Sunday, January 27, 2013

From Complaint to Discipleship.

(Third Sunday after Epiphany Cycle C)
Sermon preached at Prestbury Methodist Church, Pietermaritzburg.
Luk 4:14-21 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."

 Intro; I want to take us back 19 years: Today - On the 26 January 1994 - Angela King, Chief of Mission for the United Nations Observer Mission to South Africa presented a paper at a seminar hosted by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.
In looking to the future of South Africa with a democratically elected government, UNOMSA is optimistic...... UN observations both here and abroad strongly suggest that these elections will be a major step forward on the path to national reconciliation.
(The) socio-economic reconstruction that will be possible when the majority of the population is represented in government structures will make a huge contribution to the reduction of bitterness, criminality and violence.
We are extremely positive we will have a success”.
It is now 19 years later. How do you react?
I suggest that many South African feel disillusioned: we had such high expectations for the end of “bitterness, criminality and violence”. But today we have farm strikes, mine violence, service delivery protests, and corruption in both public and private institutions. Feels like we have been let down?

This is not a new experience for us as human beings.
600 years before Jesus, the children of Israel were defeated by Babylon and carried off to exile as captives. But God sent the prophet Isaiah to reassure them that this would not last:

  Isa 61:1  The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;
Isa 61:2  to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;
Isa 61:3  to provide for those who mourn in Zion--to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.
Isa 61:4  They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

The people clung to this for the next 70 years. This was a period when they prayed each night for their release from captivity. And then their liberation happened: the Persian King, Cyrus the Great, defeated the Babylonians, and allowed the Jews to go back home. I want you to imagine the joy and anticipation of this event as the people returned. We recognise something of this feeling in our country in 1994. People from all over the world came back home, and we were optimistic about our future.

However – the children of Israel soon became deeply disillusioned: because the people did not live as God intended them to. Each one grabbed what they could to look after ‘number 1’; they quarrelled with one another, and fought for power. Over the next 500 years the temple was rebuilt, but the people were never free. Although they had rebuilt the temple, and worshipped faithfully, they remained a vassal state of the Persians; and then of the Greeks and then of the Romans. So the passage of Isaiah remained a difficult scripture for the Children of Israel: it had not really come true. God had not really set them free.

So when we read of Jesus entering the synagogue in his hometown, and choosing to read this passage – it is not a value neutral event. As he announces his reading you must imagine the people shifting uneasily. As he begins reading I can hear the muted murmur of unhappiness. They feel like Jesus is opening 500 year old wounds. He is picking off the scabs and showing the pain of the people: because Isaiah’s prophesy did not come true. They were faithful member of the synagogue, but the poor, the blind, the oppressed and the prisoners still remain. God had not really rescued them.

I wonder if we find our own identification with this: we had such high hopes for 1994: people spoke of God’s miracle in South Africa. People went to church and prayed; Desmond Tutu spoke of the “rainbow nation”; and yet 19 years later we are tempted to ask ourselves: so where is the treasure at the end of the rainbow?

And so when I as the preacher read a passage from the bible that speaks of “good news to the poor “and “recovery of sight to the blind” and “the year of the Lord’s favour” – it sounds a bit far-fetched!
We come to church, and we pray, and yet God has not fixed our country.

 This disappointment gets expressed in various ways:

·        Some of us are so disillusioned that we stop believing that God has anything to do with our lives here and now: instead we turn this into a spiritual value that will come our way after we die.

·        Others lose faith completely and abandon church.

·        And still others sit it out week by week waiting for “God to do his bit”.

 This is the moment that Jesus steps in and challenges the way we understand our relationship with God. Jesus confronts his family and friends in Nazareth.
Luk 4:20  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.
Luk 4:21  Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

In effect he is saying:
“Do not wait for some distant moment in the future for God to fix this – this comes true today!”
But this is not a promise that Jesus has somehow dropped out of the sky like Superman to fix Gotham City. When he speaks of this being fulfilled he is extending an invitation: Jesus is asking a question of the people in that synagogue: “so who is willing to act on this?”
“who of you will get out of you seats and join me in making this a reality?”

God was never going to do this by some divine magic: this was always the work of the children of Israel. If you go back to the words of Isaiah you will hear the dream of Israel being a light to the nations (Isa 60:1 & 3), a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord (Isa 62:3), a people who gladly do right (Isa 64:5). God wanted a partnership with his people – that together they would build a better nation. And so Jesus reminds them that this is still God’s desire. He challenges them to move from complaint to discipleship.

Perhaps this is the place of challenge for us tonight:
Is it possible that we are a bit like the people in the time of Jesus? We come to church to complain that God has not fixed South Africa – and we struggle to hear God inviting us to work as God’s partners.
Ø  We pray for God to stop the violence – but we are not prepared to be peacemaker
Ø  We ask God to stop the corruption – but we stay silent when we see it happen in our own families.
Ø  We ask God to cure the people with HIV/Aids – but we do not want to go anywhere near someone with the virus.

I am challenging us to make 2013 the year that we move from complaint to discipleship.
In the Methodist tradition we have an annual Covenant Service where we commit ourselves to being in partnership with God.
Let me read the words we will use next week:

In obedience we hear and accept your commands;
in love we seek to do your perfect will;
with joy we offer ourselves anew to you.
We are no longer our own but yours.
I am no longer my own but yours.
Your will, not mine, be done in all things








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