Sermon for January 30th, 2022
In this morning’s gospel passage Jesus is at the very beginning of his ministry. He was just baptized by John in the river Jordan, and you may recall that immediately after his baptism he spent forty days in the desert being tempted by Satan. Jesus has now returned from the desert, and he has come back to his hometown of Nazareth to begin his ministry in earnest. It is a sabbath day, and Jesus is in the synagogue and he chooses to read a passage of scripture and comment on it. But Jesus quickly encounters a problem that many of us preachers face: his words make people want to kill him.
In order to really understand this morning’s gospel passage though, and why people get so mad at Jesus, we need to back up a few verses and hear the text that Jesus was preaching from.
16 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, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 ‘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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
20 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. 21 Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 22
Now you may wonder, what’s the big deal about that scripture? It’s a lovely scripture and we often hear it read at funerals. Why do people get so angry?
Well at first they don’t. At first when Jesus says that this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing, people smile and nod their heads and say “oh, well isn’t that nice, God is going to send us someone who is going to fix all our problems.” They are all very pleased with what Jesus has to say until he explains it a bit more. You see, despite the fact that Jesus is just beginning his ministry, apparently he has already performed some miracles, because people have heard that he has done some amazing things at Capernaum, which is the lakeside town down the road. People are no doubt hoping that he will work a few miracles there. Afterall, he is their hometown boy, why shouldn’t he favor them with some miracles?
But Jesus crushes their expectations. He reminds them of two other prophets Elijah and Elisha, who both performed miracles, not for their own people, but for foreigners. Jesus talked about the fact that God wants to bless other people, and people were so filled with rage, that they tried to kill him. Now Jesus was able to slip away, so this isn’t the end of his story, but had it been up to the mob it would have been.
Here is the thing: people really love it when you tell them that God wants to bless them. People eat that up. I could stand here and talk about Jesus wanting us to have life and have it in abundance; I could talk about all the blessings of heaven; I could talk about answered prayers; I could talk about the amazing grace that God gives us every day through the forgiveness of sins, and through sharing in his life through baptism and communion; I could talk about all that and you will all nod in agreement and smile. You won’t shout out “amens” because we aren’t that kind of church, but you would approve of my words nonetheless.
But when a preacher gets up and starts talking about how God wants to bless other folks…well that’s a different story. Especially if the preacher has the audacity to say that God wants YOU to go and bless someone else. To be fair, you might not try to kill me, but you probably won’t be sending me a muffin basket to congratulate me on delivering such a fine sermon. Now part of this is human nature. Pretty much all of us have some pain and misery in our lives. It doesn’t matter if you are dirt poor or rich as Croesus; everybody suffers in some way in this life. Physical pain, emotional pain, anxiety, fear….we all have it. It may come in different forms depending on our circumstances, but we all have it. And all of us, every one of us are in need of God’s grace. We all want to be blessed by God in some way. If you didn’t want to have a relationship with God, I would venture to say that you wouldn’t be here this morning, or wouldn’t be watching.
But this is where human nature rubs up against divine nature. Because divine nature is self-giving. God’s nature is to love and to bless; to give willingly and freely. That is the love that Paul is talking about in his letter to the Corinthians. So often we hear that passage read at weddings, but the love Paul is talking about isn’t romantic love or even lust. The word for love that Paul is using here is caritas, which is where our word charity comes from. In fact in the King James Version this word is translated as charity. And it doesn’t mean slipping a few dollars begrudgingly into the poor box, it means having a love for others that is self-giving and that is focused on their well-being and not your own. As Paul says, even if he gave away all his money and possessions, if he is doing it so that he may boast, and not actually for the love of someone else, then it really doesn’t mean the same thing.
Now we are all sinners, and we are all going to be a bit self-centered from time to time. That is a part of our problem as a human race; that is a part of why there is so much suffering and strife in the world. But we are also called by Jesus to share in his divine life, which we know to be a life of self-giving love. So here is my advice: if you are suffering, or in pain, or have stuff going on in your life; if you are in need of a blessing from God…well first off pray for it, make your needs known to God because God can fix things that you can’t, and then go out and be a blessing to someone else. Go and bless someone else. Bless someone who can’t pay you back or do anything for you. Bless someone who you think doesn’t deserve it. Get your mind off of your own needs for a while and serve someone else. God can and will bless you, but you need to let God use you, like God used the prophets of old to be a blessing to others. If you really want to get a blessing from God, learn how to be a blessing from God.