Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | January 27, 2013

2013.01.27 “Here! Now! Today!” – Luke 4: 14 – 21

Central United Methodist Church

Here! Now! Today!

Pastor David L. Haley

Luke 4: 14 – 21

January 27th, 2013

 

        “Jesus returned to Galilee powerful in the Spirit. News that he was back spread through the countryside.  He taught in their meeting places to everyone’s acclaim and pleasure.

        Jesus came to Nazareth where he had been reared. As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,

                God’s Spirit is on me;

                he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,

                Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind,

                To set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”

        He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.” – Luke 4: 14 – 21, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

 

It was an interesting week for someone like me, with a degree in speech and communications, who loves good speeches and sermons, and as you know, has to try to come up with one on a weekly basis.  As a weekly practitioner, I try to learn from others.

On Monday, we heard President Obama’s 2nd Inaugural. President Obama is one of the best speakers of presidents in memory. The most memorable of my life, so far, remains John Kennedy’s Inaugural address in 1961, when I was ten years old. But Obama is good too; as Adam Hamilton suggested to him, he should have been a preacher.  Although, at the beginning, I didn’t know where he was going, I was pleasantly surprised, and personally liked this inaugural with its lofty themes, much better than his 1st Inaugural, but at that time, the country was in a different place.

Even more interesting – to me as a preacher – was the sermon given on Monday at the Inaugural Prayer Service at the National Cathedral, by the Rev. Adam Hamilton, Pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City. Through his blogs and Facebook page, Hamilton told about receiving the invitation, and admitted that even though he preaches regularly to thousands of people each weekend, he was nervous about preaching to the President and Vice-president and other national leaders, who would be in attendance.  I can appreciate that; I’d be terrified!

Hamilton described his experience ascending the pulpit to preach:

“I felt more than a bit nervous . . . at the same time I felt a profound sense of awe and humility – I was stepping into the pulpit where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached his last Sunday sermon, on the day after MLK Day to speak on behalf of God to the President, Vice President, their wives, members of the cabinet and many of our nations leaders both political and religious. I had prayed, before stepping into the pulpit, the same prayer I pray at Resurrection each week, “Lord, please help me to disappear, that they might hear from you.”

He added:

“Just before I got up to preach my throat tightened, and I imagined multiple ways I could blow it – from tripping up the stairs to the pulpit to passing out when I got there 🙂 But when I stepped into the pulpit I suddenly felt a strength and assurance that I have to believe came from so many of you praying for me. Thank you.”

In today’s Gospel, we hear another inaugural sermon, Jesus’ sermon in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth.  On the basis of what we know from experience, I can’t help but wonder how much anxiety Jesus felt on that day.

In some ways it was the exact opposite of what saw last week. Instead of millions, Jesus faced a small number of people, perhaps less than those here this morning; the whole town probably only had a couple hundred people. Instead of national leaders, he looked out upon people he knew and who knew him, well: his mother, Mary, would we could perhaps have picked out, either by the beaming radiance of a Jewish mom proud of her son, or perhaps by her white knuckles gripping the seat in front of her. There would likely have been other members of Jesus’ family, his friends, maybe his babysitters and teachers, people who had known him since he was “that high.” Would that make you nervous? It would me; whenever I know family members or friends are going to be here, I always sweat a little more. It’s one thing to make a fool of yourself in front of strangers, but you’d really prefer not to in front of family and friends.

Handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus unrolled it to the place he was looking for; obviously he knew what he was doing. Throughout, Luke affirms Jesus as Jewish, a son of the Sabbath, the Scriptures, and the Synagogue.

When I was in seminary, I had a professor of Old Testament, Professor Walter Kaiser, who used to say, to remind us to keep our preaching Biblical: “Put your finger on the text.” That’s exactly what Jesus did here. Putting his finger on the ancient text of Isaiah 61, Jesus read:

God’s Spirit is on me;

he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,

Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners

and recovery of sight to the blind,

To set the burdened and battered free,

to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”

He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down, the position of teaching in the synagogue. Every eye was on him. His sermon was short; it wasn’t long; he only had one point to make: “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.” In other words, he was claiming for himself the identify and the work of the Spirit Anointed Servant of God in Isaiah 61.

