Sunday, January 27, 2013

Epiphany 3, Series C

Sermon on Luke 4:16-30
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
January 27, 2012 (Third Sunday after Epiphany)

What sort of a preacher would be so bold as to claim that he, himself, is the unique and final fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy?  After all, those words had, at the time our Gospel lesson takes place, stood as part of the Holy Scriptures themselves, for hundreds of years.  They were quoted from one of the more prominent Old Testament prophets, St. Isaiah.  For Jesus to claim that He was the proper and final fulfillment of this prophecy was to say something rather astounding.  What preacher would dare say such a thing today?

Well, maybe I shouldn’t ask that question.  After all, American Christianity is filled with preachers who are preoccupied with prophecy and the end times, and there are no end of preachers who claim that they, or some modern-day event they alone have figured out, is the unique fulfillment of all sorts of prophecies.  Humility is not, generally speaking, a characteristic of preachers who have a national audience or following.  But Jesus here makes a claim that goes even further than that.  He claims to be the Messiah himself.  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me . . .”  That word, anointed, is pronounced “Messiah” in Hebrew and Aramaic, and “Christ” in Greek.  And when you look at the passage Jesus quotes from Isaiah 61 in context, it’s not an isolated prophecy.  It’s connected with all the other prophecies of the promised Messiah.  And so what we see here is one of those instances where Jesus is either an arrogant madman or He is God Himself, become man to save the world.  There is no in between.

Of course, from the perspective of the people of Nazareth, He is naturally going to appear to be an arrogant madman.  After all, they knew Him when He was growing up.  They knew His brothers and sisters.  And while it’s true that He was without sin, the people of Nazareth might not have been aware of that.  Kids blame each other falsely for things all the time.  Jesus was likely blamed for pranks or mishaps or other incidents caused by his brothers or neighbor kids, just as any other child growing up among other children might have been.  In fact, while we don’t have any Biblical records of that sort of thing happening, I would be very surprised if it didn’t happen, since in addition to the fact that it’s very common for sinful children to blame things on each other (after all, Adam and Eve did it first), Jesus came to take our blame upon Himself and thus it wouldn’t be surprising if He bore blame that wasn’t His own for damage caused by a badly thrown ball, a prank that went wrong, a fight that caused someone to get injured, or any of a thousand other things that groups of kids get into all the time.  And so, the residents of Nazareth probably didn’t see Him as the sinless Son of God anyway.

But that didn’t change the fact that He is the Son of God.  And the faulty view that the people of Nazareth had of Him didn’t excuse them for their unbelief.  It’s hard for a preacher to preach in the congregation where he grew up (and usually Seminary graduates aren’t assigned to their home congregations for that reason), because it’s hard to listen to the Word on the lips of someone whom you have seen given a spanking for failing to behave during the Divine Service.  But think about it.  Does the Word cease to be God’s Word because you’re a little bit too familiar with the preacher’s past?  No, it doesn’t.  Does the authority given to the Pastoral Office to forgive and retain sins cease to be the authority given by Christ Himself, just because the man in that office happens to be someone you’ve known since he was a small boy?  No.  The Word and the Office remain what they are despite what we may know about the past (or the present, for that matter) of the man who currently stand in the pulpit.

And that’s a good thing.  Because unlike Jesus, the rest of us pastors are sinners.  It’s not just stuff that happened during our respective childhoods that threaten to distract God’s people from His Word, it’s also sins that those men commit in the here and now.  I hope I haven’t done this in front of any of you, but working at Walmart among a bunch of 20-something college students has not improved my vocabulary.  Tina has had to remind me several times to watch my mouth lest I offend any of you with words I hear commonly used at my other job.  I gossip, I covet, I lust, I get angry without reason, and I at times get lazy in my duties as your pastor.  That’s especially easy to do since I do have Walmart as an excuse.  I stand in need of repentance and forgiveness as much as any of you, if not more.

I said before that it’s a good thing that God’s Word is still God’s Word despite the flaws, real or imagined, of the preacher.  Why is that a good thing?  Because it would be way too easy for Satan to destroy that many more Christians simply by drawing their pastor into sin.  It’s easy enough to tempt many Christians into false belief or despair by means of the sins of pastors (one only needs to look at what is said about the sexual and financial scandals of many televangelists or the pedophilia scandal that has rocked the Roman church over the last decade or so to see that).  It would be even easier if the sins of pastors really did invalidate the word they preached.  All Satan would have to do was tempt a pastor into some gross public sin in order to claim that man’s entire congregation for his own.

But God in His mercy has set things up so that the Word is the Word despite what the man in the office may or may not have done, or what may or may not be going on in his heart and mind.  There was only one perfect pastor in all the world, the One who was known as the Good Pastor, the Good Shepherd.  And even He was rejected by His hometown because the people there thought they knew Him a little too well.  But what God has given us is a Word of promise that your sins are forgiven and you have eternity with Him to look forward to, that is true no matter what the spiritual condition of the preacher.  While there is no such thing as a perfect pastor except for Jesus, there is a perfect promise of God.  What He tells you is firm and certain no matter what the man telling it to you may have done.  God’s promise rests, not on the pastor, but on the authority and integrity of God Himself.  And there is no more certain and sure foundation on which to base His promise of life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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