BIBLE READING:  Luke 4: 14-21

 

SERMON

One Sunday morning in a large church in a busy city, the Bible reader had just finished reading the passage for the day and the minister was taking a deep breath before launching into the sermon when suddenly a person, a stranger, stood up in the balcony,” I have a Word from the Lord!” they shouted across the startled congregation. Heads swiveled upward to see the source of this interruption. What “Word from the Lord” did this person bring? No one will ever know, for stewards dashed up to the balcony and, before the person could say another word, they escorted them down the stairs and out of the building.

Strange, isn’t it? Sunday after Sunday countless preachers in innumerable churches spread out their sermon notes, clear their throats, and start to preach, saying that they have a Word from the Lord. But nobody tenses up. No heads swivel in alarm. No stewards suddenly leap into action. Instead, people crease their newssheets, silently check their watches, and settle in for the sermon. What are we expecting? A sermon? Yes. A Word from the Lord? Hmmm....

“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus said it.  According to Luke, Jesus said it as soon as he caught his breath from forty days of struggling with his personal demons in the wilderness.  And he said those words right after he read these words from the prophet Isaiah:  The Spirit of God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor . . .proclaim release to captives and recovery of sight to the blind . . . to let the oppressed go free . . . to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.   He said this in his home town, in the synagogue where he had grown up, to people who had known him since he was a child.

What does it mean for things to be fulfilled in your hearing? It’s a puzzle.  Most often people take it that Jesus meant in your seeing, that he was announcing his own divinity, holding them in awe.  But that is clearly not the case, as the rest of the story, tells us he is going to make everyone in the room so mad they will hate the sight of him.  Therefore, falling at his feet in worship is not the response he is looking for in this comment, on this day.

Some have looked at this more as an inaugural address, Jesus laying out his agenda, which becomes our divine todo list.  But this also is wrong – in the next part of the reading he refuses to do the specific things that are on the lists of the people there, and he tells them he doesn’t intend to be a Wonder Worker.

What then does he mean?  What have we heard here?  What has been fulfilled, in our hearing?

It is said that most people, when they leaf through the morning paper or when they watch the evening news on television, are not so much interested in the news as they are in confirming that the world is pretty much the same as it was before. Politician A criticizes politician B. A masked gunman robs a bank. More strife in the Middle East? “Yes, that’s the way the world is, always has been, always will be.” News, real news, is unexpected, surprising, disturbing. News means that the world is not the way it was yesterday, and therefore, I cannot live my life the way I lived it yesterday. A Word from the Lord is news, and news brings the demand for renewal.

That is why some say that worship has 2 conflicting aims. What we say most often is that worship is supposed to bring us into the presence of God. Yes, that’s true. We want God, we want a Word from the Lord, and we want news of God’s presence. But it is also true that worship also protects us from God. Who could truly stand in the full glare of God’s presence? Who could look at the face of God’s glory?

In other words, we desire God’s presence, but we fear it. We want to hear a Word from the Lord, but we don’t. We want the news of God’s activity in our world, but we also prefer the no-news that nothing is changed and all is as it has been for a thousand yesterdays. We want a sermon, but as for a Word from the Lord? Well…

But then Jesus’ words sunk in. “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Today. Not yesterday, not someday, but today. Fulfilled, not read nicely, heard little or barely remembered, but fulfilled.. In your hearing. Not in somebody else. Not just in Abraham and David and Sarah and Deborah in the Bible, but in you.

Fulfilled in your hearing.  Jesus was saying his voice was anointed, and that was Isaiah’s self-understanding, too.  Isaiah said his tongue had been cauterized – burnt by a fiery coal - so he could speak for God.  Jesus said he was anointed to proclaim good news, not just any good news, but the good news of God’s agenda for a just time.  All of this came from his mouth to our ears, as a kind of cauterizing speech burning its way into our hearts and lives, so that we would no longer be deaf or dumb to the cries of the oppressed, so that we can speak of God’s devotion to the poor, so that we can speak up for captives and show respect for the infirm, and so that we would no longer have our ears full of temptations to hear evil with a shrug of acceptance.

This is a Word from the Lord. News. God, come close, become present. And Now. In your life. The world is now changed, the Word is present in all its demanding fullness, and you can fight it or follow it, but you can't ignore it. 

Maybe you have heard the saying “God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world”. We take comfort in knowing that God is out there, but we really don’t want to be challenged by a God that is too close, by a God that invades our personal space. The proper place for God is far away, not interfering too much, not disrupting too much. Everything looks better from a distance, and that’s especially true about God.

In that synagogue in Nazareth that day – and in countless churches all around the world today – someone is reading scripture. Someone is reading about a God who is close, a God who is radically involved with our world, a God who is intimately involved with our lives, a God who called the world into being out of nothing, a God who spangled the heavens with stars, a God who loves human beings with a passionate love and will not let us go, a God who brings life out of death, a God who claims us as God’s very own people. “Nice thoughts,” we say, “Good sermon.” “God is watching us from a distance.” But no… “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Today this Word comes alive in your life. Today this God draws near to us, God is speaking right here, God is speaking right now. And this is a Word from the Lord!

So let us ask God to send the Holy Spirit among us this day so that the promises of scripture may not merely be words on a page or sounds in our ears. Let the words read be fulfilled, so that God’s Spirit brings the word of scripture to life, binds together the Body of Christ, and brings to our awareness the saving presence of God among us in our daily life.

 

Acknowledgements: Nancy Rockwell; Kwanza Yu