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Sermon by The Rev'd Canon Dr Colleen O'Reilly - 20th October 2013

Congratulations on of being St Luke’s for fifty years now. It seems that when the parish changed its name, it also developed its theology and embraced being an Anglican in the catholic tradition.
Now, developing one’s theology can prove tricky, unpopular as Jesus found, and even potentially very dangerous.
When Jesus went home to Nazareth, his reputation went before him.
Word about him had spread throughout Galilee. Luke says he had ‘a great reputation’. Expectations of this local boy made good must have been high in Nazareth. This was still early days in Jesus’ ministry. Luke will call the day in Nazareth Jesus’ inauguration of his ministry and the sermon his manifesto.

Jesus had been baptized, tried and tested by time in the harsh wilderness down in Judea, and now he was coming home. What were the pious men of Nazareth expecting that day when Jesus was handed the scroll from Isaiah and stood up to read?

Nazareth isn’t mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s not particularly notable, or important. It’s just that it is the village where Mary lived, and where Jesus grew up. Apparently it wasn’t settled until the second century before Jesus’ birth. Later it was enough of an ‘all Jewish’ town for rabbis to come there after the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed. They would have been looking for nationalistic, conservative, fiercely Jewish communities to relocate to once they could no longer live in the city where God had dwelt on the now destroyed Temple mount By 70 AD, they found all that in Nazareth. Sounds like the Nazarenes hardened their hearts against Jesus, well and truly!

Nazareth was a village full of devout Jews, descendants of settlers who had come from the south a century before to re-Judaize the gentile regions of the Galilee. So, did Jesus grow up among a people keen to stick to traditional ways? Keen to keep themselves ‘clean’ in the midst of a mixed community of

Gentiles and Jews in the towns and cities around them? They might have been poor and there might not have been many of them - perhaps a hundred people lived in Nazareth — but they knew the scriptures, prayed in their own synagogue (that is itself remarkable in a village of 100) and longed to see the decisive, if necessary even violent, triumph of God over the godless around them.
Into this potent cradle of messianic expectations comes Jesus, nurtured by these devout people but about to shock them with his re-reading of Isaiah and his inclusive good news.
Luke is so sure that this is the day that Jesus ‘comes out’ as the messiah God is calling him to be, (and not the one most expected) that he puts this direction- setting day at the start of Jesus’ adult ministry. Reader, know this Luke is saying: know that this is what Jesus is about.

Of course, it was not just what Jesus said that got him into strife that day. It was what he failed to say that caused the problem.
When Jesus read from Isaiah, he was editing on his feet. That was an acceptable practice with the scrolls of prophetic writings. Only the Torah, the first five books had to be read as written. Isaiah’s original prophecy begins:
The Lord has anointed me.... and concludes with these words: to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God. It’s these words that Jesus left out.
It’s this omission that angered the synagogue that Sabbath day.

The day of vengeance of our God was a day, a time, an event these pious, nationalistic Jews were looking forward to. It was going to be the day God vindicated them and punished those not like them, the Gentiles living around them. Good news for them was having the Gentiles become their servants and Gentile wealth coming into their possession.
It’s what they imagined would occur; what they believed God intended.
Now, Jesus whom these pious men have taught and nurtured in his faith comes home and repudiates their long awaited fulfillment of an exclusive show of God’s favour. Perhaps they had not counted on his mother’s earlier formative spirituality, nor her song of praise, we call the Magnificat with its reversal of human injustice with God’s ultimate redemption.

There is no mistaking in his sermon that Jesus believes God is hospitable towards outsiders. He reminds his hearers of God doing just that in Israel’s past. He says, there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when there was a drought and people starved. But God sent Elijah to a widow in Zarephath, a Canaanite town on the sea coast She fed him with the last of her meager food and miraculously the food supply did not run out for her or Elijah. When Naaman the Syrian soldier had leprosy he alone was healed by God when Elisha told him to bathe in the river Jordan, Israel’s main source of water. It took some courage on Naaman’s part; he was used to the clear waters of Damascus, not the muddy Jordan!

The murderous fury unleashed by Jesus’ speaking the truth focuses around this: the young man who had grown up among them has spent time with that fiery ascetic John whose father was a Temple priest (you think the son would know better) down at the Jordan near Jerusalem and been baptised; gone off into the wilderness for God knows what purpose (except that God does, of course) and come back to try and teach his elders! They would rather kill Jesus than think about what he said!

Jesus proclaims that the new age, the longed for time of God’s anointed, is beginning in him and it will not be a time of exclusion and vengeance but a time of inclusion. God’s hospitable love for all, those of Israel and those beyond will be seen. It will be a time of great blessing.

How do we know when this new age arrives, still arrives today? When the poor, those who tremble at the thought of God, hear the good news that God is love, that God says ‘come as you are’ and I will love you in to being who you can become. When those imprisoned are freed from whatever holds them captive. When those who do not yet see or understand have their eyes opened to the God whose gaze of loving regard has never shifted from them.
And when the wounded discover that wounds embraced are the most honest language of prayer, the ever present pathway and gate to transformed, risen life.
In all these ways God favours those ready to open themselves to God — not only Jews, but all the rest of us; anyone, everyone, everywhere, in any and every time.

If only those poor limited Nazarenes had been able to join in God’s great old/new project. ‘Old’ because God had always loved the outsider and longed for their wellbeing, new because now God’s project was not just words spoken through prophets but the Word become flesh. Now God spoke God’s old love for all the whole creation in a new voice, then, the voice of the One who stood up to read that day. Now, God’s speaks this inclusive love in the myriad voices of the Body of Christ.

You who bear the name of Luke have here, in today’s gospel reading, your charter for living in the light, the hope, the direction Jesus set that day in the synagogue.

You, we, Christians, are to proclaim by our actions backed up by our words that God excludes no one. We are to show in our relationships that the just treatment of all people is the only worthwhile way to behave. Remember; humanity that is not co-humanity is inhumanity as Karl Barth so aptly put it.
And we are to have compassion one for another, for when we are compassionate we imitate the fierce, loyal mother love of God which will, yes, correct and allow us to experience consequences in life, but never, never withdraw love from us.

We humans call facing the consequences ‘God’s judgment’ and in a way that’s right, because when we see ourselves as God sees we know what is amiss, wounded or broken, destructive or violent with in us and our world. But we need to recall that God does not enable us to see that without also giving us a new start, a clean slate, forgiveness and the redeeming of our lives from the sin of the world.
In every age some religious people want to corral God into loving only those like them. Don’t fall for it! I don’t think you do actually. But be on the look out for it, ready to repudiate the error Jesus himself so courageously and powerfully confronted in his home town.
Proclamation, the seeking of justice and the practice of compassion — keep these three in dynamic interaction in your parish’s mission and ministry and you will truly be fulfilling your call to be Christians in the Lukan way, Anglicans in the catholic way of the whole gospel for the whole world, and open and inclusive in the radical way that Jesus became and remaineddespite opponents who would murder him rather than ‘give it a go’.
God bless you in your calling in a world and sometimes even a church that hopes for vengeance, not healing and not salvation.
What God offers the heart that turns to God is generous, life transforming favour, spiritual health and healing such as no earthly physician, as Dr Luke understood, can ever accomplish.
May that be your blessing to share around, in this your jubilee year. 

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