It is great to be back with you after some time away.
Ellen and I gathered with other Disciples ministers for a conference to hear Allen Hilton of “House United.”
He is urging churches to organize what he calls “courageous conversations” about the important issues of our day.
It was good to gather with colleagues and share perspectives.
But it is also great to be back.
I am grateful for John and Rob for preaching.
And I appreciate all of you for keeping things rollin’ around here.
We continue to make our way through Epiphany.
The theme for the rest of the season will be “Follow.”
We will hear about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry from Luke.
And we will be invited to follow Jesus to a variety of places…
As well as consider new destinations for discipleship.
And have you ever had this experience when reading the Bible?
I have read these stories from Luke countless times.
But as I studied them again, I saw things I hadn’t seen before.
Isn’t it marvelous how the Spirit gives us fresh insights?
Something jumped out at me as I was preparing this sermon series.
Check out the opening lines of the paragraphs in Luke 4-6.
As Jesus begins his public ministry, where does he go?
Here is what we discover in less than three chapters.
“When he came to Nazareth…”
“He went down to Capernaum…”
“After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon’s house…”
“At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place…”
“Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake…”
“Once, when he was in one of the cities…”
“One Sabbath while he was going through the grain fields…”
“He came down and stood on a level place…”
We have heard it said that when it comes to owning property, three things really matter: “Location, location, location.”
Perhaps we could say a similar thing about Jesus’ ministry?
But for him, it happens in location after location after location.
Luke creates an image of Jesus on the move.
He doesn’t pick one spot and expect the people to come to him.
He goes to meet and minister to the people where they are.
And if the folks want to hear more, he makes it clear that they are going to have to follow him around and try to keep up!
So let’s put on our hiking boots and cross-training shoes—and follow.
I WONDER WHY JESUS HEADS FOR HOME?
Out of all of the places to begin his ministry, where does he go?
You’d think he would head straight for the big cities.
You’d think he would make speeches in the primary states.
You’d think he would get on FOX news and MSNBC.
You’d think he’d make the rounds with the talk show hosts.
His popularity is already soaring and his poll numbers are strong.
He’s trending on Twitter—adding Facebook friends like crazy.
Everyone is praising him!
So why does Jesus head for home to begin his ministry?
Maybe Jesus’ desert trials and temptations took their toll?
Perhaps he needs rest and a good meal from mother Mary?
Perhaps he realizes that there’s no place like home?
Isn’t that the place where people know him and love him?
Or could it be that there is something more important going on?
Remember, this is not the same Jesus—things are different.
His Twitter hashtag and Facebook status have changed.
He is no longer just the son of a carpenter and a poor woman.
He is now living into his role as the Messiah, the Son of God.
He is “filled with the Spirit” and speaks with authority.
Maybe he goes home to “un-do” some of their ideas about him?
This is a time of the year when we hear lots of speeches.
Leaders share their dreams, goals, and aspirations.
Can you identify the people who proclaimed these words?
“Every step by which [the people] have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.”
The words are from Washington’s Inaugural Address, 1789.
(Our church roots go back to 1784—that gives us some perspective.)
“With malice toward none, with charity for all…let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…
“To care for…the widows and orphans…let us achieve a lasting peace among ourselves and all nations.”
Abraham Lincoln proclaimed those words in 1865.
“My fellow Americans—ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
Many of you still remember Kennedy’s speech in 1960.
Do you hear a common theme throughout the speeches?
Actually, you may recognize a theme that goes way back.
They sound like Jesus’ words and the prophet Isaiah’s words.
But Jesus leaves out the part about vengeance when he quotes Isaiah 61.
He focuses more on God’s grace and forgiveness.
He makes it clear that his ministry will be grounded in justice.
Dr. Hull talked about this in his message last week—“Jesus, Mary and Justice.”
Today’s story might be described as Jesus’ “Inaugural Address.”
The passage he reads summarizes his “job description.”
He comes to bring good news to the poor, to set captives free, to bring sight to the blind, and to proclaim the year of God’s favor!
