Tag: epiphany 3c

Faith Talk: love with words

Sermon, Epiphany 3Cfaith talk

Sunday Feb 3, 2013. St Petri

FAITH TALK: love with words

Luke 4:21-30

 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “prophets are not accepted in their hometowns. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy[a] in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

Gee, they must have been pleased to see that one of their own was making it in the big time. Here’s Jesus, who grew up in this town now making good. He can read the prophets and he moves around the sanctuary pretty well and he speaks with some authority on matters of faith and life.  Now he has come back to town to give us a share of his best stuff – just like he has been doing in the neighbouring towns. Isn’t that great!

Yes. Well read, Jesus.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has sent me to announce freedom for the captives, new sight for the blind, healing for the sick. God is here and God is acting in favour and grace to people….”

What an inaugural sermon to start his public ministry – and isn’t it good that he has come home to do this. “Well spoken, Jesus”. I know your mum and dad and your cousins and your house and where your ancestors settled in this town. My dad knew your grandfather. Gee, he would be proud of you and all the things you are doing – all those miraculous things we have heard about you from neighbouring Capernaum…

Can you see the problem here, folks? This home-town crowd can see, but they can’t hear. They are seeing the show and celebrating the return of one of their own, but they are not really hearing what he is saying. They are like a rabbit in the spot light – blinded by the light of notoriety and home-town congratulations. They don’t seem to notice that Jesus is saying that all of the weight of the promises of God, the fulfilment of all those ancient promises and stories of their people and their God are coming to a head, right here, right now.

Could this be so with us modern day people of God? Can we be blinded by the outward show of things – far too caught up with superficial things and so, blind to the deeper things of God’s call on our lives and his working through us and for us on a daily basis?

Because they are not hearing him, Jesus has to push them. His mission to speak into being the kingdom of God has begun for real now. Jesus uses two well know accounts from their own story of faith to get them listening….

First, he reminds them of the Widow of Zeraphath (1Kings 17). She provided the prophet Elijah with her very last drop of oil and portion of flour to make a small loaf of bread before herself and her son lay down to die of starvation during a three year drought. She was not from around this town. She was not one of the family. She was a Gentile. And yet God worked through her (and not some Israelite) to keep faith alive and God’s people moving in their relationship with the Lord.

Second, the account of Namaan (2Kings 5), a rich, powerful gentile military man who, after some resistance at God’s simple ways of faith, was healed of a deadly disease by direction of the prophet Elisha. Another person healed by the Lord outside the family tree – gentile, supposedly ignorant of spiritual things.

Why these gentile healings and why God’s miraculous interventions in the lives of people not in the family? Because those in the family could not receive God’s intervention. They were blind to God’s Word, lacing in faith to receive his help, healing and promise. The people who were supposed to know and understand and have the inside info and trust in their God ended up having none of these things – having instead a small-minded, small-hearted inability to be open and trusting of the wonderful working of God!

Friend, is this you? Is this me? It is not that hard to get lost in self-congratulation and some unhealthy belief that I know the Lord and have his ways pretty much sorted out. When you and I gather regularly together and know each other well, it is very easy to settle for what we know and enjoy our belonging and comfortablness in singing, praying, hearing and sharing the faith a little too much. It is not hard to be a little too “me” or “us” focussed as a church – as if our life as a local church is mainly a result of what and who we know, rather than by God’s miraculous love in allowing us into his family out of sheer grace.

Jesus shows here that he does not stay silent and he will push us until we hear him. He does this not to make us uncomfortable but to shape us in and show us his way of love; to show us the possibilities we have and the hope we share and call we have to work together in his vineyard for the good of this community – for those “outside’ the kingdom… if this makes us uncomfortable or even angry, so be it. We need him to speak and to shape us!

Well, how quickly the home town folks turn! They are angry at this suggestion that they are not as good as they think they are – not as wise, not as believing, not as trusting, not as favoured by the Lord as they think they should be!

They remind me of some football fans…. There was a bit of this in the West when Chris Judd went to Carlton. The great hero of the town became the hated traitor and villain. I was embarrassed by some football people’s anger at the man when he came to play at Subiaco; very home-crowd narrow-minded behaviour and belief.

That is what is on display here.

