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Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C (2)
It’s tough to preach your first sermon at a new church. Most pastors experience at least a few jitters as they head to a new church to preach. Can they remember the main points to their sermon? Will the sound system work? Will the congregation stay awake? It’s nerve-wracking. Not exactly on par with the stresses faced by police officers or brain surgeons or middle school teachers, but nerve-wracking in its own way.
So I appreciate a story Fr John Jewell shared about his first time preaching as a priest covering for a pastor on vacation at Holy Spirit Church in a small town in Missouri. The soon to be vacationing priest gave Jewell directions to the church and sent him off with the words, “They’ll be expecting you.” That made Jewell feel good. He hoped it meant the congregation was ready to welcome him.
But when Jewell got to the church, no one welcomed him. No one even seemed to notice he had arrived. A few minutes before the service began, He tapped the shoulder of the man in front of him and introduced himself: “Hi. My name is John Jewell and I am celebrating MASS this morning.”
The man responded as he was putting on an alb, “Nice to meet you, Fr Jewell, but I am the new pastor here and I thought I was celebrating!”
Talk about an unwelcome surprise! But the pastor cleared up the confusion quickly when he explained that there was another church with the same name just a few miles down the road. Jewell sped to the other Holy Spirit Church as fast as he could, but he arrived to see the congregation walking out the doors. They had grown tired of waiting for the visiting priest who showed up late. (1) By the way that is why in most dioceses of the Catholic Church only one parish in the diocese has a name no duplicates.
Do you think Jesus ever showed up late to the synagogue on a Sabbath morning? Probably not, but the rest of us are human. We do embarrassing things . . . like show up late for Mass. This morning it was Jesus’ turn to preach. Unlike every other preacher on earth, Jesus wasn’t nervous. But the other religious leaders should have been. Because no one could have anticipated what he was about to say. He wasn’t just going to interpret God’s word. He was going to fulfill it. Wow! This should be a service to be remembered.
The passage Jesus read was a prophecy from the prophet Isaiah, who had lived about 700 years earlier. But instead of interpreting this passage for his listeners in the synagogue, Jesus simply ended his reading of the scripture with these words: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” I guarantee you that nobody was expecting that! If there were microphones in Jesus’ day, this would be the perfect moment for a “mic drop!” Because Jesus, a local, a carpenter from a family of modest means, had just announced that he was the Messiah sent from God. How’s that for something to talk about over Sabbath lunch?
The nation of Israel had waited around 1,000 years for God to send His Messiah, His Anointed One. They believed the Messiah would be “a descendant of King David (2 Samuel 7:12-13; Jeremiah 23:5), observant of Jewish law (Isaiah 11:2-5), a righteous judge (Jeremiah 33:15), and a great military leader.” (2)
They didn’t expect that one of their own would claim that title for himself. So what was Jesus talking about? If he was the long-promised Messiah, the hope of the nation, then what was God revealing about His nature and His plan for the world?
The first thing we learn is that Christ came to bring good news to the poor. That’s a vital truth to understand about the Messiah. Because it tells us so much about God’s heart, about God’s character. When you have good news to tell, who do you want to share it with? You want to share it with those most affected by that news and in this case, it is the poor.
Think about our society. How would you like to be poor in America? How would you like to have limited access to health care? How would you like to own a car that you could not keep in good repair—that sometimes breaks down at the most inconvenient times? How would you like to watch your children’s teeth rot out because you couldn’t afford a trip to the dentist? I could go on, but you get the idea. In the most affluent society in the world, there are still people for whom everyday life is a nightmare. Those are the people about which God is most concerned. Can you imagine what it is like to be poor in Africa, the Caribbean or South America? They rather be poor in America.
Jesus identified with the least and the lowest. It is no accident that Christ’s first bed was a manger where cattle fed. It is no accident that Jesus spent his adult life without a home of his own, without any possessions beyond what he could carry as he traveled from town to town sharing the message of the love of God with everyone he met. And listen to how author Michael Frost summed up Jesus’ life: “Regardless of how much many affluent pastors might love their state-of-the-art air-conditioned church we cannot forget that Jesus died on the cross naked and empty-handed.” (3)
God cares about the poor. When I say that, I’m not putting limits on God’s love. I’m declaring how limitless it is. You can measure the limits of someone’s heart by how well they can love those whom others ignore. They may be overlooked, left out and powerless in our world. But in God’s kingdom, the poor are precious and held close to His heart. He loved them so much He chose to walk in their shoes. And he calls his followers to do the same.
Jim Wallis is the founder of the Sojourners community and the magazine of the same name. The Sojourners community advocates for peace and social justice based on the teachings of Jesus. Their ministries focus on meeting the needs of the poor.
