There are four basic religious truths:
1. Muslims do not recognize Jews as God’s chosen people.
2. Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah.
3. Protestants do not recognize the Pope as the head of the Christian church.
4. Baptists do not recognize each other at Hooters.
That one’s not my fault. It was sent to me by one of you. . . but it raises a point. It makes me wonder – could someone who did not know you tell that you were a Christian? In the way you live, in the way you deal with other people – do you act such a way that your faith is evident?
When Jesus returned home to Nazareth and entered the synagogue I don’t think anyone recognized the change that had taken place in him until he stood up and read from the Prophet Isaiah. Before that moment he was simply Joseph and Mary’s oldest son. After that moment they knew that he was claimed by God in a very special way.
I would have loved to have been there that day. I would have loved to have heard his voice as he stood to read the scripture coupling together passages from chapters 58 and 61 in the Book of Isaiah:
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.
I would have loved to have seen the looks on those gathered – his neighbors, family and friends – when he sat down looked at them and said: Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
That must have been quite shocking. Jesus didn’t just read the scriptures he told them that he was fulfilling the scriptures or rather they were being fulfilled through him – through his life and later through his death. That must have come as quite a shock for the hometown crowd to hear such a thing from the boy who had grown up right in their midst.
But the people of Nazareth didn’t understand what had happened to Jesus since leaving home. He was different. They didn’t recognize him and they didn’t recognize the God who was working through every instant of his life.
Let’s put our reading for today in context. Some months before this moment, Jesus had been baptized by John in the Jordan River. As he went under the water to be washed clean, the Holy Spirit descended upon him in a way that had never before happened to a child of Abraham. God’s Spirit was given to Jesus and it stayed with him all the way to the cross.
After his baptism, Jesus withdrew from the world away from everyone out into the desert. For 40 days and nights he underwent a time of testing and trial. With little food and water he took part in a spiritual struggle with the forces of sin that threatened to corrupt his calling from God. Tempted by the lure of power, prestige and worldly comfort, Jesus had to decide whom he would serve – God or the powers of this world.
In the end, he emerged from the desert fully committed to the God who filled his life. God’s will was now his will and he would serve God alone.
Traveling back home to Nazareth, Jesus was different. No longer just the son of Mary and Joseph he was also the Messiah, the anointed one. Our reading for this morning can be seen as the inaugural speech of Jesus’ ministry, if you will. It is the culmination of his baptism and his temptations in the wilderness. It is his public declaration of his true identity and his life’s work. He not only reads from Isaiah he embodies Isaiah’s very words. In Jesus, Isaiah’s prophecies are fulfilled. Jesus has come to: to bring good news to the poor, 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.
Reading this passage from Luke’s gospel makes me think about what piece of scripture you and I might pick if we had to stand up and read a verse from the Bible that was intended to say something true about how we live our lives. Can other recognize God at work in us, at work through us? What do you stand for and what are you willing to declare by the way you live your life?
You see, the fact of the matter is – most of us here today have been baptized just as Jesus was baptized. We have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit just as Jesus was. None of us may be the Messiah but we are no less called to live our lives in service to God. We too are called to live in such a way that others can see God through us.
St. Paul believed that every Christian has been given a gift by the Holy Spirit for the benefit of the community and the world. No Christian is without the power of God’s Spirit manifested in some way in his or her life. These gifts when taken together make up the body of Christ. And all of them, whether large or small, have been given for one purpose – the common good.
A large part of the Christian journey involves discovering your gifts and putting them to use for the good of the world. Finding your gift, claiming your place, making your life transparent for God is part of what it means to be baptized.
What part of the work of Christ would you claim as your own? Make no mistake about it; a part of this work is yours to do. Are you a healer, a speaker of truth, one who serves, a lover of children, a caretaker for the poor, a leader of worship, someone gifted in prayer, a teacher or preacher? Do you have wisdom to share, money to give, are you a visionary? In order for the body of Christ to function, in order for others to recognize God at work in the world, each of us must claim our gifts and put them to use.
Members of the earliest church were not called Christians they were called – followers of the Way. They were followers of the way of Jesus – they humbled themselves in baptism, struggled with temptation and dedicated themselves to serve as vessels for God’s love – just as Jesus did. In order for us to be part of the body of Christ this way must also be our way.
Let us pray.
I can hear Jesus’ quiet voice in the words he said,
Words that set the captive free, words that lift the dead into living.
In his dying now he asks us in his stead to be the one, be the one.
Be the one to speak the words of truth, be the one to quell the lies,
Be the one to see that justice will be done.
Be the one to learn from children, be the one to teach the wise,
Be the one, be the one, be the one. 1 Amen.
1. Ray Makeever.