How angry with Jesus would you have to be to get together and physically push him out to a high rock face on the edge of town with the intention to push him off!? Pretty angry!

Like this hometown crowd who were angry at him for saying that they were not as smart or wise or understanding as they think they were, we may get angry at any brother or sister in the faith that suggests we have not got it all together on our faith and that is more to learn of an from this Jesus of Nazareth.

The question is, will we throw Jesus word off the cliff of our lives or will we follow where he leads, even if we are not convinced or not comfortable – because it is him speaking through a friend, stranger, preacher or whoever?

Will we settle for what we know as if there is no more to learn and grow in or will we trust that we are still on the road of discipleship; of learning with Jesus, no matter who we are, where we have been and where we think we need to go?

His call to his home-town family and friends was to listen and believe in what the Lord was doing through him. That was his call to everyone he lived with and ministered to in the years ahead. He had little interest in home-town rivalries or the level of comfort his people had in the following of his Word. He simply asked for trust and action – or, faith, we call it.

Today is a strong and uncomfortable call to drop our home-town advantage and let Jesus take us where he knows we need to go. We all have the choice of throwing his Word out or letting it in and seeing where he leads – as individuals and as St Petri.

There is something else here though. There is grace on show here too.

When his call and his challenge and his identity was not received well, Jesus kept walking. You see, this walking on through the blind, angry and narrow-minded crowd was an act of love. He walked on for them. He would keep walking on teaching, loving, healing, challenging, unsettling people for three years and eventually up the Via Dolorosa in suffering – for them.

He keeps on walking – all the way to Jerusalem and the hate and violence of the world awaiting him and pays the ultimate price of great love high up on a hill outside the city – all for us.

Jesus does not condemn these home-town folk for their lack of awareness and responsiveness to his Word, he takes their lack of these things to Golgotha where they are dealt with and the year of God’s favour truly does begin for Jews and Gentiles – all people everywhere – you and me here!

He has not stopped speaking, teaching, loving, walking through our lives yet. When he pushes us, we can respond in faith because we know him. We know what has done for us and what he wants for us now.

We walk like him: not condemning, but sometimes pushing so as to help a person hear Jesus; but always from a heart of love.

Isn’t that what Paul is saying is the way of the resurrected Jesus? All the right words, right judgements even without love are a noisy gong to God.

A careful word, a patient word, a truthful word in humility and with all gentleness abut still clear – they are God pleasing words – effective words for the call we share to be people of his words.

He is a man on a mission still, and so are we a people on a mission. He and we just have to keep speaking it.

So do we – even if some don’t like what we say.

We keep on walking and speaking in his way of love.

Listening to Jesus

Sermon, Epiphany 3C, Sunday January 27, 2013.Listen to jesus

Australia Day,

Listening to Jesus

 Ezra 8 1,2,5-10

8 1 all the people assembled with one accord in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel.

2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 6 Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear[a] and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. 10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.

I have tried to stay close to the action and the stories of the Tour Down Under this week. I cycle and appreciate the fitness and the team work of those Lycra –clad young men as they compete in a very tough on the body sport. In my imaginary middle-aged mind, as I struggle up and down Seppeltsfield or wonder around the back of Angaston, I try to emulate their strength and skill. But it doesn’t take long for me to know that I am not them and my strength and skill is nowhere near theirs.

This came home to me last week when at 7.30 in the morning, after completing what was to be the Bupa 20kms stage from Nuri to Tanunda via the back of Angaston, I was finishing up my congratulatory bottle of Power Aid sitting on the park bench right near the finish line arch they put up in preparation for the race.

As I went to get back on my trust old Trek 1220 to amble home to Nuri I was unexpectedly overtaken by a flashing peloton of about 30 people! They were obviously very well equipped and I could tell that they had ridden a lot further than me! One by one they ambled by as I was trying to look calm and strong and in full control, while underneath sucking in oxygen and wondering if I might have to drop back to granny gear and just drop off the back of this group of riders in shame.

To make it worse, the last two riders in the group were girls! I kept with them for a while, but eventually had to let them go after Kroemer’s Crossing. O, the shame of it! Where was my strength?

