SERMONS - JANUARY 2013
6 January 2013 - Epiphany - Isaiah 60:1-6
When I was growing up in rural New York State, the air would be filled with bugs of all varieties in the summertime. Some of these bugs were a minor nuisance, buzzing around your head and whining in your ear.
But others were more menacing, as they would bite or sting their human victims, and thereby make an evening outside to be a very unenjoyable experience.
To address this bug problem, a lot of people in my home town got a bug-zapper. These devices were comprised of an interior light, surrounded by an electrified metal screen. Their design took advantage of the compulsion of bugs to fly toward a light.
Now, light in general is usually a source of life and warmth. Just think of the sun, without which our world would not exist. But the light in the bug-zapper was certainly not a source of life.
As the pesky bugs in the air were irrationally drawn to the light of the bug-zapper, they were being drawn to their deaths. As soon as they flew into the electrified metal screen that surrounded the light that was drawing them, and touched it, they were zapped.
St. Paul tells us in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians that “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” Sinful humans - like bugs - are drawn to him in his deceptions. The fallen nature that is in all of us gives us a compulsion to fly, irrationally, toward that Satanic light.
How often has it happened, that you were able to see clearly - as an objective observer - that the moral pathway that was being pursued by someone you knew, was a wicked and destructive pathway?
But the person who was caught up in this sin could not see it. That person seemed to be operating under some kind of blinding compulsion, to destroy what was good and decent in his or her life.
And how often has the situation been reversed, when it was obvious to others that what you were doing was wrong and harmful? But you refused to accept this, until it was too late, and irreversible damage had already been done.
Like bugs flying toward the bug-zapper, at such times we cannot see - we refuse to see - that we are being drawn by the pretended “angel of light” to our deaths. There is something inside of us that is, in a certain sense, making us do this.
An inner compulsion has taken over. And we are doomed.
But there is another light on the horizons of our human existence, drawing us toward itself. This other light - this genuine and more brilliant light - is a light of truth and life, and not of deception and death.
This purer light can be seen from wherever we are - regardless of how low and shadowy our existence has become - if only our eyes are open.
The wise men in today’s text from St. Matthew’s Gospel saw that light, and were drawn to that light. We read:
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’”
They were being drawn by the light of a star. But in, with, and under that physical light - visible to the eye - they were being drawn mystically by the one whom the star represented, and toward whom the star was pointing.
They were being drawn by Jesus, to Jesus - to the true light who was coming into the world.
In the Book of Numbers, it had been predicted: “A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” A gentile - Balaam - had said that.
And now these gentiles - these Magi from east of the land of Israel - were being drawn to this Judean King. They were being drawn to a Jewish King whom they knew, somehow, was a King and a divine Savior also for them.
This star - this light - is the Sun of Righteousness, who rises upon us, with divine healing in his wings.
And this star - this light - does draw us too. Jesus said: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
Jesus himself draws you, through the gospel of Christ crucified for sinners. The light of the gospel extends down to your heart, and transforms your heart - just as starlight, from its source in the sky, extends down to your eyes, as you look up at it.
Your old sinful nature does give you a destructive compulsion to follow the lies and deceptions of Satan - like bugs flying into a bug-zapper. In a time of temptation, when you feel that powerful tug toward something that God forbids - that lustful, prideful, selfish tug - that is what is going on.
But the new nature that the gospel births in you turns all this around. In faith, you now see Christ. You are now drawn, in faith, to the light of Christ - and not to the prince of darkness disguised as an angel of light.
We are drawn to Christ on the cross - dying for our sins; redeeming us from death and the devil. We are drawn to Christ in his Word and Sacrament - forgiving our sins; restoring us to the life of God, and to fellowship with the people of God.
Jesus says: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Jesus is the bright morning star, rising at the beginning of a new day of grace, calling all people to faith. And as St. Peter says in his Second Epistle:
“We have...the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
The wise men had to travel many miles, to a very distant place, to find the Light of Christ - as he drew them to himself by means of the star in the sky. But the light of Christ for you is right here - where the Word of Christ is proclaimed.
Jesus, the light of the world, draws you to himself in his Word, when he says: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He draws you to his light, and fills you with his life, when he says: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”
The morning star from heaven - the heavenly source of life and immortality - is in the prophetic word - the inspired, infallible Word of God - which speaks of Christ, and of your salvation in Christ.
