Monday, July 13, 2009

Sermon 6/14/09 “Uniquely Luke Part One: Hard to Handle”

Luke 4:16-30

We recognize many products by the phrase that they use in advertisements. For example, when someone says,

"Just dot is" we think Nike

"Reach out and Touch Someone we think AT&T

"Snap, Crackle, Pop" we think Rice Krispies

"Where's the Beef" we think Wendi's

'It keeps going, and going and going" we think Energizer Batteries

'It's everywhere you want to be." VISA

Churches are even getting into the mix by using Bible verses that denote what their church or organization's mission is. Here in the Vine, we use John 15:5 which says, "I am the vine, you are the branches. If anyone remains in me, they will bear much fruit, bur a part from me you can do nothing." Our goal in the Vine is to connect people to Jesus so they can grow in their faith and bear fruit in order to serve the world.

In Luke's gospel, Jesus had this type of verse that characterized his ministry as he went from synagogue to synagogue. Luke 4 records the story of Jesus returning to his hometown

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, 17and 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."

Jesus has just returned to his hometown of Nazareth after traveling around preaching. News about him was traveling fast. On the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue as was his routine. This means that he normally would go into the synagogue where ever he went. He stood up and read from the scroll, which was the text from Isaiah 61:1-2 with one exception. Jesus supplements Isaiah 58:6 where it says, "To set the oppressed free." Jesus leaves off Isaiah 61:2b where it says, "and the day of our Lord's vengeance."

It seems that Jesus may have been reading from the text that he believed summarized the purpose of his ministry the most. We may want to call this Jesus' mission statement. His purpose was to preach good news to the poor. He then elaborates on what preaching the good news to the poor will mean. He continues to quote from Isaiah. He says it means that he will (1) Bring freedom to the captives (2) Bring sight to the blind, (3) set the oppressed free and to (4) proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

If you were to break this down into the language we use today for mission and vision statements, Jesus would have said that his mission was to "Preach good news to the poor."

When we talk about the poor, scripture references them in two ways. They can be those who have material wealth, but are spiritually poor like the rich young ruler who would not sell his possessions or like the religious leaders who had control but did not really know God. Or, they can be the marginally poor due to social or religious exclusion, which seems to be the case in the gospel of Luke. Notice who Jesus heals in Luke, (1) Leapers, (2) Handicapped (3) Tax Collectors (4) Gentiles (5) Women (6) People possessed by demons and (7) a criminal.

Interesting enough, in Luke's gospel, Jesus does not just heal people for the sake of healing. Jesus heals people in order to reestablish them into the community of faith. Verse 19 says that he has now come to pronounce the year of the Lord's favor. This may be referring to the Old Testament's Day of Jubilee. In Leviticus, the Hebrews were commanded to have a Jubilee year on the fiftieth year in which all the people who were slaves would be set free and all the land were return to their original owners. Of course they never followed this command and you can imagine why. Jesus was saying that he has come to proclaim that those on the margin are now set free. They were to be "released" from the things that were holding them down.

Joel Green, who is a New Testament professor at wrote a little book called The Theology of the Gospel of Luke in which he says that in Luke's gospel, Jesus' focus on preaching to the poor meant that his goal was to overturn previous measures of status so that anyone could receive God's grace freely no matter what their status was.

I take this to be good news. No matter what our background, no matter what we have done to be where we are, no matter what we have done, no matter what keeps us from God, Jesus tells us that both the poor and the spiritually poor can receive God's grace freely. Jesus came to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captive, recovery of sight to the blind, and to set the oppressed free. Jesus has come to release us from those things that bind us.

I can still remember the first sermon that I ever preached. It was in the church I grew up in. The text I preached on was actually the text I am preaching on next week. I still remember that two people came down to the alter and one person accepted Jesus. I remember the people at the church were so proud, just as Jesus' listeners, at least for a moment were proud of him. Luke writes,

20And 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. 21Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?"

The problem begins in the next few verses when Jesus continues to explain the ministry God called him to.

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.' " 24And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. 25But 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; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepersd in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." 28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They 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. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Notice Jesus quickly goes from hometown hero to villain with just a few words. Notice what he says. Jesus uses a proverb that says, "Doctor cure yourself," which really means do for us, your relatives before you cure other people. Jesus gives more explanation when he says that they are going to ask him to do things he has done elsewhere for them.

We begin to see the real motivation of Jesus' hometown folks. They have gathered to hear and see him because they have heard of all the things he has done. They were probably sitting on the edge of their seat waiting on him to do some good stuff.

Jesus does not give in to their demands. Instead he uses two examples from the Old Testament of prophets who perform miracles for outsiders. First, he uses the example of Elijah who served a widow, who happened to be a gentile. Elisha, likewise, healed a leaper who was a gentile and not other Jews with leprosy.

This clearly upset Jesus' hometown folks so much that they wanted to throw him off a cliff. Talk about a bad homecoming.

As I have read and reflected on this text, I am convinced that the reason the hometown people got so mad at Jesus is because Jesus was not all theirs. Let me explain. When Jesus was preaching to them, they loved him, but when he told them that his ministry was elsewhere, they became irate. I believe they wanted Jesus all to themselves. The truth that Jesus came for people that were not living in Nazareth was too hard for them to handle.

This truth hit me one day when I heard a pastor during the Iraq war saying that we need to pray for our troops and the Iraqi troops. At first I was thinking, "Why in the world would we pray for the other country?" After the service I asked the pastor about it and he simply said, "If we believe that God loves the world, then we should believe that God loves them as well. You see, it is easy to think that Jesus is all ours. We can keep him in our little box. However, the fact is, Jesus is for the whole world. That truth is sometimes hard to handle.

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