Sermon for 1.24.16

Sermon for 1/24/16
Location: West St. Olaf Lutheran Church, Hayfield, MN
Text: 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.’

You’ve likely heard the expression -“That hits close to home.” People say it when they hear something or witness something that reminds them of their own lives in an unexpected way. Like when you hear a poem and it reminds you of your own life. Or you get in the car and turn on the radio - and the lyrics of the song seem perfectly to describe your own life. It "hits close to home."

Or maybe you’ve been in church on a Sunday and you wondered if maybe the pastor was speaking directly to you because the words were exactly relevant to your own life. The sermon “hit close to home.” Or a commercial – or a book – the smell of a particular meal – it can all hit close to home.

Today’s Gospel text is the story of Jesus saying things to a group of people – and his words hit close to home – in fact, they hit a little TOO close to home. Literally and figuratively.

Literally – because Jesus was very close to his actual home. In fact – he was in his hometown, Nazareth.

Figuratively - because he was speaking things that were so true – so profoundly true – that they sunk right into people’s hearts. At first – we hear that everyone is praising him and in awe. But it doesn’t take long for the tide to turn. A few verses later (just beyond today's reading) – a bunch of folks are so irritated by the truth of his words that they literally try to throw him of a cliff (in Luke 4:28-30 to be exact).

Luke, Chapter 4 is a reminder that when Jesus speaks, it isn’t all fluffy bunnies and rainbows. He speaks and his words are meant to hit close to home! His words – if we really digest them – sink into the deepest layers of our core. That’s the nature of truth. It cuts to the core. And often leaves us speechless.

Today’s Gospel text is Jesus’ first recorded public speech.  Up to this point in Luke’s gospel – we’ve heard his birth story, the story of Jesus being 12 years old and getting lost at the temple, the story of John the Baptist and Jesus’ baptism, and Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. It's mentioned that he's been doing some preaching in the region. Then we get to today’s text!

It’s the first time we get to hear Jesus teaching and preaching. And we can think of the contents of the speech as his mission statement – a way for him to public express his purpose on the planet. In verses 18 and 19, he is handed a scroll in the synagogue– he picks it up and reads from it the prophet Isaiah.

“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.”

He rolls up the scroll, hands it back to the scroll keeper, and sits down.

For SO many reasons, everyone is speechless. Especially because of the nature of the people in the audience. It's his hometown! These are the people who've watched him grow up. Relatives. Friends. Neighbors. These are folks who don’t think of Jesus as God’s son at this point. They think of him as Mary and Joseph’s son. A hometown boy. And in reading the text he does - in the way he does - he's inferring that he's been sent by God to do some pretty big work in the world! Bold first sermon back home, Jesus!

We can imagine everyone looking around at one another. “Are we hearing this right? So he’s saying HE’S the one God sent to do all this?” A few verses later, someone actually says, “But isn’t he Joseph’s son?” And then – as I mentioned earlier – a few moments later and I quote, “ All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.”

His words hit people close to home. They were deeply impactful.

How about for us? What do Jesus’ words mean to us and for us – the people of West St. Olaf Lutheran Church? The 121,000 members of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod? What does it mean that as people of faith – we are called to “bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed”?

It’s quite a list. Quite a calling. Quite an opportunity.

Jesus' words are so powerful and true – that they nestle into our conscience - providing a space to think about our time, energy, resources, finances, and service.

Jesus reorients us. He’s been reorienting people since the day of his birth. He reorients people toward the mission and purposes of God.

He brings people back to the core. The center. The roots of what it means to follow God. It means doing what we can to bring good news to the poor, and proclaim release, and recovery of sight, and freedom to the oppressed.

And then there’s another line: to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

We spend so much of our lives wondering if we’re good enough. Wondering how we’re ever going to measure up. Wondering how to make peace with the fact that we  get off track all the time. And sometimes we lose our tempers, and act passively aggressively, and worry, and obsess, and eat food that isn’t locally grown. Our priorities slip. Our bitterness boils.

Jesus – from his first public speech – announced God’s favor. God’s collective favor. NOT God’s judgment.

God’s favor. God’s love. Through his life, death, and resurrection – isn’t just for a year. It’s for a lifetime. And it frees us. The truth that we are loved – it sets us free. And it empowers us to keep going – keep striving – keep learning.

Thanks be to God for Jesus – who brings words that hit us close to home – that inspire us and challenge us. Thanks be to God for places like West St. Olaf - congregations and families of faith where people are invited to come and connect and encounter God's favor.

May the Spirit continue to direct us along the way!

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