What are we going to do now that we are out of the wilderness?, Luke 4:14-21

Sermon:           What are we going to do now that we are out of the wilderness?
Scripture:        Luke 4.14-21
Preacher:         Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:         First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale
Date:                 January 27, 2019, Third Sunday of Epiphany

Last week, we took some time to unpack our text from Isaiah 62 whereupon the Jews who have come back to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon were getting hit hard with the reality that although they were back home again, everything was different. In their despondency, God declared to them he was replacing their name Forsaken and Desolate and giving them a new name: You are My Glory and We are Married. Do you remember why God gave them new names?  Because in the giving of a new name, the people of God were given a new identity and in that new identity is God’s promise of faithfulness.

You see, as a church we can relate to the whole being in exile thing with the crazy events of the last dozen years with the turnover in pastoral and lay leadership; people who live wandering in the wilderness or on exile learn to rely on a different skill sets and resources than do people who are rooted settlers where everything is going smoothly. You are the faithful remnant who stayed focused on the goal and fought the good fight during those wilderness years and I left you to ponder last week, “What is the new name God is giving this congregation as we move forward in ministry in Broward County and abroad?”

This morning we are picking up in Luke’s Story where Jesus has just gone through his own wilderness experience. He was baptized with the Holy Spirit which then drove him into the Judean wilderness to be tempted and tried whereupon his character was fashioned as the Son of God. Now the same Spirit overwhelms him as he begins his ministry. Jesus has gone through the tough test and his spiritual character has been shaped.  Now it’s his time to come back from the Spirit-induced exile and return home again to resume being a settler and pick up where he left off before he left!

Well actually that’s not true. Jesus came back from his wilderness experience but he didn’t settle back into the comfortable rhythms of small-town Galilean life; no, his experience in personal forty-day exile and wilderness instilled in him a Spirit-driven life that had a specific passion and purpose. Jesus was no settler; he was a social, political, and spiritual instigator, agitator and catalyst for transformation and change. With respectful apologies to California brother, Rick Warren, Jesus did not live a purpose-driven life so much as Jesus embodied a Spirit-driven life with a purpose and passion to change and turn over the tables of the religious, political, and cultural status quo.

So this leads us to our text today. Turn in your Bible to Luke 4.14-21. Our tendency is to want to read past verse 21 but the authors of our lectionary felt it was incumbent to break up the action and let today’s words hang in the air for contemplation. Hear the words which is Luke’s overture for his entire Gospel and raise the threads of Jesus’ ministry that run throughout the entire Lukan Good-News Story. Listen to the Word of the Lord!

Luke 4:14-21

14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.[1]

Carol Hess from Emory notes that in today’s passage, “We learn what Jesus came to do; insofar as we measure our lives against this (text), we are following Jesus’ ministry…if we are going to study, interpret, and follow the gospel, we should keep coming back to this text to measure our work.”[2]  I suppose the question before us as Church is: Are we as individual Christ-followers, Am I?

The Church is to proclaim good news.  The Church is to help the blind recover their site. The Church is to set captive peoples free. The Church is to declare a Jubilee. But are we?

What is the Good News the Church is proclaiming? For many the news that is heard today out of churches is bad news. The news people hear is that if you don’t act/vote/do/behave in a certain way, you’re not a bona fide follower of Christ. The Good News people buy into today is that if you walk the aisle, you get your spot reserved in heaven and then the Good News becomes all about me. Jesus challenges us to ask How is the Good News we are proclaiming making a difference for a man living under visqueen plastic this weekend in the rain? What is the Good News for the single mother who works two jobs and never sees her kids or who has time to experience the touch of another loving human being?

Furthermore, how is our American church doing with letting people who are blind to the Truth of the Gospel know what the Gospel really is? Church in America suffers from a vast form of macular degeneration where we are no longer able to see peripherally around us but can only get hazy glimpses of what’s directly in front of us.

