The Acceptable Year of the LordPosted: January 27, 2013
3: JESUS VISITS NAZARETH
According to Luke Jesus went back to Nazareth with some of his disciples after beginning his ministry. How long had he been absent? Luke doesn’t tell us. Had he taken up residence in Capernaum? Luke doesn’t tell us. Had his family already come to Capernaum to try to bring him home? Luke doesn’t tell us. So for our reading of the text today let’s make some assumptions. Jesus had left Nazareth and the carpenter’s shop to go follow John the Baptist. After his baptism, he went into the wilderness for a time to explore within himself the meaning of messiahship. All of the temptations in the wilderness point to a struggle concerning what kind of leader/teacher would he become.
SLIDE 4: JESUS TAKES UP RESIDENCE IN CAPERNAUM
Sometime before or while Jesus was in the wilderness, or not too long after he came out of the wilderness, John the Baptist was arrested. (It could make some sense that John’s arrest may have prompted Jesus’ departure into the wilderness — sort of a get out of Dodge move.) So Jesus returned from the wilderness and traveled north to Galilee, but he went to Capernaum instead of Nazareth, because there were fishermen there with whom he had made friends while following John. The fishermen were in a rebellious mood, because of Herod’s new taxes and regulations that were squeezing all of the profits out of fishing. Jesus began preaching, teaching, healing and eating with people, all kinds of people. News of his ministry reached Nazareth, and his relatives sent a delegation to try to bring him home to care for his mother. According to Mark his relatives believed he was mentally ill. Jesus rejected his relatives attempt to bring him back to Nazareth.
Jesus then began traveling around Galilee and made a stop in the synagogue at Nazareth. So far from occurring at the very beginning of his ministry the scene in our gospel lesson may have been much later than it appears in Luke.
SLIDE 5: THEY HEARD RUMOR OF HIS MINISTRY
The people of Jesus’ home village had heard rumor of his ministry. There were reports of large crowds and mysterious healings. They had been concerned about his mental health. So the people of Nazareth were anxious to hear what the home town boy would say to them. During the synagogue prayers, when Jesus was invited to read from the scripture he turned to the prophet Isaiah and read a provocative and revolutionary passage that closed with the proclamation that the acceptable year of the Lord had indeed arrived, and the prophet’s vision was being fulfilled as the people in the synagogue were listening. That was radical stuff.
SLIDE 6: RADICAL STUFF
If we go on to look at the verses 4 – 8 of chapter 61 in Isaiah the prophet speaks of a brighter fairer day of justice, peace and prosperity for the Israelites to come:
4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
5 Aliens shall stand and feed your flocks, foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers;
6 but you shall be called the priests of the LORD, men shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their riches you shall glory.
7 Instead of your shame you shall have a double portion, instead of dishonor you shall rejoice in your lot; therefore in your land you shall possess a double portion; yours shall be everlasting joy.
8 For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
SLIDE 7: FULFILLED IN OUR HEARING?
The Jews of Nazareth under the oppression of Roman Occupation were not experiencing a brighter fairer day, far from it. They were being ground into poverty by Roman taxes and a new globalization that pushed peasants off of their land. The Romans were expropriating Jewish lands and giving them to retiring Roman soldiers, and creating Roman cities in strategic positions to rule and control the land. It is hard to imagine that the words of Isaiah would have been heard as anything short of revolutionary. And when Jesus added, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” his listeners would have been astonished. Either Jesus was calling upon them to rise up in rebellion against the Romans and the Herods, or he was crazy.
SLIDE 8: IF THIS IS THE ACCEPTABLE YEAR OF THE LORD, WHY IS THE WORLD SUCH A MESS?
What do you mean this is the acceptable year of the Lord? What do you mean the prophet’s vision has been fulfilled? What gives Jesus? And that might be the very question we might raise ourselves. If Jesus was announcing the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, if in the words of Jesus the Commonwealth of God is at hand, why is the world still such a mess?
SLIDE 9: ATTITUDE OF THE MIND AND HEART
For Jesus the Commonwealth of God begins as an attitude of mind and heart – love. We enter into God’s household as we free ourselves from the vestiges of false consciousness that denies love: pride, self-righteousness, hate, greed, violence, and embrace the way of Jesus humility, forgiveness, love, generosity, non-violence. The Commonwealth of God is a way of consciousness. As Jesus said in the Gospel of Luke, “The Commonwealth of God is not an object to be observed. You will not be able to observe it here or there. For the Commonwealth of God is within you.”
