Passage: Luke 4:14-21
Date: January 21, 2007
Preacher: Dr Jim Moiso
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How many of us have lived in a small town? My first years as a minister, I lived in a town of about 12,000. Driving the only new blue Mustang there, I learned that there was little anonymity. If I had a date on Saturday, almost inevitably someone Sunday morning would ask who I had been out with. There were also good things about it. If an 8th grader appeared downtown on a school day, chances were good someone would talk with him about school, or let his parents know. People knew family histories and relationships, which produced wonderful understandings and more accurate expectations. In the grocery store, I was always welcomed, and inevitably saw someone I knew. There was a sense of community, of belonging.
Compared to that town, Jesus' hometown of Nazareth would have been minuscule. Everyone knew everything about everyone. After doing some teaching around Galilee, Luke says Jesus went home, to that place where all knew more than his name. By the way, Mark and Matthew have this episode much later. Luke begins Jesus' public ministry with it. I wonder if they were sizing him up, as he was offered the opportunity to read one of the day's lessons in the synagogue? Was it the designated reading, or did he do some selecting and editing? After all, part is from our chapter 61, and a snippet comes from 58. Luke is clear, here and elsewhere, that synagogue worship was part of Jesus' regular practice. Isaiah's words had been written to exiles, to people beaten down and hopeless, proclaiming God's revolutionary, seemingly impossible future. Jesus concluded with, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." What had he meant? And then there was the line about "proclaiming the year of the Lord's favor." Straight out of Leviticus, he spoke Jubilee language. The early vision had been that every 50th year, debts would be canceled and those held in prison till their families paid would be freed, lands returned, resources shared, and thereby the whole community would be renewed and strengthened. It would be a radical re-beginning for everyone. Even though it was biblical, it may have never actually been enacted. Yet, here it was. He announced it, as one anointed by God's Spirit.
In that non-literate culture, holy texts were memorized by heart. In an aside, I wonder what happens to our spirits when we do not learn scripture by heart? Most church kids, let alone non-churched ones-do not know the Lord's Prayer, the 23rd psalm, the Beatitudes, the Ten Commandments, or John 3:16; including two of mine, by the way. When we do not know them inside, how is it that they can shape us, transform our spirits?
If his listeners had that part of Isaiah memorized, they would have realized that Jesus omitted half a verse: "and the day of vengeance of our God." Isn't that interesting?
At the outset, Luke reports that Jesus announced his life script, using the prophet Isaiah. Jesus proclaimed his passion. He exposed his guiding principles. Anointed by the Spirit, Jesus believed himself designated, called, empowered to bring honor to the dishonored, to bring release to captives of all sorts, to help unseeing see clearly, to free those oppressed in many ways-in the best sense, to proclaim God's Jubilee, God's new beginning-regardless of consequences to himself, because all of it was of God.
Years ago, someone suggested that I could be more effective if I took a time management course. A particular program was recommended. What I discovered was that it involved far more than time management. Yes, it included hints, like only handling mail once. But, it began by asking us to write our governing values, those principles by which we wanted to direct our lives. Of course, as a husband and father and minister, I had been much too busy just coping to even ask the question. I was looking for efficiency tricks. But, the planning assumption is that we all live our life scripts, regardless of our age. So, our time management needed to reflect these scripts, whatever they were. We needed to be conscious, deliberate. We were taught to look often at the written governing values, to see how we were doing. I remember the leader could quote his overarching paragraph of values from memory.
Consciously and unconsciously, we all live our scripts, our life values. For example, I'm irritated when I go to the store and it does not have what I want. The life-assumption? My material desires/needs are to be satisfied. By the way what life value is reflected when shopping becomes emotional therapy? How about the life principle that security, happiness, and a relatively smooth life are attainable goals? My goodness, that can go all sorts of ways, from homeland security to the right kind of deodorant, to "its obviously the teacher's fault," to "why is God doing this to me?" For me, how about measuring success/failure by growth in church membership, an ever-increasing budget and salary, and happy parishioners who sing my praise? Whether we realize it or not, we constantly live into our life scripts.
