Cross of Grace

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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

Prophets and Powdered-Butt Syndrome

Luke 4:21-30

Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 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?” 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.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 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.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 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. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Have you ever heard of something called “Powdered Butt Syndrome?” I know some of you have because you’ve been part of Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University” class, which is where I first heard about it.

According to Dave Ramsey “Powdered Butt Syndrome” is an affliction that prevents someone – a parent or grandparent, especially – from accepting advice or learning a new thing from someone who’s butt they’ve once powdered, such as a child or grandchild.

Dave Ramsey refers to “Powdered Butt Syndrome” when he warns people against being too bold in suggesting their elders make changes to their financial plans, specifically where things like nursing home or extended care facility insurance are concerned. Presumably, parents and grandparents don’t want to be told – by the children or grandchildren who’s diapers they’ve changed and whose butts they’ve powdered – about what to do with their money, no matter how correct they might be or how good that advice is.

Well, I’m not sure Powdered Butt Syndrome (PBS) is limited to parents and their children, or grandparents and their grandchildren. And I’m not sure that it’s only about financial advice or nursing home insurance, either. It’s hard for most of us to take advice or to learn from others, sometimes, who we are supposed to know more or better than, isn’t it?

So I couldn’t help but wonder if Powdered Butt Syndrome didn’t have a little bit to do with what was going on with Jesus in this morning’s Gospel story.

“Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”, the townspeople ask that day in the synagogue. Maybe his old babysitter was in the crowd. Maybe an old neighbor was there or Joseph’s old carpentry mentor. Maybe that older boy who picked on Jesus when they were kids was in the room. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” “The carpenter’s kid?”

And at first they’re impressed. Amazed – all of them – by the gracious words Jesus has spoken: “good news for the poor, release for the captive, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, the year of the Lord’s favor,” remember? All good stuff.  All holy things. Surprising, inspiring words coming from the local boy, made good, if all the reports about what he’d been up to were true.

But then he gets a little big for his britches, that carpenter’s kid. Then he gets a little rich for his robe or cocky for his cassock or too tall for his tunic, however it was back in First Century Palestine. Because he kicks it all up a notch, doesn’t he?

Jesus tells his hometown friends, family and neighbors that, while they may want to see and hear some of the great things he’d been up to in the other places he’d been, that that’s not what he came home to do. See, that’s what that talk about Elijah and Elisha is all about.

In the days of Elijah, there were plenty of widows the great prophet woulda, coulda, shoulda helped – right there in the homeland; from among his own kind – but instead, Jesus reminds them, Elijah was sent out to some widow from Zarapheth in Sidon. And the same thing happened with Elisha, another great prophet. There were plenty of lepers who could have used some healing from among the chosen ones of Israel. But for some reason, Elisha was sent to cleanse a leper named Naaman, out in the foreign territory of Syria.

So not only was Jesus – the hometown son of a carpenter – putting himself in league with the likes of some of the greatest prophets in all of Israel’s history, he was also neglecting, if not refusing, to share with his own people the kind of grace and good fortune they were hoping he’d been saving up, just for them. And on top of that, he had already and apparently planned, again, to share that kind of grace and good fortune with other people, in other places; with the outcast and the enemy, even – just like those prophets before him had done.

So, it seems like the symptoms of Powdered Butt Syndrome are intensified the harder the teaching and the more bitter the pill is for the sufferer to swallow.

In Jesus’ case – that day in the synagogue of his own hometown – there was an outbreak of Powdered Butt Syndrome that almost got him killed. All those people, once so enamored by his gracious, inspiring words, suddenly ran him out of town and nearly off the side of a cliff, once he started telling them things they didn’t want to hear – no matter how true it was.

And I can’t help but wonder what the symptoms of Powdered Butt Syndrome look like for you and me. What kind of news is hard for us to swallow? What kind of grace is difficult to share? What kind of good news is so good, so generous, so much like the Kingdom of God we sing and pray and worship around in church on Sunday morning, but don’t have the faith or courage or willingness to share out there in the world as we know it?

What kind of Gospel is so much Gospel… so much Truth… so much grace… requires so much humility and sacrifice and change of perspective on our part… that we would sooner shoot the messenger – or hurl him off a cliff – or hang him on a cross, as it were – than follow in his footsteps, than live like he lived, than do what he asks us to do?

I believe it happens whenever we feel like we’re not getting our due… not getting what belongs to us… not getting what we deserve. I believe it happens too, when we feel like someone else might be getting something they don’t deserve; that doesn’t belong to them; something they may not have earned. 

Whenever someone questions the work we do in Haiti – suggesting that there are plenty of hurting, hungry, homeless people right here in our backyard – I think about how Elijah left home and went to that widow in Zarapheth in Sidon.

Whenever I hear pride and nationalism and selfishness and fear disguised as patriotism, connected with the suggestion that “we” or “our own” are more important or more deserving or more of a priority than others – I’m reminded about how Elisha cared for Naaman, the Syrian – and about how God doesn’t play the same kind of politics we are tempted toward.

And the reason I’m as emboldened as I am nervous about saying some of this to some of you, is because I don’t know any other way to understand this Scripture, or these words from Jesus, or these examples of our ancestors in the faith.

But I’m emboldened, too, because there is good, gospel news, here. And that is that we don’t have to pick and choose. I don’t believe any of this is so black and white or cut and dried or all or nothing. I’m under the impression that there is enough of God’s grace and love and mercy and promise to go around. I’m under the impression that there are enough resources and opportunities to prove it, too, and that we are called to find out how to share them.

I think the world operates, too much of the time – like the hometown crowd in Nazareth that day – from a perspective of scarcity and mis-guided priorities. Like if Jesus – or Elijah or Elisha, for that matter – were to share God’s blessings and resources elsewhere that there wouldn’t be enough for them to enjoy.

But we worship a God of abundant faith, hope, and love, do we not?

We worship a God of love that is patient and kind; not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude – and who asks us to do and to be the same. We worship a God of love who does not insist on its own way, is not irritable or resentful, but rejoices in the truth – and who asks us to do the same. We worship a God of loving abundance who bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things – and who invites us to love one another – and our enemies – the same way.

The love of our God never ends, we are told, and under the banner of that God, there was and is and there will be enough to go around. And we are always being invited to get on board with that kind of vision for the world. If we choose not to – like the people in Nazareth, way back when – I’m convinced the power of God will pass through the midst of us and go on its way.

But if we humble ourselves, if we sacrifice our pride, if we change our ways, if we open our hearts, if we love the enemy and the outsider and the other, we might just see and celebrate the fulfillment of God’s promises right where we live – today, this Scripture will be fulfilled in our hearing: the captive will be released, the blind will see, the oppressed will go free, and the favor of the Lord’s love and justice and peace and power will be poured out for whoever dares to share and to receive it.


All Rights Reserved. Background image by Aaron Stamper. © Cross of Grace Lutheran Church.