Posted on Sun, Jan 27, 2013
January 27, 2013
Reconciling in Christ Sunday (3rd Sunday in Epiphany)
Gospel Text: Luke 4:14-21
The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry
14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth
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, 17and 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 favor.’ 20And 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. 21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’
What was the most important thing that Jesus said to his disciples? What little phrase did Jesus say to his disciples that absolutely changed their lives? It wasn’t “feed my sheep,” Jesus only said that to Peter. It wasn’t “Love God and Love one another,” God gave us that commandment in so many words way back in the Old Testament. It was a simple invitation, it was when Jesus came up to each unsuspecting young man and said, “Follow Me.” From that moment on, their lives were turned upside down! They really had no idea where Jesus was going to lead them, but off they went; and little did they know it, but it would be them, with a little help from the Holy Spirit, that they would soon change the world forever.
What would be the purpose of Jesus’ little invitation? Of course each of the disciples was a practicing Jew, some more practiced than others, but each one was a person following the law and traditions handed down to them from their ancestors’ from generation to generation.
Did Jesus choose each of them in order to maintain the status quo? Hardly, Jesus came as the ultimate “Faith Reformer!” I know for the real Luther fans in our midst, but Luther was hardly the first “Reformer.”
And Jesus wasn't the first reformer either…
Our church is known as a “confessing” church, or a “confessional” church. This means we, as the Body of Christ, ‘confess’ what God has done for us, and all people, through the Cross of Christ. We confess that our salvation is “from the Lord,” and was achieved through what God has done through the death and resurrection of God’s only Son, Jesus the Christ. We are not saved through OUR works, but only through the grace and mercy of God.
This we confess and proclaim. Our church is not a church that lays out a guideline for salvation. For example, “If you believe the way we do, then you will be saved.” Or, “The moment you welcome Jesus into your heart, from that moment you will be saved.” Or, “Only if you have a personal relationship with Jesus, will you be saved.”
All of these statements come from a theology that we call, “decision theology,” this theology demands that our salvation depends on us making some kind of decision to accept, believe or receive Jesus ‘into our hearts.’ The point is that our salvation is because of what God has done through the Cross of Christ, but upon our decision to believe or not. This is a theology that is very popular today, and frankly very dangerous as it really removes the importance of the Cross of Jesus.
For Lutherans, we confess that our salvation is totally achieved because of Jesus’ obedience, not ours, to go the cross for the sake of our forgiveness and salvation. Regarding the decision part, it comes when we hear the words of the Gospel and we have a choice, to follow or not. However, even if we are full of doubt, or maybe our mood or emotions have caused us to turn away from Jesus, the power of the cross has not changed and the truth that Jesus went to the cross has not has not changed either.
Do you also notice the cross that we face at worship each morning? Notice, it is not a crucifix, but an empty cross, symbolizing the ‘empty cross.’ That means that we believe that Jesus has risen from the grave and through the Holy Spirit now lives with us! Jesus lives amongst us! Jesus lives IN us! That means we believe that the Word of God, the Gospel, is very much a Living Word, alive and full of the power to re-create us each and every day!
It also means that “Follow me” invitation is still hanging out there for each and every one of us each and every day.
For those of you who have been “following” Jesus for some time, think about the first time you responded “yes” to Jesus’ invitations… are you the same person today as you were back then? Of course not, the Gospel changes us. The Gospel reforms us. The Gospel strengthens us. The Gospel opens our ears, eyes, and gives us a new way to think and even follow Jesus. Through faith our trust in God deepens and we mature, seeing and hearing Jesus in the people we meet. We mature in seeing the world not just as a place to live, but a gift created and given to us out of a deep sense of masterwork and love; and our faith reminds us that we are stewards/caretakers of Gods’ world.
The only ABSOLUTE that we celebrate is the Trinity, that there is only one God, but we see and are encountered by God in three persons, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, but all of this is made known and fulfilled through the Cross of Christ. Our lens for seeing the world and relating to the world is the Cross of Christ… and it was Jesus who took all the fears and doubts of the past and all of the fears and doubts of the future onto his own shoulders as he made His way to Golgotha and he gave his life for our forgiveness and salvation.
That means, through faith, and what God has done for us according to God’s mercy and grace, the process of reform and being made new has been a constant process throughout history. And that is a good thing as there have been so many times in history when we were in so much need for reforming.
