Creekside Church
Sermon of December 9, 2018

"Good News?"
Luke 4:14-21

Rosanna McFadden


Good morning! As we expand our Advent theme from our family and our church to include our neighborhood we have a text from the gospel of Luke about Jesus, the neighborhood and the synagogue where he grew up. As you know, the biblical record is pretty quiet about Jesus’ childhood. From infancy until the story in Luke 2 about Jesus in the Temple we he was 12 years old don’t know any details at all, and from age 12 to age 30 all we’re told is that Jesus increased in wisdom and in years. This text from Luke 4 takes up the narrative immediately after Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the wilderness, as he is heading back to his region of Galilee and the little town of Nazareth where he grew up.

Jesus had been teaching in synagogues along his way home, and folks were pretty impressed. Word had undoubtedly gotten back to the folks in Nazareth, so that when Jesus comes to synagogue Saturday morning, he is given the honor of being asked to read the scripture. The Hebrew Bible is what we know as the Old Testament, and had been revered and copied and studied and memorized by the Jewish community for centuries. Written texts would have been copied on animal skins which were stitched together to make a scroll -- that is, one long piece which you unrolled as you read it. Hebrew reads right to left, so the beginning of the text would be over here, and as you read, you’d unroll this side and roll up where you have been. Isaiah is a long book -- it would have taken several scrolls to contain it all. All this is to say that you can’t flip through the text very easily. Jesus is given the Isaiah scroll, which was unrolled to wherever the last reader had stopped. He scans for where he wants to begin, and starts at Isaiah Chapter 61.

And Jesus reads Isaiah 61:1-2 ½:

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.

Jand sus (or at least Luke’s account) leaves off the last phrase “and the day of vengeance of our God.” That’s interesting. And Jesus tells them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And the hometown crowd is so amazed that they begin to whisper, “Isn’t that Joseph’s son?” My little Eli used to play with him in his Daddy’s woodshop. OK, that part’s not in the Bible.

And then a funny thing happens. Jesus continues to speak to his neighbors, and the good news turns very bad. So bad, in fact, that by verse 28 they are so angry that they want to kill him. This is such a dramatic turn-around it makes me wonder what was going on. Jesus was proclaiming good news, right? Maybe not quite as flashy as the whole host of angels in Luke 2, but isn’t this part of the same good news that the shepherds heard on that Christmas night? Or maybe good news isn’t good for everyone. I’ve been puzzling over this for the past week, and I want to invite you into a little exercise. I am going to make a statement which sounds like good news; see if you can imagine a way it might not be such good news -- at least not for everyone. You don’t have to respond out loud, just consider on your own:

Everyone’s coming to your house for Christmas.
You’re going to have a baby.
The war is over.

Let’s consider just that last statement a moment: the end of a war should be good news, but that kind of depends which side you’re on: did you just win the war, or did you just lose the war? Let me put it another way: Jesus proclaiming release for the captives is really good news if you’re a captive, but how about when that convicted sex offender moves into your neighborhood? Is that good news? Freedom for the oppressed sounds great, until there are thousands of refugees on the southern border of your nation seeking asylum. Then what?

This is what Jesus does to his hometown crowd in Nazareth: they are cheering him on, thinking how gracious his words are to them, and then he flips their frame of reference, and says -- in effect -- this good news to the poor, the captives, and the oppressed -- that’s not for you, because you won’t accept me as God’s prophet. That good news is for folks in another neighborhood. And Jesus goes on to cite two stories; both stories would have been familiar to his audience. The first is from 1 Kings 17: Elijah, the prophet of the Lord has been exiled from Israel, and God has sent a drought which has caused a famine. Elijah goes into the neighboring region of Sidon, a town called Zarephath, and is fed by a widow there, with the last of the food she was saving for herself and her son. Elijah performs a miracle so she continues to be fed. Jesus reminds the folks in Nazareth that there were plenty of widows in Israel who starved to death; Elijah didn’t save them. And in 2 Kings 5, we find the story of Naaman, a great military commander from the nation of Aram, whom Elijah’s successor, Elisha, heals from leprosy -- even though there were plenty of Israelites with leprosy who never got healed.

These are not stories which are calculated to make folks happy; and in fact, the crowd is livid with anger and takes Jesus to the edge of town to throw him off the edge of a cliff. Let me digress for a moment to say that making people angry doesn’t necessarily mean that you are speaking God’s Word: making people mad at you is not really that difficult. You don’t even have the Spirit of the Lord upon you. No one has plotted to kill me because of what I’ve said from the pulpit -- that I know of -- but I’ve been accused of being too political, not relevant, and of preaching heresy -- and that’s without even trying to make folks mad. Besides, making folks mad might work if you only plan to preach there once: it’s really not something you want to do week after week. But getting folks to change, getting them to see things from a different perspective, to put themselves in a different frame of reference -- that takes skill, and it’s helped by a good story.

I heard a different frame of reference last Sunday as I listened to Rev. Samuel Dali of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria. I try to feel compassion for the oppressed: he is oppressed and lives with a community which is still being persecuted. That is very different from my experience. The theme of the service was joy, and Rev. Dali talked about how the Nigerian Church remains joyful in the midst of suffering. Here is what he said, and how it flipped my perception. Rev. Dali said that the church in Nigeria believes that God is faithful (Amen!) and that God’s promises will be fulfilled (Preach it! That’s what Advent is all about -- God’s promises being fulfilled); and God has promised suffering (uh oh) so that when we are suffering, we can rejoice because God is keeping His promises (oh no. That doesn’t sound like very good news at all.)

I have wondered this week, what if when Jesus was handed the Isaiah scroll in the synagogue he had rolled it back a little further to Isaiah 53 instead of Isaiah 61. Instead of reading about being anointed to bring good news, Jesus might have read this, “He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” That scripture has also been fulfilled by Jesus, and though it wasn’t announced by an angel chorus, it may be the news we need to hear. The good news we proclaim about Jesus’ birth cannot be separated from what we know about his life and his death; because we don’t get to choose which part of God’s promises are fulfilled.

As we walk the remaining days until Christmas consider the angels’ tidings of a Savior who will save his people and bring peace on earth. What does it cost Jesus for that promise to be fulfilled for us? What might it cost us for that promise to be fulfilled for Jesus? Amen.


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