When you are drawn to that prophetic word - wherever it is, and in whatever way it comes to you - to hear it, to pay attention to it, to believe it, to receive it into your heart; then the morning star does rise in your heart.
The death-wish of your old nature is defeated. The light has overcome the darkness. He who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, has overcome the father of lies.
In the grace and strength of Christ, you are not zapped. You are not destroyed by the compulsions of your sin.
In Christ, you will live. You will live forever.
St. Paul writes: “For God - who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ - has shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
With the wise men from the east, in joy you worship the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords - to whom you have been mystically drawn. You worship the Savior who has ransomed you and purchased you, and who has liberated you and lifted you up from the oppressive powers of darkness.
And as you worship this King and Savior, you declare to him: “Arise, shine; for your light has come... Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you.” Amen.
13 January 2013 - The Baptism of Our Lord - Luke 3:15-22
Nobody enjoys feeling guilty. When someone does feel guilty, he tries - perhaps subconsciously - to figure out why he has this unwelcome feeling, and then to remedy the problem, once its source has been identified.
Most often, the condemning words of another person are identified as the source of the problem. I feel guilty because my mother makes me feel guilty - or my father, or my wife, or my husband.
Their criticisms of my actions are the cause of this. Their words are inflicting guilt on me.
So, the way to stop feeling guilty, is to stop listening to my mother - or my father, or my wife, or my husband. That will make the guilty feelings go away.
For religious people, the sermons and teaching of a priest or minister are sometimes seen as the cause of these unwanted feelings of guilt. There are a few different options employed in dealing with that.
One of them is to switch to a different church, where the priest or minister will not preach about things that make me feel guilty. In America, for the past few decades, there has been a boom in new churches that promise a guilt-free religion - with no preaching about sin or anything negative.
Another option for the religious person who doesn’t want to feel guilty any more, is for that person to stay where he is, but to try to silence the priest or minister whose rebukes are seen to be creating the feelings of guilt. That, in essence, is what Herod the Tetrarch did in today’s text from St. Luke.
“So with many other exhortations [John] preached good news to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.”
John had been criticizing Herod for his illicit relationship with his brother Philip’s wife Herodias. Herod didn’t like it.
More than likely, John’s rebukes were beginning to make Herod feel guilty about the immorality of his lifestyle. But would Herod’s silencing of the Baptist’s testimony against his sin, through incarceration, succeed in removing Herod’s feelings of guilt?
Do any of the supposed remedies to the feeling of guilt that we have been discussing - which involve silencing or ignoring those fellow humans who may be speaking critical words to us - actually result in those feelings of guilt going away?
Do our feelings of guilt actually originate in the people who express their disagreement with our words and actions? Will silencing those people, deaden those feelings?
It is true, of course, that sometimes people are made to feel guilty over things that are actually not wrong - or over things for which they are not actually responsible. It is possible for me to be misguided by a false morality, or to be confused by a manipulative person, into thinking that I am responsible for something for which I am not really responsible.
But most of the time, the reason why I feel guilty, is because I am guilty. My conscience is being brought to conviction under God, because I have sinned again God and his law.
At those times I cannot make those feelings of guilt go away by silencing or ignoring the people who are pointing my sins out to me - as Herod tried to do with John the Baptist.
In Herod’s case, he may have silenced one particularly outspoken messenger, by throwing John in jail. But he did not nullify or invalidate the message itself.
Herod’s conscience was still afflicted by John’s message, because John’s message was God’s message. Herod still stood as guilty before the law of the Lord, whether or not John the Baptist was the one pointing that out to him.
And that’s the way it is with us, too. If I am living in a state of sin against God, then relatives, friends, or pastors may very well be pricking my conscience by pointing that fact out to me, and by warning me of God’s judgment.
But their testimony on God’s behalf is not the ultimate cause of my feelings of guilt. Rather, my feelings of guilt are caused by my guilt.
No attempt to escape from the external reminders of this troubling truth will ultimately work. My conscience will still convict me, even if - for now - I might stop listening to those who are rebuking me for my sin.
My feelings of guilt will remain, because my guilt remains. The only way to stop feeling guilty, is to stop being guilty.
