Tag Archives: Judgment

Preaching Good News to the Poor – February 12, 2016

The following sermon was preached by Pastor Andrew at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church as part of the Falls City Area Ministerial Association’s “Sermons a la Carte” Lenten series. No audio is available, but the prepared text is below.

Friday’s Reading:
Luke 16:19-31

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

When Jesus 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, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“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, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And 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. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21, NRSV)

This Lent, our Sermons a la Carte series will explore Jesus’ sermon on Isaiah 61 preached at the beginning of his ministry in the synagogue at Nazareth, a text that reveals Jesus’ mission as God’s anointed and gives us pause as we consider our identity as those who bear the name of Christ and who seek to be his body in the world.

Today, we begin with the first item on God’s agenda: bringing good news to the poor. To understand what Jesus means when he talks about bringing good news to the poor, we need to know both who the poor are and what good news looks like for those who are poor. First things first: Who are the poor? In Luke’s gospel, defining the poor requires us to walk a narrow road. On one side of that road is the ditch of excessive spiritualizing, the idea that Jesus is referring simply to those who are poor in some symbolic way. (Think, for example, of Matthew’s “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”) On the other side of that road is the ditch of excessive literalism, the idea that Jesus is referring only to those who are poor economically. The truth, as is usually the case in Scripture, is somewhere in the middle. Jesus undoubtedly has concern for those who are destitute in material terms – in this, he is firmly in the tradition of the prophets, who railed against the excesses of the ruling class and the disregard among the elite in society for those who are in need of sustenance. Similarly, he warns those who exhibit poverty of spirit, and who fail to understand that the core of the Biblical narrative is the responsibility to promote justice, righteousness, and peace among God’s people. In Luke’s gospel, then, the poor are those who do not enjoy full standing within the community of faith, those who – for whatever reason – find themselves on the outside looking in.

With that in mind, the good news that Jesus comes to bring is this: that his ministry makes a way for all to be welcomed into community. Whether their “poverty” stems from some spiritual or religious concern or from their inability to make a living, Jesus’ presence and proclamation promise that those who are numbered among the poor will have a share in the goodness and mercy of God. Perhaps no story illustrates this more viscerally than the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, which is both a comforting and a terrifying passage of Scripture.

A lot of interpreters seek to soften this parable, to undergo all kinds of mental gymnastics to avoid what it says on its face, which is that the rich man is condemned because he fails to care for the poor man who sets outside his gate for… well, God only knows, but long enough for the rich man to know him by name. He is unmoved by the law and prophets, which speak repeatedly of the duty to uphold the poor and vulnerable, especially the orphan, the widow, and the sojourner. He does not recognize that he is enjoined to care for the neighbor, to ensure that no one is left outside or without the basic necessities of life, and Jesus’ parable makes clear that there are real consequences for him – and, by extension, for those who fail to uphold this mandate.

So where is the good news? It’s in the parable’s promise that the poor will, indeed, receive good things. God’s will, of course, is that they receive them in this life – that those with means will give out of their abundance so that others can be fed, and that those who enjoy the blessing of community will extend welcome and hospitality to those who sit outside the gates. Even if that doesn’t happen, though, the poor are assured that they will enjoy blessing, a place of intimacy with God born out of God’s special concern for them.

As with much of Scripture, this passage represents both a challenge and word of comfort. It is a challenge, of course, because it presents us with a vision of accountability for how we care for those who are poor in any way. Comfort can be found in remembering Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain, which declares that those who seek to be faithful to the Son of Man and his mission, though they may be reviled or ridiculed by the world (and though they may sometimes fall short) will receive a reward. (Luke 6:22-23, NRSV) In Christ, God’s grace and mercy come to us and enable us to bear the good news of God’s abundant blessing to the poor, strengthening us to face whatever might come our way as a result of our obedience to the challenge laid before us.

Brothers and sisters, in his life and ministry Jesus proclaimed welcome and abundant grace to all who, like Lazarus, were neglected or left behind. As we journey through this Lenten season, may we seek to be Christ for others, and, by our acts of prayer and kindness and generosity, extend welcome and grace to those in need in our community, so that Jesus’ sermon might once again be fulfilled in our hearing. Join us next week as we consider how Jesus’ life and ministry were brought to bear on the brokenhearted. Until then, may we be blessed with God’s grace and strength as we continue our journey through Lent. Amen.

