Summary: Sermon for World Communion Sunday 2007

In his book Ghost Soldiers, Hampton Sides tells of a dramatic mission during World War II. On January 28, 1945, hand-selected Army Rangers and Filipino resistance slipped 30 miles behind enemy lines to rescue 513 American and British POW’s who had spent three years in a hellish prison camp near the city of Cabanatuan.

The first effects of liberation as chaos and fear. Having faced brutality as well as illnesses the prisoners were brittle, mentally and physically to comprehend a rescue was actually taking place.

Sides describes one particular prisoner, Bert Bank, who refused to budge, even when a Ranger walked right up to him and tugged his arm.

"C’mon, we’re here to save you," he said. "Run for the gate."

Bank still would not move. The Ranger looked into his eyes and saw they were vacant, registering nothing.

"What’s wrong with you?" he asked. "Don’t you want to be free?"

A smile formed on Bank’s lips as the meaning of the words became clear, and he reached up to the outstretched hand of the Ranger.

The Rangers searched all the barracks for additional prisoners, then shouted, "The Americans are leaving. Is there anybody here?" Hearing no answer, they left.

But there was one more POW Edwin Rose. Edwin had been on latrine duty and somehow missed all the shooting and explosions. When he wandered back to his barracks, he failed to notice the room was empty and lay down on his straw mat and fell asleep. Edwin had missed the liberation. But there was a reason why. Edwin was deaf.

Four Americans died in the rescue; two Rangers in the firefight and two prisoners who perished for reasons of poor health. The freed prisoners marched 25 miles and boarded their ship home. With each step, their stunned disbelief gave way to soaring optimism. Even Edwin Rose made it. He finally woke up and realized liberation had come. [1]

I mention this story because Jesus’ purpose for coming was to bring freedom. In the gospels, Jesus heals a crippled woman and calls it "freedom". The woman who "touches the hem of his robe" is pronounced "free". Jesus proclaims that He is the source of freedom. In Romans, four times we’re told we are "free" from sin or the law of sin. In Luke 4, which will be an overarching theme between now and Thanksgiving, it seems that we have a five-fold purpose for his coming.

• to preach good news to the poor

• to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

• recovery of sight for the blind

• to release the oppressed

• to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

I don’t think that’s the case. I believe what we have here one purpose explained, shown, demonstrated, laid out with four various examples that would be known to the Jews in Nazareth and Jerusalem. Those in Nazareth new about poverty. They had seen what it meant to be a prisoner. The harsh Middle-Eastern sun made blindness not all that rare. And when it came to oppression, they had Rome as a constant reminder. The "year of the Lord’s favor" was a hope that seemed far away, if not impossible.

It is almost impossible to read these verses without translating them into 21st century thought. Today’s poor, prisoners, blind and oppressed, at least in our nation, have little in common with those of Jesus’ day. So it’s a temptation to dismiss the importance of this statement of Christ.

He went to his hometown to start this. He did it because they were the ones who knew him best. They had seen Him grow up. They knew His parents. They had hired Him to work for them. And Christ’s message is met with praise. Verse 22 says, "All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips."Isn’t this Joseph’s son?" they asked." Can you see the headlines, "Local Boy Becomes Preacher". Yet Jesus knows that when they think about what He’s said they’re going to say how can HE do these things. After all, "Isn’t this Joseph’s son?"

How quick the crowd turns from eulogizing Him, speaking well of Him, to trying to shove Him off a cliff. And why is that? Because when renewal was desperately needed in Israel, Elijah and Elisha’s was sent by God to Gentiles, not good Jewish families. Elijah was used to feed and care for a Gentile widow and her son and Elisha, used to heal a Syrian general not someone from Israel.

Here is a truth Christ followers need to continue to struggle with; that God is interested in everyone not just one group of like-minded people like us. I’ve was suckered into reading a book called In William Young’s, The Shack, Mack is having a talk with Jesus who has said "I don’t create institutions—never have, never will." Jesus then says, "I’m not too big on religion, and not very fond of politics or economics either…They are the man-created trinity of terrors that ravages the earth and deceives those I care about." A bit later as Jesus says, "Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptist or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions. I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some are bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christians, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sister, into my Beloved."

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