October 15, 2018 – Freedom for the Captives, Comfort for the Mourning, and a Crown of Beauty for Ashes- Isaiah 61:1-4, Luke 4:16-21

Jesus reading IsaiahThe Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. – Isaiah 61:1-4 (NIV)

 

He (Jesus) went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-21 (NIV)

Jesus caused a scandal in the synagogue in Nazareth. Imagine the incredulity we would experience if a sibling, a cousin or a classmate became a celebrity. Out in the world celebrity might be one thing, but being at home with people who knew that celebrity as the kid who always ended up pinned down getting wet willys, or was the nerd who got routinely pounded with a dodge ball, it’s a different perspective.  Are the kids from 4th grade who fried ants with a magnifying glass at recess together going to take a classmate seriously as an adult?

Perhaps Jesus was just “one of the boys” when he was growing up. Maybe the Savior of the world was once the class wisenheimer? We really don’t know much about Jesus as a child, other than the incident when He was twelve and was left behind teaching at the temple.

No matter what the people in Nazareth thought about Jesus’ claim to divinity, or what they remembered about Him, Jesus, as unlikely and humble and human as He was, speaks back the Word of God given to Isaiah about Him 700 years earlier. He speaks not just to his relatives and friends he grew up with in Nazareth, but He still speaks to us today.

Jesus proclaims the good news of freedom from bondage to sin, death and the torments of Satan. Jesus comes to us with good news of healing and restoration. He opens our eyes to see Him and his incredible love and compassion for us.

Jesus came to exchange our ashes (perhaps the condition of being dead in trespasses and sins?) and desolation and sorrow for His crown of beauty and joy. “Unholy” becomes “made holy” when Jesus in His grace and mercy, speaks His forgiveness. He brings us poor beggars salvation, peace and joy that we cannot earn or deserve.

This world of not yet, with its paradoxes and contradictions and disappointments is not the end of the story. In our baptism we are forever marked with the Cross. In Jesus’ blood our sins are covered, gone, removed. We share in Jesus’ death, especially as we suffer and are called to sacrifice on this earth, but we also share in Jesus’ resurrection.

He has come to be the death of death, the bringer of healing and of life forever. Jesus is the comfort for all mourning.  He is the beautiful joy beyond our understanding.  He takes away the curse once and for all.  He exchanges all of our ugliness and baggage for freedom, healing and peace, and this all by the gift of faith for those who will believe.

Good news indeed!

June 29, 2018 Mourning, Dancing, and the Joy of the Lord- Psalm 30, Philippians 4:11

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I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.”  By your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed.

To you, O Lord, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy. “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?  Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper!”

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever! Psalm 30 (ESV)

Sometimes we fail to understand our thorough dependence on God when things are going well for us. We tend to be a bit too self-reliant when things are going well. The distractions of daily life and our own pursuits can cause us to forget that we were made and named and claimed by God to be Christ-reliant.

The apostle Paul wrote to the believers at Phillipi: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, hardships, persecutions and calamities. For when I am weak, I am strong.” Philippians 4:11 (ESV)

It can also be true that hardship can cause us to question our faith and cause us to doubt God’s love and care for us. Even so, mourning and trials are times in which God draws close to us, in which we realize how desperate we are and how much we need Him.  When we come to that point of “it’s Christ or nothing,” all we have left is to fall upon the tender mercy of Jesus so He can put us back together again.  Jesus brings us back from the darkness of mourning and the despair of trials and comforts us with His peace and gives us joy that is not dependent upon our circumstances or material standing.

David (the writer of this Psalm) understood that God walks with us through times of mourning. God alone heals and restores us even as we know that we will not have complete or total healing in this lifetime.  For now we have to walk by faith in the promises of God. We will be made new and whole. We can rely on Jesus and know He cares for us until that day when the world is remade.

There is a morning coming soon when mourning will be gone forever.  Until then, even through our tears, we can sing.  We can dance.  We can trust that we have the joy of the Lord.

June 20, 2017- A Closer Look at the “Beautiful Attitudes” of Poverty of Spirit, Mourning and Meekness- Matthew 5:3-5

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” – Matthew 5:3-5 (NRSV)

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“Poverty of spirit” can also be described as that place in which we come to the end of ourselves, where we realize how powerless we are to change events, and we are reminded that the world doesn’t revolve around us.  When we can’t make good things happen, or we aren’t able to reverse a loss, we naturally get discouraged.  It’s hard to accept that ultimately we are NOT in charge.  When we come to that place where we understand we are mortal, fallible and we can’t fix it all, we realize that God is our Source, and that our “forever home” is God’s Kingdom.  When we are put in the place of not being able to be self-reliant, we see how we are meant to be God-reliant, and that God provides for us.

Mourning is a place where everyone has been, from minor mourning, say mourning the loss of one’s youth, or mourning a small disappointment such as cancelled dinner plans, to major mourning such as losing a spouse or a parent.  There are floods of emotions and processes to be worked through that surface in mourning- as author Elizabeth Kubler-Ross discussed in her book On Death and Dying. There is denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance all wrapped up – and sometimes all going on at the same time- as one mourns.

God is especially close to the hearts of those who mourn. Mourning reveals our heart and requires us to strip away the habits and the assorted fronts we hide behind.  Mourning forces us to feel.  It acts like sandpaper cleaning off the hardness of our hearts and revealing the purity and tenderness that God desires in us.  As we surrender our mourning to God, He enters in, weeping with us as Jesus wept with Lazarus’ friends at the news of Lazarus’ death.  In mourning our hearts are opened to God’s comfort and peace. He gives us the hope and assurance that there is life beyond the heartache and trouble of this world.

Meekness is not to be confused with weakness. Jesus’ brand of meekness is not being a doormat or a milquetoast, but it is about being respectful and nurturing toward others.  Meekness requires that we put aside the desires for me, me, me and look at how we can serve the greater good of others and the community.

Meekness brings us to a place of humility and deference to others. It asks of us to be aware of our own limitations and to put the needs and desires of others above our own.

All three of these beautiful attitudes share a common thread. They bring us closer to the heart of Jesus.  They help us respond to God’s grace and mercy that has been freely given to us.