• dlhawkins007

January 27, 2019 Sermon

“What’s the Hold Up?”

Old Testament Scripture: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel.

Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.

And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, "Amen, Amen," lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.

So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, "Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."

Scripture Reading: Luke 4:14-21

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.

The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

Sermon: What Are We Waiting for?

What do you want to do with your life?

Have you ever asked yourself that question?

I know I have. A couple of times.

We all, I think, wonder sometimes, what our purpose is. Why do we exist? How are we supposed to use the skills, the gifts we’ve been given? At least I hope that we’ve all wondered that. I would hate to be the only one who thinks about this. That would be weird.

Of course, there are times in our lives when these questions are almost overwhelming. High school and college graduation, of course. An opportunity to change careers, or even to change positions in the same career can bring on some soul searching. And don’t get me started on the dynamics of family life: Marriage, children, building a home, you know what I mean.

There are times in our lives when we really wonder, literally, what on earth am I here for? What is my role? If all the world is a stage, what part do I play in this sacred drama of life?

Now, the problem is, we don’t always get an email, or a text message, or an Instagram post from God telling us the answer. Often times, we find the answer in unexpected opportunities, or even in crushing failures. We may hear the answer in the gentle advice of a respected friend, or the withering criticism of someone you can’t stand.

It’s a hard thing to discern one’s place in the world. It’s a hard thing to parse out the meaning of events and changes in our lives and know what they mean for us.

In our Old Testament reading, we see the Hebrew people, at a crossroads after rebuilding the temple, not knowing what to do next. They’ve returned to Israel after a generation in captivity, they’ve rebuilt their lives, their town, and their church. But there’s something wrong. The church wasn’t what it once was. The town is not what it once was. Their lives are not what they once were.

They’re at a loss, and the don’t know what they are going to do next. They’ve done everything they can, everything they thought they were supposed to do, but there is still the nagging sense that it wasn’t enough, that they weren’t good enough somehow, that despite their best efforts, their faith, and their skill, they came up short.

And so Ezra, the high priest, does the only thing you can do. They had been in exile, they had been away from the Torah, they hadn’t been able to read or hear the words of God. But today at least, they were home again, they came to church, and and Ezra read the word of God to the people.

In many ways, we find our own patterns of worship here in this scripture. There is reading of the word, there is an interpretation of what it means, there is singing, there is remembering who God is, and it’s a celebration.

They remember the stories of when God brought them through the river, through the sea, when God saved them from slavery, when God gave them into the promised land. They remember the stories of God feeding them in the desert, of giving them water from the rock, of raising up judges and deliverers in times of trouble, of giving them mighty kings and promising never to abandon them.

And it was these stories that helped the people remember who they were, and whose they were. And these stories kept the people going. It was a day of joy, of weeping, and hope and re-consecration. They people ate, and drank, and it was a day to remember.

Now that’s church.

All of us, at times, are at loss as to who we are. We forget, sometimes, why we are here. We lost track of our call to be children of God. We forget what it means to follow the will of our Lord.

I remember a few years ago an amazing new reality TV show that aired for just a couple of seasons, a show that focused on the daily life of five pastor’s wives from Atlanta mega-churches, with all the glitz, glamour and weirdness that goes along with that. I think this made such an impression on me because we had lived in Atlanta, and we knew the names of these pastors, we had seen them on billboards, on TV commercials.

Anyway, the cameras followed these women around as they went about their ordinary lives. At least, the ordinary lives of people who have way, way too much extra time and money and God on their side.

The show was so embarrassing that it was cancelled after a huge backlash from Christians of all kinds: Evangelicals, mainline, charismatics, you name it, it was uniformly hated, and it didn’t last.

Actually, that in itself is kind of a testament to how bad it was, when you consider what kind of absolute trash TV seems to churn out year after year. Do you remember “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo?” That lasted five seasons. “Sister Wives’ is still going strong after 12 seasons. And I can’t imagine a time when there isn’t some sort of Kardashian show. It will be set in a nursing home, maybe, but it will still be going strong.

So, in this era of really bad TV, you can imagine just how bad this show about pastor’s wives was, in order to get shut down in just two seasons.

Anyway, the thing that I most remember about the show, was that in the trailers for it, they interviewed one of the women about the show, and she made a point of telling her story that she had prayed real hard about whether God wanted her to be famous and make lots of money in front of millions of people on TV.

And of course, God spoke to her personally, and said, “yes, this is precisely what I have called you to do. I have called you to debase yourself and your husband’s profession, for money on camera. Please. There is an urgent need for this special kind of work that only you can do.”

You see, for her, this was her call. This was her vocation. This was who she was meant to be, what she was meant to do. God wanted her for this specific role in life, and despite the hardships, and millions of dollars and spin-offs and other deals that she would make, she was willing to sacrifice herself and follow God’s calling on her life. And she was dead serious about it.

It was during this part of the interview that it became obvious to me that not everyone shares the same idea of what the term ‘call’ means for their lives. Not everyone shares the same thoughts about what God wants for us, and from us, as we go through this life.

In our Scripture today, Jesus is announcing his own sense of God’s call on his life. And it’s quite different than this spoiled pastor’s wife in Atlanta. Jesus is in his hometown, among his own people. They’ve known him for thirty years. At least, they thought they knew him.
But recently, they’ve heard some stories that have make them curious. Some crazy things that that desert hermit, his weird cousin John, out by the river, had said about him. Something about a Messiah, something about baptism by fire, something about the Holy Spirit and a voice from heaven. It was all very strange.

And now Jesus is back home after his little visit to the Jordan. Everybody notices him. Everybody is talking about him. Everybody is waiting to see what he’s going to do.

