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Good news or a great challenge? Luke 4: 14-30

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A sermon given at Christ Church Downend, http://christchurchdownend.com/ …

A sermon given at Christ Church Downend, http://christchurchdownend.com/
More sermons available at http://www.social-statistics.org/?cat=22

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  • 1. Good  News?  Or  a  great  challenge?  (Sermon   given   at   the   9.15am   service,   Christ   Church   Downend,   Sunday   January  20th,  2013.  The  Bible  reading  is  Luke  4:  14-­‐21).    I   wonder   if   you   have   been   in   a   situation   where   the   mood   turned   ugly?   When  emotions   turn   from   euphoria   to   anger   and   do   so   at   rapid   speed.   It’s   not   a   nice  situation   to   be   in,   is   it?   It   is   scary   and   unsettling   to   be   in   the   midst   of   a   pack  mentality.  So   imagine   the   scene.   You   are   tourist,   visiting   Bristol   cathedral.   As   you   stand  there,   admiring   the   architecture   and   feeling   mildly   guilty   that   you   have   not  contributed  the  suggested  donation,  a  man  steps  up  to  read.  He  is  handed  a  Bible,  open  at  the  book  of  Isaiah.  Flicking  through  it  the  man  settles  on  Chapter  61  –  a  passage  that  talks  to  Israel  about  the  coming  Messiah.  Imagine  the  man  has  an  audience.  And  he  has  their  attention.  Slowly  at  first  but  with  confidence  and  gravitas,  he  reads:  The  Spirit  of  the  Lord  God  is  upon  me,  because  the  LORD  has  appointed  me;  he  has  sent  me  to  bring  good  news  to  the  oppressed,  to  bind  up  the  broken-­‐hearted,  to  proclaim  liberty  to  the  captives,  and  release  to  the  prisoners;  to  proclaim  the  year  of  the  LORD’s  favour.  There   is   silence.   You   could   hear   a   pin   drop.   The   power   of   the   words   is   left  reverberating   around   this   magnificent   old   building,   bouncing   off   the   walls   into  the  hearts  and  minds  of  those  who  hear  them.  
  • 2. Quietly   the   man   returns   to   his   seat   and   then,   with   perfect   timing,   breaks   the  silence  by  adding,  “Today,  this  scripture  as  been  fulfilled  in  your  hearing.”  The   crowd   is   delighted.   They   go   wild.   “Yes,   God   is   good!”   “God   is   great!”   “He   is  here!”  “He  is  with  us!”  All  eyes  are  upon  the  man  now.  What  will  he  say  next?  This  man  has  the  audience  eating  of  his  hand  and  they  are  hungry  for  more.  But   does   he   feed   them?   No,   he   snatches   it   away.   A   few   more   words,   not   well  received.  And  soon  their  meaning  begins  to  sink  in.    “Hang-­‐on,   what   did   he   say?”   “Did   he   just   insult   us?”   “He   did,   didn’t   he?”   “That  ain’t   on,   I   am   not   standing   for   that.”   “I   didn’t   come   here   to   be   insulted,   and  certainly  not  by  him.”  “He  needs  sorting  out  he  does.”  “Needs  to  learn  his  place.”  “Grab  him!”  They  hatch  a  plan.  Simple  but  effective.  They  will  throw  him  in  the  harbour.  Of  course,   he’ll   drown   but   they   don’t   care.   A   mob   mentality   has   taken   over.   A  primeval  urge  to  kill.  It’s  not  looking  good  for  the  man.  Yet,  miraculously,  under  high-­‐arches  ceilings  of  chaos  and  confusion,  the  man  safely  passes  through  rivers  of  seething  rage  and  emerges  unscathed  onto  Cathedral  Green.  And  from  there  he  crosses  Broadmead  making   his   journey   ever   onwards   towards   the   wilder,   untamed   lands   of   South  Gloucestershire.  You  stop  and  ponder.  What   had   the   man   done   to   gain   the   wrath   of   the   crowd?   What   did   he   say   that  could  turn  their  emotions  so  quickly?  
