Saturday, 26 January 2013

Epiphany 3 - Nazareth Manifesto - longer version

We heard the part of Luke’s gospel where he tells us the story, from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, of Jesus going back to his home town of Nazareth, to start teaching and healing. It should be a day of great celebration – local boy makes good. Jesus reads the bit of the book of Isaiah which says “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has sent me to being good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind and freedom for the oppressed”.

Jesus is setting out his stall – some people call this the ‘Nazareth Manifesto’. At the start of his ministry, in the place where he has been brought up, Jesus makes it clear what he is there for - God has sent him to tell everyone the good news of God’s love and to make the world a better place.

We didn’t hear the end of the story. You might imagine that the people of Nazareth would be pleased – Jesus has come to do good things, to tell them good news, and he’s going to spend the rest of his life helping other people. But instead of starting the party, the people of Nazareth grab Jesus and almost push him off a cliff.

On this occasion, Jesus just walks through the crowd and leaves them alone – but we know that in the end, after only 3 years of his teaching and healing, Jesus will be killed on a cross.

So what does Jesus say that gets people so angry at him? He tells them that God’s love is there for them when life is tough – but they will need to be honest about when they need God’s love.
Jesus declares that there is
Good news  - for the poor
Recovery of sight – for the blind
Release – for the captive
Freedom – for the oppressed.
All these good things are available from God - Good news, sight, release, freedom; but you have to be prepared to admit that you are poor, blind, captive, oppressed.
The people of Jesus’ time believed that you could tell that a person was blessed by God if their life was good. Illness was a sign of God’s disfavour: health was a sign of God’s love and blessing.
But Jesus says that we need to be ready to see that God’s love is there for us when we need it most – when life is tough, when we’re ready to admit our mistakes, when we’re at our lowest and feel trapped.

Perhaps Jesus’ neighbours were wanting to hear their local boy say that Nazareth was so special that God had come to be with them, and that they would be specially blessed by God’s presence and everything would be great. They wanted a feel-good message. But instead what they get is a message for when they don’t feel good. Jesus tells them that rather than God being especially with the rich and healthy and succesful God is especially with those who need him most. God is especially with those who are ready to admit they haven’t got life sorted out yet.

And so that is good news for all of us. God’s love is here for you.
If you’re ready to admit you need help, ready to ask for more strength, ready to ask God for love, you are welcome to come and eat the bread and drink the wine of communion.

Communion reminds us of the love of God shown in Jesus: a love so great that Jesus was prepared to die for us, and a love so great that he came back from death to live forever.
This is a love which is always there, always offered, and always gives strength.

But it is not just a love that is for us to enjoy for ourselves: if we do that we risk becoming like the people of Nazareth, ready to grasp God’s love for ourselves and ready to push anyone who says that God’s love is for others off a cliff in our anger.

The reading from the first letter to the Corinthians contains Paul’s famous teaching about the church as the body of Christ.

Paul reminds us that we are baptised into one body – that we belong - but that we belong equally to God, we are filled equally with God’s love, whether we are Jews or Greek, slave or free. Whoever we are, whatever our background or race or income, we all belong to God.

And if we are Christ’s body, then we are here to proclaim the same gospel of God’s kingdom that Jesus proclaimed: where those most in need will know God’s love and see the change it brings to their lives.
Good news for the poor
Sight for the blind
Freedom for captives
Release for the oppressed.

Once we have accepted God’s love in Jesus Christ we cannot sit back and bask in that love, we are called into the body of Christ to share that love with all the world.

So we belong to the body, we proclaim God’s love to all the world, and we are filled with God’s strength. Being part of the body means that we don’t do what we want, by our own strength, but we work together to do God’s will, in God’s strength.

So at this table we accept God’s love, we allow God to  strengthen us, and we go out to do God’s will

To God’s praise and glory. Amen.

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