And the only way to stop being guilty before God - for the sins that I have committed against him - is for those sins to be lifted off me, and carried away from me, by one who has the divine right, and the divine ability, to perform such a supernatural, saving work for me.
St. Luke reports: “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”
Another Gospel writer - St. John the Apostle - reports that on the day after Jesus was baptized, John the Baptist once again “saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’”
As a part of his mission to take away human sin, and to erase human guilt before God, Jesus identified with sinners by receiving a sinner’s baptism.
St. Luke had previously described the ministry of John the Baptist in this way: “And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
In his baptism, however, Jesus did not have his sins taken off him, because he had no sins. Instead, the sins of the world were, in that sacramental act, put upon him. In his case, it was reversed.
And Jesus carried those sins - my sins, your sins, the sins of all - throughout a three-year public ministry, to the cross of Calvary. Martin Luther explains what this means for us, in time and eternity, in these words:
“In the life beyond, it will redound to our eternal joy and bliss that the Son of God abased Himself so and burdened Himself with my sins. Yes, He assumes not only my sins but also those of the whole world, from Adam down to the very last mortal.”
“These sins He takes upon Himself; for these He is willing to suffer and die, that our sins may be expunged, and we may attain eternal life and blessedness. ... Anyone who wishes to be saved must know that all his sins have been placed on the back of this Lamb!”
“Therefore John points this Lamb out to his disciples, saying: ‘Do you want to know where the sins of the world are placed for forgiveness? ... If you really want to find a place where the sins of the world are exterminated and deleted, then cast your gaze upon the cross. The Lord placed all our sins on the back of this Lamb.’”
So far Luther.
You cannot escape from the feeling of guilt for your sins, by silencing the voice of those who remind you of your sins. Even if you were able to clap everyone who rebukes you for your wrongdoing in jail - as Herod was able to do in the case of John the Baptist - the feeling of guilt would remain, because the guilt would remain.
But there is a way to be liberated from this guilt. It is the way of repentance, with an honest and humble admission of your failures.
And it is the way of faith: living in your baptism into Christ, trusting in Christ, receiving from Christ a full pardon for your sins - sins which he exterminated and deleted, when he died in your place, and in the place of all men.
King Herod refused to listen to John the Baptist, when John called Herod to turn away from his sin, and when John invited him to receive the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins - together with everyone else. May it be so that you are not refusing to listen to John today.
May it be so that you will always listen to him - and to all those whom God sends into your life, to warn you, and rebuke you, whenever you veer from the pathway of righteousness. May it never be so, that you try to silence those messengers, in order to be rid of the feeling of guilt that your sins causes. That will never work.
But may it always be so, that you heed their message - or more accurately, God’s message - and admit the guilt. And may it always be so, at such times, that you then know the peace that comes when God in Christ forgives your sins, and removes your guilt forever.
In the Jordan River, Christ shared in sinful humanity’s baptism - and thereby took humanity’s sins upon himself. Christ was and is a part of your baptism, and has taken your sins upon himself - sins for which he died once and for all time, to set you free from their power, and from their guilt.
Indeed, as St. Paul teaches in today’s Epistle, all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
Jesus Christ, and he alone, is able to remove from you the feelings of guilt that plague you; because Jesus Christ, and he alone, can remove from you the guilt itself, that your sins have caused.
Christ, who offered his body into death for you, and shed his blood for you, gives you peace today. He removes your sin, and he removes your guilt, today. Amen.
20 January 2013 - Epiphany 2 - John 2:1-11
During the years when Jesus walked the earth, he led his life - most of the time - within the parameters of the limitations of his human nature, setting aside the full use of his divine knowledge and powers. As the Epistle to the Philippians tells us, he did not cling to the form of God, but took on the form a servant.
This means that there were a lot of things that he did not consciously know or perceive during the time of his earthly ministry, beyond what his human senses would have told him. We may have an example of this in today’s account from St. John’s Gospel. We read:
“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’”
Notice the sequential connection between the statement that Jesus and his disciples were invited to this wedding, and the statement that the wine ran out early.
We get the impression that one of the persons getting married was probably a relative or close friend of Jesus’ family, in view of the fact that Jesus’ mother Mary seemed to have had some authority there. She issued an order to the servants, telling them, “Do whatever he tells you.”