  • 3. Puzzled,  you  walk  slowly  up  the  aisle  of  the  now  empty  building,  the  sounds  of  your  shoes  echoing  as  you  walk.  You  get  to  the  front,  turn  and  look  down.  There  in  front  of  you  is  the  Bible  he  had  read  from  still  open  at  the  book  of  Isaiah.  Curious   you   begin   to   read   through   it.   What   you   find   is   that   Isaiah,   like   other  Prophetic  books  in  the  Bible,  is  a  mixture  of  lament,  national  self-­‐reflection,  a  cry  of   despair   yet   also   a   hope   for   the   future.   It   is   written   after   the   siege   and   fall   of  Jerusalem,   with   the   Jewish   people   living   in   exile   in   Babylon.   The   author   of   Isaiah  cannot   escape   this   reality   so   he   faces   some   tough   questions.   Why   has   it  happened?  Why  has  Israel  been  brought  so  low?  What  of  God’s  covenant  to  his  chosen  people?  And  so,  as  you  stand  reading  this  ancient  old  text,  you  find  it  unsettling.    (Isaiah  9)  The  people  have  not  returned  to  him  who  struck  them,  nor  have  they  sought  the  Lord  Almighty.  So  the  Lord  will  cut  off  from  Israel  both  head  and  tail,  both  palm  branch  and  reed  in  a  single  day.  (Isaiah  10)  Woe  to  those  who  make  unjust  laws,  to  those  who  issue  oppressive  decrees  to  deprive  the  poor  of  their  rights  and  withhold  justice  from  the  oppressed  of  my  people,  making  widows  their  prey  and  robbing  the  fatherless.  What  will  you  do  on  the  day  of  reckoning,  when  disaster  comes  from  afar?  To  whom  will  you  run  for  help?  Where  will  you  leave  your  riches?  Nothing  will  remain  but  to  cringe  among  the  captives  or  fall  among  the  slain.  
  • 4. The  text  is  hard-­‐hitting  and  austere.  But  here  is  a  curiosity!  Interweaved  in  the  text  there  is  hope,  a  promise  of  a  better  future:  (Isaiah  60)  Arise,  shine,  for  your  light  has  come,  and  the  glory  of  the  Lord  rises  upon  you.  See,  darkness  covers  the  earth  and  thick  darkness  is  over  the  peoples,  but  the  Lord  rises  upon  you  and  his  glory  appears  over  you.  Nations  will  come  to  your  light,  and  kings  to  the  brightness  of  your  dawn.  Yet  with  that  hope  comes  responsibility:  (Isaiah  58)    Is  not  this  the  kind  of  fasting  I  have  chosen:  to  loose  the  chains  of  injustice  and  untie  the  cords  of  the  yoke,  to  set  the  oppressed  free  and  break  every  yoke?  Is  it  not  to  share  your  food  with  the  hungry  and  to  provide  the  poor  wanderer  with  shelter  -­‐  when  you  see  the  naked,  to  clothe  them,  and  not  to  turn  away  from  your  own  flesh  and  blood?  Then  your  light  will  break  forth  like  the  dawn,  and  your  healing  will  quickly  appear;  then  your  righteousness  will  go  before  you,  and  the  glory  of  the  Lord  will  be  your  rear  guard.  Then  you  will  call,  and  the  Lord  will  answer;  you  will  cry  for  help,  and  he  will  say:  here  am  I.  Now  you  get  it.  The  reason  the  man  –  shall  we  him  Jesus…?  The  reason  Jesus  got  into  so  much  trouble  is  that  he  insinuated  that  his  audience  were  rebellious  to  God.  Hypocrites,  perhaps.  Listening  but  never  really  hearing.  The  good  news  they  thought  they  were  receiving  became  something  of  a  charge  sheet  against  them.  
