Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 21, 2007
The Gospel: Luke 4:14-21
Sermon: "To Share the Peace of God"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 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."
To Share the Peace of God
Third Sunday after the Epiphany - January 21, 2007
The date is September 30, 1936. Leaders and representatives from Britain, France, Italy and Germany meet and sign The Munich Agreement. For Adolph Hitler the signing of this agreement prevented the other nations from moving against his plans. For the Prime Minister of Britain, Neville Chamberlain, it meant peace and not world war. In fact, when he arrived home he proclaimed to the waiting crowd, "I believe it is peace for our time." Of course, he was very wrong. He had no idea what truly lurked in the hearts and minds of Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini, two of the other signers of the agreement.
Of course, the people of Britain wanted to hear what he said. They did not want war in their time. Many of them could remember the pain of the First World War. In fact, many of them had lived through it and/or lost somebody in it. So, peace was what they truly wanted and his words were exactly what they wanted to hear.
Who could blame them? No one ever wants war and violence. No one wants to see others hurt or perhaps lose their loved ones themselves. We are in the middle of a war right now. All of us want it to end. We want all of the violence to stop. Our desire is for hatred to cease and for peace among everyone to be possible and real. Unlike the crowd who greeted Prime Minister Chamberlain, we do not trust words from officials. We want to see action, real action taking place. After all, we know actions do speak louder than words. We have become untrusting of words. After all, we have heard too many false statements in the last twenty to thirty years of our history to believe just words anymore.
In actuality, our mistrust of words might go back even farther. If we look closely at the Gospel reading we see an incident in Jesus' ministry where his words were not accepted. The people didn't trust what he said. They didn't trust his words for three reasons. First of all, he was known to them. In this lesson he is in the synagogue in Nazareth. As we all know he grew up in Nazareth. He comes into the synagogue and he reads from the scroll of Isaiah. He reads the part of the scroll they have come to associate with the coming of the Messiah. Now, they have known him all of his life. They have known his family, his father, his mother, and his siblings. How could he even begin to make this claim about the Messiah coming? Surely, he isn't talking about himself? They have heard about his healing work but that is a far cry from knowing or being the Messiah. So, the first reason they don't believe him is because they know him too well.
The second reason they don't believe him is because the words don't ring true. Jesus reads, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim the release of the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Now, the people who are hearing these words consider themselves oppressed and captive to the Romans. In their minds, the good news he should bring is the falling of the Roman government. Not only should they be set free from Roman oppression, Israel should be raised up in power and in glory. They should return to political prominence as in the time of King David. Where is the truth in these words of Jesus? For none of what they believe should happen for Israel is occurring before their eyes. They can't believe him because they don't see what they desire for themselves taking place.
Finally, they don't believe Jesus because of what they do see happening. Jesus is indeed following the words of the scroll he read. He is proclaiming good news to the poor. The poor hear his words and they find hope. They find hope to help them every day and they find hope for the life to come. The captives also hear his words and they believe. The physically captive and the spiritually captive are released. People who have physical ailments are healed. People who have been held spiritually captive are released. I'm not just talking about those who wee demon possesses. I also mean those who had given up or questioned their faith. Jesus also brought sight to the physically and spiritually blind. Those who could not see due to physical defect could now see the wonders in creation. Those whose spiritual eyes were opened could see the majestic and compassionate work of God in the world. Jesus also did set the oppressed free. The oppressed were captive in many ways in Jesus' day. They were oppressed by the Romans. They were oppressed by the interpretation of the law by the religious leaders of the day. Jesus could help them see that their daily lives were not totally ruled by either of them. They could be free in their own lives even under these set and sometimes burdensome rules. The people in leadership do see these things occurring, but it isn't just for the people of Israel. They can't take it.
The Messiah is supposed to be Israel's Messiah. He is not to be showering God's grace on everyone. He can't be giving God's blessing to the gentiles. The Gentiles don't deserve it. He can't be helping the sick and the oppressed for they deserve their fate in life. He can't be eating with tax collectors. He can't be talking to prostitutes. He can't be going about with sinners for the grace of God is only for the righteous, the good people, the people of Israel. It is for those who go to synagogue and follow the law. It is for those who give of their wealth and have position and recognition as righteous ones in the community .
See, the third reason they can't believe in Jesus is because Jesus is too free with God's grace. Jesus is letting everyone know that God loves them. The rich and the poor, the weak and the strong, the righteous and the sinner, are all welcome to come to Jesus and receive God's grace.
So, how do we feel about a gospel that includes all sorts and conditions of humanity? Do we welcome the sinner, the hurting, the poor lour community into our midst? Do we go to them with open hearts and minds to share the good news of God in Christ Jesus? Or like the first hearers of this lesson does God's inclusiveness scandalize us so much that we can't believe Jesus is the Messiah? I know this church does a great deal of good in the community. By and large we are good people. We should be proud of the accomplishments we have made thus far. However, to be truly great any barriers we have erected that prevent anyone from hearing the good news in Christ have to be tom asunder. When those barriers are tom down and all are welcome to receive the good news in Christ then we will see the beginnings of peace in our time. It won't be our peace. It will be the incredible and wonderful peace of God. AMEN