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Luke 4, 21-30

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TITLE:     TODAY!                                        SCRIPTURE:    Luke 4:21-30


"TODAY!"  That is how Jesus started his sermon -- "TODAY!" 

He was preaching in his hometown synagogue -- in Nazareth where he grew up.  By this time he has moved to Capernaum, a less worthy town -- lots of Gentiles lived in Capernaum.

I wonder how the people of Nazareth felt about Jesus moving away.  I doubt that many young men left their hometown in those days.  Most boys that Jesus had played with as a child -- now grown to young men -- still lived in Nazareth.  Most must have been in the congregation as Jesus sat to teach in the synagogue where he had grown up.  I wonder how they felt, seeing their childhood friend sitting in the teacher's seat.

I wonder how Jesus felt.  It is difficult enough to give a speech anywhere -- I read somewhere that public speaking is one of the things that people fear even more than death -- but it would be especially difficult to come back to your hometown to speak in your own synagogue or church.  Most of us would be quaking in our boots -- nervous -- hesitant!  All kinds of things can go wrong in such a place -- not speaking loudly enough -- speaking hesitantly -- trying to speak and having nothing come out.

But Jesus didn't have a problem.  Someone handed him a scroll from the prophets, and he unrolled it until he found the part that he wanted.  Then he read a couple of verses from the prophet Isaiah:

"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, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Nothing new so far!  They all knew these verses -- verses that held great promise for them and their children -- verses that promised a messiah who would make poor Israel rich again -- would set them free from the oppression of the Roman soldiers who walked their streets with impunity.  Jesus stopped reading before he got to the part where Isaiah talked about vengeance, but the people of Nazareth knew that part too.  They were
looking forward to the day when God would wreak vengeance on the Romans.

So Jesus read these familiar verses from Isaiah, and then he sat down to teach.  You can be sure that every ear was cued to hear what he would say next.

Jesus didn't hesitate.  The first word out of his mouth was TODAY!  He said, "TODAY this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

Luke tells us that people responded by speaking well of him -- they were amazed at his gracious words.  They had heard good reports of Jesus' work in Capernaum.  Now Jesus seemed to be announcing that, having returned to Nazareth, he would begin his good work there.  "TODAY!" he said.  "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."  TODAY!  Here in Nazareth!

I don't know what the people of Nazareth expected at that point, but they must have been sitting on the edge of their seats.  TODAY!  Was Jesus planning to start recruiting for a revolution right here in Nazareth?  Was he planning to rain fire from heaven on the Romans?

What did TODAY mean?  Did it mean that Jesus would begin today to deliver them from the Romans -- or did it mean that he would win the fight today?  Would the Romans be gone by nightfall? Could Jesus actually deliver on this promise?

TODAY!  The people had gotten out of bed this morning to a very ordinary day.  Now Jesus is telling them that they can expect something special TODAY!  I can imagine the smiles on their faces as they waited for him to explain.

But then Jesus reminded them of a dark page in their history.  Israel had been unfaithful, and God had sent a drought.  People starved.  Then God sent the prophet Elijah -- but not to save the Israelites, but to save a Gentile woman.

Then Jesus reminded them of Naaman -- not only a Gentile, but also a Syrian army commander -- a leader of the enemy camp, so to speak.  God sent the prophet Elisha to heal Naaman of his leprosy.  There were plenty of Jewish lepers, Jesus reminded them, but God sent the prophet to help a Gentile -- a Gentile soldier.

That was more than the people could take.  They had expected Jesus to help THEM, but he reminded them of God's help to GENTILES -- to the less worthy -- to the enemy -- to outsiders.  It was as if Jesus told them to expect a big winner TODAY -- but they would not be the winner.  Even worse, he told them to expect the winner to be Gentiles -- the less worthy – perhaps even the enemy.

That was more than they could handle.  They had heard of Jesus working miracles in Capernaum, among Gentiles.  Now that he was on home turf again, they expected him to do great things for them, but he said, "Don't count on it!"

In their anger, they tried to kill Jesus, but Luke says that Jesus "passed through the midst of them and went on his way."  God saved Jesus.  His time to die would come soon enough, but it had not come yet.  Jesus left Nazareth and returned to Capernaum, where he resumed his healing ministry -- presumably among the poor -- the oppressed -- the blind -- Gentiles -- outsiders -- people of no account -- the undeserving.

TODAY!  Today came and went at Nazareth, and those folks missed it.  They missed it because they thought of themselves as God's chosen people -- which was true -- but they had also hardened their hearts against God helping anyone else.  They wanted God to be their God and nobody else's God.  They tried to put God in a little box of their own making -- but God wasn't having any part of it.

