Sunday, February 24, 2013

Philippians 3:17-4:1 Lent 2

It’s weird to be a Christian.  Our friends do and say whatever they want, but we can’t.  They swear and use God’s name as if it were any other garbage word used for expressing frustration.  Christians must not talk like that.  They can gossip and talk inappropriately about their relationships with their friends.  They will try to engage us in those conversations.   We can’t.  When our friends are dating, they think nothing of having a sexual relationship with someone they are not married to, and perhaps don’t ever even intend to be married.  Christians can’t do those things.  You have lots of friends who don’t feel that they need to go to church, but you do.  They don’t feel the need to be so good, but you do.  If you act like a Christian, but spend any time at all around unbelievers, you are going to feel weird.  Unless you have some kind of superhuman will power, you will feel the pull to talk like them and act like them.  Maybe you justify yourself by saying that you don’t want to make them feel bad for being so unholy, but I would bet that the larger truth is that you don’t want to feel weird.
The devil tempts us by surrounding us with bad examples.  It’s one of his oldest tricks.  We call it peer pressure.  The Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Christians in the city of Phillippi because he was concerned about the peer pressure that they were facing.  They were surrounded by bad examples of people who lived only for themselves and for the moment.  Paul wanted them to remember his good example, and the good examples of other Christians who live with minds focused on heaven.  According to Paul’s way of looking at it, it isn’t a bad thing at all to be weird in this world.  Hear his words:

17 Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!
Philippians 3:17-4:1

We Are Strangers Here.
Is it worth it?  If you find it hard to resist the peer pressure, you would find friends who know what you are talking about in Philippi.  All their neighbors burned incense to the emperor.  If you wanted to do business in Philippi, you had to burn incense to the emperor, otherwise you couldn’t be a part of the trade union.  Their friends and family sacrificed to idols, and then held feasts dedicated to their gods.  The Christians in Philippi were invited to those feasts, but they couldn’t go.  While the entire the city was feasting on the festival days of their gods, they could not.  They had to be weird because they wanted to obey God.  I don’t think they always thought that it was worth it, though.
When we see the rappers and pop stars, pro athletes, and movie stars of the world saying and doing what they want, they seem to be fairly happy.  MTV has lots of people who live sinful lives and appear to be very happy doing it.  Flip through a Sunset magazine sometime and see what great things the worlds’ people can do—some of them may be Christians, but some are not.  Your friends who don’t feel the need to go to church and don’t watch what they say may not be any worse off than we are.  There really doesn’t seem to be a difference between Christians and unbelievers in that respect.  Some Christians are rich, some are poor, just like the rest of the world.  The only real difference is that we don’t get to do what we want to do.  If we aren’t going to be happier or more successful than the rest of the world, we may be tempted to think that it isn’t worth it.  The devil will tell you that it makes no difference, so you might as well do what you want.

God reminds us through the apostle Paul that we are strangers here because the normal way leads to destruction.  Many of those people who do and say what they want think that they will never have to answer for it.  They think that they will die, and just cease to exist.  It’s no wonder that they do whatever they feel like.  It’s no wonder that they feel the need to have the best car, biggest house, and visit all the best restaurants and beaches.  They live for pleasure, because they have nothing else to live for.
Others just think that God doesn’t care.  They see him as a soft cuddly God who just wants to let things slide and be friends with everyone.  They have no idea that his justice is unyielding.  His rules are never bent.  According to his Law, their lifestyle of doing and saying what they want leads to hell.
We should not want to follow their examples.  We shouldn’t want to be normal.  But that doesn’t make it any easier to be a weird Christian when you are young and you want to be cool.  It doesn’t get any easier to be a Christian and a stranger in the world when you get old either.  Sure, you may lose the ability to enjoy the best things in life, but it is still hard to be a Christian and a stranger in this world.  The rest of the world gets old and depressed because they can’t do the things they used to, because they really don’t have anything left to live for.  But it shouldn’t be that way for Christians, because we have a lot left, even after we die.

