Fulfillment in the Fullest

Fulfillment in the Fullest
Rev. Mark M. Vickers
January 24, 2016
Luke 4:14-21 

Luke 4:14-21 New International Version (NIV)
Jesus Rejected at Nazareth

14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,

19    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[a]
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 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

This is the text that I call the “humble preacher text.” Jesus comes back to his home, Nazareth, where he was raised and where people knew his life—somewhat of a scary scenario if you ask me. Anytime you return to a place where people know you, to preach or proclaim a word, it can be a bit scary. 

I will never forget my candidacy process when I began to explore my “call” to ministry. I had a wonderful mentor, a pastor who walked with me through the process and every step of the way. As the process was completed it was up to the local church to vote on the “approval” of the candidate for ordained ministry. Normally this is done at Charge Conference, with the reading of the name and no fanfare. However, it was Easter Sunday morning in 1979. I was sitting with my high school buddies in the corner of the church where we always sat. The attendance was well into the upper hundreds that Sunday, and it looked like thousands, when all of a sudden I hear our associate pastor, Rev. Max Hale call my name and ask for me to come forward. Obviously, I wasn’t paying attention to the Order of Service and was surely talking about some baseball score or some young girl. Well it was one of those moments that when you heard your name, it was like God calling you! I regained my composure and quietly left my seat and walked to the front. Now Max and I had a tremendous relationship; he was like a mentor to me as well. Max then proceeded to ask the entire congregation, “Does anyone here know any reason that Mark should not pursue ordained ministry?” As I looked out over the congregation at people who knew way more about me than they needed to know, I saw some of them act as if they were going to stand up. But no one did, not that they couldn’t have, but they didn’t. Imagine, a 17-year-old standing in front of his congregation and nobody flinched. I, however, sweated like I was standing on the sun. Yet I’ll never, ever forget that moment because people paid “ultimate” attention to me. 

I don’t say that in a boastful way, but I share that story in a way that reflects on this passage. For Jesus returned to his “roots” so to speak and in doing so the people were intrigued by his appearance in the synagogue on the Sabbath and his reading from the scroll. After reading those prophetic words from Isaiah, there comes another important verse, verse 20: “And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were upon him.” 

What most of us don’t know is that in early Jewish tradition, one stood to read the scroll and then sat down to preach or expound on the reading of the scripture. Hence, “the eyes of all in the synagogue were upon him.” What was happening at this time was extremely important! Prophetic words along with an important substantial preaching protocol seals the fact that what is happening in the synagogue is extremely important—not only in the markings of Jesus as the Messiah, but that Jesus is moved and filled by the Spirit, reflecting strongly on Isaiah’s words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” The Spirit is in control of what is happening! With this being solidified that the Spirit is upon Jesus, the message from Isaiah and Jesus rings out strong: “Bringing good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

We have to remember that Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, came to do just those things. That is all great to hear if you are marginalized, oppressed, being held captive, poor, and hungry. But if you are where the majority of us are, it is threatening to hear about these concepts; it is threatening to thank that the economic structure will be overturned along with all of these things that set us in a position of uncertainty. 

Yet it challenges us to hear what those who are in those positions hear. It challenges us to hear that release is possible for those in captivity, that those who are poor and marginalized will see an open window to a better stature of living, and how those who are hungry will be fed. Ernest Hess also points out to us that if we do our scholarly work correctly we note that Jesus leaves out Isaiah 61:2b, “and the day of vengeance of our God.” Jesus’ focus is on bringing healing and justice, not vengeance! 

What I think is noteworthy in this text is the way in which “The Spirit” has accompanied Jesus through the major intersections of his life—his baptism, his journey into the wilderness—and it now empowers his new journey in Galilee, to do those things prophesied by Isaiah. 

When I think back to that empowering Easter Sunday morning, standing before that congregation where some knew me all too well, I contemplate how God’s Spirit, through my relationship with Jesus, has impacted my life and my ministry. I imagine all of us have had or are having those Spirit-filled moments in our life and ministries and we need to ask ourselves “how has the Spirit of God impacted our lives?” I chuckled the other night when I remembered what a long-time Baptist friend of mine asked me one night in a Bible study. He said “Mark, are you Spirit led, fed, and bled?” 

Have I been directed by the Spirit of Jesus? Have I been fed by the Spirit of Christ? and have I put myself “on the line” for the work of the Spirit? I believe if we take this Gospel seriously, then we, as the Church, must ask ourselves the same questions!