Devotional – Isaiah 58.1

Devotional:

Isaiah 58.1

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins.

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Sin is an ugly word. It is an ugly word because it makes us uncomfortable. When I encounter people in my life who no longer attend church, they often describe their reasoning as “church was only about sin” or “I left every week feeling miserable.” Sin is an ugly word.

It is true that in some churches sin is the focus of nearly everything. But in Mainline Protestant Christianity, we avoid even mentioning sin because of its ugliness. We preachers would rather talk about God’s loving nature than God’s judgment. We would rather tell our people to love their neighbors as themselves than to tell their neighbors that they’re sinners. We would rather skip over the hard passages about condemnation than reflect on how they are still speaking directly to us even today.

And yet, God speaks through Isaiah to say, “Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins.”

There are definitely bad ways to “shout out” about people’s sins. Logging on to Facebook in order to belittle the other for their differing political or social opinion might sound like a blaring trumpet blast, but it accomplishes nothing good. Sending anonymous letters or notes to people because of their former lifestyles might feel like “not holding back” but it usually just leaves them hurt and afraid. Judging others from afar with our like-minded peers might feel like “announcing their rebellion” but it will just harden our hearts.

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However, there are good ways to “shout out” about people’s sins. First, we must remember that we too are sinners who have fallen short of God’s glory. Second, we can only speak the truth of another’s sin in love, which is to say, we need to be in relationship with the person to such a degree that they can hear what we have to say without blowing it off. Third, we can only “announce rebellion” if we are willing to help the person to move out of their sinfulness; we cannot simply declare their sin like a trumpet blast unless we are willing to do the hard work of helping them out of it. And finally, we can only announce another person’s sins if we are prepared to hear our sins as well.

The existence of the church is a response to our need to hear about our sinfulness. We gather together to hear the Word so that we might be transformed into God’s people. But this cannot happen if we are more concerned with transforming others, than with transforming ourselves. We cannot announce the sins of another, unless we can first say “Have mercy on me O Lord, for I am a sinner.”

So shout out, and lift up your voices like a trumpet. But beware, for the trumpet will blow in your direction as well.

The Healing Ministry

Luke 4.14-21

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “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.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
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This morning we continue in the season of Lent. Christians throughout the world will use this time to repent of sins and seek renewal in their commitment to follow Jesus Christ. We are exploring and examining Jesus’ life from baptism to resurrection by walking in his footsteps on the way that leads to life. We are using Adam Hamilton’s book The Way to guide our weekly services because it follows Jesus’ life in a way that is important for us to rediscover during Lent. Today we are looking at Jesus’ healing ministry.

 

 

Have you ever listened to a sermon that made you so mad you wanted to kill the preacher?

Jesus, after his baptism by John and his temptations in the wilderness, was filled with the power of the Spirit when he returned to Galilee. He began teaching in synagogues and people were praising him left and right.

When he came home to Nazareth, the place where he grew up, a town of no more than 200 people, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, as was his custom. The place was filled to the brim with people who had known him his entire life, filled with friends who were more like family, filled with people full of expectation.

He stood up to read, and the scroll of Isaiah was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and started to read, “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.

Jesus then slowly rolled the scroll back up, and sat down to begin his lesson. Everyone was glued to Jesus. They sat around him and waited to hear what he had to say. When he opened his mouth, he said these words, “Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

The people could not believe their ears. Who in the world does this son of a carpenter think he is? The Messiah? They began to murmur among themselves regarding his audacity and some even wondered if he would perform miracles like they ones that were rumored.

Jesus, however, cut through the air, “I’m sure that some of you want a sign, you want me to do some quick healings. But the truth is, prophets are never accepted in their hometown. Prophets get rejected all the time. I am here for bigger things than Nazareth. Do you remember what happened during the time of Elijah? There was a severe famine across the whole land, but God only sent the prophet to one widow in Sidon. And do you remember what happened during the time of Elisha? There was lepers all across the land, but God only sent the prophet to cleanse Naaman the Syrian.”

When the people in the synagogue heard his words, they were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

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Have you ever listened to a sermon that made you so mad you wanted to kill the preacher?

Jesus spent the majority of his ministry looking for the sick and the oppressed. Rather than showing up at the palaces of the wealthy and powerful, Jesus looked for the people living on the margins of life and made them whole.

Healing, at least the kind of healing Jesus did, was not limited to physical health. He cleansed the sick, and brought sight back to the blind, and helped the lame to walk, but he also did so much more.

He proclaimed that he came to bring good news to the poor. He did not give them money to reverse their socio-economic situations. Instead he pointed out how, in the kingdom of God, the last would be first and the first would be last. He gave meaning to their lives by giving them the time and attention they deserved.

