"Seriously, Let's Do This" – Luke 4:14-21
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: "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."
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
Imagine what life would be like if the message of scripture is true.
Imagine what life would be like if you read scripture expecting to be confronted with truth that would challenge and inspire your personal goals, relationships, abilities, values, and decisions.
Religious people like me, we think we like scripture, but the truth is we like the idea of scripture. We like the stories, the captivating characters, the wise sayings, the dramatic turns, the beautiful poetry, the scandalous behavior; and we especially like the parts that reinforce what we already think we know–the parts that give us the “warm fuzzies.”
The religious people in the synagogue on the day Jesus read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah also liked scripture; at least, they liked the idea of scripture. They liked being seen reading or listening to scripture. It made them fell and look righteous.
Jesus read the scripture from Isaiah and spoke about releasing the captives, giving sight to the blind, and bringing good news to the poor. The verses sound wonderful when someone reads them. These are warm and fuzzy words that make us feel good. “Yes, bless the poor and bring sight to the blind! How wonderful.”
But then Jesus took it too far; he shook the warm fuzzies out of the hearers hearts by boldly asserting, “The words you just heard…well they’re actually true!”
Which means that everyone who heard these words of truth were going to have to do something about it. After all, we dare not be confronted with the truth and go on living as though the truth doesn’t make a difference.
Well, we don’t have to use our imaginations to figure out what happened next; a few verses later these same religious people from the synagogue marched Jesus to the edge of a cliff dead set on throwing him off. All because Jesus had the audacity to read the scripture and proclaim its truth.
Religious people like the idea of scripture, but we’re scared to death that it might actually be true. The implications are terrifying.
What if Jesus truly prefers hanging out with sinners over righteous folks?
–Does that mean we should be spending our time and energy with different people?
What if Jesus truly expects us to give away everything we own to the poor, so that we can follow him?
–Just how much of our consumer comforts are we willing to give away?
What if our faith truly can move a mountain?
–Does that mean our combined faith and action could actually solve some of the world’s most oppressive problems?
What if it’s true that the gates of hell truly will never prevail against Christ’s church?
–What outrageous risks would our ministry take if we knew we couldn’t fail?
What if the meek, the poor, the merciful, the hungry, the peacemakers, and the persecuted truly are blessed?
–Does that mean seeking comfort in material possessions leads us away from God’s blessing? We tell ourselves material possessions are proof of God’s blessing!
What if Jesus truly expects us to turn the other cheek when we are struck?
–After all, there are some things that are unforgivable, right?
What if God really does love and accept us, even though we’ve done nothing to deserve it?
–Are you willing to admit you are worthy to be loved and to love others you’d prefer to ignore?
What if Jesus’ promise about the resurrection of the body, both his and ours, is actually true?
–Does that mean heaven is here, on Earth?
Imagine if Jesus would appear before us on any given Sunday and tell us scripture we just heard is actually true. I doubt our reaction would have been much different than the religious people who marched Jesus to the edge of a cliff ready to throw him off. We, too, might eventually become so frustrated with and offended by Jesus, that we’d nail him to a cross and watch him die.
If you’re not following my point, imagine it like this. Imagine Jesus was running for president of the United States. Imagine the issues his campaign would prioritize:
- forgiveness of all individuals and nations who have committed atrocities against the United States citizens;
- encouraging Americans to give away all their possessions so that everyone has enough;
- a pledge that America would only be great once every other nation in the world had access to the same resources we enjoy;
- a ban on the death penalty (I imagine that’d be a big one for Jesus, given he was crucified at the hands of the local government and dominant religious institution);
- caring for the entirety of God’s creation, including the animals, waters, mountains, and sky (and you thought President Obama was tough on the coal industry!);
- and I can’t imagine Jesus would be looking to the government to distribute handouts–he seems pretty clear it’s our job to support each other.
There is absolutely no chance Jesus would ever be elected President in our country which is ironic given how so many people are quick to erroneously call America a “Christian" nation. Keep this in mind next time these candidates try to impress you with their faith, like, oh I don’t know, if a candidate says his favorite book is the Bible but can’t remember anything in it.
If you’re too sick of politics to even entertain this idea of Jesus running for President, here’s another way to think about it: Imagine if after every gospel message and every sermon, Pastor Mark and I concluded with the words, “Seriously, let’s do this!”
After worship there would be fewer people telling us how they enjoyed my sermon. Instead people would give us the stink eye, mumble under their breath, and go out of their way to avoid shaking our hands. Because when you really listen to what scripture is telling you, when you really hear what we've been proclaiming on Sunday mornings, when you realize that we have been encouraging you to live in a way that honors the truth of scripture, you would be offended.
Forgive others…. seriously, let’s do this! All of us in this sanctuary harbor hatred against a particular person or group of people. Take strength from the fact that God has forgiven you all your wrongs. That strength makes it possible (not easy, but possible) to forgive even those people who have not sought your forgiveness, even those people who insist they’re right and you’re wrong. By forgiving others we heal the wounds in our soul and continue the chain-reaction of grace that began with God’s promise of forgiveness for all people.
Heal people… seriously, let’s do this! Maybe none of us have performed a miraculous healing such as restoring sight to the blind. But we can absolutely heal people. For example, we can support the ELCA’s quest to eradicate Malaria – a deadly and completely preventable disease. Don’t push it out of your mind because it only affects people who live on a different continent. Be a part of the solution!
Free the oppressed… seriously, let’s do this! We can encourage our organizations, governments, and clubs to accept all people regardless of their gender, race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor… seriously, let’s do this! People in our society desperately need to hear that we are loved. Why do you think it is that we are so busy stuffing our lives with items that we can purchase? We have been convinced that the only way to be happy and loved is to look a particular way or own a particular thing or drive a particular car, etc. So many people live without any understanding that they are loved. But it’s not true. God loves them. And the only way they’ll ever know is if we tell them and show them.
If I haven’t offended you yet, hang in there, I have one more thing to say: Obviously, not everything in scripture is true.
If everything is true, then men would have multiple wives, there would be no football (it’s forbidden to touch the skin of a dead pig), eating shellfish or pork would be an abomination, we’d stone people for heinous crimes such as walking too far on the Sabbath, women would not cut their hair (but they would refer to their husbands as “Master” and work solely in the home), and God would smite cities on a whim.
That fateful day in the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus could have read from the scroll of Leviticus or Numbers or Deuteronomy – any of the books dealing with religious laws designed to distinguish the Hebrews from other tribes and nations.
Instead, he selected the scroll of the prophet Isaiah – a prophet who proclaimed justice. Jesus says that at least this much of scripture has been made true: bringing good news to the poor, releasing the captives, giving sight to the blind, freeing the oppressed, and proclaiming God’s unrelenting love and favor for all people.
At least this much of scripture remains true today. This means we have a lot of work to do.
Seriously, let’s do this.