When Paul wrote his letter, he was a wise old man who knew how hard it is to live like a stranger in this world.  At one time in his life he had been a popular man who fit in very well with the cool crowd.  He had been a Pharisee, which was one of the coolest things you could do in Israel at that time.  But all of that changed when Jesus called him to be an apostle.  Suddenly the Jews hated him.  They chased him out of almost every town he went to.  Yet, in his life he accomplished much.  He made three great missionary journeys around the Mediterranean world.  Who knows how many sermons he preached, and how many people he baptized.  But he was getting old, and at the time of our letter he was living under house arrest in Rome.  Like old men often do, he spent his time thinking about the things that had happened in his life and the people he had met, and he wrote to them.
It might have been a strangely pleasant surprise for the Philippians to read Paul’s letter.  They might have expected more self-pity from this old man in prison.  They heard about what happened to him, and they had been concerned.  They had even sent a member of their congregation to Rome to help Paul.
Now they read this letter from him, and he doesn’t seem to be feeling sorry for himself at all.  He is actually filled with concern for them!  And he is also filled with joy, because God’s Word is being preached, even though he wasn’t really able to do that very much any more.   Most surprising of all, he was filled with hope.  The apostle at the end of his life, confined to his house, and awaiting trail, is actually full of hope!  How strange, but how wonderful!  He really has something!  He has something we need! 
It isn’t just the strength of Paul’s character, either.  Strength to be strange in this world is a common theme among the servants of God’s kingdom.  Take Jeremiah, who announced that God was not happy with the king of Jerusalem.  When he was threatened with death, he basically said, “Do your worst.”  Take Jesus, who defied King Herod’s death threat and continued on his way to Jerusalem.  They saw something greater than life.  Jesus saw something greater, that by his death he could take our place under the Father’s anger, and rescue us from hell.  Jeremiah, Jesus, and Paul all saw something greater.
Paul explained what this greater thing is.  We can live like strangers and be hopeful in the face of death because we belong to a different world.  The citizens of Philippi could rush around living to please their bellies, the citizens of America can live doing and saying whatever they want. We serve a different Lord.  We really don’t belong here.
That’s actually a reason for hope, because as Paul says we are awaiting a Savior from heaven.  Jesus, who came once to die, is coming back to rescue us from this world and take us to a much better place where we really belong.  If we live our entire lives as weird Christians, its ok because we don’t belong here and we are on our way to a better place.  The rest of the world will get depressed as they get old and say goodbye to all the pleasures of life, but we can look forward to better things and a better life.  The older we get, the closer we are to getting out of here and getting on to better things.

There are really two examples you can follow in the world.  Either do what you want and enjoy life the best you can on your way to destruction in hell.  Good luck with that one.  If I don’t mention it now, someone will tell me later that a hearse doesn’t come with a hitch for a Uhaul trailer.  King Tut’s tomb is full of unused treasure.  Jesus told a parable about a rich man who died and went to hell, where his riches did him no good.  In life too, those who live for their own pleasure aren’t really all that happy.  Suicides and drug abuse are common in the lifestyles of the rich and famous.  On the other hand, we have the example of Christ and his people around you.  Paul, for example, who did the will of God although it may not have been pleasant and it certainly made him strange.  He did have something better to look forward to, though—a better country to live in, and a Savior to take him there to live forever.  It’s really much better to be strangers here, and citizens of heaven.  Amen.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Deuteronomy 26:5-10 Lent 1