He proclaimed that he came to bring release to the captives. He did not go around encouraging insurrections against prison guards and corrupt politicians. Instead he reunited broken families, forgave wrongdoers, and encouraged the downtrodden; all that were held captive by the power of sin.

He proclaimed that he came to recover the sight of the blind. He did not go around healing individual’s eyes and leave them to their own devices. He healed them and sent them back to the families that had disowned them, to the friends that had abandoned them, and to the towns that had forgotten them.

Jesus’ ministry of healing went beyond biology and into the realm of relationships. He brought newness to people’s lives and then expected the culture to change at the same time. Jesus came to heal the sick of body, and of spirit, all at the same time.

And while Jesus loved healing others, he also loved disrupting contentment. He showed up in his hometown, proclaimed an incredible and powerful message, and then basically told the people that they needed something more than cheap grace. The kinds of people who really needed Jesus’ physical healing were not in the synagogue that day. They were the ones forced out of town, abandoned by friends, and disowned by families. By withholding his physical healing ministry from their gathering, he implicitly told them to start healing their brokenness first.

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Have you ever listened to a sermon that made you so mad you wanted to kill the preacher?

Let me tell you, Jesus is a tough pill to swallow. You think the message in the synagogue that day was bad? Wait till you hear some of the other things Jesus told his followers.

Full disclosure: What I am about to say are not my own words. If, while you’re listening, you start noticing that your fists are clenched, and you start wondering about where the closest cliff might be to throw me off, just remember that these are Jesus’ words and not my own.

“Woe to you that are rich, for you have already received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you that are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.” (Luke 6.24-25)

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal.” (Matthew 6.19)

“You have heard that it was said an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone want to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to anyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5.38)

“How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10.24-25)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate you enemies.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5.43-44)

Feeling angry yet?

Jesus loved disrupting people’s false contentment. He came to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. Even today, Jesus loves gathering people in a place like this and then turning our heads around to the people we are supposed to be healing.

What we often fail to realize is that God uses people like us to accomplish his will on earth. We are the instruments of God’s peace to deliver healing to the people around us.

Healing for others and ourselves can only come when we are willing to get uncomfortable in church and start living like Jesus outside the church.

When we catch ourselves mocking the people begging for money on the streets, Jesus wants us to know that if we ignore them, we are ignoring him.

When we catch ourselves serving the master of money and losing sleep over how much we have in our bank accounts, Jesus wants us to know that we are supposed to be using our blessings to bless others.

When we catch ourselves cursing the people fleeing their countries out of fear, Jesus wants us to remember that he once had to abandon his home out of fear.

If we want to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, if we want to be part of his kingdom on earth, then we need to start healing our broken understanding of reality and start healing others.

Have you ever listened to a sermon that made you so mad you wanted to kill the preacher? When it happened to Jesus in Nazareth, he was able to sneak back through the crowd and continue his ministry. But when it happened to Jesus in Jerusalem, they nailed him to a cross. Amen.

Crumbly Faith – Sermon on Mark 7.24-37

Mark 7.24-37

From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying in the bed, and the demon gone. Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

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Brandy had high expectations for Staunton, Virginia. When she moved here with her adult son Verney, who suffers from Cerebral Palsy, she knew that one of the best ways she could get connected with the community was finding a church home so she went looking. Each Sunday she would get herself ready with just the right outfit, she would put Verney in his wheel chair, and they would worship with a different church. The days between Sundays were spent in prayer about whether or not it was the right fit.

At some point she felt that she had found her church home and she approached the pastor about whether she could join. The conversation was great, she immediately felt loved and welcomed, she learned about Sunday school options, and different opportunities to serve in the church. But before the meeting was over she asked another quick question. “When do you think you could baptize my son Verney, and when will he be able to start taking communion?” The pastor stared back at her with a puzzled look on his face. “Ma’am,” he began, “I will not baptize your son, nor will I offer him communion. He can’t understand what they mean. And honestly, there would be no point.”

Jesus entered the house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet, word about him had spread so quickly that he could not escape notice. A woman, whose daughter had an unclean spirit, heard that Jesus had entered the town and she went to bow at his feet.

Up to this point Jesus, as a Jew, had been ministering to the Jews. He had read to them from the Torah, he had proclaimed God’s reign like one of the prophets from old, and he lived according to the law. This woman who came to beg at Jesus’ feet was not Jewish, she was a Gentile of Syrophoenician origin.

The woman was prostrate on the floor begging the Lord to cast out the demon from her daughter. And Jesus said, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Imagine a homeless person banging on your door to ask for a favor, or a mother with a handicapped son asking for her son to be given communion, and you can get a sense of what was taking place in front of Jesus.

