Sermons That Work

Can’t You Hear the Whispering…, St. Luke the Evangelist – 2002

October 18, 2002

Can’t you hear the whispering before the synagogue meeting began? Jesus was there to teach. “Hey! Atta boy, Jesus!” “Didn’t know he had it in him!” “Our local boy really made good!”

Jesus had developed an energetic and enthusiastic following. He was praised by everyone — the wonder seekers, the truth-seekers — and when he came to his home town, he was invited to teach in the local synagogue. He chose to read from Isaiah the prophet, from what we know as the first few verses of the 61st chapter: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor [to bind up the brokenhearted]. 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.”

Reverently he rolled up the scroll, then sat in their midst to begin his teaching. Every eye was on him, and all were sitting on the edges of their chairs in rapt attention awaiting their man’s wisdom. And all Jesus said was, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” That’s it!

And that’s all Jesus needed to say. In one sentence, he tells them what the year of the Lord’s favor really looks like — like a person deeply in love with God and the world, who loves enough to care that the destitute are given good news of healing, that brokenhearted people are comforted, that people in bondage are set at liberty.

Who knows what the people expected or wanted to hear. Maybe they sought wonders and miracles. Maybe they wanted to be told the Roman occupation would be overthrown. But Jesus’ message was not what they expected, and it was not what they wanted. A few verses later, Luke says, “All in the synagogue were filled with wrath, and they rose up and put him out of the city.”

It is entirely too easy for us to hear this story with our sophisticated 21st century ears, thinking, “Interesting. Jesus always did put a different twist on things. He was talking above their heads. And what a simplistic reaction, turning against him so quickly!” We see Jesus’ description of the kingdom of God as having everything to do with Galilee 2,000 years ago, and nothing to do with us moderns today. We know power and potential like never before; we know affluence and efficiency and automation. We have nearly magical high-tech curing. We know about kingdoms, and corporations, and business, and health care delivery systems.

Jesus’ description doesn’t cut it for us any better than it did for those people in the synagogue long ago. Jesus’ ideas are not what we, urbane and worldly-wise, want or expect. We, too, dismiss Jesus. We escort him out, albeit with more tempered “wrath.” We rise up to say “We know better!”

And we do so to our own peril.

Our current systems aren’t working. Some of our major medical complexes refine exorbitantly expensive technical procedures while located in neighborhoods with scandalously high infant mortality rates. Over 40 million people in our country have no access to medical resources. The cavernous gap between the haves and the have-nots grows daily. People live in fear. Surely this is not the kingdom of God.

Maybe it’s time we paid attention to Jesus.

Jesus said the kingdom of God will come when we tell the good news of salvation — when we tell people who are hanging on by a thread that God loves and wants them; when we tell people that God wants them to be whole, to have life and to have life abundantly; when we sit with those who are suffering and stay with them as they seek to find God in pain.

Jesus said the kingdom of God will come when we set the captives free — when we dare to befriend those who are bound and help them take off their chains of addiction or self-hatred or isolation; when we show those who are oppressed that there is a way out and that we will be with them as they find it; when we stay with them long enough to hear the pain and despair in their stories and hold forth hope when they can not hold hope for themselves.

Jesus said the kingdom of God will come when we proclaim recovery of sight to the blind — when we pray with people for healing and expect that God will heal; when we believe God wants to do a new thing in peoples’ lives, giving a vision where it was lost, giving insight where there was denial, giving clarity where there was confusion.

This is the Feast of St. Luke. Luke was a physician, a healer, and Luke was an evangelist. These roles are inseparable, for an evangelist tells the good news of salvation, and salvation means healing. The root of the word “salvation” is the Latin verb salvere, to be well, to be in good health, to be whole. Salvation is not just of spirit in the world to come, but salvation is of body and mind as well. Salvation is not just for the life beyond but also for this life, for here, for now.

Luke’s Gospel is filled with healing as good news — Jesus’ compassion for the underprivileged, the marginalized, the people on the fringes.Luke’s Gospel holds more stories of Jesus’ care for women and children than the Gospels. There are more accounts of angels visiting and saying, “Fear not.” There are plentiful narratives of Jesus’ healing ministry.

Certainly this is the good news. Certainly this is scripture that God calls us Christians, as “little Christs,” to fulfill in the needy world around us — to proclaim the good news of salvation, to bind up the wounds of those around us, to listen, to hear, to liberate. We can do it, for just as with Jesus, the spirit of God is upon us!

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Christopher Sikkema