Epiphany 3c

Preached: January 24, 2010

Luke 4:14-21

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Jesus speaks to us in Luke 4. The Gospel for today.

In the power of the Spirit Jesus returned to Galilee. His fame spread throughout the neighboring territory around there. As for himself, he kept teaching in their synagogues, being praised by all.

He went to Nazareth where he had been brought up, and as was his custom, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it stands 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 preach release for the captives and restoration of sight for the blind, to send out in freedom those hard pressed, to proclaim the Lord's year of favor.”

He rolled up the scroll, returned it to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were watching him. He began speaking to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:14-21)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Kunta Kinte lived free among the Mandinka people of West Africa, becoming a Mandinka warrior at fifteen. But then as he gathered wood for a drum outside his village, slavers captured him. Stacked away on a slave ship piled up with a hundred seventy other slaves, he was hauled to America and auctioned off as property, chattel to be bought and sold, used and abused. But he keeps his memories of freedom alive and passes them on to his daughter Kizzy. She was born a slave and never knew freedom firsthand. But she passed on her father's stories. That day finally came after Kizzy died when her grandchildren tasted freedom for good. So goes the story of Roots as told by Alex Haley.

Do you, dear friends, long for freedom, the day of release? Yes, I know your American citizens, born in the land of the free and the home of the brave. But like Kizzy, you and I were born as slaves, captives. How sweet the words of liberation and freedom that Jesus speaks to our poor, oppressed, crushed souls! He speaks not of stories of the past or dreams for the future, but of a new reality. Release for you and for me. Release from our captivity and slavery. Released! Let that theme echo in your heart as the Holy Spirit breaks your chains through these words of Jesus. Released!

A. From the chains of guilt

1. In what ways have you fallen into some sort of denial of how great your guilt is?

“What chains?” you ask. The chains of guilt. Before we uttered our first infant cry, the chains of guilt hung heavy on us. How many links have your forged since that day? And don't only count your sinful actions, but your inactions as well. Our failures to do the good we can add to our guilt. In addition, every mean-spirited word and every covetous thought add more links as well. And our greatest sin is trying to deal with that guilt by some form of denial.

These various forms of denial think that we can escape and run away from our guilt. We imagine that freedom is within our power. Kunta Kinte tried to escape. He tried to mentally escape by refusing to answer to the new name his white master gave him. But they beat him into submission. He tried to physically escape by running away. But they hunted him down and finally cut off half his foot so that he couldn't run again. So also our sinful mind has invented various ways to try to escape from our guilt.

One kind of escape attempt denies a portion of our guilt. That wasn't a real lie; it was only a white lie. They love each other, so even though they're not married they can live together. I wouldn't have exploded in anger if you hadn't irritated me in the first place. Every bad thing I said about him was true, so how can you accuse me of gossiping? When women dress like that, it's not my fault if I have lustful thoughts. And the excuses go on. But pretending that the guilt isn't real doesn't make it disappear.

Another kind of escape attempt denies how spiritually poor and powerless we are on our own, that we by nature are beggars without a spiritual penny to our name. Such denial imagines: Maybe I can make up for my guilt, if I try harder to do good. Maybe if I make myself sorry enough or try to be real sincere when I ask for forgiveness. Won't that make my guilt go away? But can a beggar buy his way out of poverty? So also we cannot earn our way out of guilt.

Another kind of escape attempt denies whom we've actually offended with our guilt. This kind of denial says, “All that matters is that you need to forgive yourself.” But who is it that we've sinned against? David cried out to God, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4 NIV). He's the One who calls us to account. Prisoners that have multiple life-sentences aren't released when they've forgiven themselves, but only if the governor or president pardons them.

Another kind of escape attempt feels the guilt but denies how horrible the consequences of it really are. They feel guilt's weight pressing them down, even crushing them at times. They know they're stumbling around in the dark. But they just trudge on with the cold resignation that that's the way life is. They may even at times contemplate ending it all. Although that mindset feels guilt, it denies how serious our guilt is. Our guilt earns us the real hell. Death is not an escape but the point of no return into that hopeless torture, where the fires of guilt burn up each victim from the inside out continually forever.

