Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When 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, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And 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. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” [NRSV]
Did you know that the phrase, idiom, “Preaching to the Choir” was first references in 1973 in the Lima Ohio News in the month of January. Forty years, why that’s nearly my whole life time. The older phrase is ‘preaching to the converted’, first cited in the works of John Stuart Mill in his, An Examination of Sir W. Hamilton’s Philosophy, 1867. The phrases might change from time to time, but why do preachers preach to those who are already believers?
It is more interesting that you might think.. let’s look at this text from Luke. Jesus has been out in surrounding areas: (Forsyth, Monticello, Griffin and McDonough distances away from Jackson, GA) and his new ministry has great reviews, great works, and a growing following. But when he comes home to Nazareth, he returns to the people who knew him, not as the Messiah, but as Joseph and Mary’s child. Jo-Jr., did not stay at home and keep the family trade. He has gone off and become a big-shot and he is trying to tell the home folks how they ought to live. At least this was likely the assumption of the men and boys sitting in the synagogue and the mothers, widows and girls listening from just outside. After Jesus reads the scriptures for his family and friends, we hear another couple of phrases: The crowd was “blown-away” and just sat there “like a deer in the headlights.”
Jesus, teaching and addition to the text was that the Prophet Isaiah was correct and his prophetic words had come try “right-before-their-eyes.” Wow!
Think about my question: Why do preachers preach to the home-team? Why rally the fan base of those who already have their support? Jesus’ preaching was not filled with stories on this day. There are no parables, no miracles, no food, no signs and wonders, just plain talk.
We are so accustom to looking for bits and pieces of scripture by chapter and verse. Today with digital search engines the use of chapters and verses are nearly obsolete. Did you know that the scripture has only had numbered chapters and version for less than five hundred years. Did you know that for about a 1000 years the scriptures were written only on the hearts of the faithful. Think of the years when there was only one copy, at the temple. We probably have access to a dozen bibles and considering the internet, dozens of translations are just a few clicks away. (I like to use www.biblestudytools.com – It is by means not the only collection, but its free and has lots of versions and resources for bible study all in one place.)
One of our Church History professors, Manfred Hoffman, was a from a German tradition. He told that story that his professor believed that the scriptures had to be studied in Hebrew, Greek and Latin and only in German when absolutely necessary, and he considered it vulgar to have to read them in English. Dr Hoffman said his professor would “turn over in his grace” he knew about digital bibles, no ink, no paper, and pages to turn. It is interesting that over half of the ministers in my study group have given up our paper bibles for multiple translations on tablets and ipads.
In the passage from Luke, Jesus is handling the scrolls. He used the resources of his day to find the place in the prophetic voice, to hear God speaking in the present. This is the task for us in our hearing. When it the last time you touched a bible, paper or digital? It is God’s message and word, it is God’s teaching and voice, and it is God’s conversation for those who will encounter it.
We don’t grow from scripture by being near it. We don’t grow in faith by having lots of copies? We don’t ever need to let someone get away with saying, “Well it’s somewhere in the bible, I know it says…” Call them on it to show you, “prove it!” The Lord helps those who help themselves? Nope, not in the bible. Some close variations, but “Blessed are the poor for they will inherit the earth” is a good bit more clearly spelled out.
So what does Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah?
Jesus reads the passage putting it into the first person and proclaims to his family and friends:
- He is anointed
- He will give Good News to the poor.
- He will call for those imprisoned and bound to be released.
- He will give sight to those who cannot see.
- He will give liberty to enslaved and trapped.
- And, He will proclaim this is the Lord’s time, “right-here, right-now”, this-year, right here!
No wonder they were “shell-shocked”
What if these words of the prophet Isaiah, claimed and proclaimed by Jesus, speak about what the church is about.
For the church is the body of Christ, the church is the presence of Christ. We have seen great signs and wonders though Jesus, he promised that his disciples, like us, would do even greater signs and wonders. Let’s start with his list from Isaiah:
What if we got in touch with the scriptures.
What if we read God’s word as frequently as we eat?
There are thousands of devotion books with scripture, every bookstore sells copes, we have copies to share, check them out of the library, pick one up at the motel in the draw of the nightstand by the bed, smartphones, laptops, computers. Tapes, CDs, MP3s, and downloads galore.. The Holy Scriptures are more available to use than at any other time in human history and I would guess that the majority of our gathering here might have to think for awhile the last time we opened God’s word, got our hands on the text and stopped to hear Jesus speak these ancient words a-fresh to use today.
Jesus was preaching to the choir because the choir was singing something other than the words of Isaiah, something other than words that declared, This is God’s year.
This year is not the Falcon’s year. It was amazing to see tens of thousand of fans, rise up, with a city of hopeful fans to cheer on the home team. It was a bit disturbing that the Falcons paid Samuel L Jackson, an undisclosed sum, to dress up like a preachers, surrounded by a robed choir and call for fan’s to raise the dead, out of the ashes, that the city might come to it’s feet and… buy enough tickets to pay for the players, the television rights and the World Congress Center and Georgia Dome loans and repair costs could be covered while grown men run around hitting each other in tight pants, ON Sundays! Maybe next year will be the Falcons. I don’t know..
But I do know this: If we are bold enough to rise up, take up the scroll of the scriptures and place them in our hands and in our hearts and heads, AND listen to the call they have upon our lives, we will see the Kingdom of God in our home town.
And if we don’t, we will not. It is just that simple. Its just that clear.
The Question is: Is this the year that God’s word will transform our community, or will we continue to make a mess of things, mess’en around.
The Question is: Is this the year we study, getting our hands-on God’s word in our witness and service for each other right here, or will we pass that to someone to do for us?
The Question is: Do the words God speaks to Isaiah, Jesus, Luke, and to us today… continue to hold the power or have we given up on them?
What say you?