Sunday, February 1, 2015

Sermon -- 4th Sunday after Epiphany (February 1, 2015)

LUKE 4:20-32

In the name + of Jesus.

     People who read the Bible are usually enamored with miracles.  That’s understandable.  We cannot help but be amazed as Jesus produced a multitude of wine out of water, or calmed the waters which were raging, or even walked on those waters in one instance.  But if you look through your Bible, you will notice that miracles are not the norm.  All the miracles of the Bible are done almost exclusively in the age of Jesus and the apostles, in the days of Moses, and in the days of Elijah and Elisha. 
     Jesus referred to Elijah and Elisha in our gospel, and he mentioned miracles that they had done.  But Elijah and Elisha were not called to do miracles.  Though prophets may have done miracles, that is not who the prophets were.  Prophets are preachers.  They prophesied, saying what God has given them to say.  In fact, Jesus noted that two miracles, one by Elijah and one by Elisha, were not done for God’s chosen people, Israel.  They were done for Gentiles.  That’s because Elijah and Elisha were not sent to Israel to perform, but to preach.  And the reason they were sent to Israel to preach is because divine grace comes through preaching.
     Likewise, when Jesus entered the synagogue in his hometown, Nazareth, it was not to perform miracles.  It seems that the people of Nazareth wanted Jesus to do them.  They had heard about miraculous healings at Capernaum.  They wanted Jesus to do them for the hometown folks, too.  But the people who went to the synagogue should not have expected miracles when they went to church.  They came to the synagogue for the same reason you come to church—to hear the promises of God, to hear of the atoning sacrifice, the forgiveness of sins, and the hope of the resurrection to eternal life.  Such divine grace comes through preaching.
     Today, we are considering our liturgical form of worship.  The rites and ceremonies of our worship have been handed down to us through centuries of use.  Some of you have recited and sung these things for decades yourselves.  But, sinful flesh being what it is, we get bored.  We want something entertaining, innovative, and exciting.  Some worship gurus even tell us that we are failing the church, specifically the young people, if we do not jettison this long-used liturgy for something new, something trendy.  That’s precisely what the people of Nazareth wanted from Jesus.  They were bored with lessons and sermons.  They wanted to be wowed by miracles.  They despised what God had given his Church.  They despised liturgy and preaching.  But that is how God reveals his divine grace. 
     The liturgy itself comes directly from Scripture.  The liturgy is not about us, and that, finally, is what we don’t like it.  We want church to cater to our tastes.  We want tunes which match Billboard’s Top 100.  We want stories which tug at our emotions or stir us up to do bigger and greater things.  The liturgy fails on all counts.  The liturgy is not about us, and that is one reason people we grow tired of it.  But your flesh always wants everything to be about you.  If your flesh craves what is sinful and wicked Monday through Saturday, what makes you think your flesh will suddenly crave what is pure on Sunday mornings and in worship? 
     Divine grace comes through preaching, and the liturgy preaches it every week.  The liturgy is not about you; it is about Jesus.  Thank God that it is so!  The liturgy is about Jesus, and in Jesus Christ, you find life and mercy and blessing and forgiveness.  In the liturgy, Jesus comes to dwell with us.  Here, you are standing on holy ground.  But through Jesus, you yourself are also cleansed of sin and declared holy so that you can stand here before your Lord.
     Divine grace comes through preaching, and the liturgy preaches it every week.  While it is true that our liturgy generally repeats itself over the weeks and years, that is a blessing too.  Such repetition teaches our children who learn God’s truths and who learn to participate even before they can read.  Such repetition is ingrained in you so that when you are in a nursing home one day, you will still be able to meditate on the liturgy that your Lord has given you.  If we should ever have to endure persecution and all our hymnals are confiscated or burned, such repetition will enable us to still recite the liturgy.  But mainly, the liturgy is repeated because you repeatedly need the blessings that come from it.  It continually repeats the life, sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus because the love and mercy of God is constant.  It is how God has been pleased to dispense his gifts to his people for generations upon generations.  And today, once again, you join in with the voices of the Church of all time to confess and sing and pray and praise in response to God’s good things.
     The people of Nazareth did get to witness a miracle of Jesus that Sabbath day in Nazareth.  It came, ironically, when he passed right through the crowds to depart from them.  The Lord Jesus Christ has been pleased not to depart from us even though we have been bored with his liturgy and craved something better from him.  Instead, he has been pleased to give us the very mercy we always need.  Behold! The Lamb of God who has been slain for you comes again.  Blessed is he whom comes in the name of the Lord.  He answers your Hosannas and comes to save.  He has had mercy upon us.  He hears our prayers.  Glory to God in the highest!  God’s peace and good will are given to men.  Therefore, we shall depart in peace.  Jesus has blessed us again.

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

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