Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Spreading Word!




ON THE Fourth Sunday after Epiphany we hear from the Gospel According to Saint Luke. The account singularly portrays a fickle people, and warns us to remain centered in the Word rightly spoken to us…

And he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
 And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth; and they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here also in your own country.’”
  And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. But passing through the midst of them he went away.

What Say You?
In our good news lesson from Saint Luke, we see that many persons within the synagogue did not accept the pronouncement from Jesus that his arrival fulfilled an ancient prophecy. Indeed, our Lord had said that the he was the Messiah… the Christ… the Deliverer. The gospel of Luke related that although the congregation initially spoke well of him, a continued reading reveals that their favorable attitude was not to last. This occurred as he was challenged that they knew him. He had grown up in that town. He then told them that a prophet was not received in his own country. We find to a  somewhat lesser degree, Mark and Matthew also had written concerning this wrathful rejection. Both of these gospels said this in a rather brief manner.
 Given that Luke picked up that same tradition, we find that he also emphasized the scene that began to turn from favorable to very hostile. Only Luke, records further the "Why?" of his rejection. In reading Luke, we echo, "Why were the synagogue elders and populace so upset?" I think that the traditional hold of the leadership over the people was being challenged. This jealous foment in the synagogue brought Jesus to speak further.
 We read that the first scene he lifted up came from Israel’s recorded history. The tradition was inherited from the ministry of the prophet Elijah. Our Lord pointed out that during a “dry” time, when Israel was punished by God for straying from his ways... divine grace was given by the prophet to an “outsider”. This had occurred though the children of God brought from bondage in Egypt remained oppressed.
 Immediately after that abrasive reminder, Jesus also reminded concerning Namaan, a military officer from Syria. Naaman was mentioned as being favored by a healing from leprosy.
 Both of these cited examples spoken by Jesus raised the growing ire of the congregation. They reacted violently. Given this, we now ask, “Why did Luke cite this scene when the other synoptic gospels did not?” The answer I consider may lay rooted in the location and time of the gospel’s writing. The scene told of was very relevant to Luke's Greek and Roman people. If we take that this was likely written in or around the city of Corinth, and was penned during the mid-to-late 8th decade of the first century… we have a historical hint.You see, that history centers us in a time period when the early Christian church was breaking away from the synagogues throughout the Greek provinces.
 At that time, many Jewish rabbinical authorities had openly persecuted the Christians. Consequently this gospel telling rightly addressed the status of those who were cast out, challenging concerning unbelieving Jews in their status as the chosen people of God. This was remembered, and likely written as a warning to the Christian Jews of his day, and an affirmation to the Gentile nations.
 Consider this! History has shown that some twenty years had passed since the Jews had been tromped on by the Roman authorities in Jerusalem. Afterward they had suffered defeat in the battle for the fortress at Masada. We know that continued Jewish unrest would eventually lead to yet another rebellion after the cusp of the century… one that would again result in further persecutions.
 You see, in the midst of great religious turmoil, Luke demonstrated that the fault lay not with either the whim or anger of the divine, but the unbelief of the Jews in accepting Jesus as the Son of God. Thus it was that Luke accented that foreign unbelievers had received graceful faith, even from time long past. Thus the gospel pointed out that both the Greeks and Romans of the Empire had become favored by God.

What Now?
A warning therefore rings out to we of the present-day church. We now live in a complex, modern world inhabited by persons of many faith expressions. Therefore, we may assume that since the past proves that favor for the church rises and falls like the waves of the sea, we may also grant that this text holds both a great warning, and bright future for us.
 As we gather in our Christian church pews this week, I suggest that we think thoroughly on this lesson. Consider whether our denomination clearly expresses the divinity of Jesus, the One who brought us freeing salvation? Or do we quietly sit back unconcerned while some question his divinity... even when these challengers stand in leadership or sit in the pews.
 The question arises, "Do we turn the congregation into a legalistic outpost of modern cultural values... or sway to cultic prostitutes who stray far from a right understanding of the gospel message?" In summary then, I ask you, “Do we try to drive our Resurrected Lord from our midst, or do we rather realize our sin and accept the saving grace of forgiveness given?” Be warned here! Honest answers to these questions will drive us rightfully to our knees before the cross.
 If we should wonderfully find ourselves bowing sorrowfully before the Lord our God... we know that we can be uplifted in knowing that grace through Christ crucified, shall restore us again as his  people.
 Certainly this forgiveness is yet available to us through the power of God, as expressed mainly in our church worship through the Rite of Confession and Forgiveness, Holy Baptism and participation in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. We know that through these things we are made free and empowered through that same Spirit who works grace in our lives. Though some of us may believe that we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and that is enough, we often act to spurn his great work through the church. To these, I say that we can be certain that we are free to become servants of God who work together. Together we can more powerfully and thoroughly proclaim the good news.
 Remember! By God’s grace we are given knowledge and strength to speak to our unbelieving neighbors in this world. Thus we can together pray that the Spirit will open the ears and hearts of those who find themselves as deceived through their own unbelief, religious error or spiritual laziness. Whether these to whom we speak may be found as Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Agnostic, or Atheist… by the power of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit they may rightly be confronted by the Word. Each can be called to decide. Will they accept or reject the Crucified Lord who died that we may live?


