Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sermon for 27 January 2013, Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
St. Luke 4:16-30
Proclaiming the Year of the Lord’s Favor
Third Sunday after the Epiphany, 27 January 2013
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
(For an Elder to Read)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Epiphany continues. Jesus is revealed as who He truly is, again and again. The manifestations continue. Jesus has been revealed as the King of the Jews, the Father’s Beloved Son, and the Creator. Today, in Luke chapter four, we are given another epiphany. God in flesh, Jesus, is made manifest as a great teacher when He visits Nazareth, His hometown, and His home congregation.
The same spirit that leads Him now had been poured out on Him at His Baptism in the Jordan River. Jesus returns from the desert where He had been had been led by the Spirit. He returns after forty days and forty nights, and after resisting the temptations of the devil Himself. He now returns to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. This is the same Holy Spirit we are promised and given. St. Luke links Power and Spirit throughout his Gospel account and the book of Acts.
News about Him spread. The emphasis is clear. Jesus is the focus of the news that was spreading.  The people of Nazareth know about miracles done in Capernaum. We will focus on healing and Jesus as miracle worker next week.
Galilee is of prime importance. We see the beginning of Jesus ministry. By the end of Chapter 6, Jesus will have completed His roster of disciples—in Galilee. Galilee is mentioned at His trial during Passion Week. And following His Resurrection, Galilee is an important mission field.
He taught. The accounts St. Luke gives us show Jesus as a great teacher and a miracle worker. Jesus is not merely a great teacher and a miracle worker, but as we will soon see, these two roles are significantly important components of Who He is and what God gave Him to do. The rest of today’s Gospel lesson focuses on Jesus as teacher. Next week we will finish this text and see Jesus as miracle worker.
Everyone praised Him. At the beginning of His ministry He is already a well-known teacher filled with the Spirit. The praise lavished on Him and the news concerning Him is so significant He was invited to preach back home.

16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day…
Nazareth—the home of Mary, His mother, and Joseph, His step-father and protector. We hear nothing of either of His parents in this text. Mary does show up later in several passages, but Joseph is not mentioned after the Christmas and Epiphany Day accounts. It is likely that He has since passed away, since he was probably much older than Mary.
Nazareth. These people gathered in the Synagogue saw Jesus grow up. They know, or think they know, all about Him. They are in for a surprise.
On the Sabbath, our Saturday, the Jewish people gathered for worship. They gathered at the Synagogues, heard from the books of Moses, of the Prophets, and the other writings. Between lessons they chanted Psalms. And there was an exposition of Scripture much like a sermon, following the lessons.

…and [Jesus] stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
18        “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,
19        to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah. In ancient times the Scriptures were written upon long rolls of parchment or animal skin. The whole Old Testament was much too long for one scroll, so it was divided into several section. The books of Moses would be on one. Larger prophetic books like Isaiah or Jeremiah may have their own scroll, possibly sharing it with other shorter books. There was one copy present. They were not blessed as we are to have bulletin inserts or additional copies of the Scripture in the pews.
The verses Jesus reads are from Isaiah 61:1-2a. These verses, part of our Old Testament lesson appointed for today, tell about the coming of the Christ, the Messiah, and what the Messiah would do.
The Messiah would do a lot of preaching and teaching. Look at the verbs! To proclaim, to preach, to send, to preach! Three of the four main verbs in the Isaiah text deal with preaching: proclamation of the Good News, the Gospel, to the poor, the preaching of release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and the preaching of the acceptable year of the Lord. The other verb, to send, refers to setting free those who are oppressed. This is the appointed work of the one who is anointed, that is, the Messiah, the Christ.
The people of Israel have been waiting centuries for the Messiah to appear. He has arrived. Do they connect what Jesus read to Him? Their eyes are looking right at Him, but do they see the Messiah?