Have you wandered into some kind of denial? Whenever the Good News of Jesus seems not so sweet but starts tasting a little bland, whenever the Gospel seems boring or repetitious, whenever we feel that we know main things the Bible says so why pay close attention, that's because we're not seeing how serious our guilt is. When the Good News of forgiveness in Jesus doesn't burn in our hearts so that it shines out in all that we say and do every moment of our life, we've failed in someway to realize the deadliness of our guilt and the blessedness of the full rescue and release Jesus has accomplished.

2. Why is denial of guilt so dangerous?

For you see, dear friends, we're all on a boat and chained to each one of us are huge cement blocks. That boat will sink whether its when you die or when the world ends, which ever comes first, but your boat will sink. And what will those cement blocks of guilt do to you then? You can deny that the boat will sink, but that didn't stop the Titanic from going down. You can look at how many cement blocks others have. But that just means you'll all drown together. You could imagine you have the strength to swim to shore with those blocks around you, but you're just fooling yourself. You could deny the reality of guilt in any of those other ways we talked about, but you will sink down into the depths of hell nonetheless.

B. By forgiveness from Jesus

1. How does Jesus release you from your guilt?

But Jesus cuts away those chains. You are released by the forgiveness that Jesus brings to you, dear friend. Jesus says to you, “The Lord has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, forgiveness for you, dear sinner, release from the chains of guilt. He sent me to proclaim recovery of sight for the blind. You, my dear child, no longer must stumble around in darkness weighed down by your guilt. I've opened your eyes to see my blood wash you clean. I've opened your eyes to believe that I gave myself for you. You're guilt is taken away. Let it oppress you no longer. Rather dance in gladness, rejoice in all that you do, for you're released.” Take to heart what Jesus says to you, dear Christian. You are released by forgiveness from Jesus.

He preaches this Good News to you and me, for he proclaims it to the poor. As beggars, on our own we have nothing to offer to our God but guilt and shame, filth and dirt. But Jesus came nonetheless. He came sent by the Father. He came as the Anointed One, the Christ, the Messiah. At his Baptism you witnessed the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove. For Jesus was anointed with the Spirit without measure to carry out the mission the Father sent him to do. What was that mission? To bring his heavenly riches to us poor beggars. He, who was rich, became poor so that we through his poverty might become rich. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18 NIV). Yes, to you and to me.

2. Why does Jesus bring release to us poor beggars?

And why such good news to us beggars? Why release for us who were born chained to guilt? Why? Because of the Lord's favor. Not because of anything in you or me. But because of who the Lord is. Because of his favor, his undeserved love, his good will, his grace. God's grace in Christ, his undeserved favor that sent his Son, his unmerited good will, that's why -- that's why you, dear friend, are released, released by the forgiveness that is in Christ Jesus.

In the mid 1700's a little bit before the time Kunta Kinte was said to have lived, a certain Englishman served under slavers and became a captain of a slave ship. One night in 1748 in a storm as the ship took on water, he felt the weight of his guilt chained to him. Faced with death, he came to realize how much he needed Jesus. How sweet the name of Jesus sounds! As his faith grew over the years, he left the slave trade and eventually studied for the ministry. He preached the faith he once long labored to destroy. He knew how amazing God's grace was to save a wretch like him. That man's name was John Newton. He wrote the last two hymns that we will sing today.

So what will it be for you, dear friends? The ship of our life will sink. Are you going to return to the chains of guilt that once bound you and be dragged down to the depths of hell? Or will you, like John Newton, cling to Jesus in faith, your only hope and salvation, our life-preserver who does not fail?

The people in Nazareth that day wouldn't accept release from this man that had grown up with them. Their pride clung to their guilt. They even tried to throw Jesus off a cliff. Today Jesus has proclaimed release to you. This is the year of the Lord's favor, his amazing grace. Rejoice in this release, this freedom, this forgiveness from Jesus. You are no longer a slave, but free. Celebrate your release by each day continually cherishing how sweet the name of Jesus is. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313