Break your chains 06/02/19
First ucc – Carlisle Luke 4:16-21
Today is the day when we recognize in worship there are some new faces coming forward to serve on Consistory. They may be serving as leaders of the church for the very first time, or they might be returning to serve as a leader of the church after a time away. In any event, they are stepping forward to take this responsibility, and we will be lifting them up in the later worship time through prayer and ritual.
There are a number of ways to serve God and live out our faith. Some people have chosen to serve as leaders of First UCC – Carlisle. Other people choose to serve on of the councils or committees of this church. And still others will find other project, programs, or events to participate in and assist with in order to follow their calling. This church is blessed to have opportunities and events and other ways that people can contribute to the life of the church, and to the glory of God.
While there are ways to serve, not everyone does. There are any number of reasons why. Perhaps there are work circumstances which prevents a person from taking on a project. It could be a family situation, or a life event that holds someone back. This is not a chance to judge, but rather to point out some of the barriers for people as to living out their faith. People facing such situations will eventually find times later to serve.
One of the more difficult challenges to living out our faith comes in the form of fear. Fear is a powerful emotion. Fear can turn individuals away from fully living out their faith. Fear can drive us not to respond to God’s call. Living in faith is not always meant to easy or simple.
Sometimes our faith will call us forth, out of our routines, possibly away from the familiar and to live into a new situation.
I am sure that a number of people are not contained or controlled by their fears. Yet it is a possibility that exists for each and every one of us, in this community, and in this world. When someone has fear in their lives, it can change or alter their actions and words. Fear can cause people to step back from a path of faith, to step away from the unknown, or to avoid the stranger in our midst. We must be aware of the presence of fear, and the severe limitations it can place on people.
There are times when fear can be related to safety and maintaining ones existence. I am not suggesting we ignore the warning signs in form of feat when it comes to bodily harm, or any other form of damage that could happen to us. God made us to be stewards of this world and all of life within it. This includes our own lives. We must practice some level of self-care and safety, and yet at the same time we cannot allow fear to bind us or constrain us. Fear is perfectly capable of chaining up a person or a community, and restricting their lives.
The passage today from the Gospel of Luke occurs just after Jesus had spent 40 days in the wilderness. Jesus spent this time in the wilderness in order to prepare him for the ministry that God was calling him forth to perform. He spent the time not eating or drinking, and after that period of fasting and preparing, he engaged in a verbal debate with the Devil. He persevered through the challenges and questions that the Devil put before him. And after this Jesus went right into the temple.
Often this time in the wilderness is seen as a time of testing, or a time of preparation. Some of the preparation that could have been occurring could have been the reflection by Jesus on any worries or fears he had about this calling. It is easy to say that Jesus was divine and so he would have had any concerns approaching this divinely called ministry.
We must also remember that Jesus was also human, and so it would not have been out of the realm of possibility for Jesus to feel some level of anxiety or fear as he approached the time of ministering to the community and beyond. It would have been a new experience for him. He may have imagined that not everyone was going to be receptive to his words and actions, some of the ministry could involve conflict and hostility. And so he prepared and strengthened himself spiritually, mentally and emotionally in the wilderness.
Once Jesus had finished his time in the wilderness, he begins his ministry and he returns to Galilee and starts to preach to neighborhoods and faith communities at their various synagogues. In time, Jesus travelled to Nazareth, the location where he had grown up. He went there to preach on that particular Sabbath. Diana Butler Bass who is a scholar and an author sheds some light on the process that happens on any given Sabbath. On a Saturday, which is the Sabbath day for the Jewish community, a preacher, not a rabbi or some other formal religious authority, but a person known as a darshanim, a “speaker” or a “teller” reads from the scroll and then comments on the verses. This preaching style of Jesus’ day was widely practiced and expected by congregations–that the speaker would take biblical verses literally out of their context—and apply certain academics practices to look at the text for instance within a historical context, or a textual context, or a literal context. These different ways of approaching a sacred text would allow a darshhnim or any religious teacher to help the audience to begin to understand the text and see how it has meaning and an impact on the people’s lives.
Preaching, whether it was back in the day of Jesus. Or as it is intended in this day and age is essentially concerned with the making of the ancient biblical text, whether it was story or prophetic, alive for the day and open for understanding to the surrounding crowd. In this particular passage from the gospel of Luke Jesus was the darshanim for the synagogue in Nazareth.
We have to assume that this was a planned event, in that the leaders of the synagogue had arranged with Jesus for him to come preach. Jesus would have been known to many there. I imagine most of the people would have remembered Jesus as a little boy, as a young adolescent. So we might have to consider what expectations or limited perspectives Jesus was seen with as he went and stood in front of the crowd. This could have been an intimidating situation for Jesus, as he was wondering how seriously his hometown community might take his words. Have we ever thought about what it might look like if we returned to the town we grew up and attempted to teach the community? How many of the people there would see us as professional and adult, as opposed to possible reflecting and reminiscing of what we were like when we were little children and was not so mature. This could have been a situation framed with fear.
Jesus reads this passage from Isaiah to the crowd. The passage speaks of the Spirit of the Lord being present, with Jesus as he taught, and the message of justice that was to occur in life. Good news to the poor; release to the captive’s recovery of sight to the blind, the oppressed go free; and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. These things that Jesus shared from scriptures suggests a number of things: that Jesus was here to bring about justice for all people; that equality and freedom was to be made available to the people in the community and the world. That those facing health issues would be healed. That people who were facing challenging life circumstances and hardships would be made whole. And this message health and fullness was meant for all.
This sort of message might have brought concern to the people. The spirit of the Lord was with Jesus and it was calling him to speak this and follow through on these statements from scripture. This would mean change within individual lives and for the community.
This notion of change might have brought forth fear for some people. But God’s love and goodness was to be shared with all the people of the community, and Jesus was going to bring this forth.
The community of Nazareth in general did not appreciate what Jesus had to say. Whether they saw him as a little boy with no significance, or were fearful of the words he was offering, they rejected him. Their feelings limited their willingness to consider what he shared from scriptures and what he had to say.
The words that Jesus shared from the prophet Isaiah were profound literally and figuratively. Jesus was speaking of change. But he was also talking about people growing and developing and transforming from what they had been. Ailments and conditions would be taken away from the infirm. People who were incarcerated would be freed, and people would be made whole. These words were suggesting that people were to be freed at a physical, emotional, and mental level. While there was change coming, there was no need for fear or worry. God was going to take care of the community, and Jesus was going to be their teacher and leader.
Fear may have hampered the community of Nazareth that day. They needed to be open to the spirit of the Lord and to the words Jesus offered.
As we are living thousands of years later, the message is still relevant. We need to be open to the spirit of the lord and live out our faith. We cannot let fear and worry ruin or manacle our lives. We must make sure not to be chained down by our feelings and emotions. We need to break free of that which keeps us from God, which keeps us from living in faith all of our days, and following the example of Jesus
Thanks be to God and may the people of God say together amen