Thursday, January 28, 2016

It's In There

Sermon preached January 24, 2016

Texts: Luke 4:14-21

            Over years of watching television, commercials are among the memorable moments.  I would guess many of us know who Flo is – the woman from Progressive Insurance, or Jan, the Toyota spokesperson.  I have enjoyed the GEICO commercial where we have a scene from an action film, some kind of agent battling the bad guys on a roof with a helicopter flying overhead.  His phone rings and we see a woman in a house calling.  “If you’re a mother, you call at the worst times, that’s just what you do.”  This line as the mother is discussing squirrels in the attic with her spy agent son.  “It’s noisy there.  Are you taking a Zumba class?”
            Television ads can stay with you for a long time.  Some of you probably remember the Alka-Seltzer ad: “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.”  An ad for a burger chain became a tag line in a presidential political debate.  “Where’s the beef?”  Then there was the spaghetti sauce commercial, Prego.  “It’s in there.”  Fresh herbs and spices – it’s in there.  Chunks of garlic – it’s in there.  Fresh tomatoes – it’s in there.
            Do you want a single Scripture that seems to wrap up the central features of the Christian faith?  How about this text from Luke, Jesus reading at his hometown synagogue?  When we think about what the Christian faith is about, I think it’s in there.
            There is God.  “Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee.”  Jesus reads in the synagogue, choosing a text from Isaiah 61 which begins, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”  Christian faith is about God, but more later.  Bookmark that.
            What does the Spirit encourage, the sharing of good news.  Sometimes we use the term, “gospel” to describe the Christian message.  “Gospel” is simply another word for “good news.”  Christian faith is about good news, and this good news has both personal and social dimensions to it.  Need good news for your life – it’s in there.  Need good news about the larger world – it’s in there.
            “He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.”  The good news has something special to say to the poor.  What’s this about?  The poor rarely get good news.  Often they are castigated for their poverty.  Surely it was something they did – not enough initiative, didn’t pay attention enough in school.  There may be truth in some of this, but does it help those in poverty find a way forward?  Are they condemned to be there forever?  Yet little good news is offered about a way forward.  Not enough words are spoken about the complexity of poverty, or how difficult it can be to get beyond it.  Perhaps there is some good news when people are willing to at least question whether a world in which the 62 richest persons have as much wealth as the bottom one-half of humanity – 3.5 billion people (Oxfam, Duluth News Tribune, January 19, 2016)  Isn’t there something amiss in this, particularly when since 2010 the wealth of the 62 has increased 44% and the wealth of the bottom half has decreased 41%?  The good news is that God notices, and that God calls humanity to something different.  It is not that the fabulously wealthy are bad, it is that we have a system that allows such accumulation for the few and provides too few opportunities for the many.  Challenge to injustice – it’s in there.
            There is also being poor in a spiritual sense.  Sometimes our inner resources for life are at a low ebb.  We are discouraged, downtrodden, been down so long it looks like up to me.  Some days it feels like crisis after crisis until we have little emotional energy left.  God notices that too, and God seeks to wrap us in love and care and bring us together into community so that we can find inner resources for life.  That’s in there too.  It is interesting that Jesus quote from Isaiah 61 differs from what you read when you turn to Isaiah 61.  There you also read about binding up the brokenhearted.  Being broken hearted is a kind of spiritual poverty that is addressed by God’s love and care.  It’s in there.
            The good news is about release for the captives, or freedom for the prisoners.  For many of us this is a scary thought – just open the doors of the prisons and jails?  Recall that in the time of Jesus, people could be sent to prison for their debts.  Again, the poor were given little opportunity to change their lives.  In the time of Jesus, one could be imprisoned for sharing ideas seen as threatening to the empire, not unlike all too many places in our world today.  God notices this kind of captivity, these offenses against freedom, and God envisions something different – freedom.  It’s in there.  We may also want to ask about this verse in relation to the enormous incarceration rate in our country.  Prisons have gone for-profit, and the effect is not always socially beneficial.  Again, concern for justice, it’s in there.
            But captivity takes many forms.  Human beings lose their freedom when destructive patterns of behavior become habit – addiction, learned emotional responses that cut off life-energy and limit freedom.  God notices this kind of captivity too, and God’s Spirit is about setting us free.  Inner freedom, it’s in there.
            The good news is about recovering sight.  How often our sight is limited.  How often we fail to see the big picture.  Our seeing can become habitual, blinding us to important parts of reality.  We can become persons who see only what we want to see.  God’s Spirit seeks to open our eyes so that we can see the world more truthfully in all its wonder, beauty, mystery, tragedy, destructiveness and tenderness.  To see only the easy beauty or good can set us up for deep disappointment or being taken advantage of.  To see only the ugly side of life leads to protectiveness and cynicism.  God’s Spirit invites us to see more fully so that we can live more fully – with gratitude for beauty and wonder and love, with determination to make right the destructive and unjust.  A change of heart and soul, an invitation to deep reflection – it’s in there.
            The good news is about letting the oppressed, “the burdened and battered” go free.  Again, this is personal, for we are sometimes the burdened and battered.  Again, this is social, oppression for reasons of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation remains very real.  God notices and invites us to work for a different world.  It’s in there.
            “Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee.”  Jesus reads in the synagogue, choosing a text from Isaiah 61 which begins, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”  Christian faith is about God, and it is time for me to return to that as I said I would.  The good news that is at the heart of Christian faith and life is good news about a God of love who acts to heal and free, who is at work in the world to make our lives more free and whole and our world more just and free.  This God of love has always been about healing and freeing.  Jesus stands in a long tradition, stretching back centuries to the prophets like Isaiah, who were themselves rooted in an even older story about a God who heard the cries of people enslaved in Egypt and acted to heal and free.
            The good news of the Christian faith is that God is love, and this God of love is at work to heal and free.  This God of love has always been at work to heal and free.  When we know this God of love we can think more deeply, dream more imaginatively, pray more playfully, live more freely, work for a newer world more joyfully.  It’s in there, in this text, in life lived with this God of love.
            And one more bit of good news, now is the time to reconnect with this God of love. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  God’s time is always now.  God’s Spirit calls and invites us in every present moment to hear and live and be good news.  Today, we can hear the good news again.  Today we can be good news.

            Want to know what Christian faith and life are about, it’s in there in Luke 4.  And the words of Jack Kornfield about the Buddhist Dhammapada apply forcefully here.  “One page, one verse alone, has the power to change your life.”  This story from Luke has that power if you will open yourself to it today.  It’s in there.  Amen.

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