The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to Luke.
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 this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:14-21)
The Old Testament book of Nehemiah, a reading of which is also scheduled for today, tells of the return from exile of the Israelites, and the way they wanted to make a connection with their faith again; to see their city being built again, and to be together as a people again.
They were back in their own land; they were rebuilding it; they were becoming a community; and they realised that to grow as a people, and as individuals, they needed to strengthen their faith, their ‘church,’ and to become truly, one body.
In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul gives us his ideas about what constitutes ‘one body,’ and how people with all their various gifts contribute in their own way, to create that body, which is the church.
Paul relates it to the human body, and how the various parts of our body work together, to function so beautifully. The head, the neck, the arms, the legs, the eyes, the mouth, and so on, each relying on the other parts for its existence.
And so, he sees how all the various people who are part of a community – the church – likewise depend on each other, to become a complete entity.
Christ is no longer in the world physically, so if he wants a task done here in the world he has to find someone – one of us – to do it. In other words, we are his body in the world.
If he wants a child taught, he has to find a teacher to teach him; if he wants a sick person cured, he has to find a physician or surgeon to do his work; if he wants a story told he has to find someone to tell it. We have to be hands to do his work, feet to run his errands, a voice to speak for him.
It is a glorious thing for us, Christian people, to serve Christ as his body here on earth.
You will remember, a few years ago, a process was introduced called Natural Church Development . This encouraged those who participated, to look at how the church functions, in short, to look at how the parts of the body of Christ work together.
We all have various gifts, various parts to play. Each one is as important as the next. Just as the parts of our human body aren’t jealous of one another – like your arm couldn’t be jealous of your leg, could it? – then we can’t be jealous of each other. An arm is made to be an arm, and a leg a leg. ‘ Just as our body needs every limb and every organ to do the work it is gifted to do, so does the church.
We need each other, don’t we? The work we do isn’t so important that we can neglect or criticize those who do other work. All service ranks the same with God.
If we can’t see that, then we just haven’t ‘got it’ – we haven’t begun to see what church unity means.
A great example of a short-sighted way of looking at the church, comes out of this week’s Gospel.
It is concerned with the time when Jesus had just begun his ministry in Galilee.
Galilee was an area in the north of Palestine which stretched about fifty miles north to south and about half that from east to west. Galilee means circle, and the name comes from the fact that it was encircled by non-Jewish nations.
Jesus had been teaching in Galilee and word must have spread about him, because when he went to the synagogue to worship, as was his custom on the Sabbath, he was asked to read and teach from the book of Isaiah.
He read it and interpreted it for those who were there, as it applied to his own beginning ministry.
He had been affirmed in who he was at his baptism, when the voice from heaven had said, ‘’This is my Son and I am pleased with him”
He had wrestled with the devil in the wilderness, and had won, and gone out to do what His Father had sent him to do.
This Sabbath in front of his own people, he as much as told them that.
That was fine, but then Jesus sat down – as was the custom with teachers, or rabbis – to teach. And if we were to read a bit further than today’s excerpt, we would hear Jesus mention instances from the Old Testament – stories where Gentiles were heroes, or were the focus of a story which showed them favoured by God.
This was anathema to the people who were there. The Jews of the day were so sure they and they alone were God’s people, they couldn’t accept that anyone else could be loved by their God,
But here was Jesus whom they all knew, telling them something they didn’t want to hear. It was too much for them. They wanted unity, but only as long as it didn’t involve outsiders.
This was a people who claimed to be God’s own in the world, and yet they couldn’t see beyond their prejudices They could not see beyond themselves.
They turned against Jesus.
That’s the sort of attitude some of us Christians have displayed at times, about issues we felt strongly about. Remember the prayer book/ BAS controversy? Remember the controversy about women’s ordination?
Other controversies are coming down the road and will test our willingness to accept those who think a bit differently.
We have a lot of traditions in the church you know. And we want to hang onto them. Some are rooted in ancient times; some so long ago that we have forgotten how they came to be. It may be that we will have to re-think certain traditions.
There is one in particular, that goes back to Old Testament times.
You see, in those days, kings believed that God gave them direction in dreams. If they wanted to know what they were supposed to do in their administration, they would try to receive direct word from God while they slept.
If they weren’t getting any dream messages in their own bed, they would go and sleep in the Temple where they believed it would work better.
Is this the origin of the time-honored tradition of sleeping in church?.
Perhaps during the sermon?
We need to lighten up a bit about some of the issues that engage us, and see the hand of God working in everyone, in our family circle, in our church, in our city, our diocese, and in the world at large.
But as much as we might not like it, the fact is that God doesn’t only work through Christians. We are called especially to do his work in the world, but he also works through others too.
I have mentioned it before, but it bears repeating, that a group of influential people – past members of the Palestinian leadership – and a group of people – past members of the Israeli leadership – got together and worked out a plan for peace.
It was a plan that would call for compromise from each nation, and give advantage to each, equally. Most of all it recognised the realities that existed, and reached beyond them.
Muslims on one side and Jews on the other; maybe a Christian was involved, as there are Palestinian Christians, but God was trying to work through the gifts of people who are not specifically Christian.
We might wonder how God could use people who don’t follow Jesus. But it shouldn’t matter as long as peace comes – as long as the job gets done. Isn’t that right?
But politicians on both sides rejected it. Who knew!
Some years ago, a well known Christian, Jimmy Swaggart, lost his position as church leader, because of a sexual misadventure. I believe he is now a forgiven Christian. It was easy to criticize Jimmy Swaggart. It was easy to call him a phony Christian.
But within a few months of his fall from grace, I read a report that said his organization, the organization he had formerly set up, fed a quarter of a million hungry children a day in the third world.
What a wonder! God not only works through non Christians, he works through fallen Christians.
There is hope for all of us, isn’t there?
We need community. We need to belong to a church, where the combined gifts of all members are so much more fruitful than the gifts of one alone.
But we can’t let the walls that shelter us where we meet, blind us to the wonderful work that God is doing out there, through all sorts of ‘other’ people, and the wonderful opportunities that we have to serve him too, here, and out there, according to our gifts.
Because Jesus wants to work through us, in the church, and beyond the church.