Summary: Father Dave’s sermon on the relationship between evangelism, social justice and the Gospel. Why was the Gosepl proclaimed as ’Good news the poor’ and what was Jesus’ vision of Social Justice?
There has been an unfortunate division in the church, that goes back over many years, between those who emphasise the preaching of the Gospel as the primary work of the church, and those who focus on issues of justice, love, and peace.
It is regularly assumed that those who focus on the preaching of salvation are not concerned about justice and love, and conversely, that those devote themselves to works of justice and love are not concerned about the Biblical message of salvation.
Our little community in Dulwich Hill has a strong reputation for pursuing justice and works of love in the community. For that reason it is assumed by some that we have little regard for the Bible and the Gospel message. That assumption is made, not because we show lack of respect for the Scriptures, but rather because we have a record of getting passionately involved in works of love and justice.
Some of you, I know, have been challenged about your loyalty to the Scriptures because of your concern for the needy, or even simply because of your association with a church that takes issues of justice seriously. Some of you, on the other hand, may be thinking, ’what’s he talking about?’
If you’re part of that latter group, I apologise in advance today, as I’m really angling today’s sermon primarily at the first group - at those who have been challenged that love for the Gospel and the pursuit of social justice are not readily compatible.
If you’re part of the ‘what’s he talking about?’ group, please just try to bear with me. If, on the other hand, you are one of those who have been told that your priority as a Christian should be preaching the Gospel, rather than pursuing works of justice and peace, listen up, for nowhere in the Bible are these concerns brought together more closely, in my opinion, than in today’s Gospel reading from Luke chapter 4, where Jesus proclaims the Gospel in terms of ’Good News for the Poor’ and in terms of His vision for social justice.
So, my apologies to the ‘what’s he talking about?’ group, and my apologies too to those who might find me a little academic today. This text was the basis of my exit sermon from Moore College - the sermon that each student must give in front of the whole faculty and student body - and I fear that the remnants of academia do still cling to my perspectives on the passage.
And while I’m busy apologising, I should apologise too to my preaching mentors at Moore College too, who taught me that the first rule of preaching is that you never apologise.
Luke chapter 4: Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth after gaining some notoriety for his work in other parts of Israel, and He appears to have been asked to be the guest preacher at the synagogue service on the Sabbath.
Not many details of that service are given to us in Luke 4, but from what we know of early synagogue services, the format would have been not unlike what we are used to today. They would have had some singing (though unaccompanied by any organ or set of stringed instruments). They would have certainly heard those same words read which we read each Sunday: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One ...’ And like us they had a series of three readings and then a sermon, usually given on the final reading.
Their readings were not of course from Old Testament, New Testament and Gospels, but from three different sections of what we call the Old Testament. The first reading would have been from the Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy). The second reading would have been taken from the Writings (which includes books such as Proverbs and Job). And the third reading was taken from the Prophets.
Jesus ‘stood up to read’ we’re told. ‘And there was handed to him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah’. Isaiah being such a long book, it would have probably come in three scrolls, in which case Jesus has been handed the third scroll. And he would have had to unroll that scroll to write down towards the end, where it said:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
‘And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant’ we are told, ‘and he sat down’. Presumably this means he sat down to preach. In those days they preached sitting down in the preacher’s chair, which was located up front and centre of the synagogue. And ‘the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him’ to hear his sermon on the passage.