Saturday, February 23, 2019

Grace and Mercy, Year C, Epiphany 7, Luke 6:27-38

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Mercy is to show compassion or forgiveness towards someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm.
And the simple truth of today’s Gospel lesson is this:  That because God has shown mercy to us, we are to show mercy to others.  Period.
We are invited to live in the realm of grace and mercy, not the law and condemnation.
Yet it is our tendency to ask questions of Jesus.
Show mercy.  Ok.  But to whom?  And under what circumstances?  And in certain circumstances won’t it do more harm than good.
I struggle with these words of Jesus.  Which is to say, I find it difficult to be as merciful as God is merciful.
Give to everyone who begs from you”, Jesus says, and then later follows it up with “for God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”
When I was an intern in the inner city of St. Paul, MN it was my responsibility to listen to those who came begging for assistance, and usually they wanted money, and then to politely say “No.”
We had a food bank, and we could offer food, but definitely no money.
The practice hasn’t stopped.
We have a phone here at the church.  You know what it is used for?  The vast majority of people who call our number do so looking for assistance.
Very early on in my ministry I got very cynical regarding offering assistance to those who beg for it.
I had gotten deeply involved in the life of one homeless family that came asking for assistance and what I learned in that process shaped the rest of my ministry.
One of the things I learned is that there is an entire counter culture of people in this country who choose to live lives dependent on charity.
Sanders County in Montana where I served my first parish was listed in underground newspapers as one of the best places to go for public assistance in the nation.
Because there are those who calculate the ratio of public assistance levels to the cost of living and Sanders County has one of the most positive.
In other words, you don’t want to be on welfare in Seattle, because the cost of living is so high.  But if you move to a place like Thompson Falls you can do much better.
And as I said, there are underground newspapers that share that information.
Just say no.
Drug addicts are quick to ask for money, and to give it to them is to enable their addiction.
Furthermore, we don’t have the resources in the church to meet the need and satisfy the requests that are made of us.  If you give out assistance to people the word quickly spreads and more and more people will come.
Another experience.
In Baker our ministerial association decided to pool our resources that we had to help the transient people who came through town.  The method we came up with for offering this charity was that we established a fund with the Sheriff’s office, and we’d refer requests to him.He would then, in turn, run a background check on the individuals requesting aid prior to offering it.  When he needed more money he’d ask us for it.
He never asked.
No one would submit to the background check and they simply went down the road.
“Give to everyone who begs from you.”
“Lend, expecting nothing in return.”
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
My cynical side says that such sentiments are simply naïve.
Oh, but wait.  It is Jesus who is saying this and perhaps, just perhaps, Jesus who has been with God since the beginning, and is God, and through whom all things came into being, perhaps this Jesus, the Lord and Ruler of the Universe, may not in fact be naïve.
I’d even go a step farther and say that perhaps Jesus is even wiser than I am.
And it is Jesus that says “give to anyone that begs” and also, “be merciful.”
But maybe the times have changed.
I found myself asking my colleagues at text study a question.
“Were the beggars in Jesus day morally superior to the beggars in our own day, and hence, more deserving of charity?”
Would Jesus have said “Give to everyone who begs from you” if he saw how people abuse charity today?
What about those who abuse our welfare system, who make a living having children so that they can get more money from Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and the Women, Infants, and Children programs?
What about the drug addicts?
What about the mentally ill?
What about those with a criminal record?
What about those who have made homelessness a way of life, living in Walmart parking lots and other places?  By the way, did you know that Walmart parking lots are the largest homeless shelter in the country?
I see all this and I want to shout out to God “Be cynical even as I am cynical.”
But maybe Jesus is smarter than me.
And no, Jesus didn’t say “Be cynical, just as your Father is cynical.”
He simply said “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
There’s one thing we could rightly add to Jesus’ words.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful to you.
When I am most cynical about all these people who need assistance, I need to remember that I too, once needed assistance.  It came in the form of the Church’s disability program.
I got my first job when I was in second grade and have been employed ever since.
I mowed lawns, raked leaves and shoveled snow.
I had a paper route.
I worked as a box boy, cashier, and butcher.
I worked in a lumber yard, and as a carpenter.
