Friday, January 22, 2010

Sermon for 1/24/10-Third Sunday After Epiphany (LSB-C)

I will be preaching this sermon on Sunday at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Mandeville, Louisiana. Pastor Aaron Stinnett asked me to bring the Word to his congregation while he is on vacation. I've preached at Redeemer a number of times before, when they were in the midst of their vacancy before extending the Call to Pastor Stinnett. I received warm welcome from the people of Redeemer, and I look forward to joining them again, the two-hour drive notwithstanding. Bible Class is at 9:00 AM, and worship is at 10:30 AM. Feel free to join us!

Luke 4:16-30

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

If God doesn’t give you exactly what you want, is He still blessing you? The people of Haiti may be having some trouble seeing the blessing in the aftermath of the earthquake and its aftershocks, just as many in Louisiana and our neighboring states struggled with the goodness of God after hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike in the past few years. But it doesn’t take a disaster to make us doubt the goodness and power of God. On Christmas morning a child receives gifts of all sizes and shapes. But if the one particularly desired present does not appear, none of the rest of the gifts are good enough, either.

In our text, the people of Nazareth received a great blessing. As always, the faithful were gathered in the synagogue on the Sabbath. That particular Sabbath day, Jesus, the local carpenter boy turned rabbi, joined them in the synagogue. Jesus had become well-known for His teaching and for the mighty wonders He had performed. Any rabbi was welcome to take up and read from the prophets and give commentary on what they read. That day, Jesus took up the scroll and read from the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
After reading this, He sat down and began to teach them, saying, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

What a wonderful blessing! The people would have known that this text from Isaiah spoke of the promised Messiah. Hearing these words and then hearing Jesus speak of their fulfillment, they would know that Jesus was telling them that He was the Messiah of which they spoke. This should have been a cause for celebration in the synagogue.

Instead, the people were bewildered. While they knew the Scriptures, they also knew this Jesus. They had seen Him grow from boyhood, had watched Him work wood with Joseph and on His own. They found it hard to believe that this Man could be the Messiah, the Deliverer who had been promised to them from the very day when Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, plunging the world into the darkness of sin and death. They had heard the stories; now they wanted the proof. They wanted Jesus to stand and deliver, just as He had in Capernaum. They wanted to see the show. They wanted all the blessings of the Messiah to be delivered on cue. And when He would not be their circus clown, they drove Him out of the city and attempted to kill Him.

We’re no different. We know who God is. In the Large Catechism, Father Luther tells us, “That upon which you set your heart and put your trust is your god.” We know that God provides “all that we need to support this body and life”. So we call upon Him. And we’re supposed to call upon Him in every need. But we expect Him to give in to our every whim, and we expect Him to give us what we want at the exact moment in which we want it.

We have a problem. We were a people created for the sake of receiving blessings from God. Adam and Eve lived in Eden, where every desire was fulfilled without even having to ask. But the difference is, before they sinned, every desire they had was a holy desire. Then they sinned. God continued to bless them, but now the blessings were delivered in the midst of toil and hardship. We know that God wants to bless us; and though we in our sinfulness have earned the wages of sin, still we expect to receive blessings without toil or hardship. We believe we deserve them, that we’re entitled to them. How easy it is to trust the Word of God when the blessings flow like water! That’s why preachers like Joel Osteen are so popular: they deliver to their hearers the promise of earthly prosperity, and that is so much more desirable than the reality of eternal salvation.

When God fails to deliver as we desire, He ceases to be our gracious Lord; instead He becomes a cruel villain upon whom we cannot rely when the chips are down. He’s not the kind of Messiah we want, any more than Jesus was the kind of Messiah the people of Nazareth desired that day. We may not be able to drive Jesus from the city, but we can certainly drive Him out of our lives.

But Jesus did not come to be the kind of Messiah we desire. He came to be the kind of Messiah we so desperately need. The Word which Jesus read from Isaiah tells us what Jesus is, and what He came to do. God tells us through Isaiah that Jesus came to proclaim the Gospel to the poor. He came to heal the brokenhearted. He came to proclaim liberty to those in bondage. He came to restore sight to the blind.

And that is precisely what He does. Jesus came to restore sight to the blind—and He does so. Not only did He heal those who were physically blind, but He opened the eyes of the spiritually blind—Nicodemus, His own disciples, even the soldier who stood at the foot of the cross and confessed, “Truly, this was the Son of God.” He does the same for us, giving us the holy medicine of His body and blood, which brings healing to our souls and restores to us the ability to see Him as the Messiah He is. He has come to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captive and the oppressed. In the waters of Baptism He creates in us new hearts, where He now dwells within us. In the words of Holy Absolution, we are freed from our bondage to sin and death.

God’s goodness and the eternal salvation He won for us do not depend on whether or not God fulfills our every whim. Jesus has already delivered to us “all that we need to support this body and life”. He has also already delivered to us all that we need for the life of the world to come. Faith comes by hearing. And today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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