When Wallis was in seminary, he and some classmates were deeply impressed by all the verses in the Bible emphasizing God’s concern for the poor. So they took a Bible and a pair of scissors, and they cut out every verse that related to justice for the poor, not exploiting the poor, sharing your resources with the poor, God’s love for the poor.
Richard Stearns wrote about their project, “They wanted to see what a compassionless Bible looked like. By the time they finished, nearly two thousand verses lay on the floor, and a book of tattered pages remained.” (4)
“They wanted to see what a compassionless Bible looked like.” It looked pretty threadbare. When you read the Bible, especially when you read the words of Jesus, God in the flesh, God’s compassion leaps off the page. And so, Jesus’ first publicly-recorded sermon began with the words: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.”
The second thing we learn is that God’s love covers everyone who is hurting . . . of every station in life. Jesus’ next words in this passage are, “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.”
Jesus meant these words literally. In his life on this earth, he set people free, he healed them, he stood up for those who were oppressed. He welcomed the rejects and looked out for the forgotten. He was a voice for the voiceless. Jesus never wavered in his mission to bring hope, healing and freedom to those who were most in need, including those whom he called the “poor in spirit.” That’s an interesting phrase. It says to me that you and I can be rich in things and still be poor in spirit. You can be wonderfully gifted and still be poor in spirit.
Christ came to bring a message of hope and salvation to a world desperate for the love of God. And no matter how good our life looks on the outside, many of us suffer from a poverty of spirit. Many of us are imprisoned by shame, anger, envy, fear, guilt and sorrow. No amount of money or titles or friends or accomplishments can fill that sense of emptiness or fear or hopelessness.
Author Jack Key writes, “We all know people who live in hell in the most elegant and luxurious environment, and others who radiate heaven though they live in poverty and drabness.” Poverty is a condition not of the body but of the soul.
FrOlex Kenez spent 8 years ministering to the people of Indonesia, he, spent six years in ministry to the people before he had their first convert. At one point he was thrown into prison on suspicion of being a spy. After his release from prison, he contracted a debilitating disease that dogging him for the rest of his life.
And yet this man, who suffered so much in his life, is famous for his unwavering faith and tireless commitment to serving God. He was known for the saying, “The future is as bright as the promises of God.” (5)
“The future is as bright as the promises of God.” Do you believe that? Do you trust God’s character and power enough to believe in God’s promises no matter what your current circumstances? That’s a great shield against the poverty of spirit that haunts so many people today.
The final thing we learn from today’s Bible passage is that God brings us hope no matter what our circumstances. And hope is freedom for those in bondage and wealth to those in poverty. Because this passage shows us we have a God who loves us and cares about our challenges, our heartbreaks, our suffering enough to endure them Himself. When we understand that kind of love, we can live more joyfully and freely because we know a God who loves us that much will comfort and strengthen and provide for us in all circumstances.
Eddie Ogan is a woman of amazing faith in God, which she learned from her mother, who had to raise Eddie and her six siblings. One of Eddie’s favorite stories from her childhood involves the Easter of 1946. One month before Easter Sunday, the pastor announced that the church would be collecting a special offering for a needy family in the community.
After church, the Ogan family discussed how they could give sacrificially to the collection for the needy family. They decided to buy a large bag of potatoes and live off that for one whole month. This would allow them to save up $20. They also decided to use as little electricity as possible for that month to save money on the electric bill. The children volunteered to get yard work and baby-sitting jobs to raise money. They even bought yarn to weave potholders to sell in the neighborhood.
Eddie reports that this month before Easter was one of the most joyful her family had ever experienced. They were so excited to see their offering money grow a little bit more each day. They couldn’t wait for Easter Sunday when they could put their money in the offering plate. The idea that they could help someone in need, that they could pass along some of the blessings God had given them, gave them so much joy that the extra sacrifices and work became fun.
That Easter Sunday morning, a heavy rain poured down on the town. Eddie and her siblings put cardboard in their shoes to cover the holes and worn places, and they all walked to church. They had raised $70 dollars for the special offering, and they couldn’t contain their smiles when they placed those bills in the offering plate. After church, they sang all the way home, and celebrated with an Easter lunch of boiled eggs and potatoes.
To their surprise, the pastor knocked on their door that afternoon. He spoke briefly with Eddie’s mother, then left. When Mrs. Ogan came back into the kitchen, all the joy had drained from her face. In her hand, she held an envelope containing that morning’s special offering for a needy family. The envelope held $87. Eddie and her siblings were in shock. Suddenly they understood that they were the poor family in church. They’d never thought of themselves as poor. In fact, they felt sorry for families who didn’t have the blessings they had. They had love and faith and good friends and a safe home.
A sadness settled over the house that week. No one touched the special offering money. The children even protested when their mother woke them up for church the next Sunday. They didn’t want to go. But Mrs. Ogan insisted.
That morning, there was a missionary visiting the church. He spoke of his work in Africa, and the needs of the churches there. He asked the congregation to contribute to putting a solid roof on an African church. All it would cost was $100.