I've been a custodian.
I’ve had a cabinet making business.
I’ve been a pastor.
And I’ve been disabled, not able to do any of that.  Disabled by a mental illness.  Rendered unemployable.
But God showed mercy.
God showed mercy through a disability program sponsored by our church and into which my congregations had paid throughout my ministry, and which you still support to this day.
Were it not for that I might have been begging for assistance.
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
We shouldn’t miss the point that our Father in heaven is merciful.
God’s not naïve.
He’s merciful.
And he cares about people simply because they are people.
My eyes were opened to the humanity of the homeless in a big way a while back.
We sent four kids from our congregation in Sandpoint to New Orleans for the national youth gathering, including my daughter.
They got the crazy idea to get up early the last day in town and go watch the sun rise over the Mississippi River.  So up they rose, before dawn, and without a chaperone walked through the French Quarter to the River.
The French Quarter is not where you want your kids in the middle of the night.
They were approached by a homeless man.
“You shouldn’t be here!” he said.
“What are you doing?”
They told him where they were going and what they wanted to do.
He said, “Alright then, I can keep you safe on my street, but when you turn the corner you make sure you young men are on each side of her.”
A homeless man showing compassion and mercy and protecting my daughter.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Be merciful.
We feed the hungry, not because they deserve it, but because they are hungry.
We cloth the naked because they are naked.
We offer shelter to people because they are homeless.
We give expecting nothing in return, because people are poor and have nothing to return.
We provide for other people’s need because we have been blessed to be able to do so.
This is the way of grace.
Jesus isn’t naïve.
Jesus cares about people, including us.
So be merciful.
How can we be most merciful to those in need?
That’s where we need to show wisdom.
Handing a drug addict a twenty dollar bill might not be the merciful way.
Creating a welfare state might do more harm than good.
Jobs programs and a livable minimum wage might be wise.
Treatment programs and adequate mental health addresses those needs.
For some of the world’s poor, maybe all they need is a flock of chickens, a couple goats, or a cow. . .
Pardon the ad, but our fundraiser for animals is one way we show mercy. . .
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful”, Jesus says.
And then he gives us a brain to figure it out.
What he doesn’t give us is an excuse NOT to do it.
And remember, we are merciful because we have first received grace and mercy.  Amen

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Grace for All, Privilege for None, Year C, Epiphany 6, Luke 6.17-26

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
The Good News for all in this text is bad news for some.
Grace is like that.
But first a story.
Elaine was a dear, but cantankerous old saint.  And she wasn’t hesitant at all to speak her mind.
She introduced herself to me as the pillar of the congregation.  Not only that, but she said things like “Did you know Sandpoint has a snob hill?  We live on it.”  Elaine had money and she wasn’t hesitant to let you know it.
One day the subject of John 14, verse 2 came up.
In the Revised Standard Version that verse reads:
“In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”
“When did heaven get downgraded, Pastor?”
“What do you mean?” I responded.
"These new translations. " In my Father’s house are many rooms 
Room?? Who said anything about a room! King James Version said " In my Father's house are many mansions:" When I get to heaven I'm not settling for a room! I want a mansion."
The Greek word is μονή, (monay) which means:  lodging, dwelling-place, room, abode, or mansion.
So it’s not a matter of one translation being right and the other wrong.
Unless of course you’re Elaine.
She definitely wanted a mansion.
Today’s Gospel lesson is a tough one in many ways.
It’s Jesus’ teaching in the “Sermon on the Plain”. 
Similar to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew's Gospel, the Sermon on the Plain represents some of Jesus’ core preaching.
In this Sermon Jesus’ says things like:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
And "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."
But first these words of contrast from today’s lesson.
They are the epitome of Good News/Bad News.
"Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
"But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
"Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
"Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
"Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
"Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
"Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
"Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
Some have called this the “great reversal”.
The status quo is changing.
It’s great news for those who struggle now.
Not so hot for those who live on “snob hill” looking down on the rest.
Jesus is a revolutionary. 
What do we make of Jesus’ words here?
If we take Jesus at face value here, actually listening to what he says, and not changing his words to suit our own desire, it doesn’t bode well for us who live in one of the richest and most prosperous nations of all time.
