Sunday, January 21, 2007

There All Along

[This message was prepared for sharing with worship celebrations at Friendship Lutheran Church on January 20 and 21, 2007. It was shared yesterday. But a snowfall caused worship to be canceled this morning.]

Luke 4:14-21
A young resident doctor of psychiatry was convinced that if he rationally explained things to delusional patients at the mental hospital where he worked, the patients would be cured. One patient in particular, a guy named Ken, seemed especially promising. Ken, like others, was delusional. But he could conduct almost normal conversation.

“Hello, Ken,” the resident said one day. “How are you?” “Oh, hello, doctor. I’m dead.” “Now, Ken,” said the resident, seeing a chance to put his theories into practice. “You’re not dead. Here you are talking with me and I’m alive. You must be alive, too.” But Ken would have none of it. No matter how many logical proofs the doctor presented, Ken insisted that he was, in fact, dead.

Finally, the doctor hit upon a plan. He asked Ken, “Would you agree that dead men don’t bleed? That only people who are alive bleed?” Ken thought about that and said, “Yes. Dead people don’t bleed.” At that, the resident triumphantly pulled out a straight pin and jabbed one of Ken’s index fingers. Ken looked at the blood on his finger. “There, you see?” the doctor asked. “I sure do,” Ken said excitedly. “Dead people do bleed!”

Sometimes people, even people who aren’t delusional, find it difficult to see facts. Often, we have to see something many times before we even notice it.

This Epiphany season is a time when we remember the many signs that demonstrate that in Jesus Christ, we meet more than just a human being. He’s also God and the long-promised Savior-King.

God has gone out of His way to show us repeatedly Who Jesus and our need of Him. Two weeks ago, we looked at Jesus’ baptism and at how God the Father had set Jesus apart from all the others baptized by His cousin, John, that day. Last week, we remembered how Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding.

But the sign in today’s Bible lesson is very different from those miraculous, otherworldly events. It comes in the form of a visit home, the reading of a Bible lesson in worship, and a simple, yet forceful statement of fact about Jesus' ministry.

After being baptized and then propelled by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted, Jesus apparently had done some teaching and healing. Already all of Galilee, the region of Judea in which He lived, was abuzz with word about Him. When word reached Nazareth that Jesus was on His way, the hometown folks were understandably excited. Luke tells us:
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, 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 favor." 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. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
The words that Jesus read in worship that day were from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. You can read them today, in chapters 58 and 61 of that book. Jesus is telling His fellow Jews at Nazareth--and all of us--that He is the anointed king (that’s what the word Messiah means, basically, Anointed One) sent by the Spirit to usher in the reign of God.

And to prove it, Jesus asks the Nazarenes--and us--to consider the signs He does:
  • He proclaims good news to poor people;
  • He sets captives free;
  • He lets the blind see; and
  • He springs the oppressed from whatever is imprisoning them.
In what must have been a moment of high, yet silent, drama, Jesus sat down and then told His townspeople--and us--"Today, right at this moment, in your hearing, this has all taken place.”

Next week’s lesson will explore the reactions of the Nazarenes to Jesus’ claim. But today, I want to talk about what we see in the signs Jesus talks about. This is important because, Jesus later made the stunning claim that in His Name, His Church will do the works that He does and, He said, even greater works. And in the list of signs Jesus provides, there are...
no miracles of loaves and fishes,
no thunderstrikes from heaven,
just the tough love of God meeting real people in their everyday lives.

These are signs of His love and of His kingdom that God wants to perform through you and me.

When we do them, the world will see Christ in us, others will come to follow Christ, and you and I will find our faith deepened.

So, what can we do?

First of all, we can set the captives free. The word that Jesus uses for free here, aphesis, is the same word He uses for forgiveness. It literally means release.

We Christ-followers are meant to show others that Christ can release them from their bondage to sin, to fear.

We often can do that in simple acts of kindness and consideration. “Carl Coleman was driving to work one morning when he bumped fenders with another motorist. Both cars stopped, and the woman driving the other car got out to survey the damage. She was distraught. It was her fault, she admitted, and hers was a new car, less than two days from the showroom. She dreaded facing her husband. Coleman was sympathetic, but he had to pursue the exchange of license and registration data. She reached into her glove compartment to retrieve the documents which were in an envelope. On the first paper to tumble out, written in her husband's distinctive hand, were these words: 'In case of accident, remember, Honey, it's you I love, not the car.'” Imagine the sense of release that woman felt. Imagine the freedom we all could give one another if we extended kindness and forbearance to those we love.

In coming weeks, our Outreach chairperson, Carol, is going to announce not only kindness outreaches in which you can be involved with others in the congregation, but also small outreaches that you or your family and friends can do yourselves.

Kindness rendered in the Name of Jesus Christ frees people of their fears of God, of their misapprehensions that God doesn’t care for them, of their beliefs that they’re not good enough for God.

Kindness sets people free to turn to Jesus for new life. You and I can give that kindness away! The Bible teaches that it’s the kindness of God is meant to cause people to repent--that is, to turn from their sin--and follow Christ. We’re to be instruments of Christ’s kindness!

We can also make the poor a priority. The poor were certainly a priority for Jesus and they are for God. When Jesus was born, He wasn’t entrusted to wealthy people. He was born into poverty. His mother saw this as being especially fitting. Remember how, in the words she spoke to her relative, Elizabeth, Mary said, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

Jesus’ people, grateful for the free gifts of forgiveness and everlasting life, are called to lives of service in Jesus’ Name. Service of poor is part of that.

Next Sunday night, we will hold a potluck here at Friendship. It starts at 5:00. I hope that every member will be here. The purpose is to meet the Higgins family, for whom and with whom Friendship and others in our area will be building a home in New Richmond. For the Higginses, the building of a new home for them, constructed in Jesus’ Name, will be very good news, a sign of the goodness and the love of the God we know through Jesus Christ. Even if, like me, you suffer from two left hands, you can be a part of this Habitat for Humanity build. You can share good news with the poor!

We can declare the year of the Lord’s favor. What does that mean? The Old Testament book of Leviticus said that every fifty years in Israel, all debts were to be forgiven, all land restored to its original owners or their heirs, all slaves were to be set free. It was called the Jubilee year.

Jesus is saying that He’s come to forgive all debts and all sins. The phrase, “the Lord’s favor” means exactly what I tell you folks all the time, “God is for us.”

I find that this is a message of which the world never tires. This past week, as some of you may know, I met with a professional man in our community on church business. I’ve known this guy for years and as we were wrapping up, I put my arm on his shoulder and told him, “You know, the welcome mat is always out for you at Friendship.” He smiled and said, “I like your style.”

Well, I don’t know if I have any style. But I do know that what I wanted to convey to that man and to all people is God’s favor, that God is for them, and that God wants to deepen His relationship with them through the fellowship of a caring church family. Whatever your style, you can convey the same message to the people in your life.

When Jesus went to worship with the people of His hometown, He told them that they could know He was their Messiah because...
  • He set people free through His love,
  • He made the poor His priority, and
  • He showed them that God was for them.
In His Name, you and I can do the same things today, showing people who might feel distant from God and isolated from others that their loving God was there all along.

[THANKS TO: Bruce Armstrong of Ordinary Everyday Christian for linking to this post. And thank you, Bruce, for the kind words.]

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