Mrs. Ogan looked over at her children. They looked back at her, and the whole family began to smile. Without saying a word, Mrs. Ogan pulled the envelope with the sacrificial offering out of her purse. When she dropped it in the offering plate, the joy returned to the Ogan family. And imagine the missionary’s joy when he thanked the church for raising enough to buy a new roof for a church in Africa. He remarked to the pastor, “You must have some rich people in this church.”
And Eddie Ogan wrote, “Suddenly it struck us! . . . We were the rich family in the church! Hadn’t the missionary said so? From that day on I’ve never been poor again. I’ve always remembered how rich I am because I have Jesus!” (6)
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” The deepest question of the human heart is, “Is there a God?” And the question after that is, “If so, what is God like?” In Jesus’ first publicly-recorded sermon, he answers both these questions. God is right here with you. He has come to bring good news. And He cares about those who are hurting and in need. Doesn’t that tell you everything you need to know about God’s character? Isn’t that a God you can trust with your life? With all my heart, I believe so. And I hope and pray that this morning you will trust your life to the God who has come to bring you good news.
- John Jewell, http://www.lectionarysermons.com/ADV3-98.html.
- “Jewish Beliefs about the Messiah.” ReligionFacts.com. 31 Jan. 2021. Web. Accessed 29 Apr. 2021. <religionfacts.com/judaism/messiah>
- Michael Frost, Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture(Kindle Edition).
- Richard Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel(Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008), p. 11. Cited in Lucado, Max. Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make A Difference(Kindle Location 2624). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
- Source unknown.
- “The Rich Family In Church” by Eddie Ogan — Mikey’s Funnies (funnies-owner@lists.MikeysFunnies.com).
6. “The Rich Family In Church” by Eddie Ogan — Mikey’s Funnies (funnies-owner@lists.MikeysFunnies.com).
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C (1)
The story is told of a Franciscan monk in Australia assigned to be the guide and “gofer” to Mother Teresa when she visited New South Wales. Thrilled and excited at the prospect of being so close to this great woman, he dreamed of how much he would learn from her and what they would talk about. But during her visit, he became frustrated. Although he was constantly near her, the friar never had the opportunity to say one word to Mother Teresa. There were always other people for her to meet.
Finally, her tour was over, and she was due to fly to New Guinea. In desperation, the Franciscan friar spoke to Mother Teresa: If I pay my own fare to New Guinea, can I sit next to you on the plane so I can talk to you and learn from you? Mother Teresa looked at him. You have enough money to pay airfare to New Guinea? she asked.
Yes, he replied eagerly. “Then give that money to the poor,” she said. “You’ll learn more from that than anything I can tell you.” Mother Teresa understood that Jesus’ ministry was to the poor and she made it hers as well. She knew that they more than anyone else needed good news.
On a Saturday morning, in Nazareth, the town gathered in the synagogue to listen to Jesus read and teach. It was no big surprise. He was well known in the area; it was his hometown. He was raised there. They wanted to learn from him. So when he read from the Isaiah scroll, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor” everyone understood these words to be the words of Isaiah. It is how that prophet from long ago defined his ministry.
When Jesus finished that reading he handed the scroll to the attendant and sat down. In that day you sat in the Moses Seat to teach to the people. Today preachers stand in a pulpit. So all eyes were on Jesus, waiting for him to begin his teaching. What would he say about this great prophet Isaiah? Would he emphasis the bad news? Israel had sinned and would be taken into captivity by the Babylonians. Or would he emphasis the good news? One day God would restore his people and bring them back from captivity. It was Israel’s ancient history but it still spoke volumes.
Now here’s the wonderful twist, the thing that catches everyone off guard that Saturday morning in Nazareth. Jesus does neither. He doesn’t emphasize the past. He focuses on the present. He doesn’t lift up Isaiah as the great role model; Jesus lifts up himself. This is the pertinent point. It’s what upsets everybody at the synagogue. It’s why everybody was furious with him and drove him out of town. They were going to kill him. He dared to say that these great words of Isaiah were really about himself. “Today,” he said, “this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
This morning let’s look at the ministries of Isaiah and Jesus. Why are their ministries so closely tied and why does Jesus describe himself as fulfilling Isaiah’s ministry?
First, Isaiah’s ministry: Who was this man? He lived 700 years before Christ and was a prophet during the reign of King Hezekiah. He spent most of his life in the city of Jerusalem. Now what was his ministry? Let me tell you first that it was not a ministry that any man would be proud to fulfill. His ministry will to proclaim the awful and fearsome judgment that would be brought upon Israel and any nation that defies God. But there was more. His message was to add salt to the wound because God was going to use the wicked kingdoms of Assyria and Babylon to destroy his people and take them into captivity and slavery.
