This is the first sermon I preached after our 1997 Annual Conference, after I got my final ordination and was reassigned as pastor of Miller Chapel. I had a hard time coming up with a sermon for this Sunday, but I just went to something I knew and loved. As always, comments are welcomed.
Our scripture this morning comes from the Gospel According to Luke, the 4th Chapter, verses 14 through 21. Again, that is Luke, 4:14-21, and it reads.
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the spirit, and news about him spread through the countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: "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 favor." Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
As many of you know, this is my favorite scripture. And even though it is my favorite scripture, it is one I have never preached on by itself.
The last few days have been rather interesting for me. In thinking of what I would preach on this morning, I kept coming up empty. I got all kinds of suggestions and scriptures from a variety of people, but nothing would come. I was getting frustrated and was about to dip into my pool of previously preached sermons, when I remembered this, my favorite scriptures of them all.
Before I go on to the scripture, let me say this. Every now and then, all of us are a little empty. Maybe from trying to hard, maybe because of other things that are on our minds, or whatever. There are times when even the most faithful lose faith and the visionaries lose sight. But as long as you remember to pause and look to God, to ask him to give you that which you think you lack, will you never be empty for long.
Now -- This set of scriptures takes place right after the temptation of Jesus by Satan. Jesus had been in the desert fasting for 40 days. And it was during this time that the devil attempted to take advantage of Jesus state. Jesus had not eaten, had nothing to drink, and had been alone for over a month. This was a time when any normal human would have been dead, but Jesus, being fed by the Holy Spirit showed that he did not need the things that normal need.
But Jesus was hungry and the devil took the opportunity to test Jesus in his weakened state. Of course, it didn't work. Jesus dealt with the devil and then returned to Galilee to resume his teaching and preaching. As he taught, the people whom he went to praised him and were glad for his teachings and his ministry. Then, he went to his home of Nazareth. It was the Sabbath and in his usual process, Jesus went into the synagogue. As he stood up, the scroll of the great prophet Isaiah was handed to him, and he read a portion of what was read during our responsive reading this morning.
After he finished reading, he returned the scroll to its previous state, gave it back to one of the members of the synagogue and sat down. Everyone in attendance was astonished at what he had done, and they whispered among themselves. Then Jesus told them plainly that what had been written in scripture was done on this day.
There are many reasons I like this scripture, probably too many to name this morning. But one of the things that always strikes out to me is that Jesus, in reciting the words of Isaiah, is telling the people what he was sent to do. He is telling them that he was sent to help out the poor and the oppressed; that he was sent to heal those who were sick, both mentally and physically, that he was anointed to proclaim the Good News and to speak of the year of the Lord.
It is this recollection of Luke, something that is not found in any other Gospel, that really defines the purpose of Jesus. It defines what Jesus was going to do, what Jesus had to do, and what would be done. What it also did was signify Jesus' commitment to upholding the scriptures and the influence of the prophets that came before him. It also signified Jesus' commitment to the people that he was coming to serve and save.
One bone of contention that I speak of often is the tendency of the modern day Christian to dismiss the words of the Old Testament. I cannot count how many times I have had discussions with people on the relevancy of the Old Testament and it's bearing on Christianity. Now there are several things that we must acknowledge. The Old Testament is Jewish law. It is the record and the history of the Jewish people. That we cannot get around, and there is no reason we should try to get around it.
In the Old Testament we find many, many things that are hard to deal with, and some things that are even disturbing. We find animal sacrifices, the promotion of slavery and sexism, we find very strict dietary rules, and specific ways we are to handle our family and friends.
But also in the Old Testament, we find Jesus. Now while I am not one to say that every book in the Old Testament points to Jesus, what I will say is that there are several really profound areas where Jesus is pointed to. The prophets accurately described the coming of a savior, and that savior was manifested in Jesus.
A term I became familiar with in my ordination and seminary classes is a term called "Christocentric." What this terms means is that we focus so much on Jesus the man, that we loose sight of the Christ, which is the main point of salvation. In other words, we should guard against becoming so Christocentric in our thoughts and behavior that we think unless we are saying the name Jesus, we are not talking Christianity. This is a very fallacious notion and is dangerous to the development of any Christian. While we are to give our lives over to Christ, and we are to love him will all our heart, will all of our soul and with all of our mind, we are also to learn about the events that brought him to us in the first place and why it was even necessary for him to come to earth to be killed on the cross, only to rise again to save us from ourselves.
The other thing this scripture signifies is the commitment of Jesus to people. All people. Not just the rich, but the poor. Not just the healthy, but the sick. Jesus in the scripture really says "I am here for you, to help you, to save you, to cure you, to release you, to be a savior for you." It also speaks to his commitment to work for the people he was coming to save, to do whatever is necessary to make sure that the kingdom of God was advanced here on Earth. And in the guise of that commitment, Jesus is telling people that he is going to accomplish certain things before it is time for him to leave.
Each of us has a call. Be it a call to minister or a call to a secular vocation, there is something that each of us was called and is called to do. For some of us our calls can be fulfilled in a very short time, others of us will never fulfill our calling. But we must heed to whatever it is that we are called, and as a result, sent to do to uphold that which God has placed on our hearts.
I am a big believer in the fact that very little happens by accident. I do believe that people are thrown together for a reason, reasons that are sometimes unknown to the people involved in a situation. Other times, the reasons are very clear.
