posted Mar 4, 2013, 8:01 AM by David Hawkins   [ updated Mar 4, 2013, 8:01 AM ]

01/27/13 Sermon (January 27, 2012)

“What Are We Waiting for?”

Scripture Reading: Luke 4:14-21

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."

Sermon: What Are We Waiting for?

Before I begin this morning, I need to ask a favor. I need to ask this side of the sanctuary over here, if you wouldn’t mind, to open your Bibles to the book of Isaiah, Chapter 61, verse 1 and 2. It’s on page 691 in the Old Testament in the pew Bible. Everyone else, please open the pew Bible to today’s scripture, Luke, chapter 4, verses 18 and 19. It’s in the New Testament, on page 61. OK.  Keep your fingers in those places, we’ll come back to those scriptures in a little while.

I was listening to the news the other day, and I heard an amazing story. There is a new reality TV show that is being broadcast, a show that focuses on the daily life of 5 pastor’s wives from Atlanta mega churches, with all the glitz, glamour and weirdness that goes along with that. The cameras follow these women around as they go about their ordinary lives. At least ordinary for people who have way, way too much extra time and money.

As part of the news story, I was blessed with some of the dialogue of the women. During an argument that had gotten out of  hand, one of the woman pulled out the trump card of all bickering, and rebuked the other in the name of the Lord. In fact, those were her exact words.

The woman said, “The Lord rebuke you!”

I kind of expected the other woman to say, “No I am rubber, and you are glue, words bounce off me, so rebuke you!”

That would have been great. Too bad that didn’t happen. Anyway, after an awkward pause, the argument started up again right where it left off, and both of the women were pretty much left un-rebuked. It was funny, in a horrible, crass, pathetic, and depressing way.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m sure that the TV show is going to be a big hit. Who wouldn’t want to see a bunch of pastor’s wives acting out for an hour every week? The lure is irresistible. You can catch it on TLC, on Suddenlink Expanded Basic Cable.

Anyway, the thing that got me thinking, was that when they interviewed one of the women about the show, she made sure that she mentioned that she prayed real hard about whether God wanted her to be famous and make lots of money in front of millions of people.

And of course, God spoke to her personally, and said, “yes, this is what I have called you to do. I have called you to debase yourself and your husband’s profession, for money. Please. There is an urgent need for this special kind of work that only you can do.”

It was during this part of the interview that it became obvious to me that not everyone shares the same idea of what the term ‘call’ means for their lives. Not everyone shares the same thoughts about what God wants for us, and from us, as we go through this life.

In our Scripture today, Jesus is announcing his own sense of God’s call on his life. He is in his hometown, among his own people. They’ve known him for thirty years. At least, they thought they knew him.

But recently, they’ve heard some stories that have make them curious. Some crazy things that that desert hermit, his weird cousin John, out by the river,  had said about him. Something about a Messiah, something about baptism by fire, something about the Holy Spirit and a voice from heaven. It was all very strange.

And now Jesus is back home after his little visit to the Jordan. Everybody notices him. Everybody is talking about him. Everybody is waiting to see what he’s going to do.

It’s a little bit like when a son or daughter joins the military, and comes home for the first time after being away for a year. They’re different, aren’t they? Or when a young person right out of high school goes to Kenya to work as a  volunteer for the Peace Corps. They come back changed. They’ve got a new perspective.

They know who they are, at least a little bit. They’ve faced some of their demons, they’ve looked over the edge of the cliff, and they’ve backed away from the edge. They know their limits, and they know their strengths. They know a little bit about what they are able to do, what they are called to do.

Jesus has been pushed even further than that. As the son of God, he was tempted with all the power of the world. He faced a punishing forty days fasting in the desert, and met the devil face to face. He has looked evil in the eyes, and evil backed down.

And now Jesus has come back home. He’s different. And his family and friends aren’t too sure about who he is now, and what he’s going to do.

As part of the weekly worship service at his home church, the synagogue, Jesus is invited to be the liturgist. He is given the scroll to read. And he chooses to read from the Book of Isaiah, the great prophet, who first warned Israel to turn from her ways, and then called her to come home, that all was forgiven. Isaiah the scold, Isaiah, the comforter.

And it’s interesting what Jesus chooses to read from Isaiah. He chooses to read from the second part of Isaiah, the part of Isaiah that is calling out to the exiles in Babylon, calling them from the safety of their established homes and their new way of life among their captors, calling them to return to Jerusalem, to come home and rebuild their lives again in their own land, as a people.

