“What Do You Expect?”

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.”

This morning’s lesson is what’s been called the “Nazareth Inaugural.” It describes the opening moments of Jesus’ ministry – really quite a dramatic scene.  Jesus was worshipping with his hometown congregation, and was asked to read the scripture lesson from Isaiah. The congregation certainly remembered him, and they were probably proud of the local boy who’d made good.  He’s handed the scroll, and chooses the passages to read.

Then he hands the scroll back to the attendant, and he sits down.  Everyone waits to hear what he’ll say next.  What are they expecting?

Jesus hadn’t done a whole lot yet.  At this point in the Gospel of Luke, he’s been baptized, he’s gone into the wilderness, and he’s just begun his ministry.  We read that “a report about him spread through all the surrounding country,” but we aren’t told what that report consisted of, although we read he was “praised by everyone.”  People were expecting something, but who knows what?  A sermon, I suppose. Something related to the Word of God.

I’m curious – what do YOU expect when you come to church?  Our congregation is in the midst of a search process during which we’re being asked – through surveys, in writing, through conversations – what do we want for our church?  So I know you’ve been thinking about that question.  And I’ll ask it again – what do you expect when you come to church?

Some folks hope to be welcomed, and to be greeted warmly as soon as we arrive.  We look forward to fellowship.  We love seeing the children gathered up front, and we appreciate sharing our concerns and celebrations during prayer time.  We expect to sing a familiar hymn or song.  Increasingly I hope we’re all appreciating some of the newer music – like the song Michelle just taught us.  After the service winds down, we may grab a cup of coffee, head to a meeting or a rehearsal.  It’s all good.

In the course of our worship service, I know many people expect to hear a good sermon.  Pastor Bruce and I do our best. Not too long. Not too short. Just right.

The people of Nazareth were not unlike you or me. After the scripture reading, they would probably have expected Jesus to reflect on the words of Isaiah that he read and remind them of God’s hopes for the future of God’s people.  If they were like us, they may have put their bulletins down, checked their watches or phones, and settled into their seats more comfortably.  People probably smiled and said how proud they were to be listening to Joseph and Mary’s boy.

Isaiah’s words were familiar to them. They were hopeful words that had kept God’s people together through centuries of persecution and defeat.  Jesus repeated the prophet’s promise:  that although they were going through a rough time now, there was good news to come.

“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.”

But then Jesus’ words sunk in. “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Today. Not tomorrow. Not yesterday. Today. Fulfilled.  This scripture is fulfilled.  Prophetic words not just familiar, or comfortingly remembered, but fulfilled.  This was not your everyday synagogue sermon. This was a word from the Lord.  This was God coming close, being present.  Now. In your life. “This scripture is fulfilled.”

So how many of you come to church really expecting the Spirit of God to show up?  Do we truly go to church to hear news that’s so good that is breaks through the troubles of our world?  That it overcomes the despair of the poor?  Do we arrive here with the expectation of release from oppression, or recovery of sight?

Or would we rather come here to receive some comfort, a little encouragement, but nothing that’ll rock the boat too much?

When we come to church expecting a sermon, but not the word of God, it may be because at some level we don’t really want it.  A sermon can be nice and comforting.  But the word of God is disruptive.  The word of God is news.  We call it Good News, but it can be bad news, because it changes things and forces us to adjust to the change.

When we say we want change, when we’re waiting for help, salvation can be a bit easier when it’s delayed.  Something about its being in the future makes it more harmless.  “Here and now” is a more demanding gift.  How many of us really like being told “NOW is the time that things are going to change”?

We say we want to experience God, to come into God’s presence, but at the same time, we fear it. We want the news of God’s activity in our world, but at some level we also want the comfort of knowing that nothing much has changed and all is as it has been for as long as we can remember.

We want a sermon, but as for the word of God?  Hmmm…not so sure.

Jesus Christ, the word of God, is here today, in all the mess and muck of the world, and God expects us to join and follow him.  Jesus’ words in our passage today are the building blocks of his ministry.  In the “Nazareth Inaugural,” Jesus is establishing his priorities and the direction of his work.  He’s casting his vision for the change at hand – the reordering of relationships, and new understandings of the world as we know it.

What if we truly heard a word from God?  What if we were to live out Jesus’ vision for the reordering of our relationships, or look at the world from God’s perspective?  To do so would entail change, and require courage.  Reordering our relationships would mean many things, including having the willingness to stand with others in their pain and vulnerability, and taking the risk of letting others stand with us in our pain and vulnerability.  Upending our perspective would require our presence with and compassion for others – instead of one-upsmanship and winning votes.  If we truly heard a word from God, I believe we would listen more than we speak.  Power would look like cooperation and collaboration, more than competition and conflict.  We would open rather than close places, people, and ourselves to God’s presence.

And we would recognize that “this scripture has been fulfilled in our hearing.”  Today.  Right now.

What do we expect when we come to church?   Do we come to church looking to fulfill our own, often self-centered, expectations?  Or, do we come ready and open to seeing God’s expectations displayed before our very eyes?

Do we as a congregation share good news with those in pain and distress?  Are we helping to release captives, and provide vision to those who are blind?  Are we striving to lift burdens from the oppressed?  Are we making a difference in the lives of those who are at risk, alone, and facing physical or emotional challenges?  Are we hearing the word of God?

What do YOU expect?  I hope you come here expecting the immediate presence of God – that’s what worship is all about.  It’s not about our goodness, or our values, or simply keeping our church alive and well.  Our worship is about the fact that God is alive and with us, just as Jesus was alive and present at that synagogue in Nazareth.  God comes close.  God speaks words that give us life and hope and joy.  And God sends us out into the world with Christ in our hearts.  May we go where God calls us. Amen.