I wish I was stronger – not just in cycling, but in work, relationships and personal well-being. I think we all wish for that. Cycling, like all sport and human pursuit, is of some value for strength in living, but when it is all said and done is just a human activity, a sport, a thing some people do because they like it and others watch because they admire the physical strength of others.

In the end, physical strength is just physical strength and the truth is, it fades and it is not what really makes us fully alive human beings with purpose in our steps and a surety of who we are and whose we are as we relate to others in our family, at work and out on the street.

God’s people of the time before the Messiah were never very strong in the world’s eyes. Yes, they had their moments of strength under the David and Solomon, but they are short lived. Most of the time anyone who wanted to have their land or use their land as a base to fight some other super-power in the region just came and settled in!

In their weakness though, they always had a strength. Even at their lowest, in the time of the exile and shortly after, they had an inner strength that enables them to keep surviving and even flourishing. This moment in the book of Nehemiah is one such moment of great strength in great weakness.

Ezra the priest stands before the whole city. This city has been turned into a pile of rubble 40 years prior and this small band of Jewish people are now attempting to rebuild it, one stone at a time. Part of the once grand temple is now complete and there is cause for celebration.

But the celebration is not about their achievements but about the hearing the Word. For the first time in a very long time the people hear the Word of God – the Torah.

Why wasn’t it heard for so long? Well, ask yourself. Why haven’t I heard it for myself for so long? Why haven’t I picked up my bible for so long? Why have my friends given up church…….?

There are lots of reasons. We forget. We are overtaken by our own belief that we can be strong without Him. We are grasping for other things to make us strong. We can’t find a way to listen. We settle for a small amount of listening – an hour one day a week and that’s it. (Better than nothing but not complete!)

From early morning to midday the people listen as Ezra the priest reads the Torah with translation into other local languages as he goes. That’s the answer. What we need is for our pastor to preach longer sermons! We need a whole morning of sermons!

The response to this hearing of the Word of God is weeping. Are thery weeping because they have found the great pearl once lost or are they cut to eh heart for their negligence? Ezra tells them to stop weeping and simply enjoy the Word. No guilt, no sorrow, no regrets – just listen and enjoy and drink in the deep waters of life as God speaks in words they understand. Yes. Just listen. No guilt. No shame, no regrets here. Just enjoying the Word for what it brings to your day…..

Ezra finally sums it up for the people. Your strength is in this Word. This word brings lasting joy and this is your strength as a people – not walls, or soldiers, or power or outward appearances – this Word is your joy. This Word is your strength.

Switch several centuries later: Same country, same people, same faith, same Word but spoken by a special man. Jesus in his home town, after experiencing that high moment of affirmation in his baptism and low moment of deep temptation out in the desert ravines, gets up to take his usual turn at reading the Torah which happens to be set down for today’s church service….

It is from that man, Isaiah. A prophet who lived in weakness but had an internal strength that came from living in the Word.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

The reaction is different here. Not weeping of joy or guilt – anger.

Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”, says the home boy.

“How dare he suggest that he is it and that I am not”! How dare you suggest that little weak Jesus – a bloke like the rest of us, says he is God”! God could not be found in such weakness, surely?!

But to the thousands who were living in poverty this Word was blessed relief and new joy.

To those not strong in money, wealth, and freedom it was joy unspeakable.

To those locked up in family feuds, relational conflict, dead hearts, spiritual oppression, deep darkness of guilt and grief and regret, it was light breaking in and the release to a new found love of self and of God.

To the physically limited or disabled or deficient, it was hope – hope that life is not wrapped up in my prowess or lack of – but in his acceptance and compassion for me.

Friend, listen to Jesus. He is your joy. His year of favour is yours by faith. Hear his Word on your life. Hear where your strength really lays. Google it, read it on your phone, reflect on it on any screen. Hear it in audio form. Find a place to regularly hear it. Hear it together. hear it here as we sing it, pray it, share it. Talk about it and him. Hear it however you can.

From this comes an inner strength that will remain in the darkest day because he remains in the darkest day. Your strength, ability, well-being, acceptance, place, status and hope do not lie in anything you can manufacture – physical or otherwise.

At the core, at the heart, at the foundation is this Word of the living Creator God who has announced this era of his favour and blessing to all who bring their many weaknesses to him on a daily basis and simply ask him to make them strong enough for the day.