Today is “Reconciling in Christ” Sunday. Have you ever read the opening words on our bulletin? It says:
God calls us to be a welcoming people! Welcome to people new to faith, to Christians of every flavor, and to long time Lutherans. Welcome to all with no church home, who need strength, want to follow, have doubts, or do not believe. Welcome to new guests and old friends. Welcome to people of every age and size, color and culture, ability and gift, to gay and straight, to old and young, to believers and questioners, and questioning believers. This is a place where we live past the labels, where we are welcome to celebrate and grieve, rejoice and recover. This is a place where our lives are made new. Welcome to worship God on this day!
I found the first draft of this statement from one of my colleagues on the mainland, Pastor Mark Allert. I tweaked it a little, and then Tom tweaked it a little, and I think we came up with a statement of welcome that truly fits who we are at Calvary by the Sea Lutheran Church. We are a welcoming church, we are a healing church, our church is truly a place were people are accepted just the way they are, and yet they find opportunities to be made new again.
Did you notice who is welcome to worship with us? It wasn't that long ago, people of different races felt it was ‘proper’ to worship together. There are some churches where it is frowned upon if you aren’t a member of their community and you aren’t welcome to receive communion. Sadly to say, there are still many houses of worship where gay and straight remain segregated, BY CHOICE.
This is why we have a “Reconciling in Christ” Sunday. The reformation of the church is hardly over. There are brothers and sisters who are not invited to worship; they are discriminated against specifically because of orientation… Why? There are many reasons, but sadly to say, because many of Christians want to believe that the Word of God is static, and what was once said long ago, is still the law today. Some people justify their positions of discrimination, or whatever, using obscure Bible verses in an effort to prove their custom or point of view. Let’s be honest, we could use the Bible to justify, polygamy, slavery, public stoning, and the worst of all, the ban on football and shrimp cocktail!!!
But the Word of God is hardly a static word, written in stone (even though we have film proof of Charlton Heston coming down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments written in stone!)
There are thousands if not millions of Christians who demand that we turn to the passages in Leviticus to justify discriminating against the gay community. One of my friends, Rev. Kyle Lovett, the pastor of the Church of the Crossroads called these the “Clobber Texts.” The verses are Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.
First, Thou shalt not lie with a man, as with a woman: it is abomination. Second, If a man lie with a man, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
But here is the deal that we must stand as Christians, what is the lens in which we read the Bible? It is the cross! And we, as Christians no longer live under the penalty of the Law. If you want to give this text the authority to discriminate and alienate roughly 10% of our society, it means you then have returned to the ‘slavery of sin,’ and we no longer live according to the Gospel but the curse of the Law! You cannot live according to the law and the cross at the same time.
Plus, when does the authority of a Levitical priest, have the same authority as the Messiah, God’s only Son, Jesus the Christ?
Refrom began way back in the Old Testament!
A New Covenant
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.
In fact, today’s Old Testament text is a prime text to show us that the process of reformation did not begin with Luther, or even Jesus. In today’s text, the prophet Jeremiah announces that there is a reformation to God’s word. The previous scriptures needed some ‘tweaking’ and Jeremiah announces that there will be a new covenant, not like the covenant of old made with the ancestors from around the time of Leviticus and earlier.
Now what does that mean for the church in modern times? It means that the church is empowered and has the responsibility to stand up and confess, proclaim and reform our world when there are concepts that are considered “written in stone” that are counter to the teaching of the one who is the lens of our faith, Jesus Christ.
When as a young man, after being baptized with the Holy Spirit, Jesus entered his synagogue and read from
‘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 favor.’ (Isaiah 61:1)
Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Church is enabled and responsible for bringing Good News to the poor, those who are economically poor and destitute as well as those who are poor in spirit and need comfort and healing.
Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Church is enabled and responsible to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, those who are truly being held through unjust means in prisons all over the world; and those who are gripped by the power of denial and are captive to addictions like alcohol, drugs, money, power and greed. Those who still believe our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are not to be welcomed because of a misappropriated authority given to obscure Bible texts.
Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Church is enabled and responsible to proclaim that the Good News of the Gospel is for all people no matter who they are, no matter race, orientation or even understanding of the faith and Bible! From the Cross Jesus looked at each one of us and said, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” Then he breathed his last, and it was finished. The ransom for all people was paid, and on that Easter morning we saw the power of God in the resurrection of Christ, and we learn that through faith, we too can live in that promise of resurrection and new life in every sense of the word! Then Jesus gave us the commandment, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
Jesus says, “Welcome to my House! All are welcome!” Amen
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