On the other hand if you are a Christian living in impoverished places like some parts of Africa or South America, for example, these words of Jesus might speak of hope and be filled with grace.
The bottom line is Jesus’ message is one of good news to the poor, the forgotten, the outcast, and those struggling in this life.
But he is equally at odds with the rich, the elite, the religious leaders, and powerful of his day.
So what do we make of this?
Let’s start with grace.
That’s been our theme for the last few weeks.
God’s unmerited favor offered freely to all.
And it’s a great leveler.  We all stand on equal footing under the grace of God.
To put it differently, there are no “snob hills” in the Kingdom of God.  There will not be mansions for some and shanties for the rest.
One of my favorite passages about the Kingdom of God comes from Isaiah 11:
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
What Isaiah envisions is an end to the predator and prey world we live in where some prosper at the expense of others. 
There will be no rich and poor.
There will not be some who hunger while others are satisfied.
There will not be some consumed with sorrow, while others revel in delight.
There will not be some who enjoy great power and prestige while others are ridiculed and reviled.
It’s probably symbolic that Jesus’ offers this teaching on a “level place” because what he speaks of is a level playing field for all.
Grace is that way.
We stand equally blessed by the grace of God, and its impossible under God’s grace for some to rise to the top of the pecking order while others sink to the bottom.
This is actually Good News for all, because God grace is offered freely to all.
Yet if you are accustomed to great privilege, to being on top of the world looking down on the rest of creation, it will be a rude awakening.
Imagine, for example, if the United States was no longer a “super power” and was simply equal to all other nations.
Or imagine if all possessed equal power.
Or imagine if there were no poor, but also no rich in the land.  Everyone was simply middle class.
There would be rejoicing on the part of those who were lifted up, but dismay on the part of those who were brought down to a level place.
One example from our Church:
When the ELCA was formed back in 1988 we recognized that throughout the history of the church as a whole, and our own history in particular, the predominant leadership, power, and privilege was vested in white, male, clergy.
The ELCA sought to correct that and mandated quotas.
Lay people were to be represented in more significant numbers.  Here it should be noted that in most of our gatherings clergy, who are a very small percentage of the church, still compromise a significant proportion of the assemblies, just not quite as high a percentage as before.
Men and women were to be represented in equal numbers.
And we intentionally sought out minorities and people whose first language was other than English to be part of the leadership, and future of the Church.
This action opened up many opportunities for people who had not had them before.
If you were a black, woman, lay person the doors opened up for you.
But the white, male, clergy screamed bloody murder.
We had been accustomed to being on top, and now that we stood as equals to our lay, and women, and minority brothers and sisters we felt like we’d been demoted. 
And yet, even so, we white male clergy still possess a disproportionate amount of power in the Church, just not quite as much as before.
Back to God’s grace.
God’s grace showers us all with abundant blessings.
All of us.
There’s only one Lord and Father of us all, the rest of us are children, equally loved, equally forgiven, and equally redeemed, not because we deserve it more than others, but simply because of the grace offered freely to us.
There are not those who are righteous on their own accord, and others that are accursed.
This should be good news for all. 
But in our sinfulness we tend to believe that some of us deserve a bit more of God’s favor, afterall, haven’t we been the ones who have striven the hardest.
Not so with God’s grace.
As Paul says in Romans 3:
For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
The Bottom line?  In the Kingdom of God there are not the privileged few, and the underprivileged masses. 
God loves us all as his children.  None of us are any better than the rest, for grace renders us all precious in the eyes of God.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Year C, Epiphany 5, Luke 5.1-11, Abundant Grace

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
I’ve been preaching a series on grace these last few weeks, and we will continue with that theme today.
I actually didn’t intentionally choose to do this, it’s just how the Spirit moved me.
Grace is offensive.  That was the first observation.
Grace is offensive because it runs counter to everything we believe about right and wrong, justice and that strong belief we have that those who do wrong should be punished, while those who do right ought to be rewarded.
I used the example of granting amnesty to those who have come to our country illegally.  That would be offensive to us.  Our sense of right and wrong says that if foreigners want to live here then get in line, apply for a visa, and wait your turn.  Anything else offends our sense of justice.