The church doesn’t need your money.  God doesn’t need it.  If he needed to, he could say the word, “let there be a money tree,” and it would be so.  We bring an offering because God has said that we should give back to him.  It isn’t that he needs it.  It’s more that we need to give.
We are too focused on ourselves.  God wants us to remember him and remember the needs of others.  This was actually also the reason why Christians fast sometimes, and why Jesus fasted.  It was an opportunity to say no to yourself and what you want, and focus on your heart on God instead.  It was a spiritual exercise.  The offering is an exercise of your faith, an opportunity to say “no” to yourself and remember your God.
God knew that his Old Testament people would forget him.  After their 40 years of wandering in the desert, when they finally settled down and had land of their own to plant and harvest, they would be proud of their hard work and eager to enjoy the fruit of their labor.  They would sit down to eat and dig in, without ever remembering that it all came from God.  So he told them that, when they settled down in the land, they must bring an portion of the harvest to him as a firstfruits offering.  It was the firstfruits—the first portion, and they weren’t supposed to eat any of the rest of the harvest until that first portion had been given to God.  This way they would always remember where their food was coming from. 
But he didn’t want them to bring their offering in fear, hoping that he would be good to them for another year.  That was how the Canaanites worshiped their false gods.  He wanted them to remember that he is a God of love, one whom they could trust.  So, he told them to remember his mighty deeds of the past when they brought their offering.  Remembering all those times when he had blessed them and their forefathers, they would bring their offering in true love and thankfulness.
God’s words through the prophet Moses are a guide for us also, when we bring our offering.  Hear what he says:

5 Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. 6 But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor. 7 Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. 8 So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders. 9 He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 10 and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O Lord, have given me.”
Deuteronomy 26:5-10

Theme:  Remember God’s Goodness

1.  By bringing your offering
Now God hasn’t commanded that we bring him the first portion of our harvest today, or even the first portion of our paycheck.  But his instructions to Old Testament Israel are still good guidelines for us, as we want to do what he has commanded.  He wants us to give cheerfully and generously, because “God loves a cheerful giver, “ according to 2 Corinthians 9.  Jesus also told a story about a rich man who stored up everything for himself so that he could enjoy life, but his life was taken from him and he wasn’t able to use any of his wealth.  Jesus said this is how it will be for anyone who is not generous toward God.
So consider what God was teaching the Old Testament Israelite, and see if it might be a good guideline for us.  As the Israelite brought his gift, he remembered God’s great blessings.  He would think of how God blessed him with land and harvest.  He would be thankful, and joyful that he wasn’t wandering in the desert anymore.  There would be no need for him to worry whether or not he would still have enough after he brought his offering—God’s record in the past shows him that he will not need this first part of the harvest anyway.  God will take care of him with the rest.
Bring your offering cheerfully and thankfully too, remembering that it is God who cares for you anyway.  I know you worked hard for your money, and the check has your name on it.  But it was God who gave you the job, and God who gave you the ability to work.  If you are getting a welfare check, God gave you a government that gives welfare checks.  God made sure you would have a roof over your head.  If there was a time when you didn’t have a roof over your head, God kept you safe then too.  Even the food that you buy wouldn’t be in the grocery store unless God made it grow.  Bring your offering, remembering that God is really the one who takes care of you.
When you bring your offering, don’t worry about whether or not you will still have enough to take care of yourself.  If God is taking care of you, and he wants you to give some back to him, trust that he will be able to take care of you with the rest.
I want to say again that God isn’t asking you to bring an offering because he needs money.  He has all the money in the world.  He asks you to do it for your own benefit, so that you will remember his goodness.  We are too self-centered to remember him on our own, too prideful in our own work, too selfish with our money.  We are too likely to think that we are doing it all on our own, and then worry about how we will take care of ourselves in the future.  We need to bring an offering, so that we will remember God.
It isn’t just that God wants you to go through the motions of bringing an offering, though. Look what he told the Israelite to do.  He was to say, “My father was a wandering Aramaean,” remembering that Jacob had no home and little hope when the famine hit the land of Canaan and he left his home to live in Egypt, but God blessed him and made his family into a great nation there.  “But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer,” the Israelite would say, remembering their years of slavery in Egypt.  Even still, God was there to care for them, and he heard their cries for help.  He rescued them, with mighty hand and outstretched arm.  He brought them to the land of Israel, and he won their battles for them so that they would live in the land in peace.  He gave them the land.  When the Israelite brought his offering, he remembered God’s history of doing great things for his people.

