Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Two Sermons

Neulsarang English Worship Service
Sunday, November 28
Luke 4:16-21

“The Year of the Lord’s Favor”

Hello friends. You do not know me well yet, so first let me say something about who I am. I hope you will learn more about my faith in God and my beliefs about our Lord Jesus Christ as I preach this morning. You already know that I am married to Joe. You may not know that we met at seminary, seven years ago when I was studying to be a pastor and Joe was studying Hebrew scripture. For the past five years I have been working at Seattle Mennonite Church as Associate Pastor – primarily I have been preaching and leading worship and teaching the church’s youth.

I chose to preach on the text from Luke 4, because like Jesus, this is my first time speaking with you. Joe will read the passage, Luke 4:16-21 (2)

I chose this passage because to me it summarizes who Jesus is and what his life, his work and his teaching were all about. He quotes from Isaiah chapter 61: (3)

"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."

I will return to each of these points in a moment. First, I’d like to talk about the setting, or the context. (4) Jesus is reading in his home town and in the synagogue. When he stands to read, the scroll of Isaiah is handed to him – he is taking part in a common form gathering. Jesus is doing something that happens each Sabbath in his hometown. He is participating in Worship. Just as many of us come to worship every Sunday to learn more about living as Godly people and to learn more about God’s word, Jesus was attending synagogue.

Verse 16 especially emphasizes this fact. “He came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, as was his custom.” But in many ways, it was life as usual. He immersed in – totally a part of – his Jewish faith and tradition. Scripture was important to him and he knew it well. We see this also in Luke 2:46 where we can read the story of Jesus when he is 12 years old. Already at this young age, he want to search his scriptures and learn from the teachers in the temple.

I cannot compare myself to Jesus, but I can identify with being a part of a family and tradition that shaped me and formed me to be a person who follows God. My parents, Christian teachers and mentors, other relatives, all encouraged me and taught me more about the Bible and about living as a person of faith. Being a part of a strong community of Christians led me to become a leader in the church. Jesus was formed and shaped in his tradition to love scripture, to know God and to become the leader and prophet that he became.

Although in many ways this was an ordinary Sabbath day, it was also totally extraordinary. (5) In his quotation from Isaiah, Jesus begins by reading ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me”. Jesus is reading words that were written many years before his time. But Luke, who recorded this event, makes clear that Jesus does indeed speak with the power of the Holy Spirit. He does this with the two stories that come before this.

First, Jesus goes to his cousin John the Baptist. He asks John to baptize him. A symbolic start to begin his life’s work. And this baptism ends with the Holy Spirit descending – coming down from the sky – like a dove. A voice speaks from Heaven: "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." This is Jesus’ Father in heaven blessing the beginning of his journey. In my Christian tradition (and in yours?) baptism marks the choice of a believer to commit to a journey of faith. Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit to empower him – to give him the power that he needed – to do God’s work on earth.

Next Jesus goes to the desert. He prepares for his years with crowds of people by being alone to pray, to fast – he does not eat for all these 40 days. He is tempted during these days – to turn away from a life of service to God and God’s people and toward a life of power and wealth. Again, at the end of the forty days we hear that Jesus was “filled with the Power of the holy Spirit”.

When Luke talks about Jesus being filled with the Holy Spirit, that is his was of saying that what Jesus is about to say is also full of God’s Spirit. God affirms – God says ‘yes’ – to Jesus. To his speech from Isaiah and to all that he will do among God’s people on earth.

So we know two things. First, Jesus is formed by his Jewish faith and tradition. Second, Jesus is filled with the Spirit in a special way that makes him different. With this as context, Jesus searches for his chosen passage. He reads the words from Isaiah, and steps into public view. The scroll of Isaiah is handed to Jesus but this is the text that he looks for…The spirit of the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. (6)

“Blessed are you who are poor,” Jesus says in Luke 6, “For yours is the Kingdom of God.” This is a theme, something that we can hear and read over and over again in Luke’s gospel. The good news for those who are poor, is that they too can be God’s children, can live in God’s Kingdom. It will not only be the rich, who can afford to put money in the offering plate who get to be with God. In fact, it is those who are poor who receive a special blessing. Jesus identifies in his whole life and in everything he teaches, with people who are poor. In Luke and in all the Gospels, Jesus blesses the poor and invites those who want to follow him to care for the poor.

