Monday, February 24, 2014

Good News: According to Luke

Trying to craft a sermon while the world is spinning is not easy.  Trying to deliver one when the world is spinning is even harder!  I am not sure how well I followed this on Sunday, I know that at each service I kind of wandered in different directions.  Couldn't think clear enough to keep it all organized in my mind!  At least that's my story and I am sticking to it.  A copy of the audio version is available at the church.  I keep hoping (maybe I should start praying) that we switch to our new website so that I can post the audio as well.

Thanks for reading --- I hope God helps you figure out what melts your butter!

Luke 4:16-26     (NRSV)
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was 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 he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 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.

Last week we saw that it was the Holy Spirit that led Jesus into the wilderness, this week we see the same thing; our passage actually begins with these words:

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

Luke --- from the very beginning --- wants to make sure that we understand that Jesus ministry is under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

But then we get this rather difficult and perplexing passage.

Most of you probably read the passage (or at least heard it this morning) and are saying ---- what's the big deal?

What is so difficult about this passage?

In the liturgical cycle of the church year, this passage falls on third Sunday of Epiphany of the "C" cycle.
          I know that doesn't mean that much to you

The church "year" is broken up into cycles and spread out over a three year period --- the thought process is --- that over a three year period a congregant would "hear" all the major stories of the Bible as the church has designated them.

This passage would have fallen in January of 2013

But included with the lectionary are also a passage from the Old Testament (what I prefer to call the Hebrew Scriptures) a Psalm, and an epistle lesson. 
So our weekly lection includes 4 passages of scriptures that in theory have some common theme --- although I have to admit I am not smart enough to often figure out what that common theme is supposed to be.

This passage from Luke is included with some other important passages on its designated Sunday
·         Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 --- the finding and reading of the law by Ezra
·         Psalm 19 --- The perfect nature of God's law

          OK, maybe we have a common theme going here

·         1 Corinthians 12:12-31a --- the nature of the body of Christ

OK, so maybe that one goes in a different direction.

Then there is our passage from Luke in which Jesus is reading from the prophets at the synagogue in Nazareth and he reads a particular passage from Isaiah. 

A tough passage from Isaiah.

I guarantee you --- that for those pastors who follow the lectionary a large majority of them will focus on the 1 Corinthians passage and skip the others.  They might NEVER preach from this passage from Luke because it has so many difficulties.

So what are some of the problems?

1.   There is no archaeological evidence that there was a synagogue in Nazareth at the time of Jesus.

Most scholars would suggest that Nazareth was a dirt poor town of maybe 200-400 people at the time of Jesus.

What is interesting is that Nazareth isn't mentioned in ancient literature outside the bible until the 2nd century CE.  This was a small and unimportant town.

The odds of a community this small having a synagogue are pretty remote.

2.   The odds of Jesus being literate are slim

3.    The message that Jesus gives is DAUNTING

As Jesus reads from the scroll we are told that he found this provocative passage from Isaiah 61:1-2

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
   to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
   and the day of vengeance of our God;
   to comfort all who mourn;

Just what is it that Jesus is saying?

Are you sure you want to walk through this?

Maybe it would be better if I just said AMEN right now and sat down!

It's not so much that Jesus re-read ---- re-interpreted this passage from Isaiah --- the problem really lies in what he said after he finished reading it.

“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.”

But then he has the audacity to say:

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

Let's stop just for a second and think about this . . .

What exactly is Jesus says has happened in their hearing 2,000 years ago?

First, he claims that he has been anointed by God --- if you were a Jew living in Nazareth in the year 30ce or so, and you heard somebody say that God anointed them you would think one of two things.
          Kings were anointed
          Messiah's were anointed
So is Jesus King or Messiah or both?

Then what does Jesus say has happened?

          Good news to the poor

          release to the captives

          oppressed go free


Jesus is saying that God's kingdom has begun --- not in some future BUT NOW!

One of the things we have had to struggle with since then is why not? 

Why didn't these things happen?

No easy answers . . .

But maybe the challenge for us is to see the world like Jesus did.

Jesus recognized that the world was a mess and it needed direction.

You read the newspapers --- you watch the news --- What would you do to fix the world?

Jesus proclaims God's kingdom --- what are you proclaiming?

What would you do, if you could, to patch up this old world?

It's hard to go beyond what Jesus and Isaiah offer.

Isn't this what being a Christian is all about:
          healing what is broken,
          freeing those in bondage,
          comforting those who mourn?

The world's a broken place --- and it is our mission as Jesus’ people to lend a hand.

What would you, could you, might you, do to help?

Perhaps you are already involved and don't realize it.

Do you support the food pantry to help feed your neighbors?
Do you give money to your local domestic violence shelter?
Do you volunteer at your local public school, library hospice or hospital?
Do you held send medical supplies to those in need throughout the world?

This world is still a broken place, full of broken people who could do with a little Good News, and a little help, now and then.

Don't worry about a quick fix.
          But do your part --- do your best.

Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity, tells about his old friend Luther in Tupelo, Mississippi, who puts it another way:
"Get involved in something that melts your butter!" Fuller says, "What is it that melts your butter? Maybe it's foreign missions, or China, or wildlife, or the environment, the elderly, people with AIDS, people who are sick and dying. I have a friend who sits with the dying. He just holds their hands and wipes their brow, and talks to them about life and their impending death. Ask yourself what it is that gives your life meaning and purpose. Educate yourself. We live in the age of the Internet - we can look up anything. Someone close by, probably your grandchild, can help you find out what's going on and where the gaps are."
 Jesus came proclaiming Good News --- are you living it?

Find your place that melts your butter.

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