20b And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
One could hear a pin drop as they awaited Jesus’ words of comment on the text. No one could have imagined that He would say, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus was revealed by Isaiah to be the Messiah. And He confirms it Himself! An Epiphany! God in flesh made manifest as a great teacher! A manifestation of who Jesus really is!
And what He does. Jesus preaches. Jesus teaches. He proclaims the Lord’s Word.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. This verse refers to the Trinity, to Jesus’ baptism where this prophecy was fulfilled. The Holy Spirit of the Father is on the Son, the Christ. Jesus was baptized and then came to Nazareth specifically to read Isaiah 61 and declare that the age of salvation begins now, in Him. It continues to this very day. What Jesus began and did, He continues and does!
The essence of the proclamation is release. The word for release is translated as forgiveness elsewhere in Luke. Jesus preaches forgiveness of sins, release from spiritual bondage, spiritual prison, and spiritual oppression. Just as Moses led the people out of Egyptian bondage, Jesus releases us. The unholy trinity of sin, death, and the devil are vanquished.
Jesus releases you. That is the whole point of absolution, forgiveness, release. We no longer have to be locked in the jail cell of sin. We no longer have to drag around the ball and chain of guilt for sin. The door is open the chains are loosed. You are free!
The Good news is preached to the poor, both those financially poor and spiritually poor. Both will be blessed. Both will be given daily bread. Jesus cares about physical needs and nurturing faith.
The blind recover their sight. We hear more about miracles in the second half of this chapter, but He gives us spiritual eyes to see Him as Messiah even when those in Nazareth were spiritually blind to His presence.
The year, the time, the age of the Lord’s favor, the time of salvation has come. We enjoy its rich benefits yet today, two thousand years later. The message of Jesus remains the same. Release. Forgiveness. For You!

A homecoming is something special in one’s life. It happens after being away from home for a while, having new experiences, learning new things, meeting new people. To sum up, we know we have changed. We suspect little, if anything, has changed back home. And we are often right if we come from a small town. We come home and look around the town, our house, our old bedroom. Everything seems so small. There’s a sense of history. The past permeates our entire visit.
Sometimes, people we see at home think we’re the same as we always were. We remember embarrassing things done as children, and some done as young adults. They still remember. Jesus had no embarrassing stories, but the people thought they knew Him.
Jesus is still at home in Nazareth, where we left Him last week, in the middle of a sermon to His home congregation. I doubt He had the butterflies I have had. And they were not as welcoming as my home congregation was, either.
21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” So far, so good.

22 And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
The amazement is positive at first. They were proud of their famous young traveling rabbi. They loved to claim Him as Nazareth’s own, “hometown boy makes good,” and all that. They still didn’t have any idea who He truly was.
“Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Well, Joseph did marry Jesus’ mother Mary and took her home (after that trip to Bethlehem) to be his wife. He was Jesus’ protector, taking Him to Egypt for safety until Herod the Great had died. He was Jesus’ step-father, and raised Him as his own, even though he and Mary knew Jesus was not his, but the very Son of God. No, this is not Joseph’s son. Just as they were wrong about Jesus’ true identity, especially His true father, they were wrong in what they expected Jesus to do for them.
23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.”
The four Evangelists record much about the Lord’s ministry, but they do not record everything that He has done. This is one example. The people in Nazareth have heard, in detail, about what miracles Jesus had done in Capernaum. St. Luke gives us no such detail before Jesus’ visit to Nazareth, other than the brief verses we heard last week: “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee. And a report went out throughout the whole surrounding countryside concerning Him. And He was teaching in their synagogues, being glorified by all.”
Nain, Tiberias, Cana, Capernaum, and Nazareth are all cities in Galilee. Word spread fast. The miracles Jesus did in one place travelled before Him to the next. His teachings moved quickly as well. And the crowds began to follow.
Last week, Isaiah taught us who Jesus is. The epiphany then was that Jesus was a great teacher. The Nazarenes have heard that He is also a Miracle Worker. Cana is much closer to Nazareth than Capernaum. Perhaps they have also heard about the wedding wine. They appear to be paying attention to His words, secretly hoping that He will manifest some great wonder. They don’t really want to hear words. They want to see! “! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.” They want a show, not the teaching of the Lord.
Faith comes by hearing (and reading) the Word of God. That is precisely what Jesus has been preaching and teaching. Our Lord calls them to faith! An answer to a specific prayer in a concrete situation can be an incredible boost to faith, but faith is trusting in what we do not yet see. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. Jesus wants them to believe in Him based on what He says, based on what the Word has to say, based upon the testimony of the news of what He has said and done elsewhere—even Capernaum. They want signs and wonders. This is not the time and place to be entertained. Jesus is there to teach them.
We can run into a similar spiritual danger, trying to manipulate God. He calls upon us to pray boldly, but also according to His will. All too often we pray for ourselves, our families, our loved ones, our concerns. We get disappointed when our will is not done on earth and heaven. Forgive us, Lord for such selfishness! Let us pray for the gift of faith upon hearing and reading the Word so that we might see Jesus as the Miracle Worker even if we do not personally witness such a sign with our own eyes.
Even if some in Nazareth recognized Jesus as the Messiah the prophets foretold, He was not necessarily the kind of Messiah they wanted or expected. For this reason, Jesus knew that His own people would not accept Him. We see that in Nazareth now, a foretaste of His bitter rejection by the whole Jewish people.

