Come now oh Holy Spirit and kindle within us the fire of your love and may my words and our hearts glorify you oh God our Rock and our Redeemer.
I am sure you have heard something similar to this before, “God sent his only Son so that he could die upon a cross and his blood that was shed would free us all so we could spend eternity in heaven with him.” I can say at one time I believed this. I was taught at an early age to believe this. What is worse than that, is that I saw nothing wrong with it for many years. We would even sing hymns in church that had similar words and lines in them. Of course when I discovered the UCC and progressive christianity, I began to see a new light on why Jesus came to be. As I try to explain to some others who have ask me, why Jesus came to be among human ones, it is not so that he could be sacrificed as some Lamb upon the throne. Jesus often calls God throughout the gospels, Abba Father. Abba “Father,” is used as the term of tender endearment by a beloved child – i.e. in an affectionate, dependent relationship with their father; “daddy,” “papa.” What parent would sent their child somewhere knowing that they would die? When I read our text for today, the reason Jesus came to dwell among us was clear. The prophet Isaiah had foresaw it long ago. Jesus reads about it today in the synagogue. How we get to this graphic story about sacrifice, blood shed, and death to bring about life, may have started hundreds of years after this time in the Bible.
Jesus has just returned from spending forty days in the wilderness with the devil. He has survived this exercise or mission and now he is on to the next. He decides it is time for him to go back to his hometown in the power of the Holy Spirit. If you remember, he was lead into the wilderness by the Spirit and now the Spirit has him going on to something else. You know that is one thing about the power of the Holy Spirit, we go where she leads. We may have just finished a battle with our enemy, we hardly have time to catch our breath before we are called or lead somewhere else. Now as in most cases, when Jesus neared his hometown of about 400 people, word spread quickly. This reminds me of last Saturday when Samie and I were visiting with Rev. Wilson. Samie and I were telling him that we both were raised in small town each about 3,000 people. Samie was telling him of how he can just get inside of the city limits and before he can get to his parents house on the other side of town, his phone will start ringing with relatives and friends telling him that they just found out that he is in town. They want to spend time with him, even if it is just for a short hello. The same is true with me. I go to Friona and it seems like the whole town knows about it. In our story today, there were no phones so people had to go door to door perhaps to let their neighbors know that Jesus was on his way.
Jesus gets to Nazareth on the day of Sabbath and as any good Jew would do, he goes to the synagogue. And if Jesus is there, you can bet for sure the Rabbi of the synagogue would step aside so they could hear the good news from Jesus himself. So Jesus accepts the invitation and stood up to read the scripture for the day. He was handed the scroll by an assistant and it happened to be the scroll from Isaiah. So Jesus takes the scroll and unrolls it and finds a particular scripture and reads it out loud. When he is finished reading from the scroll, he rolls it up and hands it back to the assistant. He sat down. He sits not because he is going to be there for some time, as you will soon learn, this is the shortest sermon ever heard but sitting to preach, was common practice in synagogues in this day. The Rabbi would stand and read the scripture and then sit down to preach. I think that sounds like a good idea to me. So now I am sure you are wondering, just what did he preach about? What was Jesus sermon in his home town? It was this, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.” That is it. That is Jesus sermon. Don’t you wish he were preaching here today?
After I read this through a couple of times, I couldn’t help but wonder, why would Jesus choose this passage to read. The book of Isaiah, I am sure, was not complete as we know of it today. This perhaps was a portion of what what we have today, but why this text? But the more I looked at it and read it over, it seemed clear to me, this is why Jesus was sent here in the first place. This was his purpose. He didn’t come so that his death could give life to others, well maybe in some way. He came so that this what is written in Isaiah could be fulfilled. God came in human form upon the earth to do what Isaiah prophesied about so many years earlier. For me, Jesus wanted to share with his hometown what they could expect from him in the coming days and years. This is why I am here and this is what I will be doing. His sermon, the scripture has been fulfilled, means that it is complete. Now that Jesus is on scene, things will begin to change. As we know, he will not become the most popular for the changes he brings about. So let’s look at this reading from Isaiah to see what exactly what he was sent here to do.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me.” Anyone who ever gets up here to preach, prays that the Spirit of God is upon them or with them. But the Spirit of God was upon Jesus because he was anointed or chosen. We can recall this being chosen from earlier in Luke chapter 3 when Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan. Remember the voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, whom I love dearly, and in you I find happiness.” God has chosen to reveal God’s self in the form of human by means of Jesus Christ. Immanuel, God with us.
“God has sent me to preach good news to the poor.” Good news he did preach throughout his ministry to the poor. The poor during this time were often taken advantage of. They were taxed by Caesar at rates that often left them giving what few cents they had to the government. Jesus, however wanted them, to see that there was a new way of doing things. He told them to give to Caesar what was Caesar’s but those who were poor, would receive something greater than what they could even imagine. Jesus seemed to have a special place in his heart for those who had less. He wanted justice for those who were poor, that everyone be treated equally and fairly. Today, we still encounter those who are poor. In our country, there seems to be a greater divide between those who are poor and those who are rich. For some who are wealthy, they cringe when politicians suggest that they should be taxed more. But could Jesus also be talking about something else beside those who are poor financially? Could Jesus be preaching good news to those who are poor in spirit. I am sure there were those in during this time, just as there are those today, whose spirit is poor, little to nonexistent. Some find little hope, little faith to keep on going. Jesus, however, would show them and preach to them the good news that things can turn around for them. What aliment is separating them from their relationship with God can be healed. Preaching the good news to the poor can mean different things to different people.
