3rd Sunday after the Epiphany
January 27, 2019
“Not Just Another Service”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Gospel lesson previously read.
My dear friends,
(Sigh). Just another week, just another church service. Out of curiosity, did you have that “Ugh…do I have to?” moment before you left? Even if we never say it, that’s what our old sinful nature thinks. It’s why we sometimes find ourselves dragging our feet to come to church with a heavy heart and no smile on our face. It’s why we find it so much easier to make a habit out of something—anything—else on Saturday night or Sunday morning. We justify it because there are so many “important” things in life, aren’t there? It’s why our daily devotions suffer and time in God’s Word suffers and prayer suffers…we have “too many other important things to do. Do we? Really? As the people of God, time with God – worship – should be the most natural thing in the world for us…but it isn’t. It’s not natural for us, but it is for Jesus.
Luke wrote “(Jesus) came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day” (v 16). How about that? Jesus is the Word of God and Scripture is His Word! He attends services faithfully. His custom and habit is to hear and love His own Word. Wouldn’t that be something? To come to church not out of a sense of obligation, not as a “have to” or simply as a matter of routine, but to come out of love for being here! Whoa! That’s the life of Jesus. It was normal and natural for Jesus to be in church.
However, this Sabbath Day was different from others; it was not just another service. Having been baptized and undergoing His wilderness temptation and with His ministry now underway, this time Jesus wasn’t there to be a hearer of the Word. This time he went to the Nazareth synagogue as a teacher of the Word, a guest preacher in his home congregation.
“And 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 proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’ ” (vv 16–19).
“And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him” (v 20). Isn’t that a great description? All eyes in the church are fixed on Jesus. No dozing in the pew after a long day or late night, no wondering what I’ll announce at the end of the service or daydreaming about next Sunday’s Super Bowl, no stealthy glances at a cell phone or watch. Wouldn’t it be great if those words described us today? Jesus, here in our midst, and the hearts and eyes of all fixed on him! Now THAT would be a worship service!
With Jesus seated and all eyes fixed on Him, I bet you could hear a pin drop. Then came the sermon. It wasn’t a lecture on theology, a list of ten steps to a better you, or a rally for some social cause or issue. In a simple and profound way, Jesus applied God’s Word to the people right there: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v 21). In essence, what Jesus said was “You know that stuff that Isaiah wrote? It’s about me.”
Jesus told them He is the Anointed One, the Messiah, the long-awaited Christ. That’s why he went to the synagogue that Sabbath Day, and they couldn’t believe their ears! “All spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ ” (v 22). No, not really. Truly, he’s “the Son of God” (Lk 1:35), conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Not the son of Joseph…the Son of God.
That’s why he comes to church so faithfully still, including today: to deliver the Good News of salvation to you poor and needy, to proclaim liberty to you who are in debt with sin, to give sight to you who walk in darkness of pain and anxiety and frustration, to set free you who are in bondage to addiction or loneliness or fear or sadness or hopelessness. It all happens “in your hearing”—literally in your ears. That’s how Jesus makes himself and his forgiveness, his love and his grace known to you. Today in your ears in this place at this time, this scripture is fulfilled again: Jesus, the Christ, comes with the Lord’s favor for you.
That, my friends, is the point of worship. Not to be entertained, not to be whipped into a spiritual frenzy. God speaks…we respond. Flesh-and-blood Jesus, true God and also true man, steps into our service to be the Word for poor, lost sinners like you and me. Worship isn’t about you and what you’re doing here, though it’s good that you are. It’s not about what I might do or might not do. What matters is that He’s here and what He says: words given for the depressed and despairing, for the sinner and the sinned against, for all who are oppressed, victimized, abused, taken advantage of, unsure, uncertain, and suffering. That’s the kind of God we fear, love, and trust. He is not a disinterested, disengaged, distant deity. He is here…forgiving, loving, and showing mercy to us each and every time.
The joy of life in the church is that it’s never just another service. Every week, Jesus himself uniquely proclaims the Lord’s favor for you using a variety of means (hymns, prayers, lessons, Sacraments, fellowship), showering you with his mercy and grace. Have you ever missed church for whatever reason and you felt “off” because you weren’t here? That because you were denied the chance to be overwhelmed with love and mercy and grace. Why would someone willingly deny themselves that opportunity? What’s the “down side” of attending church? There isn’t one! Being in worship is ALWAYS a good thing and Jesus makes it so.
Jesus is always in church, always in his Word, always flesh and blood, always crucified and risen for you, always with more forgiveness to speak and strength to give week after week after week. Unlike us, He faithfully comes every single time we gather in worship and He’ll do so until that day comes when we’ll be forever with the Lord – perfect, eternal worship – and I promise you’ll love every moment of it. Plus…just look at how much shorter Jesus’ sermon are than mine!