Do you know what Isaiah called that day? “The Day of The Lord.” So next time you hear that phrase remember that it’s not a good thing. The day of the Lord is to be feared.
How could God so abandon his people? Let me tell you about a commencement speech that was addressed to Harvard’s Senior Class. On the morning of their graduation, seniors gather in Memorial Church to hear the minister offer words of solace and encouragement as they leave “the Yard” to take their places in the world.
The 1998 senior class heard the unvarnished truth from the Rev. Peter Gomes, minister at Harvard and the author of several books on the Bible. Doctor Gomes took no prisoners that day. He began: “You are going to be sent out of here for good, and most of you aren’t ready to go. The president is about to bid you into the fellowship of educated men and women and, (and here he paused and spoke each word slowly for emphasis) you know just – how – dumb – you – really – are.”
The senior class cheered in agreement.
“And worse than that,” Doctor Gomes continued, “the world – and your parents in particular – are going to expect that you will be among the brightest and best. But you know that you can no longer fool all the people even some of the time. By noontime today, you will be out of here. By tomorrow you will be history. By Saturday, you will be toast. That’s a fact – no exceptions, no extensions.”
“Nevertheless, there is reason to hope,” Doctor Gomes promised. “The future is God’s gift to you. God will not let you stumble or fall. God has not brought you this far to this place to ABANDON you or leave you here alone and afraid. The God of Israel never stumbles, never sleeps, never goes on sabbatical. Thus, my beloved and bewildered young friends, do not be afraid.”
What Doctor Gomes did for the senior class at Harvard, Isaiah does for Israel. This is the wonderful part of Isaiah’s ministry. It’s true that he told them they would be destroyed. But he also preached a message of restoration. He stood on the steps of the temple in Jerusalem and told them there was hope. There would be a year of Jubilee. There would come a time when God would forgive. Listen to Isaiah’s words in chapter 14: “The Lord will have compassion on Israel; once again he will choose his people and settle them in their land. And the house of Israel will possess the nations.”
Don’t forget this my friends: God is a Holy God and he must punish his rebellious people but he will afterwards redeem them. Now with this in mind listen to what Isaiah tells the people in chapter 61: The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me to preach good news to the poor…bind up the brokenhearted…proclaim freedom for captives…and release the prisoners from darkness.” Do you hear the message. It is god redeeming his people from captivity. It’s a kind of second Exodus.
Isaiah had a name for this day. He called it “The Year Of The Lord’s Favor.” This is a good phrase. Next time you hear it be glad.
And this is the theme that Jesus draws upon. Let’s now take a look at Jesus’ Ministry. When Jesus sits down in the Moses Seat and begins his sermon he applies Isaiah’s words to himself. But there is one thing more. Jesus isn’t just proclaiming restoration; Jesus intends on fulfilling that restoration. He is going to complete the work that Isaiah left undone.
Let’s stop for a minute here and ask a question. It’s the question we asked at the beginning. Why does Jesus describe himself as fulfilling Isaiah’s ministry? How is Jesus going to finish or complete Isaiah’s work? Wasn’t the work already fulfilled when Israel was redeemed and brought out of Babylonian captivity? The answer is Yes, in a manner of speaking. They even rebuilt their Temple that had been destroyed in the war. You can read about it in the Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
So how is Jesus fulfilling it? Here it is…now don’t miss this: God said it is through suffering of the servant that salvation in its fullest sense would be realized. Israel, described here as male servant, would have to suffer before he could be redeemed.
Here is how Isaiah described the redemptive nature of Israel’s suffering:
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
By now you recognize that these words are descriptive of Jesus’ suffering on the cross. And they are. But they were first a description of what Israel would have to endure before she could be redeemed.
Here is the great truth: It is through suffering that we are set free from our prisons. Elie Wiesel, a teenager then, witnessed the death of many family members. He recalls the day when he, as well as the other prisoners, were finally liberated from Auschwitz by the allies. On that day powerful, strong soldiers broke down the fences of the concentration camp to release the prisoners. Frail, feeble, gaunt, and near death they were terrible victims of a horrible criminal evil.
In spite of his condition Wiesel remembers one solider, a strong black man who upon seeing the horror of human suffering was overcome with grief. He fell to his knees sobbing in a mix of disbelief and sorrow. The captives, now liberated, walked over to the soldier, put their arms around him, and offered comfort to him.
I can’t help but wonder what it is that Jesus saw on that day he began his ministry. Looking out at those gathered in the synagogue, just as I am looking out at you this morning, as near as I can figure, he saw the same thing that strong black soldier saw: Terrible victims of a horrible criminal evil. And this is no complement! Listen to his words: 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.
We don’t like to think of ourselves as victims of sin. But evil, in a manner of speaking, has had its own way with us and when Jesus arrived on the scene ready to liberate us prisoners I am sure he was over come with grief.