No wonder Luke puts this first in his Gospel, right after Jesus baptism and temptation in the wilderness. Through this, Jesus announces who he is, what his ministry consists, what his church will be and do, and, as we shall see, what the response to both Jesus and the church will be. It is, at the same time, Jesus’ inauguration and his agenda, an overture to all that is to come in Luke’s Gospel.

In effect, Jesus is saying that this ancient text of Isaiah describes what will be his life’s work: to preach good news to the poor, to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, to announce, not way back then or someday, “This is God’s year to act!” No more will he be the village carpenter, or Mary and Joseph’s son, though, of course, that – in their eyes – that he would always be. What he is saying is that he is the one they have been waiting for all their lives, and not only them, but their grandparents and the generations before them as well. He is the Messiah. Now, let’s get started!

Really, what Jesus did that day was the same thing we should do every time we hear the Scriptures read: locate ourselves in them. Are they talking about us, speaking to us, calling us to do the work of God?  Are we the ones we’re waiting for?

With Jesus locating himself in the Scriptures in general and this text in particular, can we who claim to follow him do anything less? If this was the life work Jesus was called to, are we not called to do the same: to preach good news to the poor, to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”

I can’t comprehensively tell you all that will mean, but I think you can imagine. It will mean getting out of our comfort zones and into homes and apartments and nursing homes. It will mean grief groups and 12 steps groups, i homeless shelters and soup kitchens.  It will mean working with not only the disabled and the physically blind, but also with those who are spiritually blind. Now is the time!  Not yesterday or someday, but now is the time. Here! Now! Today! When we do these things, not only do we continue the work of Jesus, we fulfill the mission of the church as Jesus intended it, and our calling as Christians.

In his sermon at the National Cathedral on Monday, Adam Hamilton shared, as an example of a unifying vision, an outreach project Church of the Resurrection undertook in Kansas City. Remember, this is a 12,000 member congregation we’re talking about, located in an affluent suburb of Kansas City. One of their visions was to address the root causes of poverty in Kansas City, so that the city might look more like the kingdom of God Jesus preached about. When they asked, “How do you address the root causes of poverty?” what they learned everyone agrees about is the importance of early childhood education.  So they decided to work with the public schools in Kansas City, to find a way to give the 2,284 children in six elementary schools where 90% of those children are on the free or reduced lunch program a chance for a better future. They said to the schools, “We don’t have the answers, we just offer ourselves as servants.  What do you need?  How can we help?

Last year, 2,500 of their members volunteered at those schools. They build playgrounds at all six of the schools where they didn’t have playgrounds. They repainted the inside of the schools where they didn’t have money to fix them. Members volunteered as tutors to read to the children. They purchased 20,000 books and gave them to the children so that they could read at home. When they found out that 1,400 children were coming to school hungry on Monday, because they didn’t have the reduced lunch program at home over the weekend, they provided backpacks for children with nutritious snacks every Friday, 1,400 of them, that members pack and deliver, so the children can come back to school on Monday fed. When they learned that 300 children slept on the floor at home or on the couch in their homes, they provided 300 beds, which they delivered, along with sheets and blankets and pajamas for those children.

On Christmas Eve, they voted several years ago to give away the entire Christmas Eve offering to projects benefitting children and poverty; appropriate to a child born in poverty, (Jesus). They challenged their members: would you consider giving an amount equal to what you spend on your own children at Christmas, in this offering? On Christmas Eve, in one evening they gave $1.2 million, half of which goes to projects benefitting a thousand orphans in Malawi, and half to the projects benefitting the 2,284 children in Kansas City. What do you think: is that a form of preaching good news to the poor, not yesterday, not someday, but here, now, and today?

I can’t tell you how Jesus’ sermon ended, at least not today, that part of the story is reserved for next Sunday, so (sorry) you’ll have to come back then to see what happens. Let me just say, as a teaser, that they didn’t all jump out to run out to begin an outreach project. Instead, as sometimes still happens in church, (hopefully not following my sermon), “All hell broke loose.”

Meanwhile, what about it: can we put our finger on the text?  What is our church, our life about?  What do we want to be when we grow up, someday? What steps do we need to take, to make the mission of Jesus our own:

To preach the Message of good news to the poor,

To announce pardon to prisoners and

recovery of sight to the blind,

To set the burdened and battered free,

To announce, “This is God’s year to act!”

Here!  Now!  Today!

 

 

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