That reminds me of a story about a senior citizen bus trip to the canyon lands of the Southwest. There was one old man on the tour, who had a complaint at every stop. You’ve no doubt met him. When the bus pulled up to the Grand Canyon, this old guy got out, wandered over to the rim, then turned around and came back and said to the bus driver, “It’s just a big ditch.”
SLIDE 10: IF YOU DON’T HAVE IT ON THE INSIDE, YOU CAN’T SEE IT ON THE OUTSIDE
The bus driver couldn’t contain himself any longer, and he turned to the old guy and said, “Buddy if you don’t have it on the inside you can’t see it on the outside.” I think the bus driver’s comment can often be applied to many of us. If we haven’t absorbed the way of Jesus into our hearts, if we haven’t read, studied, meditated upon his teaching and tried to put it into practice, we are going to have a hard time reflecting the love of Christ on the outside.
SLIDE 11: ALL THOSE OTHER PEOPLE ARE A PAIN
But sitting around by ourselves contemplating the way of Jesus is not enough. Lillian Daniel one of the Still Speaking Devotional writers has published a new book entitled, When Spiritual But Not Religious Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church. I believe just in that book title Lillian has captured an important truth. We cannot become, incarnate the way of Jesus without the community of faith. And I know the church and all of the flawed and sinful people who go with it are a pain. As Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” There are days when I want to walk away from the Church and go become a hermit. It would be so much easier to be spiritual but without the church. Even Jesus had his days. Look at Mark 9:19 addressing his disciples: “You faithless and perverse bunch, how long do I have to put up with you?”
SLIDE 12: GOD KNOWS WE ARE A PAIN TOO!
God knows it is difficult to live with all those other people in church, but then God knows it is pretty difficult to live with us too, isn’t it?
SLIDE 13: 90% OF LIFE IS SHOWING UP
And so we make a covenant to pray with and for each other and as Zig says, “let God do the judging.” Of course there are some things we have to do together as a community of faith, if the love of God is going to have any chance of transforming us. We have to worship together. Ninety percent of life is showing up, and that is true for worship too! And if we complain that we don’t get anything out of it, maybe we aren’t putting enough into it. Do we read and meditate upon the scriptures ahead of time? Do we really participate in worship, or are we spectators? If we are spectating, how could we change that?
SLIDE 14: ASK SOMEONE ELSE TO PRAY FOR YOU
Are we making an effort to pray with and for other people? When was the last time you took home a list of people to pray for during the week? And when was the last time we asked someone else to pray for something for us? That’s when we really get skin in the game. Try the Sharing Table.
SLIDE 15: PARTICIPATE IN MISSION
One of the principle reasons God calls us into the church is to participate in mission. There are so many tasks God needs accomplished in the world that we cannot do alone. It takes bunches of people to transform the world. Even if we could find common agreement about how to improve life on the planet, it still takes millions of people working together to make a dent in the problems of poverty, pollution, housing, health, war and violence. We have several opportunities to join with our fellows church members in the next weeks to make a difference.
SLIDE 16: SOUPER BOWL OF CARING, FOODLINE, HABITAT
Next Sunday is the Souper Bowl of Caring, when we all put a little money on our favorite team and the money goes to Foodline to help feed hungry people. The very next Sunday is the Chocolate Dessert Bar. We need goodies, and we need people to buy those goodies again to benefit Foodline. And allow me to remind you that United Church has been designated by the Interfaith Mission Service as a sponsoring congregation for Foodline. Then at the end of February we are invited to participate with seven other churches in a Habitat Blitz Build. Look in the newsletter for a schedule. God calls us into the church to participate with others in transforming the world.
SLIDE 17: ONE GENERATION AWAY FROM EXTINCTION
Another important reason God calls us into the church is to continue the story of the way of Jesus. We do this through Sunday school. We do this in Bible Study and at the Sharing Table. Most importantly we continue the story of Jesus by sharing our faith with others. The message of Jesus is always one generation away from extinction. Unless we share the good news of God’s love with others by embodying the love of Christ, the way of Jesus will disappear from the world.
SLIDE 18: THE COMMONWEALTH OF GOD IS NOW
According to Einstein time is relative to the observer. Jesus knew both time and eternity, and so when he said, “the acceptable year of the Lord begins now,” he was telling us that for everyone who chooses to embody the love of God, the commonwealth of God is now.