Sermon Ideas For Luke 4:14-21 Part 1
The readings for the day involve various forms of revelation. Psalm 19:1-4 extols the ineffable glory of God in nature. Psalm 19:5-14, Ezra's public reading of the law before the Water Gate in Nehemiah 8, and Jesus' citation of Isaiah in his inaugural sermon are examples of revelation through Scripture. Jesus himself and Paul's analogy of the church as the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12 relate to revelation through incarnation.
Many current theological issues pivot on the nature of revelation. Much of the New Age movement and creation theologies center in knowing God in creation. Love of wilderness, conservation of the natural world, and ecological questions arise from the belief that "the heavens [and the earth] are telling the glory of God." Many are seeking and finding in nature-based mysticism intimacy with God which they feel is lacking in the church. Christianity is criticized, and justly so, for a theology which allows us to fancy ourselves rulers who dominate and exploit creation rather than acknowledge that we are fellow creatures called to cherish and nurture it. These seekers may love a sense of the transcendence and person-likeness of God, who is beyond as well as within.
Dogmatists of various ilk, of course, have hefted their particular doctrines of revelation through Scripture like axes to dismember the body of Christ. Touting one theory of inspiration to the exclusion of others, we often lose the sense of Scripture "reviving the soul...rejoicing the heart...enlightening the eyes." We reduce the mystery of inspiration and illumination to sterile indoctrination. Yet, Scripture renews itself and those who hear it--the prophet of the Babylonian exile, Ezra, Jesus and his followers, Paul, us. Though it is the rock of institution and tradition, through it flows the lava of Spirit and faith.
At Nazareth the revelation of written word and living word come together in the person of the hometown carpenter whom initially everyone praised. Institution and incarnation are for a moment parallel. A new experience of the numinous gushes forth, as Christ inaugurates his mission with the ancient words of the prophet. He calls on the tradition to enflesh its ideals. His sermon confronts the traditional with how it has petrified revelation in the tombs of the prophets, which cover corpses of bigotry and pretension. Paul writes the church at Corinth, where the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed, along with the wealthy, theeducated, and the influential, have become members of the body of Christ.
The gospel lesson confronts us with the great paradox of religious tradition. Clearly Jesus owed much to his religious heritage. In the synagogue he was trained in the riches of law, prophets, and first century Judaism. Here as a young child, he experienced the stability of familial love and high moral standards. Here he gained his first hearing and his first disciples.
Tradition has great value. It instills belief. What we learn as preschool children in our religious community is imprinted like DNA in the bones and marrow of our being. Tradition imparts identity. Jesus was a first century Jew, who fashioned his self-understanding and formulated his mission from within his heritage.
Yet, as Fiddler on the Roof delightfully portrays, tradition is fraught with problems as well as promise. It may become an effort to control and conceal the outbreaking Spirit. It may undo the Year of Jubilee, by keeping in place unjust structures of society, whose vested interests have too much to lose. When childhood faith no longer suffices, religious tradition may be the skin we refuse to shed, strangling growth. The child Christ in the Temple grew into the man who overturned the tables of the moneychangers, and of himself built a Temple not made with hands.
The film Brother Sun, Sister Moon, a modern retelling of how St. Francis of Assisi began his order, illustrates the multiple personality of tradition. After incurring the wrath of his wealthy father and the bishop, Francis, barefoot, dirty, makes a pilgrimage to Rome, to gain the approval of Pope Innocent III. The simple words of the beggar infuriate the gem-encrusted hierarchy, but the Pope summons Francis before him again. He not only grants him endorsement, but kneels and kisses his feet. A courtier whispers an aside that his Holiness knows that Francis will bring the poor back into the church. Tradition is usually politic as well as pious.
I had the privilege of presenting a clinical case to a group of fellow students and teachers, one of whom was Dr. Lucio Mutia, now affiliated with the Clinical Pastoral Education Department of the Medical College of Virginia. He shared experiences he had as a CPE supervisor in the Philippines. During the people's revolution against the Marcos regime, he held his seminar in the streets, with the people who were marching. He distinguished between the theology of liberation, validated by achievement of the goal of freedom, and the theology of struggle, which requires no assurance that the goal will be attained in the lifetime of those who struggle.
What Jesus announced in Nazareth has yet to be achieved. The poor still need to hear good news, but we clergy too often compete for storefront pulpits. Captives still long to be released. The blind have yet to see. The oppressed carry as heavy burdens of violence and fear as ever. And the Jubilee, the ancient levitical dream of economic justice and equality, still shimmers like a mirage of Camelot on the distant mountains of the commonwealth of God.
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