Release!

The worship service and all other events were cancelled today at Fleming Road UCC.  Here’s the sermon that I would have shared this morning!  

New Testament Reading

Luke 4:14-21 

“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 “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 favor.” 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” 

I have a question:  what makes “news” “good”?  

I remember receiving some good news.  I used to work at a store called REI that sold things like hiking and climbing gear.  I started to work there while I worked as a youth director at a Presbyterian Church in Atlanta to make extra money for my honeymoon with Debbie.  It was a great place to work and I ended up working there for a couple of years, very part time (GREAT discounts on gear) after Debbie and I were married.  One day, about 6 months after our wedding, Debbie came in to tell me some news.  She was about a month or so pregnant with our daughter Debbie.  

At first I was stunned, then happy, then I had to sit down and let it sink in…I couldn’t go back to work, I couldn’t focus, it was overwhelming…it had to sink in that I was going to be a father!  I wasn’t ready at all, even though Debbie and I got married when I was 30, I wanted to wait at least a couple of years or so.  It wasn’t what I expected.  Yet, when the reality of this news sank in, it was truly good news…and I still am amazed about how that good news unfolds every day as I watch my daughter grow and my son, Brennan, as well.

Our gospel lesson this morning is another story about unexpected Good News and release in the Bible.  

Jesus had just returned from being tempted by the devil for several days in the desert.  He resisted the temptation to become powerful or relevant by the world’s measure and stayed true to who he was.  Which, says a lot to us today as we strive for worldly wealth and relevance, God says that he has something better for us if we remember our identity lies in Jesus and live in self, others, and God awareness.  

As was Jesus’ custom, he preached in the synagogue.  Yet, this was different, Jesus was teaching in his hometown.  The folks gathered that day had heard great things about Jesus.  They had heard about the miracles he had performed and the words he had spoken, as well as the large crowds that were following him.  

Jesus was handed a scroll with the words of Isaiah.  Jesus knew what he wanted to read and began to read the prophecy about the Messiah.  There is an emphasis in this passage of “me”, three times in verses 18 and 19 alone.  In other words, Jesus is quoting this passage, saying that this prophecy is emphatically about him.  

Jesus even makes this dramatic, yet subtle and very powerful statement at the end of this particular passage that we are looking at today.  He rolls up the scroll, hands it back to the attendant, and sits down.  At first glance, that may seem odd, but in Jewish custom during that time, you would stand to read Scripture, then sit down to teach.  Jesus was doing just that.  But, when he starts to teach, he changes a statement.  

The quote in Isaiah actually says at the end, a proclamation about the day of the Lord’s vengeance, but Jesus changes it to say “the day of the Lord’s favor”, flipping it to a different meaning for the hearers on that day…and then ends with the statement:  “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  Jesus is saying, I am the fulfillment of God’s promise that he would be our God and we would be his people.  Jesus is God present with us…and that we don’t have a God of vengeance, but a God who’s giving us favor, a God who is on the side of humanity.  

The Greek word in this passage for proclaiming good news is one word.  It is also where we get the world “evangelize”. 

εὐαγγέλιον

Evangelize or “Good News”

Originally used for the Roman Emperor, 

reclaimed by Jesus followers…

In today’s culture, that word can often be associated with some not so good things, we can reclaim it for its original intentJesus was saying that had come to proclaim good news to the poor and release to all of those held captive.  It means to bring something, and in this context, it means that the ones that will hear and receive this message are the poor. 

So, who are the poor?  Well, it certainly means those who are economically poor, but poor has a deeper meaning in this context as it does throughout Scripture.  The “Poor” are those who are oppressed, lonely…those who are marginalized.  The “poor” are those who had been ostracized by society in that day, persons such as tax collectors (who were quite wealthy actually), prostitutes, lepers, widows, immigrants, foreigners…you name it, those who weren’t “in”, but felt left out.  To be poor means more than simply not having material wealth, or economically isolated, it means not being in community with others.  Poor has much more to do with status in society, it means much more than what your income is.  

Jesus was saying, if you feel marginalized because of others, then I have come to restore you in relationship with others and with God.  If you are poor or have ever felt marginalized or left out, if you have ever felt like you were on the outside looking in, then you know what it’s like to be in a desperate place, a place that is miserable…a place where you are hungering for good news of being included.

Jesus goes on to say in this morning’s text that he has come to proclaim freedom to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, and to set the prisoners, the captives free, released!  He was proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor, again, not vengeance, the opposite really…he was saying in effect, God is on your side!  

When you look at the life of Jesus, he backed this up.  What does he do with the prostitute, but forgives her and restores her to community.  What about the tax collector, the leper, the blind?  He forgives them and heals them, and always restores them to community with others and with God.  Not only does Jesus do that for them, but he does it for us. 

The church is called to be the body of Christ and to participate in Christ’s mission.  We are called to live out and do what Jesus is proclaiming in this passage. We are also asking as a church, how we can build up the communities around us that are fragmented, and how we can share Jesus through relationships, bringing good news to those who feel left out?  We are praying for how we can listen and even minister to those who live within our neighborhoods by simply being friends with them, while modeling the alternative community that we are called to be as a church.  

Identifying with Christ can be messy and uncomfortable.  When you look at the rest of this chapter in Luke 4, you see that the meaning of Jesus’ words didn’t bring a whole lot of good feelings in the crowd that was gathered.  The crowd wanted Jesus to tell them that they were favored, they wanted him to affirm their “way of life”, they wanted to see some of the miracles that he had performed in other places.  They were looking for a performance and not the alternative community that Jesus was envisioning or that the trajectory of Scripture was, and is, pointing us towards.  They wanted their version of “good news” to be good for them only.  They got frustrated and wanted to scapegoat Jesus and looked for ways to cause him harm.  Yet, Jesus’ message and life still went out and continues to this day working in and on us.  Jesus says that in order for news to be good, it has to be good for everyone.  

Friends, may we be the body of Christ, bearing news that is truly good to a lost and lonely world.  We have been given the power to proclaim release to all of those held captive to a narrative of separation and absence as we model the presence and love of Christ.   In so doing, not only will the world see hope and experience release and know that they have God’s favor, but we will as well.  

May it be so.  

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