The unnamed Syrophoenician woman was driven by something more than proper etiquette and expectation; she was so desperately afraid for her daughter’s life that she was willing to beg at the feet of Jesus, a man from a completely different culture and way of life. Yet, Jesus’ response to the woman is one that many of us would rather overlook. We don’t hear Jesus immediately proclaim the grand scope of God’s kingdom; Jesus doesn’t reach out with his hands for a blessing. Instead he calls the woman a dog, and tells her that his mission is for the Jews alone.

The Syrophoenician woman, with no worth or status, does not go quietly into the night. She holds her ground and pushes the point back to Jesus and says: “even dogs eat the crumbs from the table.” When I read this story I imagine a sly smile stretching across Jesus’ face, a smile of recognition that this woman understands the way God’s upside-down kingdom is supposed to work, she believes in God’s goodness, she yearns for the kind of love than goes beyond all borders of culture and race.

So in response to her declaration, Jesus blesses her daughter, and rids her of the demon.

But the story is not over yet.

Jesus continues on his way, and people brought him a deaf man with a speech impediment. The deaf man was brought into a private place away from the crowds and Jesus used the power within him to open the man’s ears and release his tongue. In response Jesus ordered the people to tell no one what he had done, but the more he ordered the more zealously they proclaimed it.

This was radical.

During the first century, the time of Jesus, people who were blind, people who were deaf, and even women had little or no status at all. They were consistently removed from populated areas of life and were largely ignored. In those days people were afraid of anything that was different than the status quo; Jesus embraced it.

The story of the Syrophoenician woman and the deaf man are intricately linked because they demonstrate Jesus’ willingness to upset the expectations of the world and welcome all into God’s love.

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After Brandy’s meeting with the pastor, the meeting where he told her there was no point for him to baptize or share communion with her son, she abandoned the church. When I met her for the first time and she told me her story, she couldn’t remember what eventually brought her to St. John’s, but when she got here she was afraid. She was afraid that this church would be like the first. She was afraid that this church would see her son as worthless, invisible, and unworthy of their time.

There is something about our own sinful nature, perhaps our deep insecurity, which pushes us to institute rules that give certain people an elevated status while denigrating others. These divisions can take place over differences in physicality, economics, race, gender, sexual identity, and an assortment of other identifiers. Even today in our modern contemporary world, there is a sense that we are supposed to avoid people who are unlike us, that we are entitled to brush past the people in need in our community and in the global community, and that we have no need to embrace the things that separate us.

Jesus’ actions in the two stories from Mark 7 are worth our careful consideration and emulation. Jesus shows how a worthless unnamed gentile woman and an ignorable deaf man are actually vital and worthy people in the kingdom of God. This story forces us to reopen our eyes and ears to the fact that there are no barriers between God and humankind. Nothing can ever separate us to from God’s love in Jesus Christ, not race, class, gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, or physical condition. And if there are no barriers between God and God’s people, then there should be no divisions between us.

Brandy was afraid of how this church would respond, but this church knows the stories of Jesus. All those years ago this church community welcomed Brandy and Verney with open arms, he was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and was always reminded that he had a place at God’s table. This church knows that the best kind of faith is crumbly faith; you only need a little taste for the world to change.

When God came in the form of flesh in Jesus Christ the world was turned upside down. Throughout his earthly ministry Jesus time and again demonstrated that all people are worthy of God’s love. His work and words testified to the fact that the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love. Jesus did everything he could to embody how the Lord is good to all, God’s compassion is over all creation. Jesus even went so far as to carry a cross on his back, hike under the ridicule of the world, and die to defeat death.

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We remember and experience how far God was willing to go for our sakes in the bread and in the cup of Communion. When we are invited to this table to feast on the crumbly bread of Jesus’ body and partake in his blood we are like the Syrophoenician woman, we are like the deaf man, and we are like Brandy and Verney. We all come with our shortcomings and brokenness, we all share disappointments and failures, but when we stand before the throne we are all made new in God’s love.

I don’t know what you might be going through in your life right now. Many of us are remarkably reluctant, if not downright afraid, to share where we feel broken in our lives. We don’t want to admit our shortcomings or fears.

But remember the people from God’s word, remember the strong and resilient faith of the Syrophoenician woman who gave voice to God’s power in the world. Remember the deaf man whose life was forever changed as he was welcomed back into the heart of the community. Remember Brandy and Verney who were given hope in the midst of fear. And remember that you are always welcome at Jesus’ table, where the crumbs of eternal life are waiting. Amen