(7) For example, Jesus will tell parables that teach those who have money and wealth, to give up what they have, or to make friends with the ones who have nothing. In Luke 14, he tells his host, “When you give a dinner, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.” And he goes on to tell the parable of the rich man who threw a banquet and none of his friends came – they all made up excuses. They had stories about getting married, or buying cattle. So the rich man goes into the streets and does as Jesus says – he invites the poor and hurting and homeless.

On another occasion Jesus uses the poor widow as an example of faithfulness. (8) In Luke 21, the widow puts in the little money she has and Jesus says “Truly, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.” Jesus came to preach good news to these people – the poor.

The ‘good news’ is both Spiritual good news of life in God, but also the ‘real life’ good news of receiving care by other members of God’s Kingdom. This is good news for us to. We are called to live a life of disciples of Jesus. We too can have a relationship with God and we too can offer our lives as service to those in need.

At my church in Seattle we have had to struggle with this a lot. There are many people who have no homes, who sleep outside on the street, often outside our church. Five years ago my congregation began a small ministry to people who are homeless. It started with offering a meal each Sunday evening and inviting everyone – homeless and not homeless, Christian congregations and non-Christian neighbors – to eat together. There was even a Korean church that participated.

Then we started a day-time drop-in center – a place where people without homes could come in the morning to do laundry, to eat something, to use a computer. This has also become a place that offers spiritual care: Bible study, care by pastors, ministry at the time of death of illness. And our ministry to those who are homeless or poor has become a rich blessing to us.

Next Jesus says, God “has send me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.” This happens literally: Jesus heals people who are blind. He makes people see who couldn’t see before and he heals many other kinds of illnesses and diseases. And Jesus also causes people to ‘see’ the truth of who God is and what God wants for them.

(9) Luke 18 is a classic example of Jesus healing a man of his blindness.

As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by." Then he shouted, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, "What do you want me to do for you?" He said, "Lord, let me see again." Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has saved you." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.

There are several things that make this exchange very radical and amazing. One, Jesus talks to this man. He asks him what he can do for him – he does not make an assumption about what the man wants. He treats him as a human, talks to him at the same level. In the end the man can see – he is longer blind. And everyone who watches Jesus heal the man can see in a new way also. Now they have a new kind of vision as well.

(10) Oppressed go free – Jesus is reading from Isaiah, who was writing to people who were oppressed. They were being held captive in a foreign country. In Jesus’ context, the Jewish people are being held captive by an occupying force. The Roman Empire and Roman government are governing by force. Luke’s readers would have heard this from the time of Jesus’ birth: he was born in Bethlehem because the Roman Emperor had called a census.

Recently completed the Korean population census. I just had to go online and answer a few questions about my family and where I live. Jesus’ parents were forced by the Romans to leave Nazareth and travel to Bethlehem – quite a long journey. The Jewish population was kept under for by violence. Freedom from this kind of oppression would have been welcome.

What kinds of oppression do we experience now? Who are the oppressed? As Jesus disciples, how to we respond as Jesus would have us respond to those who are poor, blind or in need of healing? I don’t know this city or this country well yet. It is difficult for me to see where there is need. I do see the pain and grief of a country divided and destruction and fear that on going violent exchanges cause between North and South.

As Jesus’ disciples, my belief is that we try always to be more and more like Jesus and what he set out in this short quotation from the prophet Isaiah.

(11) “Jesus calls us who claim to follow him to continue his mission. We are to bring good news to the poor. We are to proclaim liberty to all captives, release to the imprisoned, God's blessing on the oppressed. We are to release, restore, and transform. To be a disciple means to confront injustice and minister to the oppressed. As Jesus probed the root causes of problems, so will believers. Through transforming society we show compassion.”

By naming all of these ways that he would practice his ministry, Jesus is announcing the year of the Lord’s favor. In the prophets the ‘year of the Lord’s favor’ was a time in which there would be an end to violence, a time in which enemies – even natural enemies – would lie together, as in the passage from Isaiah 65:17, 23-25: (12)

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating;

They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD-- and their descendants as well. 24 Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent-- its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.

For many years the Jewish people had read prophesies such as these – words which promised that someone would deliver. They expected a political ‘Messiah’ – someone who would save the nation through violence, war or rebellion. They expected a king or prince. But Jesus read the scripture and said, “I am the one.” He said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Staring now is the year of the Lord, the time that you have been waiting for. Starting now. Jesus is not what they are expecting. He is not a king or prince like the political leaders they know. Jesus’ kingdom is sometimes called the ‘upside-down’ kingdom because it is the opposite of what is expected. Jesus is a servant-king and everyone who follows Jesus serves as he does.