“I have been sent to proclaim release to the prisoners.” Ok, I know what some of you are thinking. Release of all prisoners? We are all aware that yes, there are some people who are behind bars that are actually innocent. Recent discoveries in new DNA technology has freed some people. There are those who have done awful things and can you imagine those people being freed? I can’t. What I do think Jesus was possibly talking about here is freeing people from whatever prison they feel they are in right now. There are those who feel in prisoned by financial woes, and that money keeps them bound up. Others may feel as though they are in prison by their disabilities. They can’t do what they did before or they have some physical disability that keeps them from doing what they enjoy. Others may have a mental disability that keeps them feeling trapped. There are many prisons so to speak that keep us from freely being who we are called to be; prisons that keep us from doing what God has called us to do. Jesus wants you and I to know that we have been set free. Faith in God though Jesus Christ, we can overcome! Just as the Spirit has lead Jesus, we too are lead by the Spirit and that Spirit can breakthrough when we are ready.
“I have come to give sight to the blind.” Several times though out the Gospels, Jesus does just that. Those who are blind come to him and he gives them back their sight. What an amazing gift to be able to see once again or for the first time. But what if Jesus again is speaking metaphorically. What if he is talking about giving sight to those who already have sight? Sighted people can be blind to certain things. We choose to see what we want to see. Some have a tendency to turn a blind eye as we like to say to those who are different from us. Some chose not to see the homeless women standing on the corner asking for help. Some chose not to see a man living under an underpass and see if they can help him find a shelter for the night. Some chose not see the inequalities between those who are poor and those who are rich. Others chose not to see that still to this very day women are paid less than most men. Others fail to see that there are inequalities when it comes to LGBTQ person, persons of color, or persons who question their gender. We chose to see what it is that we want to see and turn our heads when we don’t want to see it. Just because we do not see it, doesn’t mean it does’t exist. Jesus came to shine a light on what we fail to see. He wanted to illuminate the injustices of our world. We can try to shield ourselves from what we chose not to see, but Jesus brings it to us, so that we are face to face with it or with them.
“I have come to liberate the oppressed.” By shining a light on what it is we do not want to see or people we chose to ignore, Jesus is liberating the oppressed by bringing their issues to the table. So many around us have been oppressed for a long time. We have oppressed the poor, African-American’s and LGBTQ persons. We have oppressed the voice of women. We have kept silent those who want to have a voice and everyone should have a voice. Jesus came to change all of that. He came so that those who the Roman government tried to keep down, were brought up. Jesus gave voice to those who Cesar saw as less than. Jesus often dined with and be friended those who others had pushed aside. He came to show that we are all the same.
Jesus, after reading the scripture for the day, rolled the up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sit down. He was teaching them, giving them words that they had never heard before. He preached to them the good news, words of hope, words of love. He didn’t want to scare them or make them feel bad about themselves. He wanted them to know that there was another way of doing things. They were fully aware of who Caesar was and how he did things, but Jesus wanted them to know that things could be different. When we are given choices, we must think. They now had received this good news, different news, but it would take some time to sit in. Jesus was teaching those in his hometown a very different message than what they knew. Sometimes something new can be met with skepticism. When he sat down with them, he was no longer looking over them or down at them, but he was at eye level with them.
Jesus really didn’t preach long, remember his sermon was just one sentence. He let the scripture from Isaiah do the preaching for him. He told them, “Today, the scripture has been fulfilled just as you have heard it.” There it is, one word. What he read would not take place tomorrow, later on this month or a year from now. Today, he tells them is when the scripture would be brought to completion. Today things are going to start changing, not for him, but for those who have gathered to listen and learn from him. Today, starts the time of new possibilities. They didn’t have time to prepare for change or really to give it much thought. If they were going to do things differently, they needed to start now. Some of us do not like change. We resist change, something different for many reasons. They were accustom to one way, the governments way, of doing things but now Jesus, this person most didn’t know too well was telling them that today was the day that the oppressed would be freed. Today was the day that the prisoners would be let free. Today, the good news would be preached to the poor. Today, the blind, in whatever form that may be, would gain sight. Today is the day. If we wait and start tomorrow, we may just keep pushing back the good news. Oh well, let’s start tomorrow or next week or at the beginning of next month. We are good at doing just that! But if we start today, we cannot stop.
The spirit has lead Jesus back to his hometown, back where it all started. The ahh moment today is that what Isaiah had prophesied about many years ago became true. People heard it, Jesus fulfilled it. We are still working on it this very day. In some ways, over the years, we have lived out theses very words. In some ways, we seem to be stuck. We create divides between one another that separate us from them. We create our own divides that separate us from God. We seem to be working but just can’t get it right. Not everyone is on board. For those who want to jump in and make a difference there is no better time than today. God’s work for us is on going and is often not easy. Sometimes it may feel like an uphill battle, but we are not alone. We have the same spirit that lead Jesus, leading us. Who knows, it might just lead us back to where we came from or it may lead us places we would rather not go. We have the knowledge and ability to go out and proclaim the good news to others that we meet. Words of hope, love, and comfort. Words that will release whatever prison someone finds themselves in. Words that give hope to the poor. We have the ability to let others see, what they chose not to see. We can be a part of the liberation that frees those who are oppressed. However you are lead to respond or wherever you are called to go, God is with you every step of the way. We are not alone and with that, we give thanks to God.