“A SHORT SERMON” – preached by The Rev. George Yando
SERMON FOR SUNDAY, JANUARY 27, 2019
THIRD SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY YEAR C
Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10
1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a
Luke 4: 14-21
In a book called “Holy Sweat,” author Tim Hansel tells a story of a minister who was invited to be the guest preacher at a very large church. This visiting minister began his sermon by saying, “There are three points to my sermon.” Many of the people in the congregation yawned at that point. A rather mild and unremarkable beginning they thought, one they’d heard many times before.
But he went on. “My first point is this: At this very moment there are nearly a billion people starving to death in the world.”
Again, the reaction throughout the congregation was about the same, since they’d heard that sort of statement many times before as well. Then he said, “Now my second point is this . . .” At that point, everyone sat up.
Only 10 or 15 seconds had passed and he was already on his second point? He paused and then said, “My second point is that although there are nearly a billion people starving to death in the world at this very moment, most of you don’t really give a damn!”
He paused yet again as gasps of horror and angry mutterings rippled through the congregation and then he said, “And my third point is this: the real tragedy among Christians today is that many of you are now more concerned about the fact that I just said ‘damn’ than you are that I just said there are nearly a billion people starving to death in the world.” And he sat down.
The whole sermon took less than a minute, but it was in many ways one of the most powerful ones ever preached to that congregation. It was a short sermon. But what a sermon!
In the passage we read this morning from Luke’s gospel account, Jesus preached a short sermon. But what a sermon! In it he clearly sets out the kind of ministry he came to pursue. It was to be a ministry to the poor and the outcast, to the blind and the unaffirmed.
It was not what that synagogue crowd expected to hear. Luke’s story goes on to record, “When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.” They were ready to stone him to death. Whether by pelting him with stones till he died under the barrage or tossing him over a precipice to break upon the rocks and rubble at the cliff’s base, both were common and accepted means of rendering such a judgement. What Jesus came to deliver as good news was received instead as bad news.
We’ve all heard all sorts and varieties of good news/bad news stories. One of the most familiar and best known concerns a man who receives a call from his doctor about some test results.
The doctor says, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news.”
The patient says, “Well doc, give me the good news.”
The doctor says, “The good news is that I found out you’re terminally ill and only have 24 hours to live.”
The patient is thunderstruck and gasps, “If that’s the good news, what’s the bad news?”
The doctor says, “The bad news is that I couldn’t get hold of you by phone when I found out – yesterday.”
Jesus said God anointed him to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind.
We might think, “Where to do we fit into that list? We’re not poor, not really, not compared with the nearly one billion people in the world who are starving to death, even as we speak. But the reality is this: when it comes to the good news of salvation, all of us are charity cases. We can do nothing but hold up our little tin cups to the only One who can fill them. Martin Luther’s last written words were: “We are all beggars.”
Jesus saves . . . but saves whom? He saves Joe, saves Charlie, Marie, saves me, saves you . . . people with names, just names, without any Mr., or Mrs., or Dr., or Rev., without any degrees or titles or Social Insurance Numbers, just who we are.
Jesus came to proclaim release to those in captivity. The captivity referred to here is not just physical captivity, but moral and spiritual captivity. But how many of us consider ourselves slaves? Can we really be slaves, we who live in a land where we have the freedom to do pretty much what we want, if we’re able, and it isn’t illegal, and won’t hurt or offend someone else?
Can we really be slaves, we of all people who consider ourselves so much our own masters? The answer, of course, is that we are slaves. We are slaves, precisely because we think we are our own masters. We are enslaved to our own desires, the worst among them being the desire most often to put our desires ahead of anyone else’s desires, especially God’s. We are all held captive by our own stubborn selfishness.
And what about Jesus’ claim that he came to proclaim that the blind are to receive their sight? Again, the blind were not just those who sightlessness was physical; Jesus was talking here as well of a moral and spiritual blindness.
In what ways are we spiritually and morally blind? When we turn a blind eye to what is unspiritual and immoral around us. Our society has become so morally bankrupt, and we feel so powerless to resist it, let alone change it, that we’ve largely stopped being bothered by it. Granted, in our finer moments, we shake our heads when we look at the culture we have created. Imagine archaeologists, several thousand years from now, digging up records of the movies and television we watch, poring over the books we read, hearing the music we listen to, revisiting the kinds of horrors that fascinated us on the evening news.
Now, of course, they will also discover we’ve had our good moments too, our good times, our blessed times. There have been moments when we’ve been thoughtful and brave, wise and kind, considerate, compassionate and gentle. Every once in a while, a word was spoken that gave us back our lives again.
Maybe we even spoke such a word ourselves to others. Now and then we’ve caught a glimpse, a vision of the kind of people we might be.
Ralph Waldo Emerson made the observation: “An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.” REPEAT. If that is so, then the institutional Church is the lengthened shadow of one Man, Jesus Christ. As Christians, we owe it to ourselves and to our world to resurrect this message of Christ from the ashes and debris of history.
Colin Wilson, a British philosopher and author and a rather provocative writer once wrote: “Human beings seem to have an extraordinary capacity for being deluded by their emotions, so their ‘convictions’ are usually a mass of unexamined prejudices.”
In Christ resides the destiny of us all. “Come to me” was how He put the resolution of the matter to us. Yet Christ is not a way of escaping the world but a way of loving the world, and in spite all the horror, of being loved by Him.
Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, once declared that he strived to live by the motto: “May my heart break with the things that break the heart of God.” That is the gospel, pure and plain and simple. Jesus is the good news of salvation, release to captives and recovery of sight to the blind.
“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Today. Not tomorrow, not next year, not maybe. Today.
May the power of the Holy Spirit touch our hearts and make them receptive to His grace and to the freedom and healing that he offers today.