Good morning. Contrary to how I usually start my sermons, we’re going to jump right into the story this morning. I’ll only remind you that last week we heard the story of John the Baptist offering a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin and Jesus’ receiving that baptism. Between that and this morning’s story, the end of Luke chapter 3 and the beginning of Luke chapter 4 have a genealogy of Jesus and the story of him withdrawing alone to the wilderness to fast and pray before beginning his public ministry. During that encounter, the story says that he was tempted by devil. The temptations come in the form of taking shortcuts, allowing the ends to justify the means. The devil issues these temptations based on his claim to authority over the kingdoms of the world. That’s what the text says. Jesus resists the temptation of shortcuts and justifications and finally the devil leaves him alone. Let’s pick up the story there. This is Luke chapter 4, beginning in verse 14.
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim to the captives release and to the blind new sight, to send forth the broken in release, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’ Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is favored in his hometown.”
“I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.Luke 14:14-30
This is the word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.
This is actually going to be a pretty short sermon. We just read one of my favorite stories in Luke and I think it’s a really important story for understanding this book. I had a sermon of 20-plus minutes, full of Greek words and Old Testament explanations. But if you want to know about that stuff, you can come to sermon discussion group tonight. Or you can read the 13-page paper that I wrote in seminary about the key Greek words in this passage. Because on Friday afternoon as I tried to write a conclusion to that sermon, I realized it just wasn’t working. I thought about just preaching that sermon anyway. But I couldn’t. And so on Friday afternoon I sat down on my couch with a pen and a notebook and asked God what you, the people of God gathered through Zion United Church of Christ, what do you need to hear this week? And here’s what I think the Spirit told me:
The messed up world that we have is not what God intends for us. The world is designed for God’s shalom, the wholeness and flourishing of all creation including people, and that’s not what we have. If you’ve ever looked at the suffering in the world and asked, “Is it supposed to be this way?” I’m here to tell you it’s not. Take your pick on which problem you’re thinking about, small or large, personal or global, none of them are God’s design. It’s not supposed to be this way. The world is broken.
We all suffer because of the brokenness of the world. And we all participate in the brokenness of the world, both knowingly and unknowingly. We are all responsible. And so we need forgiveness. We need to forgive ourselves; we need to forgive one another; and ultimately we need the forgiveness of our Creator who made and holds and loves this world, and against whom we have sinned the most by making such a mess out of it.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. A different world is possible. The world can be, and I believe ultimately will be, as God intends it. Things can’t go on like this forever. Restoration is coming. A renewed creation is on its way.
The hallmark of God’s intended world, the way the renewed creation arrives, is through “release,” a word your heard twice in the story this morning.
Release from physical sickness, mental illness, poverty and debt, hunger, incarceration, addiction, hatred and all -isms, oppression, and especially release from sin, which is ultimately at the root of all the others. Release is what we need.
This release comes through Jesus. Jesus demonstrates for us that the new world is possible, and that release is available to everyone. In this morning’s story he announces that through him, that new world is already arriving, release has begun. He declares it and in the following weeks we will see him embody it through healing, casting out demons, and forgiving.
But as good as that sounds to us in this moment, not everyone is actually interested in God’s release. Because being released requires releasing. In order to experience release from our burdens, we have to release some things we are carrying. And we don’t like to do that. We don’t want to forgive because forgiving costs us something. It hurts. We want God’s gracious release from our bad choices but we think other people should experience the consequences of their choices. We don’t want to give over whatever wealth and power we may have. That’s true for those who have a lot to lose. And perhaps it’s even more true for those who only have a little bit of wealth and power, because how are they supposed to survive with even less? Ultimately, we want to safeguard God’s blessing for ourselves, our people, the people who deserve it.
But that’s not the way of the Kingdom. That’s not the Gospel. God’s release is complete and it’s for everyone. We don’t get to pick and choose which parts of it we accept. We accept it or we don’t. Releasing ourselves and others is hard and we get to choose whether to do it or not, whether to experience it or not. We can accept God’s invitation, enter into the way of the Kingdom, choose the hard road of following Jesus, receive God’s forgiveness, and then do our best to live in a way that reflects our gratitude for God’s grace. Or we can turn away, cling to our wealth and power and self-righteousness anger, and miss out on the Kingdom. I’m not saying we’ll go to hell for that, but we sure will live this life carrying all the burdens of wealth and power and anger and sin. We won’t experience God’s release. And that is tragic.
That’s what this morning’s story is about. Jesus announces God’s release, which everyone loves. And then he reminds people that God’s release is also for their enemies, which everyone hates. We all want God’s Kingdom to burst in and smash all the obvious things that are wrong. But that’s not how the Kingdom works. The Kingdom creeps in, it moves underground, like weeds, sprouting up in unexpected and inconvenient places. The shafts of Kingdom light pierce the clouds for a moment and then vanish, leaving us wondering if we really saw it. And so we trust. We keep the faith. We trust that God is real and that God is good. We acknowledge our responsibility for the brokenness of the world and receive God’s forgiveness and God’s release. And then we in turn release all the things we are carrying that have no place in God’s renewed creation. We choose to live in a reality that’s not yet fully realized. We live differently even if it feels like it doesn’t make any difference. That’s who we are, if we choose to be. And that’s what I think God wants us to hear this week.