24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
When God’s Old Testament people wouldn’t listen or wouldn’t believe, His prophets went to Gentiles, especially the ones who had faith in God.  Jonah didn’t think this was a good idea. He ran off in the opposite direction. Eventually, God did get him to Nineveh. And thank God He did. My pedigree is not of the house of Israel, and I would be bold to say that yours isn’t either. We are all Gentiles, non-Jews, whom the God of Israel wanted to bring into the fold with His people Israel so that they would be one flock with one shepherd, Jesus, the Christ, the Great Teacher and Miracle Worker.
Jesus recounts the visit of Elijah to the widow of Zerephath, a gentile woman living in a gentile land, Sidon. Elijah’s successor was sent to another gentile, Naaman the Syrian. God loves Gentiles, too. Bringing the Gentiles into fellowship with Himself was part of the plan from the beginning. Israel was blessed so that they would be a blessing—to the Gentiles! But even when Israel fell into Idolatry, they didn’t want anyone else to have their God. Remember? Jonah was upset that the gentiles in Nineveh would be shown mercy. He was angry. Not unlike the Nazarenes.

28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 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. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away.
The time had fully come for Jesus to go home and preach and announce the coming of the age of salvation. The Messiah was here, beginning His ministry. But it was not time for Jesus to die. The people were not going to be able to throw this “disappointing” native son off a cliff. He has more preaching, teaching, and healing to do. So He simply walks through the crowd to safety. And He was soon on His way back to Capernaum. The people of Nazareth would have to wait until they heard new reports of good news about the Miracle Worker, Jesus.

31 And He went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And He was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished , and on the Sabbath began to teach the people.  32 They were amazed at his teaching, for His word possessed authority.
Jesus, the Great Teacher and Miracle Worker, continues His teaching and healing.
The teaching is our down payment on salvation. That is our possession here and now in 2012. The accounts of healing in the Gospel according to St. Luke are a foretaste of the new creation that has begun in Christ. This is the new creation that has already begun in you who are baptized.
We know another crowd came for Jesus. It was on the night in which He was betrayed. He would not walk away through that crowd. No, not that time. The Messiah that Isaiah foretold was a suffering servant who would be crucified after all of His preaching, teaching, and healing. Jesus did not walk through the crowd, but He did walk through death and conquered it, so that death is no longer something that the Christian must fear. He who did many miracles and raised the dead—He Himself was raised. He gave us His sacrament of the Altar to proclaim His death until He comes. Let us do that now. And let us also proclaim that He who once was dead now lives. And because He lives, when He comes, we will rise and live as well. Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.