Monday, January 25, 2010

Sermon - Epiphany 3 - Luke 4:16-30

Luke 4:16-30
Epiphany 3
January 24, 2009
“The Hometown Preacher”

As a preacher, it's always good to take note of how and what Jesus preaches. In our Gospel reading today, we have Jesus attending the weekly worship gathering on the synagogue. Much like our practice of church on Sunday, those gathered would have an appointed reading from Scripture, followed by a Rabbai or teacher, or in our case, pastor, explaining and proclaiming it. So Jesus was the guest preacher that day in his hometown of Nazareth.

They had seen him grow up as Joseph and Mary's son, probably had some tables and chairs from his carpenter's shop. They knew his family. Little Jesus, all grown up, and now a famous preacher. He'd been making quite a name for himself with his miracles and messages in Capernaum – the nearest big city. Now they had a chance to hear the hometown hero. Perhaps it was Nazareth pride that made them speak so well of him. But... the sermon didn't go so well.

It started out with Jesus preaching about a passage from Isaiah, which clearly predicts the coming Messiah. He states very simply, very boldly, “today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. And this striking claim seems to fly right over their heads! Jesus is basically claiming to be the Messiah! He says, “hey, I am the guy. I'm the one Isaiah is speaking about here. When he predicts the one who would come to preach good news and proclaim freedom, the one anointed by the Spirit. That's me!”. But they are not even phased. Instead they continued to speak well of him and marvel. It doesn't seem they were even listening to his words.

Perhaps their hearts weren't ready for such good news. So it is with many today. You can sit in church for years, and though the preacher preaches till he's blue in the face, never really “get” the Gospel. Some of us here today, probably also, have a fuzzy picture at best of who Jesus is. Is he the one and only Savior from sin? Or is he the one who sets the example for us to follow? Is it what would Jesus do, or what did Jesus do for me that is most important? Is the answer to my problem of sin the grace of God in Christ? Or should I just try harder to be a better person and sin less?

We preach, like Jesus preached, that Salvation is a free gift of God alone. And yet it's so hard to hear. It's so difficult to believe.
So Jesus shakes them up. He preaches some law. He says something that gets their goat. He pulls out some history.

Back in the time of Elijah and Elisha, the people of Israel had largely turned away from the true God. So these prophets, partly as a testimony against such unfaithfulness, were sent to foreigners and outsiders. The widow and Zarepheth and Namaan the Syrian. To his hometown crowd of Nazareth, who thought themselves insiders to God because they were Jews, insiders to Jesus because they were from his hometown.... Jesus shoots that all down. Because they reject him, the Gospel will be offered to others. Because they refuse to hear, they will be shamed by outsiders who receive Jesus in thanks.

And really, he's poking holes in their pride. He's exposing them for their hardened hearts. They were not listening to him to really hear what he had to say, and so they were offended. Especially when he began to compare them to those lousy gentiles. They were about to push him off the cliff and probably stone him as a false teacher! But it just proved Jesus' words all the more true.

We too, don't like to hear what we don't like to hear. When your pastor stands here and tells you what scripture says about your sin, it's not supposed to be a kind word. The law offends us. It's an assault on your sinful pride, your false sense of righteousness. But before you try to stone the preacher or push him off the cliff, remember this is God's word of Law. This is a slap in the face we need to experience.

And even when Jesus himself speaks, preaches, teaches – some will reject. They did then, and they do today. But to him who has ears to hear – the message gets through. When the law breaks us into pieces and leaves us a quivering pile of guilt and shame. Then Jesus has another word. Then he has good news.

He is the chosen one, the Messiah, anointed to preach good news to the poor. And the good news is this: that he has died for your sins, that he has taken your guilt and shame. That all your sinful pride and self-righteousness are forgiven by his work for you. His death on the cross pays the price of freedom for us who are slaves to sin, and our newfound liberty in him is reason to rejoice.

Today, here 200 years later, Isaiah is fulfilled yet again. As Jesus' good news comes to people who need to hear it. As his word is proclaimed, as his gifts are freely given. The Spirit of the Lord works faith through his Word, gives and strengthens our faith, and assures us of the blessings of salvation through Jesus Christ. Today, in Jesus, what is written is real and sure and true.

Does it offend you? It should. Does it give you comfort? It should. For Jesus the guest preacher is still speaking, still calling sinners to repentance and faith. The Spirit is still working in devious ways to open our eyes and ears to see and hear this Jesus, this great Teacher, this anointed one – whose word is worth hearing and believing.

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