But so also does the grace of God’s forgiveness.  It’s just not fair.  Punish the evil doer.  Reward the righteous.  That seems right.
But Jesus proves his love for us in that “while we were yet sinners, he died for us.”  While we were yet sinners. 
God’s grace offers forgiveness, not punishment.  It’s offensive to us until that point when we become aware of how desparately we need it.
But we are not entitled to grace.  That was last week’s theme.
One of the reasons grace is offensive is because it attracts those people who most need it but least deserve it.
That's the nature of Jesus' love.
Whether it was the people in his home town, or the religious elite, the scribes and Pharisees—the people who felt as though they deserved God’s special favor often left empty handed.
While at the same time it was those who the world had rejected, tax collectors and sinners, the leper, the outcast, foreigners, the riff raff of Jesus’ day who were drawn to Jesus and the message of grace and love he shared.
Bottom line is that you cannot merit the unmerited favor of God.  That’s grace.
Today, we shift our focus.
What is the nature of grace when it touches our own lives?
Grace splashes in on us like breaking waves on the seashore with a message of the goodness of life and the unconditional love of God.
When one’s life is deeply impacted by a grace filled moment it’s as though the whole world is filled with goodness leaving us to say, “This was a God thing.”
That’s grace.
Grace is even more overwhelming than it is offensive.
Such is God’s extravagance.
Today’s Gospel lesson gives us a good insight into the grace of God.
Jesus’ was teaching the crowds gathered on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, also known as the lake of Gennesaret.
He asked to use one of the boats there, and Simon Peter let him speak from the boat just off the seashore so that the crowds would not push in upon him.
After he was done speaking, Jesus tells Simon to set out into the deep and let down his nets.
Peter objects at first, saying “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
And so they did.
What happened was beyond their wildest expectations.
So many fish that the nets were breaking, and even with the assistance of the other boat there, they almost sank trying to bring the fish on board.
When we were first married we had fishermen as our neighbors in Gig Harbor, WA.  Purse Seiners. 
One of them told us the story of the ‘good old days’ salmon fishing in Puget Sound.
It was 1930.
There was a worldwide depression.
They set their nets, and in one setting they gathered in 10,000 salmon.  10,000.
Back then they got $1 per fish, so that was $10,000 in one set of the nets.  Adjusted for inflation that’s the equivalent of about $150,000 in today’s market.
That’s the kind of catch the disciples had that day.
And this was after a night of fishing where they had caught absolutely nothing.
Jesus overwhelms us with grace.
Not only that, but grace is God doing for us, what we cannot accomplish through all of our hard effort and labor.
I’ve shared with you my struggles with alcohol.
I apologize for returning to that, but it’s one of the most significant life experiences I’ve had.  And through it, the grace of God abounded.
One of the most grace filled moments of my life is that Karla stayed by my side when I hit my rock bottom.
As my drinking started spiraling out of control those last few months, Karla made the decision to get out of the situation.
When I drank to excess, she would retreat to a friend’s home where she’d spend the night.
And then came that day, October 14th, 2012.
I had received news of a major conflict brewing in my congregation and I went into a rage.
I tried to drink the rage away.
I started drinking at 2 in the afternoon, and that afternoon and evening I went through a fifth of Scotch, and then at the end, some of the Ativan I’d been prescribed which made matters much, much, worse.
For some unknown reason, Karla stayed by my side that night.
When I finally collapsed, taking a nasty fall, she was there to nurse me and help me through the remainder of the night.
The combination of alcohol and Ativan almost killed me.
The next morning my journey to sobriety began.
Since that time, I’ve never even been tempted to pick up a bottle and drink again.
Grace.  Far more than I deserved.
It came in the form of a wife staying by my side during the worst of times.
And in God’s removing from me the desire to drink.
And in hind sight, it was just overwhelming.  I didn’t deserve it.  We never do.  And neither could I have won that battle on my own.
But by the grace of God, I’m here today to tell the story.
One of the responses we often have when we’ve been overwhelmed by the grace of God, is the response that Peter had.
“Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
But God will have none of that, and that again is grace.
Jesus responds to Peter’s declaration of his sinfulness by calling him to ministry.
“Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.””