This is still the ‘year of the Lord’s favor.’ We are still being called to be Jesus disciples: offering good news to the poor, offering healing to the blind and the ill, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. May we all seek to do so.

Next week: the second part of this story, in which Jesus’ words make trouble.

(13) “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

December 4, 2010
Luke 4:16-30

Good morning. It is good to be with you again this morning. I’m going to begin where we ended last week in the book of Luke. Once again Joe will read the text, this week beginning at Luke 14 and completing the story of Jesus’ time in his hometown.


*Last week I talked about Jesus reading from the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue. I said that by doing this he rooted in Jewish faith and tradition – he identified as being totally a part of the culture and religion of his birth. He also implied that it was he, Jesus, who would become the Messiah. Jesus, not a political leader, not a king, would be the deliverer and savior that the prophets had spoken of.

I did not speak much about how Jesus’ message was received, about how people reacted to what Jesus read and said. * At the beginning “all spoke well of him and were amazed.” By the end of Jesus’ comments, “all in the synagogue were filled with rage.” That is a big change in how they think about Jesus. And I think it has to do both with what Jesus read and then what he said about it.

Last week we thought about the passage which Jesus read from Isaiah. I discussed how I believe it sums up everything that Jesus will do in his ministry: bringing good news to the poor, healing the blind, freeing people from many kinds of captivity. These words may have been good news to the people listening to Jesus in the synagogue too. After all, they were not wealthy and they were living in an oppressive Roman occupation.

* They would surely have been reminded of the Jewish religious law called Jubilee. Jubilee built a time of Sabbath rest into the life of the community and the earth in several ways:

- land laid fallow – no planting (need to share with each other)

- servants freed – no more dependence on obligated persons

- debts forgiven – same as above – freedom from debt

- ancestral sold out of need returned – return to home

All of these things have the effect of making people into equals, ensuring sharing of resources, and allowing people to depend on each other rather than take advantage of each other. The land and the resources, which belongs to God, is being put into the hands of all of God’s people.

In the middle ages in Europe, people also understood that the land belonged to God. But at that time the king acted as God’s voice on earth, deciding who could have what land, who would play what role. * I mentioned before about the Kingdom of God sometimes being called the upside-down kingdom. Jesus is reminding his friends and fellow Jews that God’s wish is not for the land to be distributed according to one powerful man’s desires, but for the poor to use the land according their need. And Jesus is telling his friends ‘today this scripture has been fulfilled.’

After hearing this and being reminded of the familiar law, the people in Jesus’ hometown synagogue are filled with awe. I learned that it was custom in the synagogue, after the scripture was read, the reader would sit and then was time for comments. It was his comments and the words that Jesus said – not what he read – that made the crowd turn on him. As I read through these verses I wondered why Jesus would say the things that he did, if he thought it might anger these people who were his friends, neighbors and relatives.

My experience of living in Seattle, is that many, many of the people who live there are from another place. Everyone has a ‘hometown’ from which they moved to the city. Joe and I are no exceptions. Joe was born and raised in Indiana and I spent my childhood in a small town in Canada. I might be wrong, but it seems to be similar here. Everyone has a hometown where they have parents and relatives. Last weekend our family went for kimjong with the family of a friend in her hometown. She told me that in her town, where she grew up, everyone is related and everyone knows everything about the other people. The place where I grew up is similar. My family name is Epp. In the town where my parents now live, there are probably 15 families with the name Epp and there are less than 2000 people in the town.

I think Jesus’ town was like that. He knew everyone. Everyone knew him. I talked about being raised in a faith tradition by parents and relatives. Jesus was like that. He was closely guided and shaped by these people. He knew them well. I think because he knew them well, he knew how they would react both to his reading and to the work he was about to do. Maybe you can think of a time when you had something that you were called to. Something that you needed to do. Something that was right but you knew before you told them that your parents (or friends or family) would not agree with you. Jesus was in that spot.

*Jesus anticipated his home-town neighbors’ questions about what he has said. Jesus knows his neighbors; he has lived there for almost 30 years. He has worked among them. They know him as Joseph’s son, the carpenter. They are probably trying to find him a good wife and wondering, why didn’t we know that he was such a good speaker. Perhaps they are wondering if there isn’t something to the stories they have been hearing about him speaking in towns around Nazareth.

