Sunday, January 27, 2013

Third Sunday After Epiphany (C) 2013

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Luke 4:18
Theme: Release for the Oppressed

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Jesus was hardly a hometown hero. It appears most residents of Nazareth thought His ego had gotten a little too big. It’s easy to understand why. He preaches at the synagogue soon after His baptism. They hadn’t yet witnessed His miracles. He hadn’t yet acquired a name for Himself. And still He tells them that He is the fulfillment of the Scriptures- the long-awaited Messiah. It was a bold proposition- a lot to consider.

Those first century hearers of Jesus were at the threshold of the transition from the era of the old covenant to that of the new. We can hardly expect them to fully understand what Jesus had come to fulfill. His death and resurrection were the defining events of history. They still lay ahead. We have the benefit of hindsight which they did not possess. Nevertheless, faithful Jews should have been expecting the Messiah and soon people began making the relevant associations with Jesus.

In spite of the hindsight we enjoy we’re no less sinners than people of any era. The sinful nature remains fundamentally unchanged. For example, it is difficult for us as sinners to give up the juvenile idea that we can keep secrets from God. If other people aren’t privy to our faults than it allows us to sit as judge and jury over our own transgressions. It’s a dangerous deception. When the accusation of God’s law corners you, you have nowhere to hide. He knows your shortcomings. He knows your selfish motivations.

Yes, there are within your heart those deep, inaccessible enclaves reached only via a twisting and turning labyrinth where no one knows the entrance point or the exit. Such darkness may dwell there that you hope to never find the way there yourself. But the gaze of the Almighty pierces through as if your armor were transparent. The Scripture says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”1

All are accountable. But Christ came to show how things could be resolved. While addressing the hometown crowd Jesus pulled no punches. Explaining the words of Isaiah Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”2
Here Christ indicates that He will become the answer to every doubt and the solver of every crisis. Ultimately He brings release from sin’s power and consequences.

We might just consider the problem of guilt. Guilt fills us with regret. It turns us inward and cripples our ability to think clearly. If we think there is no resolution we may begin to lose hope. Guilt should not be wished away or forever ignored. In the end some people even try to blame God. Even for many Christians the defining image of God is that of a judgmental ogre who finally demands moral rectitude from His subjects. For others God is like a lenient grandfather who condones or excuses all of our transgressions. Both miss the point almost entirely because the person and work of Christ is lost sight of.

Yes, God does demand perfect obedience to the law on penalty of eternal death. But Christ has fulfilled God’s law for us. And His substitutionary death atones for our guilt. Hear the word of God again: Christ has come to release the oppressed. The defining image of God is seen at the crucifixion. There we see humility and sacrifice in purity and truth. And this truth is not just theoretical, it is not abstract; it changes things. It transforms us.

Hear the words of the apostle, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above…set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”3 Now this is a remarkable turn of events. The unbeliever seeks to hide from God. The Christian is now hidden in Christ. The sinner flees. The believer takes refuge. In what manner, then, are you hidden with Christ?

You’re not leading a clandestine Christianity. You’re not part of a secret cult. Your faith is on display for the world to see. You’re now free to live on behalf of others. But this is nonsensical to the world and even the Christian has to grasp it by faith. Spiritually raised already, you look forward to a bodily resurrection made possible by Christ’s resurrection. You are hidden from sin’s condemning power because you are shadowed by the cross. You are also concealed from Satan’s accusations because Christ has answered for you. And He continues to intercede on your behalf.

You can now have purpose and meaning in life that is not self-focused. You can avoid being a pawn in secular game of chess or just another rat in the rat-race of life. You can be confident as St. Paul says “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.”4 The Holy Spirit leads us in our daily struggle. The Holy Spirit cannot be programed, but He does not choose to work haphazardly or directly. The Spirit does not handle things on an ad hoc basis and He doesn’t operate without means. He works purposefully and Scripturally.

This should be a great comfort to us but it also eliminates the often-cherished desire of exceptional contact with the Holy Spirit. That is, we have no basis to think that the Holy Spirit moves, directs, or enlightens us independently, apart from the word of God- and specifically the word as it reveals God’s will in Christ. Certainty is not based on an instinctive sense we have about what the Spirit wills. Certainty stands on what is written.

Dear friends, it is a marvelous thing that Christianity is communal. You are part of the body of Christ. You are a living stone in His temple,5 a worker in His vineyard, a guest at his wedding banquet, a diner at His sacred table. Your identity is defined baptismally. You are a new creature in Christ called to live in the scheme of this old eon. You live in the temporal with the power of the eternal.

And you don’t simply just live; you are salt and light in the world. You are a reflected ray of light that shines into someone’s darkness. You are an anchor of hope that lifts someone sinking in despair. You are a bearer of peace for someone captive to a life of turmoil. These aren’t your own natural capabilities but the result of Christ living in you by faith. Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek.”6 “Blessed are the merciful.”7 “Blessed are the peacemakers.”8 He is not only the standard but the source and substance.

Probably few that day in Nazareth could have guessed that when Jesus was crucified outside of Jerusalem a reference to their town would hang over His cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”9 But it’s not our prerogative to second-guess the intentions of God. It’s our privilege to be embraced by His love. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Third Sunday After the Epiphany
27 January 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Hebrews 4:13
2 Luke 4:18-19
3 Colossians 3:1-4
4 Philippians 1:6 5 See 1 Peter 2:5 6 Matthew 5:5
7 Matthew 5:7 8 Matthew 5:9 9 John 19:19