There are two things I’d like to point out about grace that are evident in the turn of events in this story.
First of all, God can use anybody to carry out his ministry.
Peter says:   “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
Paul says:  “For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.”
And I say: “How is it that I, a recovering alcoholic who suffers from bipolar disorder, and who has sinned in many and various ways, can be and remain a pastor?”
The answer for Peter, Paul, and pastors such as myself is the same.
It is not I, but Christ working through me.  And Christ is not hampered by our sinfulness.
The question each of us is faced with is NOT “are we worthy to be servants of Christ?” but rather “can Christ work through us?”
And the answer is that yes, Christ can work through you and me, in spite of our unworthiness.
The second aspect of God’s grace in this story of the abundant catch of fish is that God can do for us what we are unable to accomplish on our own.
It’s not about you.  It’s about Jesus.
I’ve struggled to an extent since I’ve come here to be your pastor.  I was full of optimism and quite confident as I began my ministry here.  I thought that my thirty years of experience might bring significant growth to the congregation.  Maybe.
But often it feels a lot like Peter may have been feeling that morning alongside the shores of Galilee.
“Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.”
I don’t know what the future holds for us.
I’ve kind of resolved myself to the reality that we are not likely bound to become a large congregation.
But this is the thing.
We might not make an impact on a lot of people’s lives.
But through us Christ can make a lot of impact on a few people’s lives.
That’s what I think about today.
It’d be wonderful for my ego if we had so many people coming that we couldn’t fit them all in the sanctuary, like the disciples couldn’t fit all the fish in the boat.
That’s not likely to happen.
But we can touch people with a word of grace.
If even one person comes to know and believe in the love of God for them, and the grace freely given to them, then it is enough.  It makes it all worthwhile.
Now I think less about how many people we will reach and more about who that one person will be whose life will be transformed by the Gospel we share.
We may never even know who that person is. . .
All we need to know is that Jesus can work through us to share his love with the world and his grace to all in need.  Amen

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Year C, Epiphany 4, Luke 4.21-30, Unworthy of Grace

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Grace.  It’s a Jesus thing.
Last week I preached about the offensiveness of grace.  In preaching that sermon, I might even have offended some people. 
I had an interchange with someone online in response to the sermon.
His comments were:  “Homosexual Pastors in the ELCA , among others , better get your house in order !”
And, “I’m not qualified to sit in Judgement but I do read God’s word and know what it says , and there is NO grey area , especially on this matter !”
I responded by saying “Indeed there is no grey area. “NO ONE is righteous, no, not one. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And therefore the only justification is by God’s grace received in faith. My brothers and sisters in ministry are saved by God’s grace. I pray you are as well.”

One of the reasons grace is offensive is because it attracts those people who most need it but least deserve it.

When Jesus walked this earth, it was not the righteous religious elite that followed him.  It was the outcast, the sinners, the foreigners.  Prostitutes and tax collectors. 
In Mark 2 it is written:
When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" When Jesus heard this, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."
An interesting conversation to have today would be to ask the question “who are the outcast, with whom Jesus would most likely associate today?”
The challenge of having that conversation though is that any list we come up with would likely be offensive to some.
Hence comments such as I mentioned previously.
People shake their heads at us, members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, because we welcome LGBTQ people.
To me that’s a sign that we are embodying the grace of God, and following Jesus.  The more we love the unlovable, the closer we are to the Kingdom of God.
If I had an opportunity to speak at greater length with those who make such comments about us in the Lutheran church, I might say “Not only that, but God also has called people like me who struggle with mental illness and alcoholism.”
The bottom line is this:
There are people whose lives and status so desperately cry out for mercy that are showered with God’s grace.
And there are times in our lives that we experience such utter helplessness that the grace of God is our only hope.
And to such people, God’s grace never fails them.
Those most unworthy are embraced by Christ’s love and grace.
But then there is another group.  Those who feel entitled to God’s special favor. 
Grace cannot be an entitlement.
You cannot merit, the unmerited favor of God.
You cannot earn a gift.
You cannot force God to love you.
This is why Jesus was constantly at odds with the religious elite of his day.
They were the ones who felt they were worthy of God’s good favor and blessing. 
