Sermon 2nd Sunday of Epiphany, NL3, 15 January 2017
The Gospel lesson for the 2nd Sunday in Epiphany is from the Gospel of Luke the 4th chapter. Glory to you O Lord.
NRS Luke 4:14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.
15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
16 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,
17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 "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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
20 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.
21 Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
22 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?"
23 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.'"
24 And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown.
25 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;
26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.
27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."
28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.
29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.
30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
The Gospel of our Lord. Praise to you O Christ.
Pray: Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Who is that masked man?
That was the last line of nearly every episode of one of my favorite TV shows growing up. The show usually involved a masked western lawman and his sidekick riding into a dusty town that was overrun by bad guys. By the end of the show the masked man and sidekick had run the bad guys out of town, restored peace and order and rode off into the sunset leaving the townspeople wondering just who was that masked man.
Luke's gospel is answering the same question for his readers. Who is this that John is born to prepare the way for? Who is this that the angel prepares Mary for and gives the name Jesus? Who is this that multitudes of angels shout "Glory to God in the Highest" for and send the shepherds in search for? Who is this that the elder prophets Simeon and Anna proclaim praise to God for in the midst of the temple? Who is this boy who holds his own in deep theological conversation with temple priests? Finally a voice from heaven proclaims him his beloved Son "with whom he is well pleased." Ah now we know. But even the devil knows who this Jesus is.
But when Jesus returns to his hometown the people are confused. "We thought this was Joseph's son. How can a mere son of a carpenter preach like this. How can he do these things in the other towns that we've heard about. He never did anything like that here. Who is this Jesus really?"
In Jesus' first sermon he declares that he is the expected Messiah, the Anointed One, who is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, who has come in fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah. Well this is good news for the poor and the oppressed, the blind and the captive - probably most of the town. But they are also in wonder at his speaking ability and what they really want...is to see the things that he did in the other Galilean towns as he made his way back to Nazareth. The implication from the text is that he had healed and perhaps cast out demons. They wanted to see the good stuff. They wanted to be wowed just like the people in the other Galilean towns.
Jesus was not inclined to acquiesce. He reminded them of the famous prophets Elijah and Elisha who had passed over the starving and the lepers in the home country but had helped a couple of foreigners from Sidon and Syria. By challenging their expectations of him, Jesus was fulfilling John the Baptist's prophesy about the Messiah. That he would have a winnowing fork in his hand to separate the wheat from the chaff. Would the people of Nazareth disregard his call and be worthless chaff to be blown away and burned or would they hear his word and be valuable grain that would be collected and made useful? How would the people respond? Would they recognize the mission of God to the forgotten and abandoned of society, repent and become people who also proclaimed freedom and good news and sight? Or would they become offended.
The text tells us the outcome. They tried to throw him off a cliff. The time for Jesus' death would come three years in the future and for the same reason. People were offended by the message of Jesus and who he said he was. The people of Nazareth were like chaff so Jesus slipped away and went to other towns in Galilee. There is no indication in Luke's gospel that he ever went back to his home town.
In Jesus' short sermon he indicated his mission while on earth. It was a mission to the poor, oppressed, captive, and the blind and I think this includes both the physically poor, oppressed, captive and blind and those who are this way in spirit. It is the same mission that God gave the Israelites throughout the Old Testament. It is the mission he gives us today.
And so we must consider the question: would Jesus come to this church and preach to us testing us for our reaction. Would he be looking for us to respond and like good grain fall and be gathered up as useful? Or might we be blown away by the wind like chaff and be considered useless to him? Would we answer his call to the poor oppressed, blind and captive here in Ridgecrest and around the world? As good disciples would we follow his lead?
The difficult thing is to change. Once we are satisfied with the way we are it is very difficult to change. Inertia works spiritually as well as physically. We might be enthralled with the message and the aim of Jesus' mission but when it comes to making the necessary personal changes...well...will we change? If we get thrown up into the air by Jesus' spiritual winnowing fork...where will we land? here with the grain or there with the chaff?
Think of the things that are common for disciples to do.
Disciples know what they believe and they share that belief. They witness and humbly share their genuine personal faith.
Disciples have a working knowledge of the Word of God, the Bible and seek to learn more.
Disciples know and use their gifts for ministry. They are joyful and generous with their time, talents and treasure knowing that they are only thankful stewards of these God-given gifts.
Disciples are connected with the body of Christ where they worship, pray and love one another.
Disciples actively serve others. Faith without works is dead. They have surrendered their lives to Jesus.
Disciples make other disciples. They produce rather than consume. Self takes a back seat to the love of God and of others.
Jesus calls us to be disciples with something to do. Each one of us is called to do these disciple things, and if we are not doing them than we are to grow in them. Jesus calls us to make an all-in commitment. The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it this way, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die?" Jesus demands our lives and we are to be expended in, with, and for the poor, oppressed, blind, and captive. If we are not, than we are useless chaff, good only to be thrown into the fire and burned up.
What Christ gives is grace and what he has done has called us to be disciples. Being a disciple is a gift of grace but it is costly. Bonhoeffer put it this way,
"Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs us our lives, and it is grace because it gives us the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "you were bought at a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.”
Like the people of Nazareth we should get uncomfortable when Jesus calls, but rather than try to run Jesus off a cliff we should humbly confess our unworthiness as disciples and begin to make changes.
If we don't know what we believe - then it's time to learn so that we can share it.
If our knowledge of the Bible is weak - begin to learn. There are many Bible studies available here that have seats available for many more disciples.
If we are not generous - reconsider how to become joyfully generous. Do I live a thankful life and out of thanksgiving for what God has done, do I return to him a portion of the gifts of time, talent and money for the furtherance of his kingdom?
Do I worship regularly? prayer routinely? spend time in fellowship with Christian friends?
How do I serve others? Do I look for ways to be of service? Do I gather others to help me be of better service to those that Jesus cares deeply for?
How am I in the process of making disciples? It requires knowing people, feeling comfortable sharing faith and prayer, of teaching. People are drawn to faith they are not coerced into it.
If we think we are chaff now, I don't think it is a terminal one-time sentence to the firepit. Jesus continually calls us to repent and change our ways. He wants us to become fruit and to bear fruit. We can change.
The heroes in one of my favorite movies are these two lovable bad guy train robbers whose time finally runs out and they are relentlessly chased by a posse who has extraordinary talent and persistence. After many close calls and escapes the heroes find they can't get away. They keep looking behind them in amazement and wonder "Who are those guys?"
What if our community looked at each one of us in wonder as we rode off into the sunset after doing good, "Who is that?" And when they drove by this street corner they also wondered, "Who are those guys?" By God's grace and our own effort we can become the answer to these questions, "They are simply disciples of Jesus." Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.