Isaiah’s Vineyard Song (Reign of Christ) – November 22, 2015 (NL Week 11)

Sunday’s Reading:
Isaiah 5:1-7; 11:1-5

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

This is a difficult word, brothers and sisters. There’s no way around it. Today’s reading from Isaiah begins much the same way as last week’s reading from Hosea; it is a song of love, a song of tender care, a song of God’s patient and persistent providence for the chosen people. Isaiah paints a beautiful picture of that love in this allegory about the planting of a vineyard. The prophet recounts how the vineyard owner planted a protective hedge around the vines, installed a winepress to enjoy the fruits of the harvest, and even set up a military-style watchtower to defend it from those who would seek to harm it. Everything that was needed to make the harvest a success was done to perfection. Unfortunately, the vineyard fails to produce the desired crop. Many of you are all too familiar with the disappointment of a failed harvest. You know the agony that comes from preparing the ground, planting the seed, watching and tending and working the fields during the long growing season, and bringing in the crop at the end of the summer, only to see everything go sour. The devastation of seeing a year’s worth of planning and preparation and work go to waste is surely one of the most difficult things to deal with for someone who loves the land.

God was no less devastated at the failure of the people of Israel and Judah to achieve the harvest that God desired. All the preparation for that harvest had been done faithfully: the establishment of a covenant, the gift of instruction to help the people live will with one another, and the provision of leadership – however grudgingly it might have initially been given – to hold the people accountable to that covenant and law. At almost every turn, Israel and Judah fell victim to the most human of desires: the desire to become more than human, the desire to take the place of God, the desire to usurp power and authority and influence for one’s own benefit rather than using it for the good of the community. Where God expected justice to dwell among the people, violence and oppression took root. Where God expected to reap a harvest of righteousness, cries of distress and trouble rang out. In spite of all that God had done, the chosen people had failed to be the kind of people God had called them to be. As a result, Isaiah declared that they would soon lose the protection that had been so lovingly provided for them, and that armies from the north and east would sweep across the land and wreak havoc on God’s pleasant planting.

Yes, this is a difficult word, because it appears to fly in the face of God’s gracious and merciful character, a character that is revealed time and again throughout the Scriptures. In truth, however, that love song is just part of the picture. It is a devastating part, to be sure, but it is not the whole story. God’s grace is revealed once again when we turn from chapter five to chapter eleven, a movement from judgment to promise. Even before the predicted devastation of exile comes to pass, Isaiah declares that God will send a new kind of ruler to lead the people toward the kind of life that God intended for them. This new ruler would wear justice and righteousness like garments, and guide the people to pursue equity and fairness in their dealings with one another. He would banish evil from among the people, and spread abroad the spirit of the Lord, the spirit that brings wisdom and understanding, right counsel and strength, knowledge and reverence for the LORD.

As Christians, of course, we cannot read this description of the righteous ruler without thinking of Jesus, the son of David whose coming we will celebrate in just over five weeks. As we stand on the cusp of another new church year and the beginning of the season of Advent, we pause to remember that Christ came to be that righteous ruler for us and for the whole creation. His rule was not established to benefit himself, but to grant abundant life to those who would come to believe in him. He shows us by his life how to live well with one another and with God. He saves us from our love of self and our enslavement to sin by his obedient death. He frees us to live with love for others by his rising from death and his ascension to the right hand of the Father. In Christ, the devastation of the vineyard song is changed into the glorious song of new life and victory that has been passed down through the generations to the faithful, and because of Christ we have been planted as part of God’s chosen people in that holy vineyard, nourished by water and word in baptism, and filled with the sustenance we need by receiving the bread of life and cup of salvation.

Brothers and sisters, our reading today tells the story of rebellion and judgment, but it also calls us to give thanks for God’s grace and favor for the people that God has called and claimed. God grieves over human sin, and yet God also acts to restore humanity to relationship with one another and with the divine through the righteous rule of Christ our King. As we prepare to enter the season of longing for God’s rule to be extended over the whole creation without opposition, let us give thanks for the glimpses of that rule we receive as we live in union with God’s Son. Let us pray that we will continue to grow up into Christ, and that through Christ we will bring forth the harvest of righteousness and justice that God desires for us. Finally, let us pray that our lives will give glory and honor to the one who has created and redeemed us and who continues to sustain us under his lordship. Thanks be to God, and praise be to Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit! Amen!