If this is the case, then it would not be surprising that Jesus would have been invited to the wedding.
It is possible, however, that those who had planned out the guest list, might not have realized until very soon before the beginning of the wedding celebration, that Jesus had just recently become a traveling rabbi, with a group of disciples following him around. So, the invitation to the disciples, to accompany their master to this wedding, may have been a last minute thing.
And it may also have been so, that a last-minute addition of several men like this, might have resulted in more wine being consumed at the wedding, more quickly, than what anyone had originally planned for. Hence the crisis of the wine running out.
When Mary brought this problem to her son’s attention, he asked her in all sincerity, “What does this have to do with me?” He may simply not have realized - in his state of humiliation - that it had everything to do with him - or more precisely, with his disciples.
Again, remember how John tells this story: “Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’”
We cannot be too dogmatic in this interpretation, since it is admittedly based on circumstantial evidence. But it would make sense. This may be the story behind the story.
But, even if there were unexpected last-minute guests, it would still have been an extremely shameful situation, and a disgraceful failure of hospitality, if the host of this wedding feast did not have enough wine on hand for everyone.
If some of the guests drank more than what was expected, that was not their problem. As guests, they had the right to drink as much as they wanted to drink.
It was the problem of the host. And if this problem had become widely known among the guests at this particular wedding, it would have ruined the day. And it would have caused much embarrassment for the newly married couple.
Jesus may not have realized how much wine his disciples were drinking at this wedding. But as a culturally knowledgeable person, he would have realized what kind of damage would be done to the reputations of the host and of the newlywed couple, if it became known that the wine had run out.
Because he cared about these people, he wanted to save them the embarrassment of having their social failings exposed to their entire community. He wanted to preserve them from ridicule in their community.
So he fixed the problem, discreetly, with only a minimum number of people knowing about it. He fixed the problem, quietly, before hardly anyone else even knew that there had been a problem.
“Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.’ So they took it.”
“When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.’”
What Jesus manifested in this first miracle, was his love for people. He loved the couple that was getting married that day. He loved the master of the feast. He loved his mother and his disciples. He loved all the other guests.
Because he loved them all, he wanted them to be able to continue to celebrate the joyous occasion of this day without interruption. He wanted this to stay a happy day for everyone.
In light of the supply of wine being spent prematurely, Jesus, as the Son of God, was uniquely able to to keep it a happy day. If he had not acted, the day would have been ruined. But he did do what he needed to do, to keep it a happy day.
Because of his mercy and his discretion, only a few people would ever know what had happened. Only a few people would ever know how Jesus had lovingly covered over the shortcomings of the host of the banquet, and had lovingly corrected the failures of the host of the banquet.
C. F. W. Walther, whom we would count as an authority in matters of pastoral theology, said this concerning the practice of private confession and absolution:
“The preacher must not reveal what has been confessed to him. ... A preacher who gossips about what has been confessed to him has forfeited his office and deserved to be deposed. ... The preacher should guard his tongue with all seriousness.”
Why does our church hold a pastor to such strict standards of confidentiality, in his individualized ministry with people? Because a pastor is to act in the spirit of Christ, and as a representative of Christ, as he deals with the shame and embarrassment of a penitent sinner.
In the same way as Jesus covered over the failings of the responsible people on the day of the wedding at Cana, and did not allow their failings to become widely known or to be held up to public ridicule, so too is a pastor today, in the name of Jesus, to cover over the failings of those who come to him for help.
The forgiveness of God is privately pronounced to one with a troubled conscience. That forgiveness bestows upon the Christian the perfect and complete righteousness of Christ, which covers over and hides all human imperfections and failings.
And it is not only pastors who are to treat their brothers and sisters in Christ in this way, with this kind of compassion and respect. Within the larger community of faith, we do what we can to save and protect each other from shame and embarrassment.
We put the best construction on each other’s words and actions. And we do not dredge up for a wider public knowledge, the forgiven sins of someone’s past - sins that no one else needs to know about.
This is the way Christ acts. This is the way we act, in the name of Christ.
There will be times in your life when you fail - when you let down the people who are depending on you, and when you let God down, by sinning against him. When these times come, and when you are brought under the conviction of God’s Spirit for these failings, it will be embarrassing to think about them.
