“Just Average Folks”

“Just Average Folks”

Epiphany 2 (NL3) John B. Valentine
Luke 4:14-30 January 17, 2021


You heard the story:

Jesus ... filled with the power of the Spirit ... returns to Galilee ... and a report about him spreads through all the surrounding country.

• And he begins to preach and teach in the local synagogues ... and is praised by everyone.

• He comes to Nazareth ... his own hometown ... the place where he’d been brought up ...

• He goes to worship ... unrolls the scroll of the prophet Isaiah .. And reads the part wherein it is written.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And declares: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

• And everyone ... EVERYONE ... gives him an approving nod.

So far so good, right? But then things get weird!

• The crowd starts to commenting about how this local boy is making quite a name for himself.

• And he responds by telling them that they’re not in line for a double portion of his blessings because they knew him when he was just a kid.

• And all of a sudden they’re ready to give him the ol’ heave-ho ... off the top of a cliff!

I TOLD you it was weird!

+ + + + +

But now ... in light of that lesson ... I’d like to ask you just one question:


You see ... ‘locating ourselves within the story’ is one of the ways that this thing we call the “Word of God” becomes the Word of God for us.

So I’d really like to know ... with whom do you ... do we ... do I myself ... identify in this story?

What do you think?

+ Are we “A” ... those folks who praised Jesus and spread the news about him throughout the surrounding countryside?

+ Or howsabout “B” ... are we like Jesus himself ... filled with the power of the Spirit .... to bring Good News and hope?

+ Or could it be option “C” ... the folks from Nazareth ... who cheered Jesus on until such time as they realized that they weren’t in line for two scoops of blessings??

+ Or is it option “D” ... that we are the poor ... the captives ... the blind ... the oppressed ... the ones in need of the favor of the Lord?

What’s it going to be??

“A” ... the “innocent bystanders” ... which makes us simply opinionated observers in the drama of our Lord?

“B” ... the “active co-workers” ... that put us up there and in there with Jesus?

“C” ... the “fickle fanclub” ... that reveals us to be no better than Judas? Or ....

“D” ... the “needy nobodies” ... who desperately need what Jesus has to offer.

+ + + + +

Now ... I somehow suspect ... were we all in the same space and able to do a “show of hands” thing ...

• That we’d LIKE to go with “A”
• Or maybe be bold and say “B” ...
• Or sheepishly ADMIT that we may be among the “C”s ...
• But that ... when it came to option “D” ... that hand census would be pretty sparse.

But before you select your final answer ... let me share with you something that I read a while back ... that had to do with the test scores given to kids in school.

You see ... this researcher noticed sometime back that all fifty states claim that their students are “above average” when it comes to “standardized test scores”.

If you think about it ... that’s impossible.


In fact ... the researcher named his observation the “Lake Wobegone Effect” ... in honor of Garrison Keillor’s mythical town where “All the women are strong ... all the men are good-looking ... and all the children are above average.”

You see average is ... by definition ... what most people are.

It confirmed a survey done some years ago which concluded basically the same thing ...

That the ‘average’ person placed themselves in the 77th percentile in terms of their own job performance.

And only 2 percent described themselves as being “below average”!

But what does this so-called “Lake Wobegone Effect” have to do with Jesus ... and what has it got to do with us? Maybe just this ...

That when we hear that Jesus came to save the poor, the blind, the captives and the oppressed ... that we don’t hear that as being US!

After all ... we’re winners. We’re all “above average.” We’re all from Lake Wobegone! “D” can’t possibly be the answer ...... OR IS IT?

+ + + + +

Maybe ... just maybe ... we’re poorer than we think.

Are we to be counted among the poor?

Maybe not in terms of sheer buying-power ... wherein probably ALL of us are numbered in the top two percent of the world’s population ...

But Mother Teresa ... a woman who devoted her whole life to serving the poorest of the poor sure thought so.

You see ... she did an interview in the days before she died in which she said:

“The more you have ... the more you are occupied. The less you have ... the more free you are. Poverty is for us a freedom ... a joyful freedom.”

And then she went on to say:

“I find the rich poorer ... more lonely inside. For the hunger for love is much more difficult to fill than the hunger for bread.”


OUCH! Perhaps we are poorer than we think!

+ + + + +

And perhaps we are less free too.

Perhaps we’re like those folks who complained about Jesus talk about freedom, saying: “We are descendant of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone! What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free?’”

I’m mean ....

I don’t know just how much “news and commentary” you’ve consumed over the past three months ....

And if it’s been on Fox or CNN ... or MSNBC or NewsMax ... or one of the old Big Three ...

But from my vantage point ... we who live in “the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave” have been shown willing to hand over our precious freedom to any one of a number of people.

Obviously ... there was a whole group of people marched on the Capitol last week ... who by their actions ... revealed that they’d become enslaved by hatred or perhaps fear or maybe by a certain politician’s personal agenda ...

But don’t be duped into thinking that they’re the only ones who have allowed themselves to be enslaved in the name of freedom!

Whenever we uncritically accept the authority of:

• a politician ... or
• a political platform ... or
• a political pundit ... or
• a political movement or
• a political party ...

And particularly when we allow their language and their spirits to supplant the love and joy and peace ... and patience and kindness and generosity ... and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control ... that are the fruits of the Spirit ....

Then we have confessed ourselves to be enslaved to a spirit that is NOT the Spirit of God.

For it would seem to me that there’s no more fitting verdict on the politics of the past twelve months than Paul’s words from his letter to the Galatians:

“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”

+ + + + +

We may be poorer than we think. We may not be as free as we think. And maybe we’re blind as well.

• Blind to the needs of our spouses.
• Blind to the loneliness of our parents.
• Blind to the hunger of our children.
• Blind to the fact that our success is too often won at the cost of our values.
• Blind to the behaviors that get us into trouble.
• Blind to the gifts that others would give us.


Because the way I see it ... the more we think about it ... the obvious it becomes that we are the “needy nobodies” ... the poor ... the captives ... the blind ... the oppressed ... the ones in need of the favor of the Lord.

+ + + + +

You see ... Christ’s message is for us! In a very real sense ... we are the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed. We are those for whom Christ came.

Oh sure ... deep in our hearts ... we may like to imagine that he came for somebody else ... the scum of the earth perhaps ... and not us.

After all ... what need do we have for a Savior?

We’re in the upper half. We’re all “above average”. We’re from Lake Wobegone.


Maybe it would behoove us to hear that message once more:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Friends ... that’s us! Thank God, He has come!

“Just Average Folks” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine on the weekend of January 17, 2021.  The text on which it is based is Luke 4:14-30.