Pick a Kingdom
While stuck in isolation a couple of weeks ago, I spent 4 days in my bedroom watching TV and reading books. I binge watched the entire 4th season of Cobra Kai on Netflix. I love that show! For those who may not be familiar, Cobra Kai continues the story of Daniel Larusso and Johnny Lawrence from the Karate Kid movies in the 80s. The show has all sorts of 80s references and music as it dives into these two men who are still stuck with the maturity of very immature high schoolers. There is all sorts of karate fighting, which is kind of boring, but the soap opera dynamics of these two men leading competing dojos and fighting over students is just over the top funny to me.
Throughout the show, the students have to keep choosing which teacher to follow. Will the follow the way of Mr. Miyagi and the emphasis on defense or the way of Cobra Kai with a focus on offense and showing no mercy. Everyone has to choose and some of them keep changing their mind.
The reality is we all have to choose who we will follow, what values will shape us each day, we can choose the values of God’s kingdom or the values of the world. Which values will shape our lives? Who will we follow?
In our text today, Jesus lays out the values of his kingdom in no uncertain terms and we are left facing a choice: his way or ours?
A Typical Sabbath for Jesus
A Typical Sabbath for Jesus
For Jesus, his values start in the act of worship. On any given Sabbath, you would find Jesus in a synagogue. This was true of the child Jesus and the man. First, he came each week with his parents. He sang the songs. He spoke the memorized prayers. He listened to scripture being read. He heard plenty of sermons.
Their sermons were a little different than ours. We have a designated preacher person, usually me, who spends 10-12 hours every week studying a section of scripture and then writes a 25-30 minute sermon that is supposed to be delivered in some sort of professional manner.
This has not always been the case. In the past, in many churches in Europe, sermons were only preached a few times a year. The rest of the time the focus of worship was the celebration of communion and not the act of preaching. Preaching moved to the forefront in the Reformation as the protestant churches sought to teach their congregations what they saw as the true gospel. But for a few hundred years before, sermons were not a big deal.
In Jesus day, sermons were given every week, but that role often rotated among the people in the village. One week it would be a farmer reflecting on God’s provision. The next it might be a builder like Joseph focused on God’s stability and constancy in the life of the his people. On this particular Sabbath, Jesus is asked to read scripture and then give the message.
By the 3rd century, synagogues followed a more formal lectionary plan, a cycle of readings from the Old Testament, but in the first century, synagogue worship was not quite so formal. Someone handed Jesus the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and he got to choose what to read.
Jesus does something fascinating, he skips arounds. Mostly he reads from Isaiah 61, but he also sneaks in a line from Isaiah 58:6. When he finishes the reading, he sits down and begins to teach, which was the custom of the day. You stand when scripture is read to honor God and you sit when teaching.
To honor that Jewish tradition, we are going to stand today for the reading of scripture. Please stand and then let us pray for God’s blessing on the reading of his word.
Lord God, let the words of your servant’s mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and Redeemer. Through Christ. Amen.
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 on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 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.”
L: This is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ!
P: Praise to you, O Christ!
You may all be seated.
Good First Impressions
Good First Impressions
Have you ever been to a high school reunion? You know the every ten year gathering of people you spent four years of your life with. When you go to a high school reunion, you are looking to reconnect with old friends, catch up on life, and maybe, for some people, to see who gained some weight, who lost some hair… Which also means, most of us when we got these events are looking to make a good impression. No one goes to reunion ready to share all of their problems and complain about how they never lived up to their potential. You want to put your best foot forward.
I imagine it was a little like that for Jesus as he came home to preach for the first time. He wanted to tell them what he was all about, explain his sense of call, and inspire them to support his important work. No one goes to these things wanting to let people down or cause a scene.
Jesus, does cause a scene or the crowd causes a scene, but we will get to that next week as we continue the story.
This morning, I want us to simply focus on the text Jesus chose to explain who he is and what he is about.
Signs of the Kingdom
Signs of the Kingdom
Isaiah 61 is all about the Messianic Kingdom, what God is going to do when the Messiah comes. As the chapter goes on, Isaiah describes the rebuilding of the Temple and Jerusalem, a time of prosperity and justice, a time when God’s people will rule over all the other nations of the world. But Jesus never gets that far. Jesus stops in the middle of a sentence. In Isaiah, the last phrase Jesus read ends this way: to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God,
But Jesus stops before the day of vengeance, he separates the redemption and healing of the Messiah from the judgment of the Messiah. This separation is why John the Baptist is so concerned about Jesus. He was expecting hell fire and brimstone, wrath and judgement from the Messiah, and Jesus came hanging out with sinners and tax collectors, going to parties and forgiving people’s sins. This was not what john expected and it is not what the people expect.
But don’t miss this one key point Jesus is making: he is the Messiah. The messianic reign is coming through his life today. He is making a bold, controversial, and divisive claim.
So, what are the signs of his reign as the Messiah and what proof does he show that he is the Messiah?
First, the signs are pretty clear. In his kingdom, when his reign is present, when his will is being done, the poor will experience this kingdom as good news. But Jesus doesn’t mean all the poor will experience it as good news, the implication in Isaiah and in Luke is the righteous poor, those who are poor because of their faithfulness to God will here good news from this kingdom. It will be good news for them.