You know how ashamed you will feel before God, and how much more ashamed you would feel if this failing would become more widely known.
But at a time like this, Jesus, the gracious guest at Cana, becomes a gracious guest also in your life. He becomes your protector. With his pardon he covers over your failures.
St. Paul writes to the Colossians that God has “forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us... This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”
Notice what Paul says. God, in Christ, puts the demonic rulers and authorities of this cosmos to open shame, in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
He does not put you to open shame. Rather, he forgives you, and he cancels your debt with him.
At the wedding in Cana, only a few people knew what Jesus had discreetly done, to save the day. The disciples of the Lord were among those few, no doubt because they were sitting near Jesus at the time when Mary approached him and told him that the wine was gone.
In light of what the disciples saw and heard, St. John tells us, “his disciples believed in him.”
By means of his Word, Jesus - through his pastors, and through his people in general - is active today in forgiving sin, in covering over faults, in protecting the weak, and in encouraging those who are ashamed of their failings. These are the miracles that Christ is performing among us, to save us from embarrassment before God, and before each other.
When we hear the Lord’s absolution together, and when we kneel together at the Lord’s altar to receive his body and blood, Jesus is not thereby exposing our sins and failures, to our shame. He is throwing the cloak of his righteousness over our sins, to our joy.
The happiness of this day, which we are spending together in the joy of our faith, is saved. The happiness of our celebration of Christ’s love is uninterrupted.
And when you see and hear Jesus doing and saying these things today - in your own relationship with him, and in the life of faith of others - you, too, believe in him. And you pray:
Blest were the eyes which saw That wondrous mystery,
The great beginning of Thy works That kindled faith in Thee.
And blessèd they who know Thine unseen presence true,
When in the kingdom of Thy grace Thou makest all things new. Amen.
27 January 2013 - Epiphany 3 - Luke 4:16-30
When people evaluate public speaking, they usually notice two things. First, they notice the rhetorical skill of the speaker, and the literary, prosaic quality of his speech. And second, they notice the actual content of what he is saying.
In Jesus’ debut as a rabbi and public teacher, in his hometown synagogue, the people who heard him noticed both of these things. As Jesus read or chanted the Scripture text from Isaiah, and as he then began to comment on that text, St. Luke tells us that “all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.”
It seems that the hometown crowd at first was not paying that much attention to the content of what Jesus was saying, but they were noticing what a good public speaker he was. In expressing himself, his words were “gracious.” As an elocutionist, he was making a good impression.
But this was surprising to them. They knew that he had not been formally trained as a rabbi.
Until recently, he had been a carpenter - a man who worked with his hands. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
Well-developed rhetorical skills are certainly an asset for a speaker who wants to get a certain point across. It’s good when his manner of speaking is refined and well-organized, so that his manner of speaking does not distract people from being able to pay attention to what he is actually trying to say.
But a public speaker also wants his audience to absorb the meaning of his words. Jesus wanted the people in Nazareth to absorb the meaning of his words. Jesus wants you and me to absorb the meaning of his words.
As the crowd was noticing, and talking about, the quality of Jesus’ speaking ability, Jesus then began to “turn up the volume,” so to speak, on the important points he was trying to make in his sermon.
And when the people in the synagogue at Nazareth did in fact finally let his words sink in, and started paying attention to what he was actually saying, they didn’t like what they were hearing. St. Luke reports:
“All in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.”
This was triggered by Jesus’ statement that “no prophet is acceptable in his hometown,” and by his comments about God’s willingness, at various times in the history of Israel, to perform miracles through his prophets among certain gentiles - such as the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian - rather than among the people of Israel.
But it would seem as well, that the crowd had now come to understand that what Jesus had been saying all along was not very flattering to them. And they also began to perceive - when they thought about it - that he had been drawing attention to himself in a way that was actually quite offensive to them.
The text that Jesus had quoted from Isaiah was a text in which the Messiah himself was speaking, in the first person. This was a unique form of Old Testament prophesy. Through Isaiah, the Messiah said:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
There had probably been many rabbis over the years who has recited this text, and who had then preached a sermon on it. But none of them had ever said this: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
In saying this, Jesus was telling them something important about himself; and he was telling them something important about them. He identified himself as the Messiah - as the one anointed by the Holy Spirit to bring this multifaceted salvation to those who needed it.
