Rev. Carol A. Prochaska (ret.)
January 27, 2013
Title: Taking Jesus Seriously
Scriptures: Psalm 19 & Luke 4:14-21
On that day when Jesus returns to his hometown synagogue we can imagine the folks who are there smiling and nodding with pleasure. He's done well for himself this boy from Nazareth. Even people who are not from Nazareth are praising him
Teachers know this kind pride when a former student goes-on to do well. Parents and grandparents know this kind of pride. We like it when children we care about turn out well.
On that morning in Nazareth, Jesus, who has apparently turned out well, will read scripture. The passage he will read from Isaiah will be familiar to those in the synagogue. Will they listen with anticipation or will their eyes glaze over when they hear these familiar words: "Bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind and the oppressed go free"
Seemingly there is nothing new to be heard. But it is nice that Jesus, on his return, will do the reading. So the gathered faith community can settle-in for an ordinary but nice Sabbath reading of God's word.
Perhaps some of them are thinking about the noon meal (Anna had promised to make her special fish recipe).
Perhaps others are thinking about what they would do that afternoon (the kids want to go to the neighbors to play). Ah yes it is a lovely sunny Sabbath day in Nazareth — everything and everyone in place...
Until! Until the words: "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" Is Jesus speaking to them? You bet he is! The gospel writer, Luke, says: "then [Jesus] began to say to them, 'Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.'"
The smiling and the nodding and the dozing-off have turned into apprehension. If what Jesus is saying is true — then those gathered on that morning in that place will now be compelled to take Jesus seriously. If God is really speaking to them through Jesus — Oh my goodness! Now what? It's one thing to agree with the words of Psalm 19 which we read a few minutes ago. It's one thing to say that God's law is perfect refreshing the soul, God's word gives wisdom to the simple and God's word is more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey; but it's quite another to take that to heart. If we take Jesus seriously and therefore God's word revealed in Jesus seriously. Oh my goodness! Now what?
It was a beautiful August day some many years ago, back when I was a stay-at-home mother. I was sitting outside in the backyard on a lawn chair thinking about the coming month when my young daughters would return to school and Sunday School and church activities would be gearing up for the fall. As I enjoyed the remains of that summer day it occurred to me to stop going to church — just quit! What good was it doing me? I couldn't see that I was any different from my non-church going neighbors. The folks on either side and the folks across the alley and the folks across the street — none of them went to church. So why did I?
I didn't make a decision that day or the next. In some ways it was easier to just keep on going to church as I had done my entire life. But I also sensed that the Bible mattered. There was probably more to scripture than what I was willing to admit. That fall I attended a Bible Study. I wasn't sure what I was doing there but it was led by a returned missionary who was making sense to me. She was getting at some things. For instance one morning she said "If you decide to be a committed Christian you will be in the minority." Oh! I'd never heard that before. And I thought of my own neighborhood. There was for me, however, a lingering and old deep-seated fear: if I was to let Jesus be in the center of my life I just knew I'd end up being a missionary. Furthermore I would get sent somewhere away up north where I would live forever in a forever snowy frozen winter wasteland. I was living in Calgary, and that was as far up north as I ever wanted to be. So it seemed best not to make a big deal over Jesus. I would not actually reject him but certainly not put Jesus and his teachings in the center of my life.
In Nazareth on that Sabbath after reading from the book of Isaiah, Jesus sits down. He's in the position of a teacher. So we can assume there is more to come for those folks — just as there is for us. Luke says: "The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on [Jesus]." Their eyes are riveted on Jesus! Not only has Jesus just claimed to be God's anointed but he has also told them to make these words from Isaiah their own and make them real in their lives on this day! Now what are they going to do? You'll have to come back next week to hear what THEY actually do!
What about us? Today? How seriously do we take Jesus? How seriously do we, Nelson United Church, take Jesus? Jesus is God's Good News. So take Jesus seriously is to: hear the Good News. Believe/trust the Good News. Live the Good News. At least in part God's Good News has to do with relief and release. We are either receiving relief or release or we are bringing about relief or release. In the scripture Jesus read there are four groups mentioned: the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed
Are we nay of these? Do we know any of these?
In the Greek of the New Testament the word "poor" means "to cringe." We cringe — we are poor — when we don't have enough. We cringe when we're down and out of something we need. We can cringe in sorrow, in fear, in weariness. Good News might come to us in receiving something that enables us to get on with life.
The second group (captives) Jesus declares them to be freed. We might think of freedom from an addiction or a false belief. It is interesting to me is that when Jesus speaks of the recovery of sight to the blind it can refer to physical or mental blindness. (In Greek the word "blind" word means "opaque"). Some of you will have seen the movie "Lincoln". There is a scene where members of congress who are against the abolition of slavery are shouting in anger, dismay and fear. They are saying that if slavery is abolished it could lead to Negros getting to vote and then (heaven forbid) that could lead to giving women the vote!! They were blind! They were opaque. But because others could see the Good News came for African Americans and for women.
Finally Jesus speaks of the oppressed which in Greek refers to those who are crushed or bruised. We might think of someone living with an injustice. The Good News would be when that injustice is transformed into justice. Jesus is God's Good News. So take Jesus seriously is to: hear the Good News. Believe the Good News. Live the Good News.
From my own experience we don't get it right all the time. And that's OK! And of course we have choices! When we take Jesus seriously, of course we have a say in our own lives! And we end up doing that which brings us satisfaction and joy! Did I end up at the North Pole? No I did not! In fact I lived for 11 years in Texas (south Texas!) I will always cherish the memory of a certain New Year's Eve. There I was in my bare feet in the sand in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The air was like summer. The water was lukewarm. Did I mention this was New Year's Eve?
And on that evening there in summer when it was winter, I remembered my poor dear family members doing their best to celebrate New Year's Eve in Calgary!! On that day the Good News for me was the Gulf of Mexico on New Year's Eve!