2.  Remember God’s goodness by remembering his mighty acts when you bring your offering.
What would happen if the Israelite hadn’t recounted God’s blessings?  The first time something bad happened, he would think that God is angry.  His mind would go to the offering, thinking that maybe it wasn’t good enough or big enough.  So he brings another offering, a bigger one, hoping that maybe now God will bless him in the coming year.  This self-centered, distrustful Israelite’s offering is nothing more than a bribe.  It’s an insult, when you think of all that God did for them.  If you don’t know that God loves you, your offering becomes a bribe.
What would happen if we didn’t bring our offering as part of the worship service?  What if we sent you a bill?  The same thing would happen.  We don’t naturally trust God to be good to us.  We are too wired to think that nothing is free.  Every blessing must be bought with prayers, worship attendance, and offerings.  Every trouble is punishment for something we have done.  We are wired to think of our life in terms of rewards and punishments.
We are also wired to know when we have done wrong, and our hearts tell us that we have.  We deserve punishment.  If God is blessing us now, in the back of our minds there is always something telling us that punishment is right around the corner.  We don’t trust him.  We want to bribe him.  If you don’t know that God loves you, your offering is a sin, and an insult to God.
We bring our offerings as part of this worship service, where we remember the great things that God has done.  We remember him as our creator.  He is God the Father, maker of heaven and earth.  We remember him as our Savior, Jesus Christ, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, who suffered when he was tempted by the devil, but did not sin.  When he was fasting, he kept his faith in God to keep him alive, to protect him in all his ways, and also plan the best course for his future.  He honored God perfectly, so that he could offer to God the Father a perfect life of obedience to be counted in place of our disobedience. Now, remembering that Christ’s perfection covers us, we know that we have a God who loves us and always will.  Christ’s The forgiveness that Christ won for us tells us that God will not punish.
Our hymns remind us of God’s great acts of salvation. In the absolution, the pastor tells you that your sins are forgiven, because Jesus said that this is true.  The readings remind us of the things God has done and said, and the sermon helps you apply it to your life and problems.  In the Creed we recite the great things God has done for us as our Father, the Son our Savior, and the Holy Spirit who makes it all real to us by giving us faith and strengthening that faith. Then we bring the offering, trusting that we will not need that money anyway, because we have just been reminded that we have a God who has always loved and cared for us, and thanks to Jesus, he always will.  It’s a pleasing offering to God, because we bring it out of love and true thankfulness, not as a bribe.  There is no need to bribe him, because he has already given us everything anyway, with the promise of more.  Our offering is pure thanks.

Remembering God’s goodness doesn’t happen naturally.  People who stop coming to church forget, and they are fearful or uncertain about God.  They don’t know where they are going when they die.  The best they can do is hope.  Faith that remembers Gods’ goodness it the new you, created by God.  Just as your body needs food and exercise, your faith does too—you need to be fed by the Word, remembering the great things God has done, and be exercised in various acts of love and thankfulness, among these bringing an offering.  Bringing an offering makes you remember that God is the one keeping you alive anyway.   But the offering is nothing but a bribe if you don’t continue to feed on the Word of God.  Bring your offering, but bring it remembering the great things God has done for you.  Remember God’s Goodness.  Amen.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany Luke 4:18-32

If I was Jesus, and it’s a good thing that I’m not, I’m afraid I would have begun my next sermon in Capernaum with some lame introduction like “I have good news for you, and bad news.  Which one do you want first?”  They congregation in the synagogue would answer, “Let’s get the bad news first.”  Then I would say, “I’m not in Nazareth anymore.”  After they stopped laughing, I would give them the really bad news, “They didn’t believe my word.  I had to leave them.  Now here is the good news:  I am here, in Capernaum, and I have come to rescue you from every one of life’s problems.”  In the text today, we find good news, bad news, and more good news.  The question that faces us, as it did the people of Capernaum, is “what are you going to do with the good news?”  Take it for what it is, and treasure it as the most wonderful thing you have ever heard; or dismiss it as something that is too good to be true?  No one can answer that question for you.  I can only announce the news as Jesus did: the good news and the bad news, and then I will have more good news—at least today I do.  We recall Jesus’ words in the Gospel, focusing on the second half of his sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth.