So, when at first they are pleased and admiring. Perhaps they are a little surprised. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” They say to each other. This is a little irony for the readers, who already know that Jesus is not really Joseph’s son. In fact, the two people who might have known what was coming are Mary and Joseph. Because they know him as Joseph’s son, they will be expecting him to first and foremost be theirs. If he will heal, he should heal at home. If he will teach, he should teach at home. Israel’s history and it’s laws have been very focused on maintaining purity and keeping people from straying. But we know that Jesus is not Joseph’s son. He is God’s son. He is not for his hometown but for the world. And for the nations.

Jesus knows this and he says “a prophet is never accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” He goes on to use two stories familiar to his friends.

*First Elijah, who offered aid to a poor woman and her son. And then Elisha, who heals Namaan the Syrian. The widow and Namaan could not have been more different – the woman is poor, a widow and has nothing. Namaan is a powerful commander in the army. He has everything he could ever want. Both of these individuals are miraculously helped by the prophets of God: the woman received food and her son, at the point of death, is healed. Namaan, who has leprosy, is made well. Both of these individuals come to proclaim the name of God after their encounter.

With these stories, Jesus confirms that he will not be staying in his home town. And not only that, when he begins his ministry it will be with people outside the Jewish faith and Israelite nation. We live in a world in which it is not uncommon to leave one’s hometown, to travel across the country, across the ocean, to live and work – sometimes for a lifetime. For Jesus this would have been radical indeed. The hometown ties were very strong both within the town and within the nation of Israel. For Jesus to suggest that his gifts would be offered outside his town and even outside the Jewish people was unexpected and condemnable.

Once again, as in the reading of Isaiah, he is giving his listeners an idea of what his ministry will be like. He anticipates that this kind of ministry will result in rejection by the people who raised him. And they are very, very angry. They ‘do a 180’; they move from loving to hating, from pleasure to anger in the space of a few stories. They are so angry that they are prepared to throw him from a cliff.

*This is the first of many times that Jesus will upset his listeners with message about Jubilee, healing the sick foreigner, bringing good news to the poor and healing the unclean and unwelcomed. I still don’t fully understand complete rage of the listeners. Even understanding a little of the hometown possessiveness and the defensiveness about interpretation of scripture, I don’t quite get why they would be angry enough to want to kill him.

*I do understand and find important Jesus’ reaction to the reaction, although it is somewhat mysterious. Jesus’ final action in another way to reflect what his coming ministry would be like. If Jesus was a political savior or revolutionary, we would expect his response to such rage to be rage in return. Perhaps violent rage. Indeed perhaps the people who were pushing him toward the cliff’s edge expected a fight. We hear nothing of that. But we just hear that Jesus ‘went on his way’.

*Jesus’ teachings and ministry are reflective of this. His teachings are of justice for the oppressed, good news for the poor and a call to his followers to respond to evil with good, to hatred with non-violent love. His ideas about the upside-down kingdom and welcoming the outsiders are ultimately so threatening to those in power that, like the people in his hometown, they want to kill him. And of course, we know that he is killed on the cross – he responds to evil with love.

We also know that the cross was not the end. Just as the moment on the cliff was not the end, but only the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Those moments on the cliff, like the reading from Isaiah, like the stories of prophets who gave aid to non-Israelite foreigners, Jesus ‘going through the midst’ of his captors and ‘going on his way’ looks forward to Jesus leaving death and the tomb behind.

From Jesus' preaching and teaching, to his ministry of healing and liberation of captives of every sort, to his death at the hands of his adversaries, to the victory of the resurrection, Luke's Gospel is sketched here in miniature, as Jesus leaves Nazareth (never to return, according to Luke's narrative) on the road that eventually will lead him to Jerusalem. (Ringe)

I haven’t mentioned or acknowledged at all that we are in the season of advent. In my home congregation in Seattle, we would be lighting candles in the advent wreath each Sunday, in anticipation of the birth of Jesus. Naomi and I are counting the days on two different advent calendars – each day we open a door in the calendar that marks the days as we get closer to the coming of Christ. What is exciting to me about this time of year is that we are intentional together about waiting for Jesus – the Jesus who changed everything. The Jesus who preached good news, who healed and loved and taught and gave himself freely to show the truth of God’s love for the world.

I try all year round, and in my whole life, to live up what Jesus taught and showed. My prayer is that I may do so. And I pray also that you all may hear how Jesus is calling you to follow.


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