  • 5.  I  wonder  if  I  take  God  too  much  for  granted.  I  wonder  if  sometimes  –  no,  often  –  I  cheapen   his   love   and   grace.   I   don’t   believe   he   loves   me   any   the   less   for   it   but   I  wonder  if  I  end  up  loving  him  less?  I  wonder  if  I  deny  myself  the  opportunity  to  experience  the  fullness  of  a  life  anointed  by  God.  I  wonder  if  I  sell  both  Him  and  myself  short.  Writing   in   the   Diocesan   Newsletter,   Bishop   Mike   reflects   on   a   book   called  Holiness  by  JC  Ryle.  I  would  like  to  read  to  you  what  he  says.  He  writes,  Ryle  says  that  the  faith  that  justifies  us  is  not  the  same  as  the  faith  that  sanctifies  us.  That  it  to  say,  the  faith  by  which  we  accept  Christ  and  his  salvation  is  not  the  same  faith  by  which  our  lives  should  be  directed.  His  [Ryle’s]  point  is  this:  the  faith  that  makes  us  Christians  requires  no  effort  on  our  part,  other  than  to  accept  Christ  and  what  his  life,  death,  resurrection  and  ascension  have  achieved  for  us.  Salvation  is  not  on  the  basis  of  what  we  have  done,  but  on  the  basis  of  what  God  in  Christ  has  done  for  us.  The  faith  that  makes  us  more  like  Christ,  on  the  other  hand,  requires  effort.  That’s  why  spiritual  disciplines  are  so  important.  Prayer  and  fasting,  generosity  and  worship,  solitude  and  periodic  abstinence  will  help  you  become  more  like  Jesus,  but  they  will  require  effort.  Faith  crucially  involves  living  as  though  we  believe  that  life  with  God  is  eminently  more  fulfilling  and  hopeful  than  life  without  God.  […]  We  need  to  put  ourselves  in  a  position  whereby  we  have  to  trust  God.  Sometimes  life  puts  us  in  those  situations  –  when  we  are  ill  or  bereaved  or  in  a  breaking  relationship  or  unemployed.  That’s  
  • 6. why  it  is  that  some  people  (not  all)  make  huge  strides  in  their  relationship  with  God  in  seasons  of  adversity.  What  being  in  a  position  of  trusting  God  might  look  like  in  your  life  is  going  to  be  different  for  everyone.  It  may  be  to  do  with  honest  relationships,  sacrificial  generosity  of  your  time,  energy  or  finances,  speaking  about  God  and  what  you  believe.  [Nevertheless,]  If  we  can  lift  the  ‘faith  threshold’  in  our  lives,  churches  and  diocese  I  truly  believe  that  we  will  together  grow  in  every  sense  of  the  word.”    Let’s  turn  our  attention  back  to  Jesus  and  to  his  words  from  Isaiah.  The  Spirit  of  the  Lord  God  is  upon  me,  because  the  LORD  has  appointed  me;  he  has  sent  me  to  bring  good  news  to  the  oppressed,  to  bind  up  the  broken-­‐hearted,  to  proclaim  liberty  to  the  captives,  and  release  to  the  prisoners;  to  proclaim  the  year  of  the  LORD’s  favour.  You   know,   these   words   are   some   of   my   favourite   in   the   Bible.   They   say  immediately   what   God,   what   Jesus,   is   about.   He   turns   the   ways   of   the   world  upside   down.   He   embraces   those   that   society   marginalises.   He   reaches   out   to  those  who  are  left  uncared  for.  He  is  a  God  of  justice  and  of  love.  I  still  love  the  words  but  I  am  beginning  to  think  that  I  am  reading  them  with  too  much   of   a   cosy   sentimentality   that   stupefies   their   intended   impact.   They  encourage  me  because  they  tell  me  what  God  is  about.  But  do  I  let  them  challenge  
  • 7. me,  because  they  also  say  what  God  wants  me  –  us  –  to  be  about  also?  Am  I  really  willing  to  make  Jesus’  mission  statement  my  own?  Imagine,  again,  you  are  in  the  temple.  Jesus  stands.  He  reads.  Then  he  challenges.    Do  you  respond  with  anger?  Or  with  humility?  Do  you  bray  for  blood  or  fall  at  his  feet  and  worship?  Will  you  turn  away  or  will  you  arise  and  shine,  for  your  light  has  come,  and  the  glory  of  the  Lord  rises  upon  you?    Jesus  stands  before  us.  The  Spirit  of  the  Lord  God  is  upon  Him.  The  decision  we  need  to  make  is  whether  to  reject,  resist  or  follow.  Amen.