Hope Lutheran Church, a congregation of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), meets at 9am on Sunday morning. You can join us for worship on Pine Street in Smethport, PA. We are located in the sanctuary of the Free Christian Evangelical Church. Check out our website at...


Blessings to you through the Holy Spirit from God, our Father and his Son, Jesus Christ... on this day and forever more!
 



Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Stunning Rejection!



ON THE Third Sunday of Epiphany, we read from the Gospel According to Saint Luke. The text relates a segment of the ministry of our Lord, as he returned to his home town. The results of his efforts stun us so that we recoil in hearing…


And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee, and a report concerning him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.
 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was 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 release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
 And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth; and they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Caperna-um, do here also in your own country.’”  And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. But passing through the midst of them he went away. (Luke 4:14-30)

Echoed Sin…
Our gospel writer, like his counterpart in Matthew, worked late in the first century to include an account of Jesus’ ministry that had been recorded by an earlier gospel. The account informed early Christians about the treatment our Lord had received when he proclaimed his Messianic presence to his own people, in his own home town. Because of this sharing amongst the gospels concerning the event, I ask you to examine that which had been earlier written by me concerning this lesson in Mark (written c.65-68A.D.)…

The scene described shows that because Jesus had returned to his home, where he was raised… he could do little proclamation and healing there. Familiarity spawned contempt. He struck out and his ability to do wondrous deeds was thwarted because faith in his Messianic role was sparse. Very little in miraculous ministry was manifested.
 We must note here (also) that Mark described our Lord as the “son of Mary”, and not as “son of Joseph”. Mark deliberately portrayed Jesus as the human man, born of Mary. Indeed, this scene endorsed his identity as the “Son of Man”, and we see proof of his earthly family heritage. I believe this emphasis to be planned in the gospel writing. You see, in the time of taking pen to scroll, the text cast away heretical thoughts. There had been speculation offered in the writer’s day that Jesus was simply a god who came down from heaven just to mess with people… only to go back up into the cloudy realms after the fun was over. Contrary to that fantasy, Mark thus stated that Jesus was fully human.”


Unrealized Truth…
Here from the quill of Luke we find an expansion of the conversation found in Mark. Not only as in Mark is there rejection of Jesus as the “Son of Man”, but Luke tells that a detailed argument and threat ensued. In Luke, animosity reigned. The argument got louder and more violent. Not only most persons listening in the synagogue rejected the claim… they became violently minded in protest. In reaction, many in the synagogue congregation intended to harm him.
 The offense they perceived was that Jesus had announced that prophetic scripture had been fulfilled by his presence there. They realized he had made claim to being the Messiah, the Deliverer or Christ of God, and they did not believe him. They rejected our Lord even as a human deliverer, and most certainly also spurned him later at the cross as the “Son of God.”

Then and Now!
The text given to the gospel of Luke, therefore, tells us about who we are as sinful, but often religious people. We too often become religiously invested in the familiar… too invested. Routine comforts sedate us within the confines of synagogue, church or home. While we expect that God will come and be with us, we want the occasion to be on our terms… at a time when we are ready. When God is present with us, however, we often reject the idea that God is God, and God will do what God wills to do. When God’s arrival upsets the nature of the most familiar and settled, out of reaction we get upset… and we react. Like spoiled children, we want salvation to be earned our way. Often our reaction spews forth vehemently and violently. The middle ground of thought disappears and demons reign.
 Such was the environment in the nation of Israel when Jesus was crucified by the people. And such was the demonic spirit present in the early church so to deceive during the late first century as God, through his Beloved Son and Holy Spirit, worked against sin, to reveal to us a realized time. God had revealed through Luke that Jesus is God and was amongst his people. This message was welcomed by those whose faith was in God through the Holy Spirit, and not smothered in the habits and traditions of men... forming a people who were stiffly rejecting their own sinfulness and touting their own chosenness.
 So it was in the time of Luke’s ministry in Asia Minor, and so it is now. As the Word of God, who is God as revealed in our midst… is rightly preached among the people around us… we must realize that a violent reaction is surely possible. As the sinful in the church, which stands as now redeemed only through Christ, proclaims salvation through Jesus... we need realize that rejection even to the point of violence may occur.
 As this happens, we need remember that violence met Jesus, who was without sin. How much more so will we the redeemed sinful be rejected?. Violence surely met the church in Luke’s day and the world yet reacts the same way in modern society. We in the church seem the most surprised when the rejection often begins at home. The hurt of the demonic working even in our homes and family seems to hurt the more.
 The calling of the church, however, is to do as blessed Luke did in accomplishing the complete witness of God’s grace. Historically he is promoted as the source not only of this gospel writing, but also the author of the “Acts of the Apostles”. Luke demonstrated what it means to be a Christian. Luke witnesses continually to continued and realized grace. Such is the walk of faith, following Jesus in the same way that he did as our Lord passed through the crowds so long ago… all the while remembering that like our Savior… we too are on the way to the cross.