Saturday, January 26, 2013

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me"

Jesus in the Synagogue.  Something a little different from my usual sermons! 

1 Corinthians 12: 12-31 & Luke 4: 14-21(22-30)

It’s the Sabbath day in Nazareth!  That’s Saturday – the Sabbath beginning at sundown on Friday and continuing to sundown on Saturday. 
You’re one of the faithful of Nazareth so you head for the meeting place – the synagogue.  (You still head for the Temple in Jerusalem for the big festivals) but week by week you gather with the others for worship and instruction in your local synagogue).  Actually synagogue is simply the word for ‘assembly’.  So off you go to the assembly of God’s faithful.  You wonder who has been asked to speak today by the leader of the synagogue.

You pay careful attention when the scroll is brought out – it’s handed to Jesus!  That’s Joseph the carpenter’s son!  Not quite who you were expecting to bring the instruction on God’s word today!  But then you have been hearing a lot of stories going around about him… apparently Jesus has been travelling around the district preaching in other synagogues, and from what you’ve heard, everyone’s full of praise of him.  But… the carpenter’s son?!

The scroll of the prophet Isaiah is handed to him – and you watch as he carefully unrolls the scroll and finds a particular place.  What’s he going to read you wonder?  He finds what he’s looking for and begins to read…
“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 favour.”

Ah yes, you’re familiar with those words – you close your eyes as they pour from Jesus’ mouth – these are the things God will do, the words spoken long ago through the prophet, these are the words of hope of the people of Israel.

Jesus stops reading and rolls up the scroll again; he gives it back to the attendant and sits down.  (In our tradition the rabbi, the teacher, sits down to preach). 

So Jesus sits down and every eye is on him, waiting for him to speak.
What is he going to say you wonder? 

Jesus begins to speak then… “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

It takes you a moment to register his words.  “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing..”  
Is Jesus saying those old words are actually about him?  Well it definitely seems to be the case.
Is he saying, “I am the One – the Messiah – the anointed one”? 
That definitely seems to be so, and you think about those words again – how amazing it would be if Jesus were to do those things – good news for the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freeing the oppressed, proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour…
You sit and ponder them for what seems like an age – that’s what we need!  And you start to feel a stirring of excitement somewhere deep within you. 

Everyone else is listening intently too – you can feel the air of amazement at the words of grace – God’s grace – coming out of Jesus’ mouth.  There are mutterings all around you, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

We’ve been waiting for the Messiah so long – the one God would send – the one who would overthrow our enemies and restore Israel to her former state of blessing.  You think to yourself, “funny how Jesus didn’t read about overcoming enemies and all that too” – that’s usually what the people want to hear, that’s what they’re expecting!

As you sit lost in your thoughts, you suddenly realise that the tone around you is changing.
Jesus is still speaking.  He’s heard those whispered questions about him and now he’s asking a question to the men in the synagogue – you turn your attention back to what’s going on around you.

“Are you going to quote the Proverbs to me – “doctor cure yourself?”  That’s what Jesus asks us.  And he carries on, “And are you going to say to me, ‘do the things here in your home town that we’ve heard you did in Capernaum’”  But he wasn’t really waiting for our answer, he answered the question himself… “no prophet is accepted in his home town”.

I think again about what Jesus might mean.  I catch his eye for a moment.  “Will you REALLY listen to me?” 
I feel that stirring again, if he’s the prophet, if he’s the Messiah, the one sent, then will we listen to him; or will we just expect him to do what we’ve always expected the Messiah to do?  Will we expect him to get in line with our will and our expectations, or will we get in line with his?

Jesus is talking about the great prophets now, about Elijah and Elisha.  Great prophets sent by God to speak his word to the people of Israel – oh everyone here knows all about them, admires them!  Aren’t they part of OUR story, ours and God’s story?

But Jesus is getting everyone in a right stir now… I don’t think the people here want to be reminded of when the prophets brought God’s blessing to people outside of Israel!  I don’t think they want to hear that God’s grace is going to stretch much further than just for us, much further than overthrowing the Romans!
But it’s true, what Jesus is saying: even though there were many widows in Israel at the time when there was famine due to that lack of rain, Elijah was sent to the widow in Sidon.  And even though there were many lepers in Israel in Elisha’s time, God sent him to heal Naaman the Syrian.  We’d forgotten that hadn’t we – our great prophets also were without honour at times in their home nation of Israel – and God blessed others!

Oh, it’s really kicking off now!  Well the tide has certainly turned – it seems like the admiration for what Jesus was saying has turned into rage!  They’re going mad… It’s like they’ve put their hands over their ears and they’re shoving Jesus out of our synagogue.  “We don’t want to hear this!” 

You get up and follow the crowd – driving Jesus not only from the synagogue, but out to the edge of town too.  They’re going to throw him from the cliff out there… silence him for good!!
But then you watch as Jesus walks straight through the throng and goes on his way. 

You sit down, somewhere near the edge of town, and you turn it all over in your mind again.  You think of that look Jesus gave you, that seemed to say, “Will you really listen to me?”
If he is the Messiah, the anointed one, on whom the Spirit of the Lord is resting; then we do need to listen.

You think again of the words he read from the scroll,
“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 favour.”

You feel that excitement welling up in your spirit again.  And so you decide.  You follow him on to Capernaum – that’s where he heads next.  And on the following Sabbath you’re in the synagogue there.  Jesus is teaching again, but this time they listen astounded because he speaks with an authority that’s not been heard before.  And then he does it, he shows his authority not just in words, but in power.

There’s a man in the synagogue bound up with evil, oppressed and captive to so much that has bound him, kept him from being able to live free – what a racket he’s been making! – and then Jesus did it, commanded the evil to leave – and God’s grace was all over him – what good news, what release, what favour from God!  And with all the others you delight in amazement.  This is what he came for… and you decide then that you want to be a part of it, see more of it.

You sit and pray, Lord God, I praise you for showing me your Messiah, I praise you for your wonders.  Lord, I will really listen to you.  Lord, we had expectations of you but they were too small; Lord we know you came to bless but that blessing’s not just for me, not just for Israel, but for everyone!  Help me be a part of it.

And you follow him, listening, praising, praying… and what things are to come!

I remember those days – those days when God’s revelation was just beginning to unfold in Jesus!  And the revelation would get bigger, and greater!  We’d see he wasn’t just another prophet, speaking the words of God; not even the Messiah of our vision – oh yes, he was the one sent by God - but we’d start to see, start to believe that he was God himself among us, as human as me, as divine as the Father.  He told us “I am”, just as almighty God had told as at the beginning of our people’s story, my name is “I am”! 

And he showed us too – his power over evil – just as we saw back in the synagogue in Capernaum; and his power over nature; and his power over the darkness inside us to make it right; and his power even over death… Oh yes WHAT things were to come!

As the church, we have been brought into God’s blessing; but as the church we’re not to keep it to ourselves either, but to spread it, share it, proclaim it.  And we have what was still to come then – the Holy Spirit – giving us gifts for the ‘common good’ filling and inspiring us to take Jesus wherever we are.  May we not keep a hold of his blessing and grace either, but share it in love.


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