There is a reason that I was sent to pastor Miller Chapel. The Bishop and the Presiding Elder wants Miller Chapel to grow. They wanted someone a young, decent preacher, someone with some administrative skills, someone with energy and vision. They wanted someone who was willing to take up the mantle that Rev. Ware started and build upon it, someone who would create new ministries, someone who would bring a new energy to this church once Rev. Ware moved on to his next assignment.
This is one of the tricky things of African Methodism. With our Episcopal form of government, we are supposed to rely on the godly judgement of the Bishop, with the aid of the presiding elders, as to who is best suited to pastor a church. And with our, as some call it, revolving door policy, it sometimes makes it hard to create a sense of stability, since from one year to another, a pastor is not sure whether or not he will be returned to his charge.
I have said before that I asked the presiding elder to be assigned to this church if Rev. Ware was moved. And the saying goes, be careful what you ask for, you just may get it. But when I was assigned here in June, I knew what some of the obstacles would be in taking on this church. And there was a lot I did not know about. However, what I didn't know, outweighed what I did.
I knew that I had to be committed to the growth of this church. I knew that in order to do anything at all that my commitment to this church had to be unfailing and unswerving. I knew that I had to be willing to give my all, to sacrifice, to make accessions, to do things I normally would not have thought I would be willing to do. I also knew that I would make some mistakes along the way, and that with the Lord's help, I would learn from these mistakes and have that enable me to become a better pastor, preacher and minister.
But above all, above anything else, above anything the Bishop, presiding elder, other pastors and ministers, above any comments or suggestions teachers and friends would make, that I had to be committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I knew that I had to have the word of God has my guide and faith. That I had to be committed to bringing souls into the body of Christ, that I had to be willing to sacrifice as Jesus did in order to fulfill the words "Go preach my gospel." I knew that in order to be any kind of minister, any kind of pastor, that I had to have an unflinching commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ.
Then I knew I had to get some people who were equally as committed. Not because I was a friend or a family member. Not because of the organizations that I belong to. Not because of who this church is named for. And not because it looks good to help someone build a church. All of those things, while nice, matter as much as a hill of beans. But I was hoping to find some people who were just concerned with advancing the gospel, in saving souls, in bringing people into the fellowship of Christ. Because while in the world in may matter what you know and who you know, in Heaven, it only matters that you know Jesus.
And being a believer in Jesus, and having taken this scripture as my personal motto, I realized a while ago that the things we do for show do not matter if we are not firm in our belief of growing the body of Christ. All of the things we do to make ourselves feel good matter not a bit of God does not receive the Glory. Nothing we do can help anyone if we are only doing it because we think we are forced to do it and not compelled by scripture to do it.
But once we become committed to the gospel and to the advancing of God's kingdom, then we must prepare ourselves to be true to that commitment. If we say we are going to do something, then we ought to do it. If we say we are going to be somewhere, we ought to be there. If we say something should be accomplished, then we ought to be working to make sure it is.
Now I am as guilty as anyone else of not upholding all of my commitments, and I have had to struggle with some very serious and deep guilty feelings about it. After all, I thought to myself, how can I attempt to lead people in a direction that I am not willing to go. How can I amass of group of people who are willing to do the work of the Lord if I myself am not willing to do all of those things that are necessary to do that.
One of the things I got our of our Annual Conference was the ability to see how different churches have implemented different ministries. To see how while we are all working for the God, each person has their own style, their own pace, their own way of doing something. I have even noticed that as well as I have been mentored by my boss, I have realized that he and I are two totally different pastors. Granted, I haven't been pastoring as long as him, but I can see that there are some fundamental differences in the way that we do things, and I realize that that is the way that God wants it.
So I am here this morning with a new commitment to the Gospel of Christ. As a man, a minister, a preacher, a pastor and a Christian, I am proclaiming that I take the words of Jesus to heart. That the Spirit of the Lord is on me, because I have been anointed by God to preach good news to the poor. That the Lord has indeed sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind. That I am 150% committed to the release the oppressed. And that I am willing and able, each opportunity I get to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
And with this renewed commitment, I challenge each of you to renew your commitment to God and to the gospel of Christ, always keeping in mind the sacrifice that was made for you. I challenge you to work with me to build and grow God's kingdom here on earth. I challenge you and invite you to bolster your spirit by committing yourself to the ministry of Jesus. To learn the word, to heed the word, to follow the word, to do the word, to study the word, to not be ashamed of the word. I challenge you this morning to keep the commitment to God you made at that moment you first realized what Jesus could do for you.
But above all, I challenge you not to do it for me, for the person sitting next to you, for what you think you will receive, not to make yourself look good or feel good. I challenge you to not do anything because of who you know or who you think you know. I challenge you not to do anything because you think it is the right thing to do. But I challenge you to commit yourself because Jesus Christ is Lord. I challenge you to do it for God, to do it for Jesus, to do it for the Holy Spirit. To do it because God has already given you so much, that so much as been done for you that you just want to give something back.
And once we all renew our commitment, whether we have been a Christian for 5 minutes or 50 years, then we will be able to say like Jesus, that scripture was fulfilled. That we will work so that people will be saved. That blind people will be able to see. That the dumb will speak. That the deaf will hear. That the sinner will repent. That the people who have never known Christ will have the opportunity to come and experience him. That the people who think that nothing good can come out of this church will see a church running over with the Holy Spirit. And that our commitment will be so strong that the angels in Heaven will rejoice and on that day of days, when we get to Heaven, we will be greeted with the words, well done, thy good and faithful servant.
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