blind stars

 waiting with their light. For a time

 I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.[2]


To whom do you turn to be reminded what to do in order to feel free and renewed, reconnected and recharged?  To whom do you turn to be inspired, to take on a new challenge or adventure? 

You won’t be surprised that there’s more than one selection from Leading from Within from the poet Mary Oliver.  I am still unused to referring to her as the “late” Mary Oliver.  It’s not so much that the world is less beautiful with our her in it, more that its beauty is less well-named.  When you take preaching at my seminary, at least when I did, the first thing read to you is not from a preaching textbook—thanks be to God.  It’s Mary Oliver’s poem from Thirst called “Praying,” which could have just as easily been titled, “Preaching.”


It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.[3]

The life of the Christian is, at its core, about learning to listen and be moved by the words of Jesus, on its simplest level.  Then perhaps we need simply to practice being moved by words of wisdom that are all around us, just as they were all around Jesus.  That is a skill, a discipline of the spiritual life.  I am inviting us to build our own “Leading from Within” collection.  Using this board, I want us to show each other what moves, inspires, motivates us, poetry, lyrics, Scripture official or not; it’s up to you.  Simply include in one page a writing that has touched you and some of your own words that expound upon why.  This will be around church, here and in Findlay Hall for the next several weeks and do I encourage you to watch and be fed as it is filled with the manna of wisdom, practicing that skill Mary Oliver describes as making room where “another voice” may speak.  Amen.


[1] Sam M Intrator and Megan Scribner, eds Leading from Within:  Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Lead (San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass, 2007), 210-211.

[2] Ibid., 206-207.

[3] “Messenger” and “Praying” from Mary Oliver, Thirst (Beacon Press:  Boston, 2006), 1, 37.