Readings: Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; Psalm 13, 16-17, Romans 6:1b-11, Luke 4:14-30
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, June 28 2020
"There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image; make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur, or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all you see and hear. We repeat: There is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to ... the Outer Limits."
So began the first broadcast, in September 1963, of a ground breaking science fiction series that paved the way for many others that came after it, including the whole "Star Trek" series and the "X-Files". The idea behind the "Outer Limits" was a simple one. "Let's cook up a TV series about science fiction". To ensure that the A.B.C. network would buy the idea every episode had a scary monster in it.
1963 was a turbulent year. Martin Luther King had his dream. Britain, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R signed a treaty regarding nuclear weapons. Tensions were escalating in Vietnam. The Beatles invaded America. The writers of the Outer Limits, Leslie Stevens and Joseph Stefano, wanted their shows to reflect the turbulent changes happening in the world around them. Some of the better episodes dealt with issues other shows were far to timid to even touch upon. With the help of a few well constructed aliens or scary monsters much could be achieved.
I don't have any scary monsters up my sleeve but I do hope I can engage your imagination. I'd like to move you from the Outer Limits and with your inner mind ask you to come with me to a synagogue in Nazareth. Let's imagine that Nazareth is your home town. You are in synagogue and paying a little more attention this morning than you normally do because preaching the sermon is a local boy who's 'done good.' More than that it is rumored that He can turn a few tricks as well and it's been a while since anyone worked any miracles around your life.
So you take your normal seat and let him do his stuff. He makes an impressive debut. Someone behind you whispers, "Isn't this Joseph's boy... doing a good job up there!". You start to listen to some of the things that he is saying. He says that he comes to bring good news for the poor. Good news for the poor is hard to come by. It's a commodity that is to rare. Release to captives. Yes sir, people will pay a high price for freedom. Recovery of sight for the blind. Well, that’ll save a bit in corrective lenses in years to come.
I like the sound of this. God is sending His Messiah here! That's nice. We can make something of this. I can see a sign at the edge of town, "Nazareth City Limits - HomeTown of God's Messiah"
Then the tone starts to change and a murmur of discontent starts to spread through the congregation. The preacher starts talking about Elijah and Naaman and sharing two stories that suggested God was extremely interested in people outside of the synagogue walls, outside of the city limits, outside even of Judea and that maybe those sitting listening to him weren't the "all that" they thought themselves to be.
And of course every ones sitting there waiting for him to do some miracles. They had heard about what happened over in Capernaum. "Mind you", some probably muttered, "You know what those Caperniums are like, always exaggerating. He probably helped some little old man across the road and they all thought he could make the lame walk. We'll see what he's really made of.”
It's as though the preacher is a mind reader.. "Thing is" He explains, He wasn't able to do the miracles He could do elsewhere because He had a problem. A problem? What problem? Well, the problem was the people who were sitting there listening to Him. The problem was that they were so full of themselves and their town and their religion that He just couldn't work around that. I mean didn't they know their bibles? Hadn't they read - "No prophet gains acceptance in his native place".
"Now just hold on a minute. Who does he think he is? What right has he to come and tell us that we're not good enough for him to work his miracles for us? After all, he's only Joseph's Son!"
Worse is to come. People are starting to get real mad. Particularly when He starts talking about God loving Gentiles as much as He loved Jews and how, like Namaan the Gentile who received healing, if people believed, God could do amazing things for them whoever they were! If they grew arrogant or had a "Couldn't really care less" faith then God would pass them by.
Things get nasty. People start shouting and then they are pushing and shoving and name calling. "Throw him off the cliff - that'll teach him".
I hate heights. I hope you aren't going to be desiring to throw me off any cliffs when I've finished preaching. They're the sort of outer limits I do my best to avoid. The prophet Jeremiah once got thrown into a pit when the people didn't like his message. Joseph the dreamer suffered a similar fate. Jesus nearly got thrown off the cliff on this occasion.
Such things caused one preacher to reflect, "I thank God that the worst thing that has ever happened to me after preaching is getting thrown into the line of a covered - dish dinner".
You know we laugh about it, but complacency is a damaging thing. It creates a faith that has no cutting edge to it. And then, when the hard times come, we try and fight through but our sword is blunt by misuse and we don't handle ourselves so well.
One of the reoccurring themes in the "Outer Limits" and many successful science fiction series since has been the idea of ‘aliens in our midst’, sometimes unknown, sometimes gracious, sometimes dangerous. As a resident alien myself, (for that is how the immigration people describe me), I hope you realize that not all aliens are scary monsters nor are they all in some diabolical plot to overthrow the world.