With a few powerful words Jesus inaugurates a new age.
He speaks, rolls up the scroll, sits down and proclaims: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing!”
Wow! Wouldn’t it have been great to hear THAT sermon!?
This reminds me of a guest preacher who spoke at a large church.
He said: “There are three points to my sermon.”
Some folks yawned—they’d heard lots of three-pointers.
They were more interested in basketball three-pointers.
He ignored them and said: “My first point is this….”
“There are two billion people starving to death in the world.”
There was not much of a reaction from the people—they had heard that sort of statement many times before, too.
Then he said, “My second point is…”
Everybody sat up and started paying attention.
In just 15 seconds he was already on his second point!
Some folks were excited about the chance to get out early.
He paused and said, “My second point is that most of you…”
(And he used a mild curse word that I won’t use right now.)
“My second point is that most of you don’t give a darn!”
The preacher paused again—gasps echoed in the sanctuary.
“My third point is that there is a real tragedy among us today.
“Many of you are now more upset that I said ‘darn’ in church than you are about the people who are starving to death.”
Then he rolled up his sermon notes and sat down.
The whole sermon took less than a minute.
But it was one of the most memorable and powerful ones ever preached inside that very large, very expensive sanctuary.
Jesus preaches a short sermon—but, oh, what a sermon!
He clearly outlines the kind of ministry in which he’ll engage.
He boldly proclaims: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me!”
“And the year of God’s favor begins…TODAY!”
And he begins a non-violent revolution of spiritual change.
HE CALLS US TO DO THE SAME—TO FOLLOW.
Jesus keeps it short and sweet and to the point.
And he reminds us that we’re called to action—not fancy words.
We’re called to genuine morality—not petty piety.
We’re called to care about other people—not just ourselves.
We’re called to work for justice—today!
Some of you know that we are working on a “purpose statement.”
It has been interesting to hear that the word “justice” has stimulated more conversation than any other words.
But we have been able to share some important ideas and thoughts.
I appreciate Dr. Susan Andrews’ reflections on the subject.
Her church went through a similar process.
She asks: “What is it about the word ‘justice’ that turns us off?”
“Is it because it sounds legalistic, moralistic, or judgmental?”
“Is it because the word ‘justice’ can become political?”
“Or is it because we come to church to escape all that stuff?”
“Yes, one reason we come to church is because we want to feel loved—we come to experience comfort—not challenge.”
She admits: “I find it difficult to preach the prophetic words of scripture—because they demand personal and social change.”
“Yes, the words about justice in scripture are disturbing.”
“If we preach them, some of us won’t like them.”
“If we preach them, maybe then we will have to do them.”
But she says: “The alternative is worse.”
“If we don’t preach them we are gutting the good news, telling half-truths, and sugar-coating the Christian faith.”
“Despite the fact that the word ‘justice’ feels alien in church, it is a word that appears well over 100 times in the Bible.”
Our lesson from Luke 4 is one of those places.
A respected scholar points out that this passage from Luke is the paradigm for all of Christian scripture—Jesus tells us who he is.
He tells us his purpose and the purpose of the Church.
Like it or not, the Bible presents a Jesus who calls us to work for wholeness and abundance and freedom and justice for all.
How many of you said the “Pledge of Allegiance” in school?
At the school I attended on the south side of Chicago, I said it at the start of every day—from kindergarten through 8th grade.
We all said the words: “With liberty and justice for all.”
Would we dare to suggest we drop the words from the pledge?
Can you imagine the reaction from all kinds of people?!
So why would we drop the words from Jesus’ job description—and his job description for his disciples, his followers, us?
When Jesus finishes reading the words of Isaiah in the dusty synagogue of Nazareth, he rolls up the scroll and says:
“I am this Word, I am the good news to the poor, I am the liberty for the oppressed, I am the acceptable year of the Lord, I am the justice of God—my words, my actions, my life.”
Today, we as the Church—with our words, our actions, our lives—are called to follow.