18   “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19      to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 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, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’ ”
24 “I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. 31 Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people. 32 They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority.
Luke 4:18-32

First the good news
Jesus preached good news to the poor.  To everyone who has been humbled by their life’s experiences, he announced a solution.  No, it wasn’t anything that you can do to improve your life—no 10 steps, or 7 steps, or any steps to a better life.  He announced that he had come to the rescue.  To the blind he had come to give sight.  He came to set the prisoners free, and release the oppressed.  He proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor.  That last phrase would remind Jews of their Year of Jubilee—a year of the Lord’s favor, which God commanded to be celebrated every 50 years.  That Year of Jubilee was a year when all debts were forgiven, as a reflection of how God forgives.  If you had to sell some land to pay off a debt, it was given back to you.  If you had sold yourself as a slave to pay off a debt, your debt would be forgiven, and you would be released.  Jesus announced this year of forgiveness, when God would forgive all our debts to him, and set us free from the prison of our sins. 
I’ve never heard such good news.  Every fault of the past has been erased.  Every rebellion against God, and every ignorant or selfish act has been taken off of the leger.  All is forgiven.  Jesus announced that this has been done.  Every time his Word is proclaimed, as it is today, that announcement of forgiveness is made.  This is the year of the Lord’s favor.

Then the bad news
The bad news is that the people in Nazareth were skeptical.  They said, “How can this be true.  Isn’t this Mary and Joseph’s son?”  It seems that they were too familiar with him.  Jesus noticed their skepticism.  He said, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ Do in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.”  They were skeptical that he really could rescue them from all their troubles.  They wanted to see some miracles.
Jesus diagnosed their skepticism as unbelief.  Just like their fathers had done, they rejected God’s prophet because they knew him too well.  “No prophet is ever accepted in his hometown,” Jesus said.  And he gave two historical examples to show how true this was.
Jesus told the story of Elijah and the widow at Zarephath:  “I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.”
What a slap in the face that was to those people in Nazareth!  That story took place when wicked Ahab was king in Israel—well known as one of the most wicked kings that Israel had.  He was the one whose 400 prophets of Baal challenged Elijah to a duel on Mt. Carmel.  He was also the one who murdered Naboth so that he could take his vineyard.  It was a time when only 7000 still had faith in God out of the millions in Israel.  They knew who God was and they had heard of his miracles in the past, but God was no longer important to them. They rejected God’s word to them through the prophet Elijah.  God tried to shake them up by sending a three and a half year famine on the land, but they wouldn’t change their ways.  God sent Elijah elsewhere, to help someone who would believe, to a widow outside of Israel, in the town of Zarephath.  The widow only had a little flour and oil left, which she and her son were going to eat, and then she expected that they would die.  Elijah told her to go home and make her bread, but that the flour and oil would never run out.  The woman listened to Elijah, and every time she made bread there was more flour and olive oil left over. Just think what Elijah could  have done in Israel, if they had believed too!  The same thing was true about Nazareth.  Just think what Jesus could have done for them, if they would have believed in him!  They were just as bad as wicked Ahab and the other Israelites who rejected Elijah.
Jesus also told the people in the synagogue that they were like their forefathers who rejected another great prophet, Elisha.  In those days Naaman was a commander of the army of the king of Aram, one of Israel’s enemies.  He became sick with leprosy, a deadly skin disease.  His servant girl was an Israelite though, and she told him about a prophet in Israel who could help him.  Naaman went to the king of Israel, King Joram, and asked to be healed of his leprosy.  King Joram didn’t know what to do.  The country thought so little about God that the king didn’t even know that he had a prophet of God who could cure leprosy!  It is no wonder that God didn’t send Elisha to help any of the Israelites who had leprosy.  He helped Naaman instead, and when Naaman was cured he believed.  In the synagogue at Nazareth, when Jesus brought up this story, he was saying that they were just as bad as wicked king Joram and the Israelites who paid no attention to Elisha.  Jesus would not help the people of Nazareth either, because they did not believe.
When Jesus saw that the people of Nazareth were skeptical of his power, he was right in calling it unbelief.  We see that because they got angry, and carried him out to throw him off of a cliff.  They didn’t succeed, though.  Jesus walked right through the middle of the mob and left.  That’s the bad news for them.  Just like Elijah and Elisha, Jesus left to go help other people. 
That might be bad news for us too.  Skepticism is evidence of unbelief.  When we think about coming in to church, but decide that it isn’t going to be all that important today—that’s skepticism.  Like the people of Nazareth were too familiar with Jesus, maybe we are too familiar with our church, and it doesn’t seem so valuable to us.  If waking up and not feeling like coming to church is a good enough reason to skip, I’m going to say that you aren’t taking Jesus seriously when he comes to announce freedom to the captives.  He was in the synagogue every Sabbath preaching this because he thought it was that important for us to hear it.  But who really thinks that church is that important, that you should be here every Sunday.  Watch out.  Skepticism can grow into full-fledged unbelief.  If Jesus sees that you don’t appreciate his Word and you no longer believe it, he might decide to leave and go help other people.  If you ignore your church, the day may come when you don’t have a church anymore. 
These last six months, church attendance here has been horrible.  As a congregation, we have despised God’s Word.  To despise something means to treat it as something that is worthless.  When Martin Luther explained the Third Commandment he wrote, “We should fear and love God that we do not despise preaching and his Word, but gladly hear and learn it.”  We have despised God’s Word—every time we have skipped, and every time we have come but not gladly, every time we have daydreamed while the precious words of God are read and preached.  I repent with you, because I have despised God’s Word too.  I have not always gladly preached it.  I have not always trusted the power of God’s Word.  I have despised it. 
We do not deserve to have God’s Good News announced to us again.  I can see reasons why Jesus could take his Word away from us and take away our church.  Perhaps others would appreciate the power of his Word more.

