Hancock Church Sermon
Rev. Paul Shupe
January 27, 2013
According to Luke, Jesus as an adult made his first appearance on the public stage when he went to the Jordan to be baptized by John the Baptist. Confirmed there as God’s beloved son, Jesus then went into the wilderness, where he was tempted by evil. Having resisted temptation by the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Then went home, to Nazareth of Galilee, where he had this encounter in his hometown.
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘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.’ And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’
“Good News for the Home Folks”
Jesus has been busy. Since his baptism at the hands of John the Baptist, and the confirmation of his identity as the beloved Son of God, he has spent forty days in the wilderness, fasting and praying, in preparation for his public ministry. As he was preparing to leave the wilderness, when he was most hungry, and physically depleted, he encountered the temptations of evil, rejecting the offers of a quick meal, political power and showy displays. Then, for an unknown length of time he’s been wandering through the villages and small towns in Galilee, preaching and teaching in the synagogues of the people, finding his teaching to be welcomed by many. As noted, he’s been busy, and it’s all been good. Everyone, Luke tells us, is speaking well of him.
And then he goes home. To Nazareth, to the village where he grew up with Mary his mother and Joseph his father, Perhaps you know what it’s like to return home after you’ve been away for a while: learning, maturing, growing into yourself. Perhaps you’ve overheard the compliments offered on the occasion of your return, perhaps by your old friends, or your parents’ old friends: “What a nice young man he as become!” “You’d have never predicted that she would turn out so well, would you?” We hear similar things around here, when the people we last saw as bright-eyed Hancock Youth Group kids come back as to visit, now college graduates, settling into careers, with new possibilities unfolding. And we speak of them with that same awed mix of joy and surprise.
So we can imagine how it might have felt when Jesus, his new and burgeoning reputation preceding him, comes into the synagogue in Nazareth, on the Sabbath. Any adult male could have been asked to read, or to speak; that’s how it worked then. Can you imagine showing up, being handed a Bible and being told that your sermon will begin just after the second hymn? But surely they asked him to read because of who he was: the hometown boy making good.
He requested the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and we can see him unrolling it until he finds just the passage he has been seeking:
‘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.’
He read it from a central platform, standing above the seated congregation. Then he rolled it back up and handed it to the attendant, whose responsibility it was to care for the precious manuscripts. Then he sat down. And in the eyes of our imaginations we can see them all turning to him, their familiar faces filled with expectation. What would he say about this precious text?
He surprised them. “Today,” he said, “this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Good News, delivered to the home folks, without ambiguity or obfuscation. What the Spirit had told him on the shores of the Jordan on the day of his baptism, he now told the friends of his youth: the One chosen by God has come; hear him.
They had trouble hearing this news; had difficulty understanding how it could be so. Wise teacher? Gifted speaker? Such things they could believe and would gladly celebrate. But that Jesus, Mary and Joseph’s boy, would sit in their presence and claim to be the Messiah, well, it was a bit much, and the home folks had difficulty hearing the news. And the voices that had been praising him now doubted and questioned, and even grew angry with him.
This is the day of our Annual Meeting. In our Congregational tradition, this is a vital day, an even a holy one, as we sit together and talk about the work of the church in the year ahead. Not everyone sees the holiness of this day. Many of you who have come for worship will not stay, and without knowing why, I suspect that many will think that the important spiritual work of the day will be done when the benediction is announced. The Annual Meeting will be filled with talk about buildings and money and budgets and elections, and what’s holy about any of that? What’s spiritual about our internal business?
Yet we know from the witness of our forebears and from our own experience that it is holy. It is sacred work because it is the work of the Spirit. Now not everyone can see the Spirit at work in committee meetings. For some the Spirit is a presence in worship, but not group process. But in our tradition we understand that in addition to the capacity for prayer, and for song and for worship, God has given us the capacity to think, and to solve problems, to listen to others and to speak our own minds. And what keeps this all from flying apart, from becoming nothing more than a fight over whether your will prevails or mine, is the presence of the Spirit. It is the Spirit who reminds us to speak boldly, but always with humility. It is the Spirit who reminds us that God can work through another just as easily as through me. It is the Spirit who reminds us that good things happen when two or more people gather together and speak of Jesus and decide together what their faith in him requires of them now.
And how do we know this? How are we assured that Spirit is real, a living and powerful presence? How do we know that the Spirit is God who is moving among us, and our choices are not merely the best decision that human beings can make when they are working together? Well, we look, as always, to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. And when Jesus came up out of the Jordan, the Spirit descended upon him. And when Jesus was faced with temptation, it was the Spirit who steeled his nerve and strengthened his resolve to serve God and not lesser powers. And when Jesus walked into Galilee and began to teach and to heal, he did so because he was filled with the Spirit. And when at last Jesus came to his hometown, he selected for them the very text that said that the Spirit of the LORD was upon him. The Spirit was present whenever Jesus worked his wonders. And the Spirit will be present whenever those who gather in his name call for wisdom, for courage, for guidance.
Listen, Jesus came to Nazareth with Good News for the homefolks, but they could not hear him, could not see the Spirit dancing with him, moving in him. They could not grasp the implication that the work of God was being fulfilled in their midst. We however, on this day, can still choose to see that the times are full, that the new world that God desires is already breaking into being. And if we have the courage and the nerve and the vision to seek the Spirit, that work might be done here and now, in and through us, because the Spirit who empowered Jesus will empower all those who seek her in the name of Jesus. Come, Holy Spirit come! Renew and strengthen this congregation of your people to see the Good News of Jesus breaking in, and guide and empower this congregation of your people to lend our lives and our aid so that the words of the prophet might be fulfilled: with the hungry being fed, the sick and lonely being visited, and a new world of justice and peace prevail. Amen.