Sermon for 23rd January – from Phil Horscroft

Luke 4:14-22

Merciful Father, may my words be acceptable in your sight and fruitful in our hearts and minds.

In today’s reading of the Gospel, we see Our Lord Jesus returning to his home town from Galilee.  He had gone to Galilee after being in the wilderness 40 days fasting and praying, being severely tested both by the Holy Spirit and then by the enemy.  Now I think it should be mentioned that when we are allowed to be tested by the Holy Spirit there are two things to remember.  First the Holy Spirit will not allow us to be tested beyond our capabilities; this is promised to us in scripture.  Secondly, we should keep in mind that the Holy Spirit isn’t testing us to find out what we’re capable of.  He already knows this.  The Holy Spirit allows us to be tested in order to show us ourselves what we can achieve when we need to.  Galilee was the beginning of the earthly ministry of our Lord Jesus. 

We know from other readings that this initial part of His ministry had been very successful.  His teaching was seen as authoritative and there was also the episode of the possessed man being freed from the power of the demon in Mark chapter 1 verses 21 to 28.  Now what I’d like to do now is pull our focus out for a moment and look at what was going on in the Holy land in general.  Thirty years before, a story had been told in the south of Israel near Bethlehem of a miraculous birth and a massacre of the innocents; a prophecy of the Messiah fulfilled.  Rumours of the messiah must have begun to circulate.  Let’s not forget this was a society where the news was spread by word of mouth and there was no television, so not much else to do once the dinner had been cooked and eaten. There was also the current excitement in Bethany near the Jordan river of the ministry of John the Baptist.  We know that this was causing an international stir.  It is inconceivable that the people in Nazareth were unaware of these happenings.  It is also not much of a stretch to assume that the story of the baptism of our Lord Jesus had made its way to His home town.  The rumour that the Messiah was imminent could and very probably was going round in Israelite society.  At the same time this son of man, with a reputation as a wise and learned expounder of the Holy Scriptures has been teaching the scriptures with great authority and performing wondrous signs in Galilee.  It is possible that the people in Nazareth were unaware of the activities of our Lord Jesus in Galilee but not really feasible in a society where asking travellers for news was the national pastime.  The atmosphere must have been excited at the very least; and in the middle of all this unusual activity the man who has been very near to if not right in the centre of the news comes home and goes to the synagogue to worship on the Sabbath.  The whole town must have been there.  The scrolls are handed to our Lord Jesus and he finds the part of the scriptures, which could be said to be the most relevant to what is going on in the world at that time; could that have been coincidence?  He reads out the actual mission statement of the longed-for Messiah and then he sits down.  Interesting sidenote preachers would stand to read the scriptures and then sit down to expound on what they had read and discuss it with the congregation. Once seated our Lord Jesus simply says “today you see this prophecy fulfilled in me”.  How do these people react?  It is doubtful in the extreme that any other community of people anywhere in the Holy land would have found this statement easier to believe.  They had the evidence of their own experience watching Jesus grow up amongst them.  They had the evidence of current affairs.  They had the evidence of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee.  We know and believe that Jesus’ statement was true but we have the luxury of hindsight and the New Testament.  But the people there that day did not have this luxury of our viewpoint.  They had to process what they were hearing on the spot.  On the one hand they had seen this boy grow into a man.  We know from other readings that He had grown in favour with God and with people.  The people in the synagogue that Sabbath day knew or had heard that the man sitting before them had done wondrous and amazing things in Galilee.  They may also have heard about the events of the Baptism of our Lord Jesus at Bethany by the river Jordan. They knew from their own experience that there was indeed something about this man that was extraordinary.  Now they are faced with something that will test their faith.  Our Lord Jesus has demonstrated his physical authority with Scripture in front of their eyes for many years.  Our Lord Jesus has demonstrated His Spiritual authority in Capernaum when exorcising a demon in the sight of the whole community. They’ve almost certainly heard the stories they’ve certainly seen with their own eyes things that point towards the truth.  Now they have to put what they’ve seen and heard together with what they’ve spent their entire lives reading about and praying for, the coming of the Messiah, and now here it is.  In their faces.  Their faith is being tested.  They are standing at the crossroads of faith; the doorway of the church.  The moment when they turn to Christ or they turn back to the world.  They fall at the first hurdle.  “Isn’t this the son of Joseph” they ask.  When faced with an opportunity to step through the door of the church they turn around and walk back into the world. 

