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When Good News is Really Good News, and When It’s Not So Much (January 27, 2019)

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. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 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, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 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. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Last week, in John, Jesus’ first public act was turning water into wine. In Luke’s gospel today, his first public act is this sermon in his home congregation. He preaches from Isaiah 61 on Isaiah’s vision of God’s reign and God’s justice for all people. This means it is especially good news for the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed.

  1. Good news of Jesus is universal. When poor are released from poverty, that is good news for the whole world—and that makes it good news for us. When those shoved to the edges are fully included, that is good news for the whole world—and that makes it good news for us. When the homeless are housed, the hungry fed, the sick are healed, the refugees are welcomed, that is good news for the whole world—and that makes it good news for us.

Because we are all connected within creation. What affects one affects all. We are one giant community of creation, connected, intersecting, interdependent—all part of God’s same created order. So good news for one is good news for all.

The problem is that this release may not affect us in the ways we individually hope for. E.g., Year of Jubilee (the year of the Lord’s favor) all land returned to its origins. For those of us with European ancestry, that wouldn’t be individual good news when the land we pay mortgages on is returned to their Native origins.

So we tend to view “good news” through the lens of how good it is for me, not how good it is for the world. Yet justice for all of God’s creation is what good news looks like. We can’t recognize God’s good news unless it releases the poor from captivity to poverty.

  1. At the same time, God’s life of release from captivity does include us individually. Again, not in the ways we may hope for. What if our release from captivity meant release from relentless pull of our cell phones, calendars, the never ending chaos and frenzy of our lives today. Release! Today! This good news of God’s release in Christ means we can stop living that way. We can have a life that includes art, music, friendships, reading, hobbies. A life with more joy and more love.

For me personally, release from captivity might look like this:

  1. Don’t check email after 8pm and minimize email on days off.
  2. Don’t go it alone, i.e., seek appropriate support from GM clergy, Metro South Conference, (and, if possible) LCM Council.
  3. Stay more focused on positives and gratitude; less attention to criticism and negativity.
  4. Recognize I cannot (and do not need to) “fix” anything about LCM, but am only responsible for my own health and life in the midst of this community.

This is not just abstract, pie-in-the-sky dreaming. It’s not just a vague hope or an “if only” kind of thing. That’s why this matters that Jesus is the one who proclaimed the reality of this good news. It is real, it is present, it is possible, it is now part of the world. There has been a trajectory of God’s justice through history from Isaiah’s vision. In Jesus, that trajectory has caused it to break through into the present-day world. The reality of this good news, this release from captivity, affects real people in real situations in real life in real time.

Jesus is the one in whom this good news has broken in and revealed as God’s intention for creation. That’s why it is good news today. That’s why it is being fulfilled in our hearing. For us individually, but more importantly, for all creation. And we get to be part of it. We get to experience that release today. And we get to be part of that release in the world today.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Good News! (for other people) — January 24, 2016

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. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 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, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 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. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

This is Jesus’ first public act of ministry recorded in Luke. So this is the action that sets the bar, names the priorities, establishes the direction in this gospel.

In his home synagogue one Sabbath, Jesus was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He looked through it deliberately until he found this particular passage. This is the text he chose to read. And this is the teaching Jesus starts with.

So we ought to pay careful attention to what Jesus does here. He is anointed by God to bring–and to fulfill–God’s good news, “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 . . . Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

But notice that this good news isn’t general–it’s rather specific. He is anointed for the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. What about everyone else? Is Jesus bringing good news to those who don’t fall under these categories? We have a tendency want to make this about us, claiming to be oppressed, captive, blind, poor. But we’re not the primary audience here.

I was talking with someone a few years ago who was very proud of the new clothing bank their church had started. “It’s the only one in this area,” he said. Imagine how unhappy he was when I pointed out there was a reason it was the only one–it was because there was no one in their wealthy area who needed used clothing. “Oh,” he said, “maybe that’s why no one is using it.” That church closed not long after that. Not for lack of effort, but because their good news of clothing wasn’t good news to any of the people in their neighborhood.

The good news Jesus brings–while he’s filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, remember–is aimed at a particular audience. The poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. Those who, in that day, were pushed to the edges of their culture or ignored. Those who no one wanted around. Those who were helpless or targets for those with wealth and status. Those who were scapegoated and blamed.

So what about the rest of us? Although many of us experience those things sometimes, it’s not everyday for us. So what about those of us who most of our lives fall outside of Jesus’ categories? Those in this country who are white, who have pensions and savings accounts, who are (at least in name) Christian, who have no significant disabilities? Isn’t there any good news for us? Doesn’t Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, have anything good to say to us?

Sure. Of course. The reign of God, the kingdom of God, the dream of God is for all people–that all will be loved, saved, redeemed, cared for.