That day, Jesus set out God's counterscript. It was defined by who God is, shaped by what God desires, undergirded by the heart of God. What he proclaimed was not about us, but about God, a particular God contained in the story of the Hebrew people for more than a thousand years. As people who claim to follow Jesus, we attempt to put on this counterscript, to injest it. As we do, we discover that it has never been easy or simple or smooth, surely never pure. We have justified slavery in this God, and initiated the Red Cross. We have gone to war and supported pacifists in God's name. We have carried the life-giving gospel and economic imperialism. As people of faith, we have supported our middle class perks and values in this nation and ignored the poor. We have often taken God's counterscript in Christ and domesticated it, eviscerating it of passion, taming it so that it is nice and has good manners.
We people of faith even quarrel over what God's script might be, to the point of religious wars, Christian against Christian. Of course, mostly we are more civilized than that now, so we shout and fume and campaign and then split. This and much more happens because it is so terribly difficult to separate our faith selves from our cultural selves. We cannot be pure. We are unable to do this.
When we become members, or are baptized, we respond to particular questions. Many of us reaffirmed our baptisms two Sundays ago. The questions we answer are counterscript questions. Listen: trusting in the gracious mercy of God (this is a life-governing principle), do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world? Will you be Christ's faithful disciple, obeying his word and showing his love? Will you be a faithful member of this congregation, and (in all sorts of ways) fulfill your calling to be a disciple? These are overt commitments we make as to how we really want to live, with loyalties and values exceediingly different from the rest of society. They have to do with Jesus Christ at the center of who we are, individually and together. Perhaps we should repeat those to ourselves every morning as we begin the day, so that our spoken commitments get inside and become our guiding principles.
What we experience, of course, is that we live between two scripts. On the one hand is that script we have inherited culturally, the one that we live and breath every day. On the other is that script that is of God. Often, we are ambivalent about either, about both. I suggest to you that that is not a bad place to be. In fact, it may be a sign of health. Within the tension between the two, God's Spirit has an opportunity to work, to open us to new possibilities. There is room for us to be shaped, transformed into the likeness of Christ. When we smooth over or deny the ambivalence, we close ourselves to God's presence. We find ourselves committed to passionate dogmas and positions rather than to a gracious, welcoming, stretching deity.
Myriad messiah scripts existed from which Jesus could choose. That day, in God's Spirit, he announced God's counterscript:
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 jubilee.
Truly, this is the word of the Lord. Let us pray. I use the words of Ted Loder:
Lord, we have only human words
to address you lest we be
entirely dumb before you.
So, listen now, beneath our words,
to the longing that reaches toward you
and the gratitude that beats in our hearts
and fills us with joy for everything
that is just and true, good and human,
and the gritty, muddy, bony, bloody, hairy,
sweaty, smelly, beautiful, tough, tender,
possibility-laced, throbbing living-ness of it.
Forgive us for taking it all for granted,
for acting as though it is not a gift but ours by right,
as though there is not enough for everyone;
\ for hunkering down in our race or nationality,
our gender or class or culture or religious dogma,
sexual orientation, or political one,
assuming they stake the boundaries of your kingdom.
Scorch into our souls once more the awesome truth
that you have entrusted us with the great, glad responsibility
of handing on abundant life to our children
and our children's children.
Excite your image in us
that we may sweat and pray, sing and battle,
sacrifice and rejoice, be eager yet at ease
in the task of giving them bread, not stones,
and leaving them not violence or any kind of poverty,
but freedom, a treasure of chances,
green forests, sparkling seas, scoured air,
because in our time we have walked together with you,
as sisters and brothers in the human family,
and shared mercy and lived bravely and faithfully,
justly, and thankfully as followers of Jesus. Amen.
(From The Haunt of Grace)