It is a while since I have posted a sermon. A few months ago, the Iranians in the congregation asked for the sermon to be translated into Farsi. So now we have a short sermon in English which is then delivered in Farsi. So sermons have had to become short (around 600 words), so that the service as a whole doesn’t run on too long. Recently sermon preparation time has been spent on shortening old sermons. This is the first fresh sermon I have prepared in a while.
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In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus begins his active ministry in Galilee. He is teaching and probably also healing people. He becomes very popular and everyone is talking about him.
And then he goes to Nazareth, his home town. The evidence suggests that Nazareth was a Jewish settler town in a gentile, or non-Jewish, region. He goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he is invited to read the Scripture and comment on it. He chooses a passage from the prophet Isaiah.
The congregation would have settled comfortably into their seats. This was a passage they knew well and loved. But to their surprise, Jesus only reads part of the passage. He misses out their favourite bit, which comes after the passage that Jesus read on that occasion, and talks about the golden age that will happen when the Messiah comes, when the Jews will be brought home and restored to God’s favour, but the gentiles will suffer God’s judgement and would then become the servants of the Jews. As a settler community, they heard it as a passage that justified what they are trying to do. It was a passage that made them feel good. But Jesus misses out that part of the reading. That didn’t please them.
And Jesus edits the passage that he does read: he misses out some phrases and tucks in a line from another chapter of Isaiah altogether. And he does this to reinforce the message that he wants to get across.
So Jesus reads from Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. That is clearly a reference to his own baptism, where the Spirit came upon him in the form of a dove. When he says this, Jesus is clearly claiming that he is the Messiah.
Jesus then reads from the Isaiah passage about the task of proclamation, that he is called to bring good news to the poor and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. And when you unpack the meaning of these lines, Jesus is talking about bringing the good news to those who are humble and pious and who sincerely seek God.
When the prophet first wrote about being sent to bring liberty to those who are captive and freedom to those who are oppressed, he was talking about the exiles in Babylon, for whom liberty meant going home. The task here is to work for justice, to bring freedom to those who are trapped in difficult places.
The passage also talks about opening the eyes of the blind, which was part of what was expected of the Messiah, to bring compassion and mercy.
When he has read the passage, Jesus sits down. He tells his audience: Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. He is making a huge claim, that he is the Messiah, and this is what he is going to do. It is also telling us what he expects his followers to do – and that includes us.
Jesus’ audience that day in Nazareth expected to hear about the benefits they would receive as good and faithful Jews. Instead, Jesus tells them about his mission and what he expects his followers to do, namely:
· to proclaim the good news of Christ, both by going out into the community and by welcoming those who come to us;
· to work for justice and bring freedom to those who are trapped, whether by the circumstances or by politics – our work supporting asylum seekers is very much part of that agenda;
· and to live out God’s compassion and mercy to those who are in need and distress. We must care for others.
It is a great privilege to be followers of Jesus, and it does bring many spiritual and practical benefits, but it also gives us a responsibility, and this story helps us to think about the way we ourselves are called to serve.