Monday, January 28, 2013

Sermon - Epiphany 4 - Luke 4:16-30

Sermon – Epiphany 4 – Luke 4:16-30
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chicago, IL
“Good News to the Poor”

You know, there are a lot of interesting connections with today's Gospel reading and the occasion of my visit here to Gloria Dei. While to be sure, I am not Jesus, today, as then – we have a guest preacher. We have an emphasis on the word of God being preached in a foreign land, and perhaps you will find you don't appreciate everything I say today, especially if you find out I am a Packers fan. Nonetheless, I pray like Jesus, I will not finally be pushed off a cliff.

What is going on in Jesus' hometown of Nazareth? I've actually been there – took a trip there in 2007 with some people from my congregation. I stood on the top of that very high cliff from which they tried to throw Jesus down. What made these people so angry with him? Jesus had already been quite active teaching and preaching in Capernaum. He had made quite a name for himself, this preacher from the Galilleean countryside. Maybe it was hometown pride that captured these people's attention in Nazareth – one of our sons has gone on to the big time. Let's share in the glory of his fame. But along with his teaching and preaching, Jesus also healed many. He performed miracles. 

And here, perhaps is the key. The people of Nazareth wanted some of the goodies. They wanted signs and wonders, too. They wanted these blessings, these earthly blessings for themselves. So let's politely sit through the sermon, compliment this fine young man of ours, and then he'll surely treat us well in return – for after all – he's one of us! He owes us. We deserve these blessings, too. Maybe more. But those words of his – while beautiful, well-spoken – when it started to sink in what he was actually saying – then their opinion of him turned.

Just like today – most people you would ask who know little of Jesus would say nice things about him – that he's a good moral teacher or a spiritual man, a great man... but they don't take his words so seriously. And we are much the same. You and I are subject to the same temptations and guilty of the same sins as the men in that synagogue of Nazareth. We want Jesus for the wrong reasons. We want a different kind of Jesus than he really is. We politely listen to his words, maybe even speak well of him, but pay far too little attention to him, and what he says. We want him to bless us, give us good things for we think we deserve them. We're Christians, after all, we go to church. We could list out all the reasons that God owes us... but we'd have a harder time admitting why we owe him, and how we can never repay him. Forgive us our debts, oh Lord.

And perhaps he point of pivot is here – when Jesus looks into your heart and sees the sin lurking – and his law, like a hot poker, hits the sore spot of your sin – and the preacher condemns a sin that you know you are guilty of, too... what do you do? Do you rationalize? Do you excuse it? Make up some reason you're not really guilty? Do you react like these men of Nazareth – getting angry at the one who speaks the truth – wanting to “kill the messenger” because the truth hurts? Yes the law of God often has this effect on sinful man – an indignation, a rage, a “who do you think you are, buddy?” or worse.

But the Christian who hears the law of God in faith, is cut to the heart. By the work of the Holy Spirit, may our reaction not be indifference or excuses, anger or indignation, but repentance. When you hear the law of God, confess your sins to the one who speaks gracious words. To Jesus Christ, the one who speaks “Father, forgive them”. Confess to the pastor, who is charged to speak Christ's forgiveness to you, here and now. Repent, confess, believe, and be saved. Jesus says that he is the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy – the one anointed to speak good news to the poor. That doesn't mean he comes to speak only to poor people who have no money. He speaks of the poor in spirit. Those who hold no treasures or value in their own works, but come empty, as beggars before God. Those who know their sin, and live only by the grace and mercy of a loving God who gives us good things without merit or worthiness.

And the good news that he brings is himself. His person and work for us. That he is true God and true man, born for us. That he is our subsitute in living a righteous life – for we surely can't and don't – thus earning God's favor. And by suffering for us, shedding his own blood, and laying down his life at the cross – bringing the best news of all that conscience-stricken sinners could hear - “It is finished”. The angry crowd at Nazareth tried to kill him, but he “passed through” and escaped death at that hour. The Romans and Jews also tried to end his life, and succeeded only because he laid it down, at the right time, as a sacrifice for sin. But here, too, he passed through death, and on the third day rose victorious. Death cannot even hope to contain him, and now through him, death is conquered for you. You, in Christ, once captive to sin and death, are the captive that is set free to life eternal.

What good news for poor sinners. And God sends this good news of Jesus Christ out. He is a God on a mission. Just as Jesus was sent from the Father to us, so does Jesus send his apostles and disciples, pastors and teachers, and missionaries, to bring the good news of Christ to the poor in spirit wherever the Spirit wills. He continues to send us his gifts, in the word, and in the water, and at the altar – good news for lepers and widows – good news for bankers and bartenders – good news for Americans and Singaporeans. He sends Christians to teach the good news faithfully, also, to our children, as you do here at Gloria Dei.

This coming week you highlight the work of Lutheran Schools, here and around the country, who share in the sharing of this same Good news. God bless your work in teaching the children of God's kingdom in this place about the love of Christ for them. And he sends missionaries, even to places like Singapore, to preach that same good news. Just as he sent Elijah and Elisha to foreigners, by his grace and mercy, so does our continue to act in grace and mercy for those near and far.

May you hear this day not only the condemnation of the law, the accusation of your sin, and a healthy reminder of the truth that hurts – you deserve nothing from God but death. But also repent, turn, and believe, in the one who speaks gracious words, good news to the poor, and announces God's favor on you – even Jesus Christ our Lord. May he bless that good news of Christ here, in your church, in your school, and abroad, in the lives of us poor in spirit, making us rich in the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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