This is the text that Jesus reads in the synagogue. But he doesn’t read all of it. Here is where I need your help. If I could have all of us read together now the first few words of the scriptures that I gave you, this side read Isaiah 61, verse 1, and this side read just a few words of Luke 4, verse 18. We’re not going to read all of it, just a couple of sentences. Ready, now? All together: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news,” OK lets stop there. Keep your fingers in your Bibles, we’re going to come back to them.

So Jesus is really reading Isaiah. He reads the part in Isaiah that reminds the people that God is calling to them, and that is good news. It’s good news that their sons and daughters are coming home, that their people are coming home, that  the Lord has redeemed them, and will restore them to glory. This is what Jesus is reading in the synagogue. He’s reading a letter from God to his people, saying, “I love you. Your debt is paid, I want you to come home, to be with me, all is forgiven.”

Jesus reads a letter from God that tells of God’s goodness to the oppressed, to the poor, to the blind, to the captive. He reads about God’s liberation, of sight, of freedom, of God’s favor. He reads most, but not quite all of Isaiah, chapter 61, verses 1 and 2. Just for fun, let’s see which parts he leaves out. If we could have this side read Isaiah 61, just verse 2, and this side over here read Luke 4, just verse 19, I think might discover something interesting.

Let’s read together: “to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God;” Ok that’s good enough. Did you notice? The people reading Luke stopped before the people reading Isaiah. The people on this side left out the part where Isaiah says that he is anointed to proclaim the day of God’s vengeance. They left it out because the Luke scripture doesn’t go there.

As the whole church watches, Jesus carefully outlines his call. He is telling us his mission statement, his plan for ministry, his own sense of what God has in mind for him. And for whatever reason, Jesus left out the part where his call is to proclaim the day of God’s vengeance.

For whatever reason, at this stage of Jesus’ ministry, his call is not to tell of God’s wrath. It’s to bring good news to the poor. He has been sent 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.

I think we need to pay attention to this. Because I think that there are many Christians, many churches, perhaps too many, who have taken on their own shoulders a call to proclaim the vengeance of God, rather than to proclaim the day of God’s favor. But when given the opportunity to do so, Jesus doesn’t go there.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Jesus talked about eternal punishment. He talked about a day of wrath, a day of judgment.

But here in his church, when he first articulates his own sense of who he is, and what he is all about, he conspicuously leaves out the specific mention of God’s vengeance. And I think that means things.

It means things because we live in the same world that Isaiah lived in. We live in the same world that Jesus lived in. We live in a world that is broken and hurting. We live in a world that is blind, and is captive to violence, addiction, and greed. We live in a world that is full of people in exile, who are lonely, angry, and wondering if God has forgotten them.

There is no denying that this is a world that needs to hear about God. And we have a choice: we can proclaim the day of God’s wrath, or we can proclaim the day of God’s favor in the good news of Jesus Christ.

And we don’t have to look very hard to see that many well-meaning folks have taken upon themselves the task of proclaiming the news that God hates the world, that God is coming soon to judge the world, that sinners are going to be punished, that God can’t stand us. That this world is doomed, that the end is coming, repent, repent, or be thrown into the pit of hell.

But it was to this very same broken, hurting, blind, bound, world, that Jesus was called. Not to proclaim vengeance. But to proclaim good news.

Now, I don’t know what each of us is called to do for living. I know from my own life that our vocational call may change over time. The only advice I have about that is to say that vocation is that place where your greatest passion and the world’s greatest need come together. And that place is different for everyone. There are so many different ways to live out God’s call for our lives.

Having said that, I’m pretty sure that acting like an idiot on a nationally broadcast reality TV show is not God’s plan for anybody’s life. But I might be wrong. Maybe that really is the world’s greatest need, to see rich, spoiled, megachurch pastor’s wives live out their tawdry squabbles on daytime TV. Who knew?

But regardless of what you do for a living, we all share the same call that Jesus carefully articulated in his own home church, so very long ago. We are called to bring the Good News of a Risen Christ to a world that needs to hear it so very badly. We are all called to proclaim the day of God’s favor.

And today, when we leave here to meet the world head on, in whatever vocation, or job, or ministry that we find ourselves, that scripture is fulfilled, in our time, and in our place, in our world.

So what are we waiting for?

Thanks be to God. Amen.