(here is a blast from the past. I preached this sermon on 1-25-04 at Hawthorne Lane UMC, enjoy (beware of typos))
Shortest Sermon Ever
I have to admit I looked at this text and I sat back and wondered what I was going to preach about. It is a hard text to get your head around for a sermon. There is no dramatic story for me to break down, no wise and confusing parable for me to explain nor is there a dramatic miracle that takes place that I can just speak about. This is a simple short story about Christ=s first sermon. The fun part of the story comes in the next verses which is next weeks scripture, so I cannot jump ahead of myself and tell the end because we will figure that out next week. All I have to work with Jesus standing up in his hometown synagogue, reading some scripture and then giving the shortest sermon ever, one line, and that was it in these seven verses. That was it. I prayed long and hard about what I should preach about using this text and God spoke to me in a way that I was not ready for.
As I pondered the text, prayed over them and then prayed for something to say about them, I looked at what the other texts in the lectionary was about. The Epistle text for this week is verses from the 12 chapter of 1 Corinthians. If you were at the leadership training last week, then you will remember it because it is the scripture that Mary John read. It is a kind of long text so instead of reading it I will give you the cliff notes version. It is a great text that simply tells us that we are all created differently but we are part of one body, the body of believers, the body of Christ. Since we are a part of that body we are suppose to do our part for that body. Paul then goes into a long stretch of saying, if the ear states that it cannot see, well of course it cannot for it is an ear, it is suppose to hear. A foot cannot do the work of a heart and a heart cannot do the work of the brain. To sum it all up, we are all created differently so we must do what we are created for we must do what we were made to do. We must fulfill the reason that we were created, we must hear our calling and do it.
Now this is not easy to do. Jesus understood his role here on earth and proclaimed it to his hometown. Jesus comes back from his baptism, full of the Spirit, and understands his purpose.
He understands for certain why he is here on earth and then he starts to tell the world.
At Duke most classes talked about theology, history and intellectual thinking. Now I like that stuff but I don=t love it, so I was really kind of looking forward to my preaching classes where we can learn the basis fundamental of ministry, the sermon. Come to find out, it was different than expected. To fully understand what it is like to take the preaching course at Duke you need to understand the preaching labs, yes that is what they are called, preaching labs. I don=t know who came up with that name but it sounded like we were going to create something in there, that students went in and then through the magic of teaching they came out preaching monsters for God. You walked in as John Doe and you walked out Martin Luther King, Jr.
Yet that was not the case. These labs are more like little studios. There are some chairs all facing a pulpit, similar to this one, the walls are all a tan khaki color and in the back corner there is a window into the booth. Above the booth there is a camera that is recording your sermon.
When you preaching in that lab you wait for the thumbs up from the booth guy and then you start into your sermon. So you can see that they really give you a sense of how preaching in a congregation really is. Then after you preach you sit back down and you are ripped to shreds by your fellow classmates who are just waiting for there turn.
I tell you this to tell you that Jesus would have failed the preaching course at Duke. His sermon fell short of the desired 15-20 minute sermons they required. There is no witty argument given.
There is no real brilliance at all with the creation of this phrase. No one really quotes it, Jesus has a ton of other much better sayings in his portfolio. I mean, Jesus=s whole sermon is really just one sentence and he does it sitting down. Now a regular service back in those days is somewhat similar to what we do here each Sunday. Usually there is just some prayers, reading of Scripture, some comments and alms for the poor. So here Jesus really just provides a comment, not even comments. Let me give you the full visual on what happened. I what you all to fully understand what happens because it does become very important especially with what happens next week
Jesus after his baptism goes home and goes to the synagogue where he usually went on the Sabbath. Jesus was a good Jew and participates in the service which was very common among men in those days. I am sure that he knew some if not a lot of the people there in the synagogue that day. This was the town he grew up in so he must have known at least a handful and they all knew him. He goes up and is given a scroll of scripture to read, it is what we know as the book of Isaiah. He opens the scroll and then looks out in the congregation and reads these lines:
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.
He reads that scripture then sits down, looks out into the people there and says, Today these scriptures have been fulfilled in your hearing. In other words, yah that=s me. The person who is coming to do all these things that has been promised, well you are looking at him.
Have you ever said something that you knew in your heart was true but no one around you believed you? Hindsight is 20/20 so history gives us some great examples of people who have believed one thing only to have the majority of people not believe them. Christopher Columbus believed he could get to India faster if he went west. People thought he would fall off the earth because it was flat but he proved them wrong. When the Panthers started the season at 5 and 0, a friend of mine said, if the Panthers keep this up they will go to the Super Bowl. I laughed and said, are you kidding, this is the Carolina Panthers, we always find a way to lose it in the end. Yet now that we are seven days away from the Big Game in Houston, I am proven wrong.
If John Fox would have stood up in the press room in August and said, we are going to the Super Bowl on the shoulders of a young team lead by a quarterback who until this year has only started two games, he would have been the laughing stock on Sportscenter, and I would have been joining with them. Yet the Carolina Panthers are playing in the Super Bowl and my friend was exactly right, I just did not believe him. Christopher Columbus heeded the call and headed west on the Atlantic. The Panthers are full of the spirit of playing as a team and also are heading west to Houston. In this passage, Christ, full of the Spirit, hears his call loud and clear and heads home to tell people about it.
The key to this passage is that Jesus was full of the Spirit and knew in His heart that what he was doing was something He was called to do. He knew that when that scripture was read that was really about His life and what He was sent to do on this earth. He was sent to give the blind sight. He was here to release the oppressed and not just those who were socially oppressed but all of us who fall victim to that little thing called sin. He was here to proclaim the year of the Lord=s favor, to proclaim that all are set free and that there is now a path to heaven is set.
Jesus saw the path that he was to take and he started to walk it.
I know what you are thinking, that=s great Jim, but what does that have to do with us.
What it has to do with us is that we are a part of that body of believers. In the congregation there are hands, feet, hearts, lungs, eyes, ears, mouths and brains. We are all created differently, but God wants us to name what we are created for and then do it. We are to follow the example that Christ gives us and go out, full of the Spirit and do the work of God. Proclaim what you were created to do, name it, accept it and then do it.
It is not easy and we learn next week about some of the hazards that come with that territory but God gives us what we need and the power and the authority to do so. All we have to do is do it. Just like Nike says, we should Just Do It.
The one who is to come, has come. The one who will set the people free has broken the chains.
The one who ushered us into the kingdom of God is watching and waiting for you to do your part. What we can take from these scriptures is an example of how. Jesus could not do it without the Spirit and neither can we. Jesus needed assurance that this was what He was called to do and that is what the Spirit gave Him and that is what the Spirit can give us. The good news is that the role of Messiah, the supreme sacrifice has been taken. None of us have to do that.
All we have to do is the little parts, the little roles in life, the big one is taken care of. So our challenge is to find our roles, find our calling, find what we are created for, and then to proclaim it and do it.
Believe in yourself. Believe in the voice in the back of your head, the one that keeps you up at night telling you where you could find the most joy in life. Listen to the Spirit that drives your soul to step away from our comfort zones and to branch out to the needy, the hungry and the forgotten. Listen to God for why you are created, claim it and then do it.