This is about the third or fourth time I have preached on this particular scripture. Needless to say it is my favorite. However, I am still uneasy about this sermon, and probably will rework it and preach it again. But, as always, I invite any and all comments.
And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave [it] again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.
Let us meditate on the subject this morning:
Why are We Here?
Let us pray:
To some this may seem like an odd question. After all this seems like a rather flippant and elitist question. Especially on the occasion of a church homecoming service. But I do not ask this question in any existential or berating manner. Rather, I ask this question in a manner in which we have all asked ourselves from time to time. Why are we here? Why do we come to church? Why do we come here to praise and worship God?
There comes a time in the life of every good thinking Christian when we must ask ourselves this very question. Do we come here out of habit, or obligation or a sense of duty? Do we come because we want to hear the preacher or the guest preacher? Do we come here because our friends or family would look down upon us if we didnít come? Were we invited or did we just walk by and think that this would be a nice place to worship? Or do we come to church because there is something present that draws us here. A spirit that we can neither see not touch, but yet somehow, it takes us like an arm and draws us into the sanctuary?
Now I must admit that of all the verses in the Bible, this is my all-time favorite. For several reasons. First, it is one of the few scriptures that is repeated, word for word, in both the Old and New Testaments. These words were first spoken by the prophet Isaiah in the 61st chapter in the book of his name.
Secondly, as a preacher, it gives me direction on what should be one of the primary goals of any minister. To preach, heal, deliver, and liberate. Any preacher worth his or her salt could be well served by heeding the directions of this scripture.
Thirdly, in addition to the clergy, it also gives direction to the laity by giving you the same direction, which brings us to the topic of my sermon this morning.
In this set of scriptures, we have Jesus, fresh from his temptation of the devil. returning to Nazareth, the place where he was born. As it was the Sabbath day, Jesus went to the synagogue and stood up to read. Someone handed him a book of scriptures and he turned to these exact scriptures which previously had been written by Isaiah.
Before I go any further, let me say that it has always befuddled me that of all of the scriptures in the Hebrew bible, of all scriptures that Jesus could have read, He picked this one. He didnít go to the laws of Moses or the story of creation, nor did he go to a Psalm or a Proverb. But for some reason, His spirit led him to this scripture, and for me, that speaks to how important this scripture is in the lives of Christians.
Now Isaiah, in the 61st chapter, was giving instruction to the people of Israel. In chapters previous to the 61st, he gives Israel comfort and direction, letting them know that God was their God, that God was there to protect and watch over them, and they were to be faithful in their service to their God, who delivered them from the hands of bondage. And as Isaiah wrote, his Spirit became full and he was motivated to write these words that would later be repeated by Jesus in the synagogue.
Jesus, flashing back to the synagogue, read these words, gave the book to the minister, then sat down. Now I wonder what you all would have done if I had just read the scripture, then sat down myself. But apparently, Jesus, whose mission was to preach and teach, felt that the reading of the words found in the 18th and 19th verses, was sufficient for that moment and maybe for dramatic purposes, felt no further commentary was needed at that moment. Maybe He wanted it all to just sink in and have the people think on what He just said. And I can just imagine the looks on the faces of the members of the congregation:
"NO HE DIDNíT JUST READ THAT AND SIT DOWN!"
But Jesus, being Jesus, and doing things that only Jesus could do, just sat down. And He watched everyone as they watched him. Then, apparently still sitting, mind you, He told the people that prophecy had been fulfilled to them this day.
Now granted, he does go on to teach and preach after the 21st verse, but imagine the impact his sitting down after reading the scriptures had on the people in attendance. To me, when Jesus sat down, what He was saying is Ė "This is what you are to do also."
So we come back to my question Ė "Why are we here?"
Being active and involved in the church is often not only a arduous and frustrating process, but also one that can potentially reap a great deal of rewards. It is something that causes us to look at our own station in life and the station of others, and often wonder what more can we do? What else will bring glory to God? What else will bring Him honor and praise?
And in those times when we are lost and confused, maybe sitting in the church basement after a particularly rough Steward or Trustee Board meeting, or after a Bible Study which did not answer one of your questions, or maybe even after a meeting with the Pastor which left you more confused when you walked in, you ask yourself, "What am I doing here?"
Then you remember that you are serving God, but even then, you are still rather confused. How am I to serve God? What can I do to serve God better? Certainly, just coming to church on Sunday is not enough. How can I give God my best? How can I give to the glory of Christ? How can I, a regular lay person, do God justice?
Well, Jesus, through his repeating of the words of Isaiah, gives us a clue. While some may consider these words to be directed to ministers, I believe that they are for all of us. They are for every person who wants to advance the kingdom of God, every person who wants to serve Jesus, and every person who wants to impart at least a little of the Holy Spirit in every person they meet.
We have all heard the saying, "Iíd rather see a sermon in action than hear it." And with the words of Isaiah, repeated by Jesus, he tells us how to live a sermon in our own daily lives.
