Sermon – January 31, 2016

Bible Readings

Jeremiah 1:4 – 10

Luke 4:21 – 30

Jeremiah was a young man with a fair bit of angst about him.   He had a stormy, tumultuous relationship with God.  A love/hate relationship you could say.  He felt called to be a prophet, to proclaim the word of God to his generation. We read of his call in today’s bible passage.  It was unfortunately Jeremiah’s lot to have a  message of woe and destruction. God’s judgement is upon the decadence within the land.  Later sections of the book of Jeremiah contain words of forgiveness and restoration but that comes further down the track.  And of course no-one wanted to hear it the earlier messages of judgement, but Jeremiah could not stop declaring it.   

The prophet took no pleasure in his words of judgment and in fact he thinks of his words as warnings – a call and an opportunity to change.  Jeremiah thinks at one stage he will just keep his mouth shut. He says he tried but the world of the Lord burns his bones from trying to keep it in. And so Jeremiah is in a huge bind and he lays the blame for his dilemma squarely at the door of God who calls him to be a prophet to the nation.

And so it is for Jesus of Nazareth.  Two young men both called to a prophetic ministry.  Both called to the hardest task of all – prophetic ministry amongst your own people.  Both carrying the burden of call and the excruciating dilemma of the cost.

Young man, well youngish, with a prophetic message.  And not a popular one it seems.

Here is the local boy made good, come back to his own people, his home synagogue.  And the interesting thing is Jesus seems, according to this text, to go out of his way to pick a fight; to provoke those who are locals and parochial – you see they never express any of the sentiments Jesus accuses them of.  But Jesus seems to have unearthed this mentality, this mind set that perhaps the people were barely conscious of themselves.   Like Stan Grant and his recent exposing of the inherent racism that plays out as an undercurrent in Australian history in such legal figments as Terra Nulls and the denial of statehood to Aboriginal people for most of Australia’s history.  But it is not just a distant history we are talking of here.  Grant made the shocking point that an Aboriginal kid is more likely to go to prison than finish secondary school. There is a cost to this prophetic role for Stan Grant, Jeremiah and Jesus. in so doing each becomes the Outsider.  We seem the dramatic way events turned for Jesus from the well regarded and approving words of the townsfolk to what happens in this week’s reading when they run him out of town – manhandle him it seems and drag him to the edge of the cliff overlooking the town – as if preparing to hurl him off. 

(Just an aside, I came across this bizarre quote during the week “When we assumed office four years ago we stood on the edge of the precipice. Since then, we have taken a giant leap forward”. As quoted by Prime Minister Tony Blair during a White House Toast on 5th February 1998.)

Jesus’ justice manifesto is not new, nothing original – it is all quoted from an ancient prophet, Isaiah, hundreds of years earlier, about 700 years earlier.  Jesus has nothing to work with but the prophetic and law tradition of Israel.

The radical, confronting, challenging thing is Jesus message is not so much the program of justice making and compassion . The “today” this has been fulfilled in your hearing is the radical new thing. Today.  It seems not to even be dependent upon their response, their agreement.  Just fulfilled in their hearing.  Like Jesus picks up this ancient sacred scroll and throws it at them, and hits them on the collective head and stuns them into attention to his contemporary words of commentary upon the ancient words.

Today is the time of fulfilment, today is the chosen time of God to be found, active.  Today is God’s chosen theatre of activity. Here and now.

There are two ways of measuring time.  First what I call clock time.  Only us oldies wear watches nowadays but it is time as measured by that second hand running around in a circle.  60 seconds to the minute, 60 minutes to the hour.  In that allocation of time we are all equals.  No matter who you are, what you are doing 60 seconds to the minute and 60 minutes to the hour and 24 hours in the day.  Doesn’t matter if you are waiting execution in a prison minutes from dying or giving birth in the maternity ward over at Sunshine Hospital.  60 seconds to the minute, 60 minutes to the hour.  Does not matter if you are going on a date with your new boy or girlfriend, or celebrating your 53 rd wedding anniversary as Penaia and Maisie are doing today.  60 seconds to the minute.  That is time measured by watches.  It is called Chronos.

But in the Bible there is another sort of time and it is more often talked about. It is the decisive moment.  It is the time God breaks into our lives.  It is the moment of decision, the time of commitment, the occasion of decisive action.  We call this sort of time “Kairos”.  The time when God or the Reign of God draws near and you are called upon to respond.  It is that sense of time being fulfilled that Jesus is on about in today’s gospel.

Oh yes, God has been active in the past, but what has that to do with you and me?  Only to confirm once again that God will be present and active Today.  God is stirring.  We do not gather in the name of or in the presence of a false dead God, but the living God of the living saints.  Of the living, today God of the prophets whether known as Isaiah or Jeremiah, or Mandela or King or Romero. If we do not believe that is true today then lets pack it in and all spend our Sunday mornings like 90% of Australia’s population – in bed, having a leisurely brunch, walking the dog – all attractive options indeed.

Barak Obama is coming to the end of 8 years of American Presidency.  At the beginning of his term to understand more of what he was about I read a book of his life and reflections called  The Audacity of Hope.  A little like a manifesto of what he was on about; in that sense a little  like the words Jesus read out in last week’s gospel, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…

Obama  writes of his political hero Abraham Lincoln.  A conviction politician if ever there was one; yet Obama also points out that Lincoln could also be terribly pragmatic. He would negotiate, test and bargain, appoint and sack various generals, stretch the limits of the Constitution

On this matter of “Today” as the call to action for the time has come, the kairos of God he writes,

“I like to believe that for Lincoln, it was never a matter of abandoning conviction for the sake of expediency.  Rather it was a matter of maintaining within himself the balance between two contradictory ideas – that we must talk and reach for common understandings, precisely because all of us are imperfect and can never act with the certainty that God is on our side; and yet at times we must act nonetheless, as if we were  certain, protected from error only by providence… (Reminds me of Luther’s comment –Since we know we are going to sin, for this is inevitable despite our best intentions at least let us sin boldly)

The other point Lincoln makes and that Obama picked up is that we should pursue our own  truths only if we acknowledge and have already factored in the chilling thought that there may be a price to pay.” P. 98

An aside on the comment about having God on our side – there is a story of the woman who buttonholed Lincoln after a meeting and said “Mr Lincoln be assured God is on our side” and he replied, “Well for me the far more important question is am I on God’s side”?

On this occasion Jesus avoids the terrible price to pay – for now.  Jesus moves on, beyond the reach of the congregation, beyond the constraints of small town prejudice, of inner city political correctness, of liberal, trendy soft inclusiveness to the suffering, sacrificial, tough love of the gospel of crucifixion and resurrection.  He moves through them, to another crowd, another sermon, another hope, always in front, always elusive, always free.  By now we have learnt it could not be any other way with our Lord and Saviour.