It’s a little bit like when a son or daughter joins the military and comes home for the first time after being away for a year or so. They’re different, aren’t they? Or when a young person right out of high school goes to Kenya to work as a volunteer for the Peace Corps. They come back changed. They’ve got a new perspective.

They know who they are, at least a little bit. They’ve faced some of their demons, they’ve looked over the edge of the cliff, and they’ve backed away from the edge. They know their limits, and they know their strengths. They know a little bit about what they are able to do, what they are called to do.

Jesus has been pushed even further than that. As the son of God, he was tempted with all the power of the world. He faced a punishing forty days fasting in the desert and met the devil face to face. He has looked evil in the eyes, and evil backed down.

And now Jesus has come back home. He’s different. And his family and friends aren’t too sure about who he is now, and what he’s going to do.

As part of the weekly worship service at his home church, the synagogue, Jesus is invited to be the liturgist, sort of like whenever Parker comes home to visit. He is given the scroll to read. And he chooses to read from the Book of Isaiah, the great prophet, who first warned Israel to turn from her ways, and then called her to come home, that all was forgiven. Isaiah the scold, Isaiah, the comforter.

And it’s interesting what Jesus chooses to read from Isaiah. He chooses to read from the second part of Isaiah, the part of Isaiah that is calling out to the exiles in Babylon, calling them from the safety of their established homes and their new way of life among their captors, calling them to return to Jerusalem, to come home and rebuild their lives again in their own land, as a people.

He reads the part in Isaiah that reminds the people that God is calling to them, and that is good news. It’s good news that their sons and daughters are coming home, that their people are coming home, that the Lord has redeemed them, and will restore them to glory. This is what Jesus is reading in the synagogue. He’s reading a letter from God to his people, saying, “I love you. Your debt is paid, I want you to come home, to be with me, all is forgiven.”

Jesus reads a letter from God that tells of God’s goodness to the oppressed, to the poor, to the blind, to the captive. He reads about God’s liberation, of sight, of freedom, of God’s favor. He reads most, but not quite all of Isaiah, chapter 61, verses 1 and 2.

But here’s a weird thing. He doesn’t read all of Isaiah 61, verses 1 and 2. If you want to look at what he reads and doesn’t read, check the original text. It’s on page 692 in your pew Bibles.

As the whole church watches, Jesus carefully outlines his call. By reading these two verses, He is telling us his mission statement, his plan for ministry, his own sense of what God has in mind for him. But, for whatever reason, Jesus left out the last part of the Isaiah passage. He left out the part in Isaiah where it says that the call of the Messiah is to proclaim the day of God’s vengeance.

For whatever reason, at this stage of Jesus’ ministry, his call is not to tell of God’s wrath. It’s to bring good news to the poor. He has been sent to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. But Jesus leaves out the last part, where he supposed to tell people of God’s judgment.

I think we need to pay attention to this. Because I think that there are many Christians, many churches, perhaps too many, who have taken on their own shoulders the call to proclaim the vengeance of God, rather than to proclaim the day of God’s favor.
But when given the opportunity to do so, Jesus doesn’t go there.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There were times that Jesus talked about eternal punishment. There were times that He talked about a day of wrath, a day of judgment.

But here in his church, when he first articulates his own sense of who he is, and what he is all about, he conspicuously leaves out the specific mention of God’s vengeance. And I think that means things.

It means things because we live in the same world that Isaiah lived in. We live in the same world that Jesus lived in. We live in a world that is broken and hurting. We live in a world that is blind, and is captive to violence, addiction, and greed and bad reality TV shows. We live in a world that is full of people in exile, who are lonely, angry, and wondering if God has forgotten them.

There is no denying that this is a world that needs to hear about God, to hear stories of God’s love, of God’s redemption, of God leading us through the desert, of promising there is something better on the other side.

And we have a choice: we can proclaim the day of God’s wrath, or we can proclaim the day of God’s favor in the good news of Jesus Christ.

We don’t have to look very hard to see that many well-meaning folks have taken upon themselves the task of proclaiming the bad news that God hates the world, that God is coming soon to judge the world, that sinners are going to be punished, that God can’t stand us. That this world is doomed, that the end is coming, repent, repent, or be thrown into the pit of hell.

But it was to this very same broken, hurting, blind, bound world, that Jesus was called. Not to proclaim vengeance. But to proclaim the good news of God’s favor. This is the choice Jesus made that day. And I think it’s an important choice. And it’s a choice we can all make.
Now, I don’t know what each of us is called to do for living. I know from my own life that our vocational call may change over time. I’ve heard it said that vocation is that place where your greatest passion and the world’s greatest need come together. And that place is different for everyone. There are so many different ways to live out God’s call for our lives, I wouldn’t dare begin to tell you where that intersection is.

Having said that, I’m pretty sure that acting like an idiot on a nationally broadcast reality TV show is not God’s plan for anybody’s life.

I might be wrong.

But I do know this: regardless of what you do for a living, we all share the same call that Jesus carefully articulated in his own home church, so very long ago. We are all called to bring the Good News of a Risen Christ to a world that needs to hear it so very badly. We are all called to proclaim the day of God’s favor. And like Jesus, we can make a choice about what we decide to say about God’s wrath. Personally, I choose to go with Jesus on this one. But, to each their own.

But regardless of that choice, today, when we leave here to meet the world head on, in whatever vocation, or job, or ministry that we find ourselves, that scripture that Jesus read is fulfilled, in our time, and in our place, in our lives, in our world.

So, what’s the hold up? Let’s get to work.

Thanks be to God. Amen.
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