Reading(s): Luke 4:14-21. This sermon was given by Warwick Heathcote at St Denys.
I would term today’s Gospel passage from Luke's gospel simple and straightforward!
It is a passage often described as Jesus' first sermon - the way he began his public ministry.
Luke's account goes like this when Jesus 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 favour."
And then follows the part we must not forget when he said “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
Dietrich Bonheoffer, the great German theologian, who defied Hitler and the unspeakable terror he caused, rightly said that "the essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy."
I believe that those of us who preach the gospel and those who gather as the church so often make the faith we proclaim too complicated. We use lots of words, many of which cause enmity - and so diminish hope - in order to defend positions that have more to do with personal preferences than the truth of the gospel and which do more harm than good.
We argue about whether baptism should be by immersion or sprinkling or whether it's better to use wine or grape juice when we celebrate the Lord's Supper. We wonder how Jesus can be both human and divine. We debate whether Jesus is "the" way or "a" way.
More than not we emphasize minor rather than the major or important truth of the gospel.
We use lots of words that complicate the truth of the gospel - words that divide rather than unite, confuse rather than clarify - words that rob us of a way of living that is intentional - clearly understood and straightforward - and leave some with little hope of being transformed by God's ever-gracious always-faithful love.
I'm reminded of an apt bit of wisdom most often attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi: "Preach the gospel at all times," he said, "and when necessary use words."
Isn't that the deeper meaning behind what Jesus said? "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" is not a proclamation seeped in arrogance. It points to the enduring truth of the one we call Lord Saviour and of who he was - and of how he lived; and if we would be more like Jesus then we need to make what Jesus said and did shape who we are and what we do.
And if you think that you're not capable of building for yourself that kind of life a life that is filled with meaning and purpose - then perhaps words spoken by Martin Luther King, Jr. might help: - "Everybody can be great," he said, "because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a university degree to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love."
Without seeming to digress, I think it's important for us to recall the progression of this gospel story. Just before today’s passage Luke records two important events.
Firstly, Jesus' baptism by John and secondly Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. Both events establish an essential connection between God and God's people. For Jesus - baptism wasn't an end - it was a beginning.
Matthew tells us in his gospel says that when Jesus went to be baptized that John said "I need to be baptized by you." And Jesus saying "Let it be so; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness." Righteousness, right living is a choice we make to live a God-focused life.
And we know this because of what happened next – because immediately Matthew tells us Jesus was driven into the wilderness where he needed to choose no less than you and me a way of living that honours our God.
Baptism connects us to God it does not make our lives carefree - but enriches us with God's Spirit and empowers us to choose grace rather than judgment engagement rather than indifference - and forgiveness rather than revenge.
And note what happened. When that forty-day trial in the wilderness ended, where did Jesus go? Filled with the Spirit, Jesus went back to Nazareth. He went home.
Might that not say something important to you and me? Is it not a reminder that we can live the gospel message wherever we are in whatever place God calls us to be?
It doesn't matter how big or small your world may seem - how many people you know or where you work the example Jesus set for us - allows us to proclaim the gospel with few words and with lots of love wherever we are!
It is important to note that when Jesus was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, he opened it to the place where it says, "...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."
We don't know what Jesus may have said if he had been asked to describe people who are poor, in captivity people who are blind, and who are oppressed. But we do know what Isaiah meant when he prophetically spoke those words to Israel. He was proclaiming God's intent that he who was to come would pay particular attention to those who are afflicted and bound and blind.
Isn't this the simple truth that stands at the heart of the gospel? - That God's love is for everyone not the privileged few! And how do many of us respond? We live with an "us/them" mentality. We view people as right or wrong good or bad in or out. We are impoverished by our lack of vision captive to behaviours that demean and devalue others
In Revelation 7, the apostle John envisioned God's reign as "a great multitude that no one could count from every nation from all tribes -peoples and languages standing before the throne and before the Lamb robed in white with palm branches in their hands. Crying out saying, 'Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!'"
Dare we commit ourselves fully to John's vision? Dare we choose to live the truth which is at the very heart of the gospel the truth proclaimed by Jesus when he opened the book of the prophet Isaiah?
If we don't we rob ourselves of the incalculable joy of serving the one seated on the throne and the Lamb the one whose first word and last word is never anything less than love. - Amen.