Jesus, as the Savior from sin, was now setting out to proclaim good news to those who were impoverished in sin; to proclaim liberty to those who were captives of sin; and to proclaim recovery of sight to those who were spiritually blinded by sin.
One time, when I was speaking of Christ and his grace with someone who did not profess to be a Christian, he said, “That’s nice for people who need it.” The implication, of course, is that he did not need it.
Those who are self-righteous, and who are blinded by their sin to the severity of their spiritual poverty without Christ, often do have this kind of patronizing attitude toward Christians. But this patronizing attitude can very quickly become a hostile and angry attitude, when their own need for Christ is driven home.
Jesus drove home to the people of Nazareth, their need for what the Messiah was bringing - for what he was bringing. He said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
You are poor, and enslaved, and blind. And when you admit the truth of your spiritual condition, and your need for what God’s Son offers, you can then receive and enjoy what God’s Son offers.
What Jesus was preaching to them was indeed “good news.” But it would be grasped as good news only by those who had first acknowledged the bad news of their sin and its many destructive effects. This the Nazarenes were unwilling to do.
And another thing they certainly noticed, is that Jesus did not include himself as a potential recipient of God’s salvation. He said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He did not say, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in our hearing.”
Jesus had grown up in Nazareth. He was known by all, as the son of Joseph, the village carpenter. He was one of them.
In many ways that was true. According to his humanity, he was one of them.
According to his humanity, he is one of us. He is our brother according to the flesh.
But now, in his comments on this passage of Scripture, Jesus is making it quite plain to the Nazarenes that in a very important way, he is not one of them. He is not - as each of them is - a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness.
Jesus is instead the bringer of God’s forgiveness. As the Holy One of Israel, and as the sacrifice for sin provided by God himself, he is God’s forgiveness for sinners. He is God’s forgiveness for them.
But they would have none of it. Their hearts were closed off to what God was offering them, by their pride and presumption.
How dare Jesus say such things about himself? How dare Jesus say such things about us?
Indeed, how dare he. Is that also your response to the Lord’s words today?
Sometimes the truth hurts. The truth of today’s text hurt the pride of the people in Nazareth. The truth of today’s text hurts your pride.
But your pride cannot be the final arbiter of what you are willing to admit about yourself. Your pride cannot be the final arbiter of what you are willing to believe, when Jesus tells you who he is, and when he tells you what has come to do for you.
What the Messiah proclaimed through the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, and what he proclaimed in person in the synagogue in Nazareth, he proclaims also to you, right here, right now:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And Jesus adds this comment also for you, right here, right now: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
As you hear what Jesus says, and as you believe what Jesus says, you receive what Jesus gives. He liberates you from captivity to sin, by means of the good news of your liberation. He enlightens you to see and know the truth, by means of his preaching of the truth.
There is power in the word of Christ - power to heal and to save; power to enrich those who would otherwise be poor and needy, with the fulness of God’s grace and love.
All of this is fulfilled in your hearing. All of this is fulfilled In your believing.
As we hear and believe Jesus today, we do not - as did the Nazarenes - cast him out from among us. We receive him ever more deeply into our midst, into our hearts and minds, into our lives.
We receive his Spirit. The Spirit who anointed him for his ministry, is the Spirit whom he sends to us now, to dwell within us, and to make us a fountain of life and love to others.
In the Sacrament of the Altar we receive him. The body by which Jesus lived and died for us, and the blood that was shed as an atonement for all human sin, are the body and the blood that are bestowed upon us - by which he renews our fellowship with him, and with each other.
Jesus’ rhetorical skills, and the prosaic and literary quality of his message, always made a good impression. They make a good impression on us too. But may the actual content of his preaching also make an impression on us - a deep impression on our soul and conscience.
May his words instill within us an honest admission that we need the saving gifts that he offers. And may his words instill within us the faith by which we receive those saving gifts, and live in them.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Christ our Savior, because he has anointed Christ to proclaim good news to us. He has sent Jesus to proclaim liberty to us, and recovering of sight to us; to set us at liberty, and to proclaim to us the year of the Lord’s favor.” Amen.