Sermon: Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, 24 January 2016

Third Sunday After Epiphany – Series C

Rev. Ross Weaver

St Albans, Epping – 7.00am

St Aidans West Epping & Baptism

24th January, 2016

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10;

Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31; Luke 4:14-21

As we gather today no doubt we are aware of the importance of this weekend. Tomorrow we celebrate Australia Day and there is much we can celebrate. 228 years ago a very unpromising group of British refugees arrived on these shores. The English regarded them as the worst of the worst. By putting these people on ships it was hoped they would never be heard of again. Yet from this dubious beginning has arisen one of the most successful nations in the world.

Australia possesses great wealth and yet we have been more successful than most in developing a fair distribution of that wealth. We have developed a sophisticated social security system so that there is nurture for the weak. For reasons beyond my understanding, Australia has consistently lurched in the direction that fosters an open and fair society, where hard work is rewarded and we have been better than most in tackling a corruption that has warped many other societies. There is plenty we can feel good about on this Australia Day weekend.

But more than that, we can take it even further. Our love of justice drives us on to re-examine the sins of the past, to right wrongs no matter how old. This is why we have Royal Commissions into unions and Church and institutional misconduct. This is why we continue to re-visit Aboriginal issues. We don’t seem content to live with the failures, and forget those who suffer. Compare that to Northern Ireland where peace has only been achieved by the building of walls in some places so that people of either side never meet and never work out their differences. They can live their whole lives just meters from each other but never meet – such is their hatred and their bitternessntowards each other.

But Australia seems to have a vision of what it might be. And so strong is that vision that John Howard wanted to write it into the preamble of our Constitution. He was defeated but not on the idea but on the wording that might be used. But everyone understood what he was trying to do. The debate was simply about how to say it. As Australians, the values of justice and fairness go deep. We know Australia is rich and we believe everyone should have their fair share. These values make sense to us. Whenever a new Prime Minister is chosen, though we do that far too often, (worse than Italy at the moment) we usually have a speech that rehearses these core values.

And here in Luke 4 we have Jesus at the beginning of his ministry announcing what he stands for, what are his core values, what his ministry will be about. No doubt the people of Nazareth had heard of Jesus’ reputation. They would want to know what he had been saying. Jesus needs something to sum up his message. So he chose Isaiah 61. Isaiah had preached to Israel when they had been invaded by the Babylonians. He preached to a people who had lost everything during that invasion. He preached to a people who had lost all hope, who had lost any reason to hope for a better day.

We have seen the same images over the past few weeks. We have seen people wandering through the devastation of the bush fires, to see where they once lived. We’ve seen homes completely destroyed and razed to the ground where ironically the only surviving structure is the fireplace. We’ve seen the look of horror on the faces of people who have lost everything, who stare down the camera lens at us and say, “At least we’re still alive.” And then they burst into tears at the prospect of having to start all over again. What can you say to a people who have lost everything? What can you say to a people who have lost all hope, where everything around them is loss and destruction?

And yet Isaiah preached a message of good news, good news to those going into captivity, good news that their release date was drawing near.

And so again in Jesus’ day, with Israel under Roman rule, where heavey taxes were extracted and the wealth of the country was shipped off to another land, where the ruling authorities had the power of life and death over each individual, Jesus came with his message. He came to Nazareth to preach good news, he came to proclaim a message of freedom to Israel. He read the great promises contained in the book of Isaiah and then he sat down to speak. They all wondered what he would say. Then he said those amazing words, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

But what did he mean by that? When you look at those promises to Israel they are amazing, release of the prisoners, sight to the blind, comfort to those who mourn, and joy to those in despair. It sounds like the start of a golden age. It sounds like the beginning of a new world order. But we know how the story ends, shortly after this the congregation rose up and attempted to throw Jesus off a clifff.

Three years later the Romans were more sucessful with death by crucifixion. And we can wonder where have all the promises of Jesus gone, where is the message of hope now? Did he really mean we will see these goo things only in heaven? Or did he mean something else? We can feel like John the Baptist in prison, facing execution, who asks the question, “Are you really the Lord, the one who was to come or should we look for someone else?”

Jesus had come to Israel under Roman rule and had proclaimed a new Kingdom, a new way of living. But when people asked where this Kindom was, Jesus said, “This Kingdom is within us.” This new Kingdom begins with us being transformed, it begins with us sharing in the resurrection life of Jesus, it begins with us as we live as citizens of this new Kingdom. If we want to see a new world, if we want a world that is different then it must begin with us. We need to be different. If we want a world that is more compassionate, more loving, more generous, more just, more welcoming to those in need, This new world begins when we are compassionate and loving, and generous, and just and welcoming.

Too often we are too quick to point out the failings in the other person. But that can be a never-ending story. We can always pick the error in our neighbour, our friend, even our spouse! But we need to turn the harsh light of our intro-specto-scope upon ourselves and ask ourselves the difficult question of who do I need to be, what errors do I need to correct, where do I need to change? What behaviour do I need to adopt that would make me more Christ-like. How often have we seen faults in others and we can be amazed that they never change, never correct their error, never choose a wiser or more godly path. The real challenge is, dare we ask the same questions of ourselves. In Nazareth, on that day Jesus announced the fulfillment of a new Kingdom, a new world order. The question for us is, do we want to be a part of it or not?