That Something Jesus Wants For Us

The following is only an excerpt of this sermon. The full sermon can be heard by clicking the audio link below.

Luke 4.14-21

I went to the Cache Community Connections meeting this week, Wednesday, and they were talking about the nativity scene that they put out on the Tabernacle grounds, and they wanted to expand that decoration of Christmastime. They wanted to make it a community event and they talked about the nativity scene that they have there. Apparently they’ve had a problem with that, somebody kind of steals the baby out of the crib. And they were wondering well what happens to Jesus when he goes out on these little field trips?

Well now, it is almost a month since we celebrated the coming of that cute little baby in the manger. And so it is an appropriate time to ask, well what happened to that cute little baby? What happened to that cute little baby Jesus that we met just a month ago? As we who are parents know, our babies grow too fast.

There are moments when we would prefer that the cute little baby in the humble manger, with the angels singing overhead, would stay a baby. We like that moment, it gives us a glimpse into heaven. The spirit is there, it is a divine moment.

But like our own babies, the one we met in the manger grows up. And he grows up fast. He couldn’t stay in the crib, he couldn’t play in the village forever, he couldn’t stick with the trade of carpentry that his father taught him, he couldn’t even hang out in the temple impressing the religious scholars with his knowledge of the law and the prophets as Luke tells us. He had to leave, he had to go explore, he had to baptized and spend time in the wilderness being tested, all of this because he was about something.

In this story that we heard this morning, these verses from Luke’s gospel, in Jesus’ first sermon that we receive, we discover precisely what this something is. Matthew, Mark and Luke, called the synoptic gospels because they’re so closely tied to each other, all give us the story of Jesus’ return to his hometown and they all three tell us that Jesus is rejected by his hometown folk. But Luke, however, gives us a more full account, and the author places it at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, indicating that Jesus’ sermon there, in his hometown, is special. It is programmatic in the sense that it gives us insight into what he is all about.

Everything that we hear about in the story that follows, everything that Jesus says and does and everything that he does not say and do, is encapsulated in this message that he gives – when he receives the ancient scroll, and he unrolls it and he brings these ancient words to life. This sermon is something. Indeed I would suggest that it gives us insight into the very heart of God.

The spirit of the Lord is upon me, he read, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim relief to the captive, and recovery of sight to the blind. To let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Jesus was definitely about something, whereas our faith can be too often be about little to nothing. Jesus was definitely about something.

That something is changing, delivering and challenging you and me. Yes, you and me. For the “today” in the story, when Jesus says “Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” that “today” means more than that today long ago in that synagogue far away. That today rings across the centuries and echoes into this sanctuary on this day, January 24, 2010.

Now there is a sharp edge to Jesus’ sermon and we will balance on that sharp edge next week. Next week we will think about why the hometown crowd, so favorably disposed toward Jesus in the beginning, gets angry enough to throw him off a cliff. But that’s next week. You all come back now.

Today, today is for those of us who find ourselves described in the words from Isaiah that Jesus reads. This morning is for those of us who are poor. Yes, poor. This morning is for those of us who are held captive. Held captive by pain or by powers outside our control. For those of us held captive by pride or by addiction to one unhealthy thing or another. For those of us who are blinded by our own affluence, or self-centeredness. Or for those of us who are oppressed by ideology, whether it is our neighbors or our own. Today is for those of us who are weighed down by ill health or by circumstances or relationships or responsibilities in our life that drain us and weigh us down, like a 1,000-pound weight on our shoulder. I don’t know about you, but I can find myself in these words. Jesus’ words, his something, is for us.

(To listen to the sermon in full, please click below)

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  • Breakfast Encounter

    Last Friday morning, I stopped by my GP’s office to let them draw some blood for a test and to get my flu vaccine for the year. Because of the blood test, I had to ‘fast,’ arriving for the blood draw without having any food that morning. When the phlebotomist had drawn the blood and given me the shot, I went to a nearby diner to get some breakfast. Little did I know I was about to witness something extraordinary.

    While I was eating my pancake, egg, and piece of sausage and reading a book about Oscar Romero, a young man went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t notice any of this, of course (occupied as I was with not only Oscar Romero’s life and ministry to the poor of El Salvador, but also all that butter and syrup…) until the young man started yelling at the woman behind the counter.

    “Swipe it again!” is what drew my attention.

    She did, and the card must have been denied a second time. She ran it again, and the look on her face told me the same thing happened. Denied.

    The young man was getting more agitated and saying things to her under his breath. I was paying more attention now, and she asked if he had another card she could try.

    “No! I don’t have another bleeping card!” he yelled at her. Except he didn’t say bleeping.

    Now I’m not a stranger to harsh words. I’ve said them myself. Usually when I’m trying to get a rusted bolt off an old machine and it finally comes loose, taking some of my knuckle skin with it. And I think I quietly swore under my breath in January of 1988 when the Washington football team beat my beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 42-10. There have been other times too. But never, ever at a person.

    Upon being sworn at, the young woman stared at the man like she didn’t know what to do (how could she?). Tears were about to appear. And the air in the room went real still. Like in the movies. I’m sure the background music was still playing, but it seemed deathly quiet at that moment.

    I was about to get up and walk over to the counter—not exactly sure what I was going to do once I got there—when another man who had been eating nearby wandered up real slow, eyes staring at the young man. He was a tall guy, with white hair under his old IFA ball cap, probably in his sixties. He asked the young woman, “What seems to be the problem here?”

    And that’s when the young man made what I thought was a fatal mistake: he answered when he hadn’t been spoken to. “It’s nothin’. My card won’t work,” he spat back.

    I thought a fight was about to break out, but the older man, his eyes searing into the young disgruntled one’s face, reached for his wallet and said to the cashier, “Aubrey, I’d like to pay for this young man’s meal, if that’s okay with him.” And after getting out some cash, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, not one of those friendly pats on the shoulder, but one of those firm grips that, well, made me think he was making sure the lesson was going to stick.

    I’ve had those kinds of hands on my shoulders a few times over the years. Perhaps from a coach, maybe from my dad once or twice; they happen when a boy or young man really needs to start paying attention.

    And after staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, the old guy said, “Be kind.” And then walked away.

    The young man left the restaurant and climbed into an oversize truck that was parked right out front, cranked up the volume on his radio, and left some rubber on the road as he departed.

    I went into the church office sometime later to finish my sermon, but I kept thinking about angry people and hurt people and kind people and people who teach lessons to those who could use them. I also thought about people who have a head full of kind words who refuse to tolerate ugliness.

    I hope I can be someone like that.

    I have a feeling Aubrey earned a whole lot of tips that morning. She deserved them.

    Be kind.

    That’s all for now.

    —Pastor Derek

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