The messiah came to Nazareth today, and they tried to kill him.  They will get another chance tomorrow, and Jesus won't slip through their hands so easily then.

TODAY!  Christ is here in our midst today.  He is calling us to love the poor -- the captive -- the blind -- the oppressed -- outsiders – people of no account -- the undeserving.

The people of Nazareth couldn't do it, because they thought of themselves as deserving and the rest of the world as undeserving.  They expected God to reward them and to zap the bad guys!  Perhaps with a little luck God would put a sword in their hands and they would run the bad guys through personally!

What they didn't understand was that God had called them to reach out to the undeserving -- not to knock them down but to lift them up.

TODAY!  Christ calls us to do the same -- to love the unlovely -- to help people who just can't get it together -- to have patience with people who seem determined to drive us crazy -- to show a bit of sympathy for the person who got what he deserved.

TODAY!  It isn't much easier for us today than it was for the people of Nazareth yesterday.  We want God to serve mercy to us, but we would prefer him to serve justice to the other person.

TODAY!  There is another reason why we find it difficult to help down-and-outers today.  The fact is that we are struggling too.  We barely have time and money to keep ourselves afloat, much less anyone else.  How can God expect us to help the poor today, when we feel poor ourselves today?  How can God expect us to help the oppressed today when we work for a boss who makes our lives miserable and serve people who don't appreciate us?

We have our own problems, God!  Can't you see!  Save us, and then, maybe, we will be able to save someone else.

But the truth is that the people who reach out to the poor and needy are often people who are poor and needy themselves.  A person who has suffered understands suffering.  Pain can breed compassion.

Some years ago, Mother Teresa spoke at St. Olaf's Church in Minneapolis.  She called her listeners to compassionate action -- to help others in need.

When Mother Teresa concluded her remarks, a woman in a wheelchair raised her hand to ask a question.  The woman suffered from cerebral palsy – her body moved convulsively as she spoke, and she had a great deal of trouble forming words -- it was painful just to watch her try to express herself. 
Mother Teresa waited patiently.  Slowly and haltingly the woman asked how she could help someone else.

Mother Teresa didn't hesitate for a moment.  She said,

"You can do the most.  You can do more than any of us because your suffering is united with the suffering of Christ on the cross and it brings strength to all of us."

What a brave answer!  I am afraid that I would have dissolved into the carpeting if the woman had asked me that question.  I would have felt sorry for her and would have told her that she didn't need to do anything.  That would have been wrong.  The woman needed an opportunity to do something important, and Mother Teresa told her how to do that.  Mother Teresa gave her a blessing that day.

Furthermore, Mother Teresa was right!  That woman, in her poverty of spirit, was an inspiration to everyone who knew her.  She joined a group known as "The Sick and Suffering Co-Workers of Mother Teresa."  She lived only one more year after meeting Mother Teresa, but she had an inspirational ministry during that year.  People quoted her as saying:

"We are fortunate to have a share in Christ's cross. Lord, let us suffer without regret,
for in your will and in our gracious acceptance of that same holy will lives our eternal destiny."

TODAY!  Christ came to that woman that day through Mother Teresa's ministry, and she found herself ready -- ready to receive Christ – ready to obey his call -- ready to suffer, if need be, and to allow Christ to transform her suffering into spiritual witness.  She  received a blessing that day, and she spent the last year of her life giving a bit of that
blessing to everyone who knew her.

When Jesus came to Nazareth, he said:

"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, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

The people of Nazareth were not ready to hear Jesus, and they failed the test.  They were looking for what they could get rather than what they could give.  The result was that they neither received anything nor gave anything.  The big day came, and they went away empty-handed.

TODAY Jesus comes to us in the same way.  He asks, "Are you willing to be a part of my ministry to the poor and oppressed?  Are you willing to reach out to the down-and-outers?  Are you willing to love the unlovely?"

TODAY!  Christ is here today, and is asking for a piece of your heart.  Don't be like the people of Nazareth.  Be like the woman in the wheelchair -- ready to serve.  If you will do that, Christ will make it possible.  He will fill your empty hands so that you have something to give.  He will warm your heart so that your offering will matter.

TODAY!  Be ready now, for Christ is here.

Here I Am, Lord (CH #452; GC #686; JS #528; PH #525; UMH #593; VU #509;
WOV #752)

Lord of the Dance (CO #527; GC #708; JS #554; PH #302; TH #352; UMH #261;
VU #352)

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