Meanwhile, back in Nazareth, Jesus walks through the crowd and goes on His way leaving everybody feeling kind of stupid.
Could be a message here!
Religion can become such a comfortable thing. Particularly when it’s all about us going through our usual customs with the sort of people we get along pretty well with most weeks of the year. The radical edge that was present in Jesus preaching is often missing in us.
Complacency breeds faithless lives. Week by week we can indeed assert that “Being Good to the Poor” and “Helping the Hungry” is a noteworthy ambition but qualify it with the thought ‘Just as long as they know their place and we know ours’. Familiarity with the old, old story makes worship the ‘same old, same old’ routine. We neither anticipate nor expect to be greatly challenged by God. We are comfortable in our sanctuary and have no desire to head for the Outer Limits.
It is also very irksome of God to be at work in the lives of those we don’t see eye to eye with. Those who don’t believe what we do and don’t live like we do. Surely God can’t be at work with people like that – ‘Outer Limit’ peoples?
And for heavens sake Lord, don’t let any preacher come along to our cozy church and tell us we’re not good enough. Heck, like they are? Don’t blame us for our empty pews, don’t blame us if miracles don’t happen here much, don’t get personal with us God….. You hear? Send us a preacher like that and we’ll show them the outer limits all-right!!!
A common theme in Sci-Fi movies is that the alien grows inside the host. The Outer Limit can be a dark space within us. The place where evil is harbored, alien desires nurtured and a thousand wicked plots to overthrow other people’s worlds devised.
Imagine if we dare let the light of God into that deep place. Imagine if instead of taking offense at strong words we reacted with passion. Imagine if we got home and turned on the T.V. – and the most famous other worldly being of them of them all – Yahweh, Elohim, the Lord God Almighty, were to take control of the set for a while.
How would it be to hear…
“There is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to ... the Outer Limits."
Imagine a life of discipleship with no limits to its reach.
Imagine a life so transformed by God that it starts transforming the lives of others.
Imagine, our lives, under the control of a loving God, being influenced by the Holy Spirit, being changed by the teachings and example of Jesus Christ.
But is this not the Gospel story, the Good News? That God in Christ comes from the Outer Limits of God’s love to the midst of our hurting world and suffers and dies and is raised again to show to us, once and for all, that there are no outer limits to our lives where God cannot reach and transform and redeem and save.
This is no science fiction show but the message that continues to change the world.
May it also change us
as we seek to live
under the authority and rule of
Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.
Prayer – June 28 Outer limits
The Outer Limits, Lord. The place where Your love seems unknown, or maybe that place inside of us where our deepest darkness disturbs our calm. For sure we need Your love within us and around us every day of our lives.
We think of the challenge that Your message brought to those most familiar with Jesus Christ, those of His home town who knew Him as just Josephs son or Mary's child. We think of their demand for a miracle that would show them beyond any doubt that He was more than they were. We reflect on their anger when He touched a dark place in their souls.
Save us Lord from familiarity with Your Word, or complacency in our worship or from taking for granted Your blessings. May routine not destroy our sense of expectation, may we be saved from believing that You can not speak to us through the familiar or the every day. Open our eyes to the miracles that take place around us and within us with every breath that we take.
We know Lord there are those who seek a special sign of Your love right now. We pray for them. Those in sickness. Those who have suffered injury. Those who face bereavement. Those trapped by addictive lifestyles. Those seeking, but not finding, those who feel they are in outer limits that have taken them beyond the sphere of Your love. Draw close to them Lord in their time of need. We offer particular joys and concerns.
Lord we see throughout the world great need of Your peace and light and hope to renew this earth we call home. Wars rage. People die of hunger. Families wander from place to place finding nowhere to call home. Some grow rich whilst others die in their poverty. This should not be. We continue to pray, May Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.
Yet we make this prayer with the knowledge that for such to take place then we must work to establish Kingdom values in our hearts and homes and actions. Ours must be the hands through whom Christ reaches others, ours the words through which His Spirit addresses the world, ours the feet that carry the good news to the outer limits of creation.
So we pray for Your Spirit to be upon us and within us. We pray that we may grow in our discipleship and be unfailing in our commitment. We pray that the size of the task before us may not dishearten us but rather challenge us to win one victory at a time and day by day to be those who seek to live according to Your will.
All our prayers we make in Jesus name as we pray, as He taught us: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory for ever. AMEN.