Monday, February 4, 2013

first words

Our lives are full of all kinds of words. Some of those words are more important than others.

We often think of the importance of last words. Famous Last Words - we call them. Someones's last words before they die. The last words of Jesus from the cross on Good Friday. But this morning we won't be talking about last words, but first words instead.

Those are the kinds of words we find in the Gospel reading from Luke 4. Not last words, but first words – the first words of Jesus that Luke records. The first recorded words of Jesus  make this scene very important to understanding who Jesus is and what he is doing in the Gospel of Luke. You could almost say that this is Jesus’ Inaugural Address.

Inaugural addresses are important. The President just used his inaugural address to announce the priorities of his second term - his priorities, vision, and direction for the country. (whether you agree with him or not). A century and a half ago, President Abraham Lincoln used his second inaugural address to do something no President had ever done before – that is, speak critically about his own country in order to deal with the evil of slavery. He spoke about the toll that it had taken, and the need to stay the course in order to resolve both the war and the cause of liberty.

So what kind of vision do we hear in Jesus’ inaugural address? It is an announcement of his mission. It is a description of the kingdom of God. It is a promise of God’s presence and provision.

All of this and more is summarized by the words of good news that Jesus reads from the prophet 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.”

If you listen closely, its striking that this good news is only good if you are willing to admit what is bad, what is hard, what is lacking, what has been most difficult. It is not “good news” in a general sense, but it is specifically good news for the poor, the pagan, the gentile, the lost and the least of the house of Israel. It is not just any freedom, but freedom to those who are oppressed, liberty to those who are held captive, sight to those who are blind, the Lord's favor on those who have been excluded.

God offers words of comfort and encouragement, but those words only mean something to people who are in discomfort or discouragement. So how about us? How do you we hear those words today?

We spend so much time acting as if we have it all together, and we spend so much money trying to look better, fitter, and younger. There's so much pressure on us externally from the culture at large and internally from ourselves telling us that we don't need anyone or anything that it makes you wonder if Jesus’ message has any value for people today.

Except for one thing - all the stories we tell ourselves about being perfect, and all the commercials we pay attention to telling us that we really can have it all, all the ads that promise us that if we just buy this product we’ll never feel insecure again – they're all bogus. They're all false. And deep down, I think we know it.

So while Jesus’ message is good news, in order for us to hear it that way we must first hear the bad news, the bad news that we're not who we want to be or who we should be … and we never will be.

We all have to admit that we're failures. And that's hard for us to do. But the good news for us is that Jesus comes only for sinners. Jesus comes to bring good news only to those who are in need. Those who don’t see their need or admit their need have nothing to do with him.

But when we admit our need, when we are honest about our hurts, our fears, and our pain, three things happen. First, we feel immense freedom simply by admitting the truth. Second, we receive the great comfort that God's forgiveness offers us – release, healing, freedom, and favor. Third, we realize that we don’t simply receive God's comfort, but we are also invited to offer it to others. We are invited to not just hear and receive the good news, but also to be the good news and to live it out.

This is what the Body of Christ and community of faith is all about – God’s hands delivering the promise of good news to all who are in need. Are you afraid? Come allow Jesus to dispel your fear. Are you lonely? Come join our community and enjoy our fellowship. Are you sick? Come, or better yet, let us come to you so we can care for you. Are you isolated? We will come and visit you and pray for you. Are you discouraged? Let's gather together so we can strengthen and encourage one another.

As we hear Jesus’ inaugural address as He begins His mission and ministry this Epiphany season,  His words call out to us and invite us to be His Body in this place as we live out the good news gospel to all those we come into contact with.

May we seek to always use words that shows our God for who He is - the God who comes not for the healthy but for the sick, not for the righteous but the unrighteous, not for the perfect but the imperfect, not for the strong but for the weak. God in Christ comes for all of us. He comes for you.

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