It’s just that most of us who are here this morning already have some experience of that good news now. We have opportunities, income, access to healthcare. We have a voice in our culture.

Others don’t. Jesus reads the text from Isaiah that says God also has good news for them.

David Lose, president of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, compares it to the #BlackLivesMatter movement and he writes: “A colleague of mine [who is an African American pastor] put it this way: ‘When you see a house on fire and direct the firefighters to that house, you’re not saying that all the other houses in the neighborhood don’t matter; you’re saying this one especially matters because it’s on fire.'” Jesus is saying that there are some people whose house is on fire. And God’s priority for compassion and grace needs to go to them.

Here’s why we need to hear this text even if we may not always be the primary audience, if it isn’t always directly aimed at us: This is where Jesus goes when filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Right to the poor, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, the powerless. That’s apparently what it looks like when people are empowered by the Holy Spirit. God’s priority is to first lift up those who are low. Sometimes we are the recipients of God’s priority compassion. But most of the time, most of us here today are therefore called to be part of fulfilling God’s compassion.

If we’re not poor, captive, blind, or oppressed today, then praise be to God! We’re already experiencing good news. But as the church, the community whose very existence is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, we make those who are on the outside, who are powerless, who are victims, who are helpless our priority too.

That’s what being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit looks like. That’s the good news–whether we are receiving it or helping to fulfill it. This is God’s good news for the world: we too are anointed to proclaim release, to give sight, and let the oppressed go free. This is the year of the Lord’s favor, and we get to be part of it! That is good news.

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Luke 1:46-55 — The Magnificat and White Privilege

(My) Left half: Hear this text from the perspective of being poor, pushed aside, ignored by anyone with any influence, being helpless.

(My) Right half: Hear this text from the perspective of being rich, influential, privileged.

(Read again)

For those on (my) left, what did you hear?

God’s mercy is for those who fear him . . . God has . . . lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things.

Mary’s song, “the Magnificat,” is a song of hope, justice, the end of days when God will make all things right.

The gap between the suffering and the content will be closed. The divide between the helpless and the powerful will be bridged. When the promises of God are fully kept in the coming of the Messiah, everyone will be made equal. Everyone will have enough, and no one will have more than they need.

For those on (my) right, what did you hear?

God’s mercy is for those who fear him. . . . God has scattered the proud in the he thoughts of their hearts. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones . . . . God has . . . sent the rich away empty.

The gap between the suffering and the content will be closed. The divide between the helpless and the powerful will be bridged. When the promises of God are fully kept in the coming of the Messiah, everyone will be made equal. Everyone will have enough, and no one will have more than they need.

I think that one of the reasons Christianity is hard for so many people in North America is that texts like these–which are the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ–are not heard as good news.

I am a white, middle-aged, middle-class, heterosexual male. I have virtually every privilege ever known to anyone is human history. The Magnificat, and so many other heart-and-soul themes from scripture, indicate that when God’s will is done, my privilege will change. It’s not just that the poor, and the excluded, and those without privilege will be raised up. Not according to God’s promises. It’s that the hungry will be filled and the rich will be sent away empty. The lowly will be lifted up and the proud will be scattered. Yes, the lives of the poor and disadvantaged will change for the better, but the lives of the influential and privileged will change too.

Nowhere is this great theme of scripture modeled more clearly than in the person of Jesus. In his epistle to the Philippians Paul writes that Jesus gave up the glory of heaven and came among us in the flesh. He didn’t live in glory and privilege, but in poverty. Instead of being exalted, he was killed. Soon we will celebrate his coming among us at Christmas–not being born into royalty and privilege, but in a barn, outside of a nowhere town where no one would make room for him.

We know God’s will is being done when those among us with nothing have enough. When the hungry among us are full and homeless among us sleep in a warm bed. We know God’s will is being done when those among us whose voices aren’t heard have influence.

But the other part of God’s will being done is when those of us with more than enough give away our extra. We know God’s will also is being done when those of us with plenty to eat give away the food we don’t need. We know God’s will is also being done when those of us with homes larger than we need downsize, giving away the profit. We know God’s will is also being done when those of us with influence go to bat for those who have none, even if it doesn’t seem to benefit us.

Because here’s the thing: this actually is good news for the poor and for the privileged! There is joy in Christ. There’s joy in being part of that work, that purpose. There’s joy in having enough, and there’s joy in extravagantly giving away what you have. The way of God is the way of joy. For the rich and the poor. For the proud and the lowly.

My prayer, my hope, is that all of us, regardless of our circumstances, would truly experience God’s joy down to our very souls this Advent. May our souls magnify the Lord, and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2014 in Sermon

 

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