Monday, January 28, 2013

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday after Epiphany (January 27, 2013)

LUKE 4:14-21

In the name + of Jesus.

     Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath.  It was his custom to go there and hear the readings from Moses and the Prophets.  As a rabbi, he also had the opportunity to teach and to preach.  On this particular day in Nazareth, the assigned reading was from Isaiah, chapter 61.  The synagogue leader handed the scroll to Jesus for the reading.  Jesus read it, and then sat down to expound on the text.  “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21), he said.
     In other words, when Jesus read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18), Jesus was telling them the “me” in Isaiah is Jesus.  He had come from God.  He was anointed by God.  And he was commissioned by God to preach good news to the poor.  He had come to Israel to proclaim that God loves them.
     Now, Jesus’ message then was not too different from what we hear today.  The message that people expect to hear in church is this: “God loves you.”  For that matter, you can talk to people who have no use for the church and they still will say the same thing: “God loves you.  God would never shut anyone out.  God would never turn anyone away.  God does not want us to judge or condemn anyone.  God wants us to love each other.  And God loves you just the way you are.”  It is an appealing message, and it is very popular.  However, when people say, “God loves you,” you must ask, “Based on what?”  How do you know God loves you?  Just because you think he should?  Because you are so good?  Because you think God never condemns anyone for any reason?  Such a god is an idol and a lie, no matter how popular he is. 
     This is what the Lord says: “I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:5,6)  The Lord God is a jealous God.  You owe him honor and glory and obedience, and he will not share this with anyone else; for, he alone is God.  But he is not a God devoid of love.  He says so himself.  What is his love based upon?  His love is based on his holy justice.  He loves all who are holy and obedient.  As he said, he shows love to those who love him and keep his commandments.  There is no love, however, for those who fail to keep them. 
     Yes, you owe God.  You owe him love, honor, glory, and obedience.  But you have not given God what you owe.  You are worse than poor; you have racked up a debt beyond limit.  You continue to raise the debt ceiling day after day with your sins.  Your conscience oppresses you with guilt, and rightly so.  For, you are guilty.  You know what you’re supposed to do, but you haven’t.  And you don’t.  You owe God, and you cannot begin to pay him back.  You can’t even deliver the obedience you owe him.
     Dear friends, if you recognize how poor and beggarly you are before God, this is good.  There is no good news for those who demand a reward from God.  But for those who are poor in spirit and who boast of nothing, there is good news.  A Savior has come for you.  He came to Nazareth to read the word of God in the synagogue.  Jesus is more than a rabbi or a teacher who has come to preach the word of God.  God himself has come to proclaim good news to you.  Jesus read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18)  Then he said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)  He is the Lord’s anointed.  He fulfills the Lord’s promise.  The Lord’s anointed proclaims the Lord’s favor.
     Jesus proclaims the good news: “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.” (Luke 4:18-19)  This is not a prophet who comes and talks about God’s favor.  This is God who proclaims it, who enacts it, and who fulfills it.  Jesus is the Lord’s anointed who proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor. 
     It is likely that we all know people who have endured hardship in the past number of years.  Jobs were lost.  Homes were foreclosed.  Financial burdens were heaped upon people for various reasons.  Credit card debt has become massive and crushing for many.  Back in Old Testament days, people who endured such hardships sold themselves into slavery to repay their debts.  For years, they labored to pay back what they owed.  But every 50th year came the Year of Jubilee.  It was in that year that mercy was given on all who had suffered in debt and slavery.  All debts were forgiven.  All slaves were set free.  Land which had to be sold away was restored.  Full pardon was granted.  The slate was wiped clean.
     This is what Jesus came to decree and to enact.  The Lord’s Anointed proclaims the Lord’s favor.  Jesus came to settle all debts, to free you from your captivity to sin and death and judgment, and to end the oppression of your conscience.  He comes to pardon you from all of your guilt and to clean the slate.  The Lord’s Anointed proclaims the Lord’s favor.  God loves you.
     But as we said before, when you hear, “God loves you,” you should ask, “Based on what?”  God’s love still remains based on his holy justice.  So Jesus acted for you so that God can be just and so that God can show his favor upon you.  Therefore, Jesus has come to pay the debt that you owe.  He delivered on the holy obedience that God demands.  Jesus’ holy life supplies all the perfect love that God seeks and the willing obedience that God commands.  The Commandments have been kept.  And Jesus’ sacrificial death supplies all of the judgment and justice that God demands.  The guilty one was condemned – Jesus bearing all of your guilt for you.  Jesus gave up his life as the payment for you.  God has been satisfied.  The debt is paid.  You have been pardoned.  The slate is clean.  Your conscience can be put to rest.  God’s love is yours.  Based on what?  Based on the sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The Lord’s Anointed proclaims the Lord’s favor.
     I imagine that the indentured slaves of Old Testament times yearned for the Year of Jubilee and the day that they would be set free.  To have to wait for the 50th year for full pardon must have been agonizing.  And while the Lord decreed it, Scripture gives no record that the Year of Jubilee was actually observed. If so, then no one was ever pardoned and no debt was ever forgiven.  You, however, do not need to wait years for relief; nor do you need to wonder if the Lord really forgives or pardons.  The Lord’s favor is yours.  The Lord’s Anointed speaks and acts through his appointed servant so that you can know the Lord’s favor rests upon you.  It is based on Jesus’ sufferings, death, and resurrection.  It is distributed to you in holy absolution, in holy baptism, in holy communion, and by divine decree.
     Though you were poor, now you are rich!  The debts have been paid off, and the Lord pours out his riches into your hands.  You have been granted a full pardon.  The slate has been wiped clean.  The Lord’s favor love is yours.  The Lord’s Anointed proclaims it and fulfilled it. 

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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