Luke 4:14-21; Psalm 19:14
I believe everyone has one sermon in them. Most will never be preached in a pulpit because few will ever be spoken publicly. But when alone in the shower, or day dreaming during worship, I bet each one of you has some profound thought you would love to share with the world.
A onetime sermon is a wonderful thing. No one expects a first timer to be any good at preaching. So we are all surprised with the energy, the honesty, the sheer raw emotion that comes from a neophyte brave enough to bear her soul. I imagine we have all experienced Youth Sunday. Depending on the leadership, much of what is read has been carefully crafted by a professional hand. But some ministers and particularly educators are wise enough to trust the Holy Spirit. For a brief moment a child speaks her version of the truth and we are amazed.
In the gospel of Luke, after Jesus left a supernatural encounter in the wilderness, his first official stop was to worship back home. The local Rabbi asked if Jesus could assist in the service. This happens quite often to seminary students before they receive their first call. After three years of lectures and examinations they come home to the folks who first believed in the young preacher. The congregation wants to celebrate the product of their own loins. The graduate speaks but seldom is any word heard. Each member of the congregation is lost in memories of their first encounter with the young soul. When the service ends, members stand in line to offer words of wisdom and encouragement. They are so proud. Yet the graduate is left wondering if anyone actually heard what was said. Jesus did not encounter this breach of first-timer protocol. His audience was more than amazed. They were outraged.
For thirty years Jesus must have thought about what he wanted to say to his first congregation. When that opportunity arrived, unlike Amos, who offered his first time sermon to strangers, Jesus spoke to friends and neighbors. But the results were similar. Amos went to the city of Bethel and told the king, the priest, and anyone else who was listening that they were all headed to hell in a hand basket. After the sermon the congregation took Amos out behind the Temple and killed him. When Jesus finished his first sermon, his friends and neighbors tried to throw him off a cliff proving sometimes the congregation is listening, much to the chagrin of the one who dares to speak the holy words.
Ironically Jesus did not write his first sermon. He lifted it from the 61st chapter of Isaiah. It was not some vague passage members of the synagogue had never encountered. Everyone sitting before Jesus knew the story. After two generations of captivity, the surviving Hebrews were released from Babylon to return to Jerusalem. Through the inspiration of Ezra and Nehemiah they rebuilt both the city and the Temple. Each Sabbath they entered the Holy Place and offered prayers asking for a return to the glory days of King David. But Jerusalem remained in the shadow of Persia, and Egypt, and Greece and eventually Rome. Jerusalem forgot the ways of the Lord and once again became a divided people, enslaving and impoverishing others with acts of greed. Then the poet proclaimed, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring good news to the poor, bind up the broken hearted, to offer liberty to the captives, sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free.” Rather than being uplifted by these words of joy, the poet was suppressed with silence. How can emancipation be announced when powerful hegemonies still ruled the land?
Jesus read the words and boldly proclaimed, “Today, in me, this scripture will be fulfilled.” Suddenly visions of the little boy they watched grow up were swept from their collective memories. Whispers filled the congregation:
“So, the son of a carpenter thinks he can mend our broken world?”
“Who inspired him to such nonsense?”
“He must have spent too much time in the wilderness?”
“What will happen to us if word gets out there is a dreamer living in Nazareth?”
“When did Jesus become so political?”
“Will Rome hold us responsible?”
Jesus responded with exactly the wrong words. “I tell you, no prophet is accepted in his home town.” The congregation turned into a mob intent on killing him. But Jesus passed through the midst of them and disappeared.
First time sermons, what do we do with them? We all have one but few are preached. Usually that spirit of the emancipating God is pressed deep into the depths of our soul. We discover clever words which entertain but seldom inspire. Eventually we are converted to the ways of the world. It keeps us safe. It shackles our feet to solid ground. After all, who wants to be thrown over a cliff?
I once was privileged to hear Desmond TuTu speak. He was asked how he found the courage to stand against a government that practiced apartheid. He told an ancient story. He said we the people of South Africa were riding in a truck when it lost its breaks. The truck was hurtling down the mountain and so we jumped, tumbled across the road and over the cliff only to be saved by clutching a single vine that kept us from death. Not able to climb back up the cliff we hollered out, “Is anybody up there?” That is when we heard the voice of God say,
“Let go of the vine.”
We responded, “Is anybody else up there?”
Again God spoke, “LET GO OF THE VINE.”
And we did. (Stop)
What are we to do with naïve folks preaching poetic sermons? What good is hope in the face of reality? It seems to me there are two types of preachers. The realist who preaches what the congregation wants to hear. And the poet, who silently prays before each sermon, May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
To God be the glory. Amen.