Prisoners will be set free. Once again, Isaiah is writing to exiles in Babylon, people who are oppressed and mistreated by an empire, and so he is meaning those who are unjustly imprisoned will be set free. Those who have been given overly harsh sentences, those who live under inconsistently applied laws, those who have been falsely accused or simply imprisoned for their obedience to God, these people will be set free. And here, I think we need to be careful to not over spiritualize Jesus’ message. Yes, those imprisoned by sin are set free by Jesus, but that is not what Jesus is talking about… He is meaning literal prisoners will be set free in his kingdom.
The blind, will see. And here I want to be careful to not disparage, but also help us get into the shoes of a 1st century Jew. Blind people. Deaf people. Crippled people. Anyone with any sort of deformity would be barred from worship in the temple. They are not able to commune with God or gather with God’s people. So, giving sight to blind people. causing lame people to walk not only restores their body, it also allows them to become full members of God’s people again. Jesus comes to heal what is broken in us physically and restore our relationship with God.
In his kingdom, the oppressed will no longer be oppressed. The economy and legal systems will be fair. They will not be slanted toward the wealthy and political connected, toward one gender or race or another, but all will be treated fairly.
And then, in his kingdom people will experience the year of jubilee, that is what the year of our lord’s favor refers to. This was a once every 50 years event. Every 7 years the people were to let the land rest and not actively farm it. This was the sabbath year. After the 7th sabbath year, the people were supposed to celebrate a year of jubilee. This was an additional year of letting the farmland rest, but they also set all the prisoners free, cancelled all the debts, and gave everyone their land back. It was the great 50 year reset that allowed everyone to get back on their feet and start over again. If your family lost everything due to a famine or flood or just plain bad financial management by your dad in the year fo Jubilee your family got another chance.
Jesus messianic reign, his kingdom is going to radically change how society functions.
The crowd and you and I are right to ask, how do we know? How do we know he really is the Messiah? If this is what the Messiah is supposed to do, where do we see it?
Because, if I am honest, I don’t see much of this kingdom on the news. I see stock markets going up and rich people getting richer and richer while a lot of other people struggle to pay rent or put food on the table. I see powerful people using their connections and insider knowledge both to stay in power and to accumulate wealth for themselves. I see plenty of oppression of people based on their religion, their gender and the race all over the place in the world. If this is the mission of Jesus, starting this messianic reign, I don’t see much success.
But then I remember some of the patterns we have seen the past few weeks. The kingdom of God starts small. So where might i find glimpses of this messianic reign? The first place to look is obviously Jesus himself, and there, just in the next few chapters of Luke, we see Jesus heal sick people,. cast out demons, make lame people walk, and raise multiple dead people back to life. This is the proof Jesus offers. His life and ministry begin to enact this vision of the kingdom of God.
The Church’s Mission
The Church’s Mission
I want to suggest to you today that the same test can be applied to a church. If the goal of Jesus is to bring about this new way of life that is experienced as good news to the poor, then the church faithful to Jesus should be experienced as a place of good news to the poor of a community.
You can start by looking at the ministries of the church. Do they address the needs of those struggling to pay rent of put food on the table in their city? Do they treat the people they help with dignity, finding ways to give them as much say in the ministry and how they get helped as possible, or does the church treat those they serve as less then them in some way, making them stand in line, offering the least comfortable seats, or do they try to outdo Chick Fil’ A in their care for those they serve. That is one of the things I love about Threads and Hand2Hand. People who come to Threads don’t get a handout, they get to ship and choose the clothes they want. Hand2Hand has worked with schools to make sure the way we deliver food to students doesn’t make anyone stand out or feel shamed in anyway.
But even beyond that. Does the church sacrifice to make sure the building is accessible to people with disabilities? Do they try to make it an inviting space for people of all abilities? We began the remodel of our bathrooms a couple of weeks ago and we could have updated the bathrooms for less, but we chose to knock down some walls so we could make both bathrooms more convenient for people in wheelchairs. Currently. the only bathroom for women that is truly accessible in a wheel chair is in the basement. We chose to invest more money in the remodel to make sure everyone could use the bathroom on the main floor. It is a small thing, but it shows a heart to be inclusive.
In the preaching and teaching of the church. In the worship service. Does the church emphasize the worldly successful and financial well off or do they honor those demonstrating spiritual growth and maturity. If you were listening to the sermons would you get the impression following Jesus is all about having a picture perfect family or a well padded bank account or would hear of God and the church’s love for everyone and especially the broken and hurting?
The Kingdom in Your Life
The Kingdom in Your Life
The church is really just the training grounds, the academy, the practice space for followers of Jesus to learn how to live by the values of this kingdom. So, perhaps the best question we can ask ourselves is this: does my life look like Jesus vision of the kingdom?
If you excel in school, do those who struggle see you as good news in their life? Do you help others learn the material and keep up in class or treat as second rate those who can’t keep up?
If you are popular, do the less popular kids see you as good news in their life because you speak with kindness to everyone and include people regardless of their popularity or do you let everyone know where they stand in the pecking order?
If you are in a position of authority or seniority at work do those who work with you experience you as good news? Do the secretaries and custodians feel honored by you for their contributions or do you only see those who can help you take the next step in your career?
In your neighborhood or apartment complex or trailer park, do your neighbors see your home as a place of good news? A place where they will be safe? Heard and cared for? To share their struggles and burdens?
The kingdom of Jesus is good news for the people on the bottom of the world, those who do not fit in, who don’t make it, who fail to meet expectations, who struggle, and those who are broken by the weight of life.
As a follower of Jesus, are you good news to those people?
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.