The good news
Today though, I have more good news for you.  Jesus has not left you yet.  He has taken his Word away from others who were skeptical about his power to help, but he hasn’t taken it away from you.  Jesus is in your midst.  His Word is being preached right now.  The Sacraments he commanded us to use are here.  When the service began, we opened in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, because our baptism is still important to us.  God declared that he would always be our God, and we would be his children.  You were all told that your sins were forgiven in God’s name.  As long as there is still a Christian who can look you in the eye and tell you that your sins are forgiven, you know that Jesus is still with you.  He has not taken his Word somewhere else.  The good news is still announced to you—good news of forgiveness for people who have despised his Word.  Later in the service we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  Jesus will be there among us, as he has promised.  He gives you his body and blood in that meal, as a way of sharing the forgiveness and eternal life that he won by his death.  That meal sets us captives free from our sins and the sentence of hell.   As long as we still have a church where the Word of God is preached, people are baptized, and believers gather for the Lord’s Supper, we know that today, Jesus is with us.

The really important point that I get from this story of Jesus preaching in the synagogue at Nazareth is that we should grab hold of Jesus’ words while we still have them.  Jesus will not stay among people who don’t consider him worth their time.  All of the people who say that they will come back to church and give Jesus their time later in life are making a big mistake.  He might not be around anymore.  Churches disappear when they are neglected.  Jesus takes his Word elsewhere.  But today he is with you, so don’t let today slip away.  There is an ancient saying, “Carpe Diem!”  “Seize the Day!”  It means that you don’t know if the same opportunity will be there tomorrow, so take advantage of every opportunity today.  Jesus is with you today.  Take hold of him.  Amen.