They deserved it.
They felt entitled to it.
Jesus stood up before his home congregation in Nazareth.
He spoke about the Spirit of the Lord being upon him.
People were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
Then Jesus 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 Jesus’ friends and neighbors from his hometown heard this, they were filled with rage. 
One minute they all spoke well of Jesus, amazed at the gracious words he spoke.
The next minute they were ready to throw him off a cliff.
What happened?
They felt that their status as his neighbors in Nazareth entitled them to what Jesus had to offer.
And as soon as you feel entitled to grace, grace is gone.
In Mark’s Gospel we hear a similar account of Jesus’ experience at the synagogue in Nazareth:
His neighbors said, “What deeds of power are being done by his hands!  Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.  Then Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house."  And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.  And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Note that here it says not only that Jesus did not do “deeds of power there” but that he could not.
Grace is the unmerited favor of God.
And faith is trusting in the saving grace of God.
Neither is compatible with a sense of entitlement.
The people of Nazareth felt ‘entitled’ to Jesus’ special favor and deeds of  power, and hence they were not able to receive it.
And this is tricky.
It is so easy for us to abandon our faith in the unmerited grace of God in favor of a sense that we are indeed entitled to God’s special favor.
It’s human nature, I suppose.
We had an interesting experience at work regarding bonuses.
We had a challenging schedule to meet last fall with numerous major shipments due.
The owner of the company came to us with an offer of a bonus to every employee of $150 extra for every container load that went out on time.  This, he said, they would try for the next five shipments.
Each of us received $750 in bonuses.
And then the sixth container was shipped.
And employees were disappointed because there wasn’t another bonus in their paycheck.
They felt entitled.
And then Christmas came.  Having already given us $750 in bonus money, we didn’t receive an additional Christmas bonus.  Employees were disgruntled because they didn’t get what they felt entitled to.
A sense of entitlement.  It’s so easy to fall prey to that.
One of the things that Karla and I have remarked about over the course of our lives, some of the most overwhelming experiences of the grace of God, have to do with God providing for us when we were least able to provide for ourselves.
It’s a pattern that has repeated itself, time and time again.
Whenever we were most vulnerable, whenever we were most at risk, God seemed to be there with grace beyond measure.
We’ve been in situations when bankruptcy seemed inevitable, for example, yet never a bill went unpaid. 
And, as we looked at other’s experiences, we have sometimes thought to ourselves that well worn phrase “There but for the grace of God go I.”
But why?
Why did we experience the grace of God when others haven’t?
That’s a question we struggle with.
And it is so easy to start feeling like somehow we deserved it, while others apparently didn’t.
That’s the temptation.
But you cannot “deserve grace”.
You cannot merit God’s “unmerited favor”.
I have given my wife good reasons to divorce me, yet instead, she forgave me.
My struggles with alcohol nearly killed me, but instead I received the help and new life that I needed. 
I have sinned in many and various ways over the course of my life and ministry, yet I continue to experience God’s forgiveness.
It’s not that I deserve it, or am entitled to it, but precisely the opposite.
Grace comes to us, precisely when we need it the most.
That’s why so many Christians can relate to “Amazing Grace”.  Because they have had times in their lives when they have indeed felt lost, and even a “wretch”.  Unworthy of God’s love.
But at those times is when they experience it the most.
The love of God is always there.
God’s grace is never failing.
It’s just that we cannot see it when we feel we deserve it.
But in our hour of greatest need, it is there.
When we least deserve it, grace flows freely.
Why is it that when God’s grace is proclaimed in its purity that all sorts of sinners gather?
"Why does Jesus eat with tax collectors and sinners?"
And I suppose we could ask, “Why do we allow sinners like me to be pastors?”
Because, as Paul declares in Romans:
"There is no one who is righteous, not even one;”
And also:
For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift.
The reason Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners is there were no other options, “no one is righteous, not even one.”
The reason sinners like me can be a minister in this church is because all, me included, have fallen short of the glory of God.
And the reason you can come forward to this altar and receive Christ’s body and blood is because you, sinner though you are, are justified by his grace as a gift.
You’re not entitled to it.  None of us are.
But it’s God’s free gift to all who would receive it.