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Sermon: Today

January 22, 2010

Luke 4:14-21

We have heard the stories from Haiti for nearly two weeks.  They give us a window into an odd mixture of pure heartbreak and suffering, extreme joy, and firm hope that the people of Haiti are experiencing.  Young and old alike have been killed and injured, and their lives devastated.  Both rich and poor have been victims.  No one was safe.

A young girl was playing outside her home when without warning, the earth began to tremble.  Her family tried to run outside the house, while a portion of the structure tumbled down and punched a hole in the girl’s skull.  She survived, but one of her parents and a sibling did not make it out of the house, and now she will be fortunate to receive adequate medical care since the hospitals have been seriously damaged and there are thousands who need help.  There are too many stories like hers.  Not everyone will be helped.

A boy lay beneath the rubble for hours—days—not knowing if he would be found and rescued in time.  His legs were crushed, and he could hear the rescuers, but he barely had enough strength to call out for help.  All he could do was wait, hope and pray, hour after hour.  Would they come in time?  Fortunately for this boy, he was found, and after even more hours of careful digging, he was freed.  The boy had no strength, and the rescuers not much more, but they all shout for joy and begin singing.  Even with everything lost, tens of thousands dead and a broken body, there is an opportunity to sing for joy.

And others, huddled together beneath pieces of sheet metal and weary tarps strung up between crumbled buildings, find enough hope to pray.  They pray for those who have died and for those who are still lost beneath the rubble.  They offer prayers of thanks for their own safety.  They sing songs of praise.  It is a wonder that anyone in Haiti could dare to have hope during these days, but they do.  Despite the brutal reality they face, there is hope and trust in God.  (These stories are composites from various news reports from Haiti.  The initial story of the young girl comes from a Public Radio International report on its show The World, January 21, 2010.  I cannot locate the specific report.)

It is cold and cruel and unchristian—not to mention bad theology—for anyone to suggest that the people of Haiti are suffering like this because they deserve it or because they are being punished.  Our Bible witnesses to a God who stands with the poor and the powerless; the widow, the orphan and the sojourner; and all who suffer.  Scripture may not answer all our questions about why suffering happens, but it does make one thing clear: God stands with anyone who is afflicted, and God stands with the people of Haiti.  In fact, the ministry of Jesus, including his own crucifixion, tells us that God suffers with the people of Haiti.

Of our four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—it is Luke’s gospel that makes this statement most clearly.  We get our first clue in Mary’s song in chapter two.  After Mary learned that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and as she visited her relative Elizabeth, she burst into joyful prayer:

My soul magnifies the Lord…for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  He has…lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things…He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy.  (Luke 2:46, 48, 52, 53, 54, selected portions)

Luke took this prayer we call “The Magnificat” from a well-known Old Testament prayer.  We find it in 1 Samuel, where the barren woman named Hannah prayed fervently for God’s mercy.

Our scripture reading today takes up this same theme, though in a very different context.  Today, we read about how that young child given to Mary has grown up.  He has been baptized by John and endured a season in the wilderness tempted by Satan.  Luke wrote that the Holy Spirit now filled and upheld Jesus for his coming work.

Jesus was still held captive by the power of the Spirit when he returned to his hometown of Nazareth.  His people had heard about his teaching and preaching.  Here was the native son come home.  Can you imagine their pride?  One of their own was beginning to make his mark in the world, and now he was come home.

On the sabbath day, Jesus went to the synagogue as was his custom.  Luke tells us that Jesus and his family were faithful men and women.  They traveled to Jerusalem to observe the high holy days.  They attended synagogue regularly.  They knew and lived the scriptures.  It is from this nurturing environment that Jesus emerged with the gifts and graces for his unique ministry.

On that day, Jesus was invited to be one of the speakers.  Most of the men in Nazareth would have had the opportunity to read and interpret scripture in the synagogue (Fred Craddock, Interpretation: Luke [Louisville: John Knox, 1990], 61-62.).  Jesus was given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, essentially the same Isaiah that is in our Bible.  He opened the scroll and read what Isaiah had spoken to those who listened to him hundreds of years earlier.  The message fits perfectly into what Luke emphasized throughout this gospel:

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.  (Luke 4:18-19)

At this point, Jesus has only read the words an honored prophet had spoken many years earlier.  It was nothing more than the day’s reading.  He rolled up the scroll and handed it back.  Then he sat down to interpret.  Now, everybody leaned forward.  They watched him carefully.  They waited in eager expectation for what this young man would say.  What would their favored son teach them now that he had come home?

“Today.”  Today, not some long ago yesterday when God acted in great power to bring the exiles home from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem.  Today, not some vague tomorrow when God might act again to drive out the foreign armies so that the people could have their own homeland and dignity back again.  Today, certainly not an ethereal someday when maybe poverty and suffering and blindness and hatred and injustice and oppression will be no more.  Today.  “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Perhaps no one can understand the importance of “today” more than someone who is suffering right now.  The little girl with a hole in her skull and her mother and sister dead from the earthquake needs help today, now, this very minute.  The boy who is buried under a ton of rubble silently begs for rescue today, now, this moment.  The thousands who are yearning for food and clean water and shelter don’t need a reminder of how God rescued the people in generations past.  They don’t need a promise that tomorrow the boat will sail into the harbor with supplies.  To them, the far off hope that someday all suffering will cease and every tear will be wiped away is irrelevant.  They desperately need help today.  They need rescue today.  Today is the only day that matters.

You and I can afford to reminisce about yesterday and to make plans for tomorrow, because I have clean clothes on my back and clean water at my fingertips.  After this worship service, I will go back to a cozy home where I will find all of my family safe and happy.  Today is pretty easy for me, so I can afford to take it for granted.  But for millions and millions, today is urgent and desperate.

Jesus Christ, the prophet, savior and Messiah, lives in that desperate today.  Today this scripture is fulfilled.  That is the vital mission and ministry of Jesus.  And we are his Church.  Fred Craddock tells us that in Luke’s account of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and in Luke’s sequel, the book of Acts, the story of the early Church, that today of Jesus’ ministry “never is allowed to become ‘yesterday’ or to slip again into a vague ‘someday.’”  He reminds us that it is the Church’s job to be sure that the power and urgency of today is alive in our ministry.  (Fred Craddock, Interpretation: Luke [Louisville: John Knox, 1990], 62.)  We who follow Jesus and who carry out his work in the world realize the importance of today because it isn’t simply the Haitian masses who suffer from the ravages of the earthquake, and it isn’t simply the millions of women in Africa who walk for miles to get clean water, and it isn’t simply the hundreds of thousands of American children who don’t get enough to eat.  These are God’s children who suffer, and God suffers with them.  Today we act to fulfill again the promise of Jesus who shares good news with the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and freedom for the oppressed.

Today…because some people can’t wait until tomorrow.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. jane smith permalink
    January 23, 2010 6:35 am

    I have found this sermon Today inspiring and so uplifting we have to act today as followers of Christ in this world with all the scenes we see in our news it is no good to put off until tommorrow what we can do today as we serve the Lord. May the Spirit of the Lord be upon you
    thank you for your sermons each week

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