While ministers are specifically called by God to preach, or at least they should be, everyone has a calling. Whether you are a doctor, lawyer, teacher, school bus driver, photographer, computer programmer, electrician, police officer Ė whatever you do, you have a calling from God. Itís all a matter of whether or not you pay attention to it. But God has a plan for you and what He wants you to do. You just have to pray and listen.
The people who work for the church and in the church are often the most important in the life of the church. While some pastors think that they can do it all, I can tell you from personal experience that we canít. It takes the support of good people, dedicated in service to God, in order to make a church thrive and flourish.
It is also these people who help the pastor preach the gospel, heal the brokenhearted, deliver the captives, restore sight, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and bolster the spirit of the fallen. It is the people who work in the vineyard, often when no one else is looking, when no one else knows what they are doing, who help to advance the cause of kingdom building.
So Jesus is talking to you as well, the laity. He is saying that you too can preach the Good News, by walking upright, by dealing with your neighbor in a Christian manner and fashion. He is telling you that by letting your light so shine that everyone knows you are not only a child of God, but a faithful follower, that by your very life, you are preaching the Good News.
You can heal the brokenhearted with a smile or a kind word, or a hug. Sometimes a phone call to a person who would least expect you to call them can restore hope and faith in someone who thought all was lost, or even better, can help someone to come to a better understanding of God.
You and preach deliverance to the captives by being supportive of our brothers and sisters who are incarcerated, both justly and unjustly. That writing letters, saying a prayer, keeping positive thoughts, can help the captive bolster their strength in God, and make their time of captivity a little less burdensome because they feel, that through you, God is on their side, sending them support.
You can help the blind, both the literal and the figurative, see by reading them scripture, by helping them with their errands, and all kinds of little inconsequential things that we think donít matter, but in reality, causes the angels in Heaven to smile because they know we are doing the Lordís work.
There are so many ways we can fulfill not only these scriptures, but also the ministry of Jesus. It is up to each and every one of us to make sure we are doing our very best, giving our time and talents for the uplift of Godís kingdom. Often we go unappreciated, often we go ignored. We think that the work that we do affects no one. We think that the things we work and sacrifice for are all for nothing.
But I am here to tell you this morning, you hard work does not go unappreciated. Even if the pastor doesnít say anything, if your fellow members are not working with you the way you want, God sees what you are doing. Jesus is working with you. After all, why would someone allow Himself to be killed, not to continue to assist the very people He came to save.
I know itís hard work. As I have said before, Itís Hard To Be A Christian. It is not an easy job. It is sometimes very thankless and there are times when it seems easier just to give up and go home than to continue on. But there is hope. There is a father in Heaven who sees what you do, who knows your heart, and steps in every now and then to give you a little boost. There is someone who sits on the right hand of that same Father, who is able to intercede on your behalf, who is also able to direct and guide you, to let you know that you work is not in vain. And then there is a Spirit, that Spirit that calls you to come to church, that calls you to join that committee or that club, that calls you to give your very best when you feel at your worst.
And it is the combination of these three things that helps you to preach your own sermon in your life, to rescue those who are imprisoned both mentally and physically, who helps you heal those who need to be healed, and helps you give vision to those who cannot see.
So the answer to why are you here is really quite simple. God wants you to be here. He has made is possible for you to come here, at this time and this place to do that which you are destined to do. He has made it possible for you to preach His gospel in your own way, for you to assist in healing the downtrodden and help delivering the captives from bondage. He has made it possible for you to do the little things that you might think be nothing, but they matter to Him. He makes it possible for you to serve as an example of how real Christians act. With love and humility and dedication. The work that you do is valuable, is worthwhile, is paying rewards.
So when you go out and preach the Good News, however you preach it, make sure people know what the Good News is. That God is a good God. That God is a righteous God. That God is a just God. That God looks after the feeble and the weak as much as he looks after the strong. That God never fails. The Good News is that God never fails. That He loves us, that He cares for us, that He helps us, even in those times when we cannot help ourselves.
The Good News, my brothers and sisters, is that we serve a God who is able. A God who is able to do anything, for you, with you and through you. The Good News is that God has always been here and will always be here. When you work in the church, youíre not doing it for Him. And you will be rewarded. The Good News is that there was a man in Nazareth, who got up one day in the synagogue and read some scripture, taught some lessons, performed some miracles, let folks kill him, then rose from the dead, defeating death, so that we might have a better life. The Good News is that this man, on the third day, said death cannot hold me, death cannot defeat me, and my people shall go free.
The Good News is that there is hope. There is joy. There is understanding. There is love. That all of these are in abundance when you work for the Lord. These things become a part of you when you work for him, sacrifice for him. For when you take one step towards God, God takes 20 steps towards you. This is the Good News. This is what you preach with your life. This is what we are to do. This is why you are here. This is the Good News.
So when you come to that point where youíre not sure what youíre doing, when youíre not sure if youíre doing enough, when you are not sure if you are truly giving your best to the glory of Christ, just paused for a moment Ė grab your Bible, and turn to the 4th Chapter of Luke, go directly to the 18th chapter and read:
The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
Then sit down.
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