Sunday, January 17, 2016


Luke 4:14-21

It is a riveting scene painted for us in Luke's Gospel today, this one of Jesus returning to his home town and preaching in the synagogue. Something extraordinary is happening here --- so much so that his listeners can't take their eyes off him.

We are not told, of course, whether Jesus chose these powerful words of the prophet to read or if they were chosen for him, although as I understand it, it was not the practice at the time to have specific portions of scripture assigned to be read on any particular day. Either way, you and I who know the story of Jesus from beginning to end know that the mission outlined here is one that captures all that Jesus did in...
"Bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, letting the oppressed go free, and proclaiming the year of the Lord's favor."
And one can understand why it is that those gathered were amazed by what he said. I imagine, by now, that they have come to hear these words of the prophet Isaiah as either metaphor or the contents of an unfulfilled wish-dream. One no longer expected them to really come true, if that was ever so. Indeed, I imagine we hear them in the same way today.

And perhaps, if we are honest, there is also this. As we hear in the verses which follow, Jesus' first listeners actually found themselves threatened by these words, even as we might find ourselves today. For we who are not necessarily poor, or captive, or blind, or oppressed, or in debt beyond redemption? Well, our status or our economic security may actually depend on things being as they have always been. And there is no believing that this hometown boy is speaking in mere metaphor. Not once he sits down and speaks a word of promise or threat, depending on one's perspective. Not once he says so simply, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Today is the day it all comes true.

Many years ago now I sat and listened as an up and coming church leader made his pitch to be a synod bishop. As I heard his personal story of how the church had been at work in his life for good since he was a small boy, I felt my own heart lifting within me. And this is why. It seemed to me then that this was one I would want as a leader for he knew what the Gospel was for. Simply put, the Gospel was for saving lives. The Gospel is for saving lives.

It is easy to lose sight of that. Protocol and procedure and other seemingly more pressing priorities take precedence all the time. Too often, history and dashed hopes for the future sidetrack our efforts. Fear and despair, or, if we are honest, perhaps our innate selfish desire to protect our own interests have us lending a deaf ear to what Jesus offers as he reads these ancient words and speaks his own clarity about what they mean for his own life. Indeed, if nothing else, while we may hear and even seek to embrace his intent, too often we miss the sense of urgency in Jesus' words. For what we hear today is that his is not meant for tomorrow. This is for today. Today.

Now this sense of urgency comes through also so in other places in the Biblical witness, of course.
  • For instance, I am recalling now the words of Joshua where he compels the people to "choose this day whom you will serve..." (Joshua 24:15) 
  • And the powerful words of Paul to the church at Corinth, "See, now is the acceptable time; see now is the day of salvation!" (2 Corinthians 6:2)
These are words of promise, yes, and these are also words which demand an response.     Immediately. Today.

And so I wonder now how my days would change if I simply treated every day as the today we hear about now. And I do wonder if it would change not just for me but for the world if one day at a time, today our individual and collective energies were directed to that for which Jesus gave his life:
  • Bringing good news to the poor.
  • Proclaiming release to the captives
  • Bringing sight and renewed vision where darkness has prevailed for far too long.
  • Letting the oppressed go free.
  • And releasing from debt those whose redemption never seemed possible.
I wonder what would happen if I were to remember today that the Gospel is for saving lives and only and always for saving lives.

I wonder what would happen if I began each and every day with these pressing needs on my heart, however and wherever and whenever they are experienced in the world.

Oh yes, I do wonder how things would change if we simply tacked the word "Today" to the front of all of our mission statements. As Jesus did. And then lived like it was so.

And I wonder if even my fears of losing what I have had would simply fade away as I became caught up in such a mission that matters every day.

  • What difference would it make in your faith journey if you simply substituted "today" for "tomorrow" or "someday?" How would a sense of urgency change everything? For you? For your congregation? For your community?
  • It is not too late. You have today. What would it mean to you today to embrace Jesus' mission as your own? What would it mean for your congregation? For your community?
  • True or false: "The Gospel is for saving lives." If this is true, hat would it mean for you to live like this were so? For your own life? For the sake of others?
  • I have offered above a couple of other Biblical instances which articulate a sense of urgency. Are there other passages which come to mind for you? What are they? How have they shaped your faith journey?

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