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01.24.10 Preaching Jesus, Luke 4.14-21, Nehemiah 8.1-10 Sermon Summary

by on January 25, 2010

What would be “good news” to the poor? This is the question that Luke hangs over us by presenting Jesus’ first public event as an interpretation of Isaiah 61:1-2 (with a redacted addition of Isaiah 58:6, let the inerrantists try to explain that!). Biblical commentators suggest that part of the “good news to the poor” includes “freedom from prisoners” (NIV: the poor having been unjustly imprisoned because of their debt) and the forgiveness of debt characteristic of the year of Jubilee (the “year of the Lord’s favor”).

This is what Jesus proclaimed was fulfilled in his coming; this, as well as sight for the blind and the liberation of the oppressed. And throughout his ministry in Luke, he continued to preach about the poor. In 6:20 it is the poor who are blessed. In 7:22 it is his preaching about the poor that validates his messianic identity to John’s disciples. He challenges the religiously righteous of his day to exercise true righteousness by giving to the poor (11:41). He advises that his followers sell what they have and give to the poor (12:33, which the early church actually did according to Acts, also written by Luke). When throwing a banquet, Jesus says invite the poor (14:13).

Jesus also healed people, including blind people, and sent his disciples to do the same. And he referred to one of the people he healed as having been oppressed by Satan (13:16). But it seems the prominent aspect of the Gospel (“good news” of Jesus), as it comes to us from Luke 4, is how it applies to the poor.

So what difference did it make? The first result was that Jesus’ hometown crowd didn’t like his preferential option for the poor. They wanted him to do for them what made him famous in other places. The wanted the preferential treatment, and when Jesus aligns his ministry with other Older Testament prophets who didn’t give ancient Israel preferential treatment, they wanted to kill him.

Did it make any other difference? We still have social injustice that creates and perpetuates poverty. We still have people in need of healing. There are people still bound by effects of sin. So it appears that Jesus failed in his ministry. He didn’t accomplish his mission.

In reality, Jesus simply commissioned the church to fulfill it. In his death and resurrection, in his ascension and with the decent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, it is now the church’s mission to continue what Jesus set out to do in Luke 4. And this comes to us as both good news and bad news.

It’s good news in that we have a purpose. We know what we’re to be about. We’re to pursue the realization of Jesus’ vision from Luke 4. But it’s bad news in that it will cost us. Like Jesus’ hometown, we in the church want to be preferred, we want to be first, we want Jesus to do his thing for us. When in fact Jesus wants us to prefer others, to be last, to do his thing for others. And that is costly.

But we are not without resources. When the Word of God was read to the people of Nehemiah 8, their hearts were broken. They realized how unfaithful they had been to God’s vision. They wondered if their unfaithfulness had caused the national trouble they had experienced. But Ezra exhorted them to (1) go and enjoy choice food and sweet wine, to (2) send some to those who have nothing prepared, because (3) the day is sacred to the Lord, and (4) the joy of the LORD was their strength.

In other words, the costly part of Jesus gospel which feels like bad news to us in the hometown should not cause us despair. Instead, we are to celebrate that God has spoken to us and has chosen us. We are to share with those who have not heard (and physically share with them as well), because God has made this day sacred (it is, in fact, the “year of the Lord’s favor”). And most importantly, it is God’s joy to prefer others, and that joy is our strength when we do it also.

Questions for further reflection.

Jesus identifies four others to whom he is called: the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. Which of the four, either literally or metaphorically, are you yourself among? How does Jesus’ ministry address you?

Which of the four, either literally or metaphorically, surround you? How are you fulfilling Jesus’ mission to them?

In what ways do you or your church exhibit the same attitude as Jesus’ hometown? Are you more interested in having your own needs met or in meeting the needs of others?

Eucharistic Prayer

God of Creation the powers of nature can inspire awe and wreak havoc. They can augment life and destroy it. We assemble again this week in a world grieving and shocked in the shadow of creation’s destructive power. But here we take up the fruit of creation and, with your blessing, we receive the presence and power of Christ. We give you thanks, that in your time, and through your Spirit, all things work together for good.

Remind us and strengthen us in this promise, even as we remember Christ, who alienated himself from presumptuous people in order to reconcile others to you. As you brought good out of his death through his resurrection, so bring good out of the suffering we choose and endure as his disciples. Make us faithful to his mission of good news, healing, and liberation in our day, in our congregation, in our neighborhoods, and in our live.

Send us your Spirit, even as you did at Christ’s baptism, that in the hearing of our community, Isaiah’s scripture would be fulfilled by our ministry. Nourish us here with the body and blood of Christ, with the presence and life he offered on the Cross, and promised in your Spirit at this table. For it is in his name that we pray. Amen.

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