They look back to the world of the safe ordinary. Into the realm of certainty; of what they can see and touch and smell and taste; away from the realm of belief and trust in what they cannot see and smell and taste and touch.  Now it would be very easy for us to look down on these people.  Couldn’t they see what was in front of them?  Here was the man who had shown signs, demonstrating that He just might be that guy, and they had retreated back into the mundanity of the real world.  You can’t get hurt falling off the floor.  But would any of us here have done any better?  I know I probably wouldn’t have. But, why is that?  Why do humans have such a problem believing in our God?  We don’t seem to have any problem believing in the concept of a god. We know from centuries of stories and studies and experience that every single human community in history had or has something that is a god to them.  Human beings are god-centered beings.  We have always appointed something into the status of a god in our societies.  With some it’s a wooden statue, with others it’s a volcano or a mythical being.  With others it’s a pound note or a new car.  Explore into the deepest jungle and find the most remote tribe who have never been exposed to the rest of the world and, if you look long enough, you will find something that they worship, something that is a god to them.  So why, when we are presented with the personification of our God who shows unmistakable signs of His divinity, do we run away from our greatest hope.  Could it be that we cannot believe that someone as wonderful and great as our God could possibly love us?  Could it be that we cannot believe that someone who created the known and the unknown universe could also be contained within a human body?  A body just like ours; we ARE created in the image of the God who made all that is seen and unseen.  Could it be that we cannot believe that the one true God, the most high God, who is without sin, without blemish, without fault could love this sinful, faulty, blemished people like the perfect father He is.  It is my belief that this can be one of the biggest stumbling blocks on our path back to God.  Our inability to believe in ourselves as God believes in us, or at least to admit the possibility that we could be loved in such a way.  This distances us from being able to take that leap of faith.  This inability to believe that we could ever deserve the love of our God.  So, what does our God do about this crippling disability?  He sends us His son.  Fully incarnated man through His human mother; fully incarnated divine through his Holy Father the Holy Spirit of God.  This is our God in a form that we can believe could love us just as we are because He also knows what it is like to stumble, to suffer the cold and the rain and the pain and the tiredness and the hunger and the thirst and the shame and the humiliation of being human, in full measure.  

This is what we see in today’s reading. Here we have a community, which has witnessed for at least twelve years the wonder that is our Lord Jesus growing up in their midst increasing in wisdom and in favour with God and with people.  They have also heard stories about miraculous signs.  They have had a lifetime of teachings and studies about the Messiah and there is a movement, a feeling in the air that this just might be the time.  John the Baptist is causing a great stir, proclaiming the coming of the messiah to be imminent.  There have been stories about a miraculous birth circulating for decades.  Here before them is the one who could conceivably be said to be the best candidate for fulfilling that prophecy, that role, and what do they do?  They retreat.  They turn back to the world of everyday; the world of sin and limitations and away from the world of love without limit and possibilities abounding through the cross of Jesus with the Grace of God.  Would we have done any better?  But we can learn from this.  We can climb up onto the shoulders of those who have gone before.  God has placed into our hearts the seed of His love.  God has placed into our minds the questions which will lead us to Him.  God has placed into our world the presence of His very own son to show us the way.  Our Lord Jesus has made himself the lens through which we see our God and our God sees us.  What shall we do with these things?  Shall we turn back into the world that we came from? Or shall we keep taking those steps towards our God on the path that is our Lord and Saviour who is Jesus?  We all know it isn’t easy.  It isn’t comfortable; we don’t like change; we don’t like conflict; we don’t like being different.   But we all believe it to be the right thing to do; the best thing to do.  I’ll give it a go if you will; I’ll give it a go if you won’t; after all, think of the alternative if we don’t.


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