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Summary: We become different people when the Holy Spirit comes upon us. We celebrate and share with humanity’s children. We have been set free and we enjoy the special favour of God. God’s Word shines a light into our darkness and continues to set us free.

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There is a common thread in the readings we heard from Nehemiah 8:1-10 and Luke 4:14-21 this morning, and it is freedom from slavery. In the case of the reading from Nehemiah, the story takes place after the Israelites have returned from captivity in Babylon. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus mentions that he has come to free us from the captivity of sin.

Jesus came to give us our jubilee-our freedom. We are all captives to our sinful, human nature. The readings from Nehemiah and Luke show us that we as Christians have to come together to hear God’s Word and be taught what it means and how it applies to us. The only way the passage from Isaiah that Jesus read can be fulfilled is if we all come together and work together. We are all part of the one body of Christ that Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 12:12-30. We are stronger when we are united and work together. Locally, we are stronger when we work with other churches in such ventures as the recent Shepherd’s Walk and the annual Good Friday Walk of the Cross.

The story from Nehemiah is part of a story about rebuilding. In the reading we heard earlier this morning, the temple has just been rebuilt, following the Israelites’ return from captivity in Babylon. There were roughly 50,000 people in the congregation that day. They were hungry for God’s Word. They were not anxious for the service to conclude-unlike many churchgoers today. God gave the Israelites some wonderful gifts: land, security, abundance and prosperity. The memory of those gifts bound the people together; but over time they grew cynical and careless about their faith. The people called on the prophet Ezra to read from the Law of Moses, and they responded to God’s Word. They were eager to hear the Word of God. When they heard the Word of God, they cried because when they looked at their history and compared it to God’s Word, they realized that they screwed up big time!!!!!!!

Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the congregation Jesus preached to in the reading from Luke’s Gospel. As we will see in the Gospel reading next Sunday, the crowd was ready to kill him after he said that he was the long-promised Messiah. They could not accept that he was the Messiah. To them, he was just a gifted preacher who was the son of a carpenter. They were ready to hear God’s Word, but in contrast to the congregation who heard Ezra’s preaching, they were not moved by the Holy Spirit. They were out for profit and the status quo, even though both Jesus and the passage from Isaiah told them that the status quo wrong! Jesus dared to tell them that God's love was for everyone. He illustrated that his message was for everyone by referring to Elijah being sent to the widow of Zarapeth, who was a Gentile. Elisha healed Naaman the Syrian-not a Jew, but a Gentile. If God can be so gracious and quick to attend to the needs of a poor widow in Sidon and an undeserving Gentile in Syria, what gave the Jewish elders the right to say who belongs in the kingdom and who doesn't? They wanted to hear how the Jews were God's chosen people and how salvation belonged only to them.

We can understand a little of how they felt. They were God's chosen people. They had been persecuted all of their lives because they maintained God's word and kept up the Jewish customs. They built the temples and synagogues and tried to live as God wanted them to live because they were God's chosen people. It is true that when you are persecuted people you have to develop a sense of pride in order to survive. When pride becomes exclusive, it becomes dangerous. It's hard for persecuted people to hear that others will be included in the same grace that they will know and feel they have deserved.

It's hard for us also. It's okay as long as food is delivered to our door, but what about when grace is extended to our neighbour. It's hard for us to accept that Christianity is growing in all areas of the world except for North America and Europe. It's hard for us to hear that other people are prospering in the Word of God.

The people of Nazareth rejected the Gospel because its vision included both Jews and Gentiles. Paul even argued in 1 Corinthians 12:14 that "For the body is not one member,. but many". We are all members of the one body of Christ. Jesus came to restore sight to the blind, but the people of Nazareth wanted to keep their narrow vision.

The people in Galilee had an expectation of what the Messiah could be. They expected him to be a military ruler who would drive out the Romans and restore Israel to the glory days of the reign of King David. They did not expect a Messiah who would urge them to care for those whom they considered to be unclean-the poor, the sick, prostitutes, etc. Unlike the congregation Ezra preached to, the congregation in the synagogue did not accept the concept of grace.

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