How is today’s Church liberating people who are held by the bonds of poverty, substance abuse, or the human trafficking which is taking place right along the I-95 corridor?

How is Church today demonstrating that there is a way to break free from the bonds of prejudice, greed, abusive power and the accumulation of ‘stuff’ or do we instead proffer a culturally driven Christian-life that supports that broken system?

How is Church today declaring and demonstrating that this is the Year of the Lord’s favor when we subdivide ourselves into opposing camps of ‘us’ and ‘them’?

How do we proclaim the Year of the Lord’s favor when we spend more on restaurant meals and entertainment than we do in the offering plate which in itself indicates our thankfulness to God? Beloved, there are people in Church who load more onto their Starbucks card per week or year than they ever give back to God in gifts of thanksgiving!  Never mind we have a church app to give your offerings which is easier to use than a Starbucks app!

Beloved, the words of Jesus today are prophetic words he quoted from Isaiah 58 and 61. They are words from the Prophet that were spoken to a people who have just come back from exile and wandering in their spiritual wilderness. They are words not meant to evoke a sense of guilt or shame; on the contrary, Jesus says that starting this very day, God is doing a new thing that is going to frustrate the status quo as you and I know it. Jesus is declaring today that God is doing a new thing and he, Jesus, is the match who will set the whole thing on fire!

Today, Jesus tells us the Good News is that we may disagree politically but we can agree ethically and morally about the well-being of our neighbor. The Good News is that Jesus-type-love is beyond politics; the bad news is we don’t believe or act like it.

Today, Jesus tells us the Good News is that you and I, the Church, First Presbyterian Church, are the mouthpieces for sharing this Good News to our world right here in Fort Lauderdale and Broward County; the bad news is we are still trapped in the nostalgic past or are too fearful to utter, much less declare, the newsflash of grace from God.

Today, Jesus tells us the Good News that Church, quit being so focused on how big you are, how successful you appear and start working on polishing the patina of how well you’re loving others like I do, how you’re willing to be unpopular in the eyes of the world because you are doing God’s will and not your own like I am, how you’re sacrificially, inconveniently and intentionally serving others as my hands and feet in this broken, weary world as I am.

Friends, the Good News of the Gospel for First Presbyterian Church is that today, Jesus is giving you and me, this church a fresh, blank canvass upon which we are to paint a beautiful new tapestry of ministry for this time and age. The Good News is that we are not shackled to yesterday, but as a church, today we are the living embodiment of the invisible God in a world that desperately needs the love of Jesus.

Years ago I worked as an associate pastor at a church who received more than 140 new members on just one Sunday and I was told by the Senior Pastor that it was a failure of a day. This, in spite of the fact that the average Protestant church in America is only 100-110 members on the roles at a given time. Being told it was a failure was a huge gift for me because I learned as a young pastor, that a church is driven by the Spirit, it’s not just about church size and prestige. No, I learned that it was a church’s ability to proclaim the winsome Good News of Jesus to world that is spiritually blind, culturally bound, and grossly self-absorbed. I learned that a successful spiritually-driven church is one where her people are worshipping in community and at home daily. I learned that a successful spiritually-driven church is one whose members are developing their spiritual formation through study of the faith and taking what we learn about the faith and serving  in the world. I learned that a successful spiritually-driven church is one whose members care for the least of these in it own congregation and in the local area. I learned that a successful spiritually-driven church is one whose members display gratitude to God by giving of their time and resources to the work of Jesus.

Beloved, this is the type of church Jesus is describing in our Story today. Is it a church, you beloved, wish to be? Amen! Then let’s get on with it!

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301

© 2019 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.   All rights reserved.

[1]The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2]David L. Bartlett; Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration (Kindle Locations 9379-9381). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

About patrick h wrisley

A Mainline Presbyterian Orthodox Evangelical Socially Minded Prophetic Contemplative Preacher sharing the Winsome Story of Christ as I try to muddle through as a father, friend, head of staff, colleague, and disciple.
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