Today is a big day for all of us in the congregations of the McConnellsburg Lutheran Parish, isn’t it? Today, for the first time in two years, you have your own Pastor in your pulpit. Now I hear that in the time leading up to my arrival, Pastor Joe Hall did a wonderful job as a part time supply pastor for the Parish, but there’s still nothing quite like having your own pastor, is there? Especially after such a long vacancy! In talking with a lot of you both when I was here for the call vote last month, and again since I arrived in town on Wednesday, I’ve sensed a great deal of hope for your future. Today marks a lot of new beginnings, both with a new pastor, and also with a new synod, as today marks the beginning of your affiliation with the Evangelical Lutheran Conference & Ministerium (ELCM) with my beginning as your Pastor.
I found it rather interesting that on my first day as your Pastor, marking the beginning of what I hope to be a LONG ministry here in the McConnellsburg Lutheran Parish, our Gospel reading takes us to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. It takes him to his hometown of Nazareth, where He makes a rather bold statement. What was so important about what Jesus has to say that day in his hometown synagogue? What can we take from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry there to our ministry in the McConnellsburg Lutheran Parish? Those are the questions I want to explore with you in our time here this morning.
At this point in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is fresh off His baptism in the Jordan river, and his 40 day temptation in the wilderness. He returns from these experiences to Galilee. He begins by stopping in the various synagogues, teaching as he goes from place to place. His teaching is pretty amazing, as we’re told in the text that he was “being glorified by all.” Needless to say, word is spreading about Jesus, and His teaching.
At this point in his preaching, Jesus stops in Nazareth. It’s the Sabbath Day, and Jesus does what any Jew wishing to fulfill the 3rd Commandment would be doing, be in the Synagogue for the Sabbath Day service. One of the customs of the day was for an establish Rabbi to read from a scroll, which would have contained the Scriptures, and the appointed reading for the day is this prophecy from Isaiah 62:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
This text is a prophecy to the people of Israel of the coming of the promised Messiah. If there was a people needing to be reassured of what God was doing for them, it was the Israelites. They were being warned that if they did not repent of their sin and turn to God in repentance and faith, they would be carted off into captivity. It’s a message of hope for the remnant that remained faithful to God and His promises in His Word. It told them what the Messiah would do for them. The good news the Messiah would bring is that He had come to set them free: free from all that troubled them in this life by bringing forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. To those who were held captive in sin, the Messiah would set them free from that prison. For those who were blinded by the things of the world, the Messiah would restore their sight to the things of God. To those who were oppressed by the wages of sin, the Messiah would set them free.
So this is the text that Jesus reads to the people assembled in the Synagogue that day. He hands the scroll back to the attendant, and sits down. His reputation as a teacher has already preceded Him, remember, it was being said that he was being praised by everyone. No doubt word had gotten back to Nazareth about Jesus. People were wondering: what would He have to say to us? What kind of amazing thing does He have to share? This has to be good. The suspense is killing us! (Similar thoughts to what you all had as I stepped into this pulpit for the first time today, right? Just kidding)
And what does Jesus say? “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (v. 21) Essentially, what Jesus is saying to those people in the synagogue at Nazareth that day is this: “I am that Messiah you have been hearing about, praying for, waiting for. I am the One who has the Spirit of the Lord upon me. That’s the Good News that I have for you today!”
As some of you know, Epiphany is a season of the church year where we see through the Gospel readings Jesus reveal to the people of His day, and to you and me today, who He is and what He came into this world to do. Think back to the Gospel readings we have heard the two Sundays prior to today. Two weeks ago, our Gospel reading had us at the banks of the Jordan River, where Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist. Do you remember what happened there? We read in Luke 3 “the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended on (Jesus) in bodily form like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.’” (3:21b-22) Last Sunday, our Gospel reading from John 2 took us to a wedding in Cana, where Jesus performed His first miracle, turning water into wine, showing His power over creation, giving us a visual clue that He is indeed God in human flesh. And now, today, Jesus is telling us the purpose of all of these things, and the things that He would do in the future: they were to show us that He is the Savior from sin, death, and the devil that God the Father had long promised back in the Garden of Eden!
“Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Just as these words were true for the people gathered in the synagogue at Nazareth, they are true for you, the people of God gathered in this church this morning. Today, and every time we gather in this place around our Lord’s gifts to us in Word and Sacrament, these words of Jesus ring true again and again. In fact, it’s reflected in the way we worship each Sunday in our liturgy.
At the beginning of this service, we began by confessing an unpleasant truth that we have revealed to us in the Scriptures through God’s Word of Law: the truth that we are sinful in thought, word, and deed. That there is no way that we can live up to God’s expectations of us. Through His Word of Law, we see how we have failed to live the lives God intended for us, and that because of our sin, we deserve to be permanently separated from Him and His good gifts. But, once we have confessed our sins, we hear the Pastor speak the words of Jesus to us, and in the absolution, we hear the good news that Jesus has come and done something about it. That “today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” You hear that because of Jesus’ perfect, sinless life, sacrificial death, and resurrection, that He has destroyed the power of sin, death, and the devil and will raise us up to new life! It’s not because we’ve been good enough on our own, it’s all because of who Jesus is and what He has done for us. That’s why the German Lutheran word for worship is rather fitting what takes place here: “Gottesdienst” or “Divine Service”, where the Divine, God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, come to serve us through the Word and the Sacraments to either bring us to faith in Christ, or to strengthen our faith in Christ.
And as Lutheran Christians in the congregations of the McConnellsburg Lutheran Parish, what happens here each week isn’t so much to focus on ourselves, as it is to focus on Christ, and how He has fulfilled all of the Scriptures for us. Then, having been set free from our sin by Christ’s forgiveness, we are sent out into our vocations God has placed us in to serve Him, and to bring His Word that we hear in this place to other people.
And folks, that’s what our ministry as for me as your new Pastor, for you as individual Christians, as a congregation, as a parish, and even together with our brothers and sisters in Christ in the other congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Conference & Ministerium is to be about: telling others about what Christ has done for us at the cross, and specifically, for them. Lindsay and I arrived in McConnellsburg on Wednesday afternoon, and I jumped right into things here by attending the council meeting at St. Paul that night. One comment I made to the council there that night, and have repeated to many of you in the last few days, is how much I want to see the sanctuaries in all three churches of our parish full again. I know you all want that too. And how is that going to happen? It’s not going to happen with fancy marketing gimmicks, or by giving in to the world around us and compromise with the Word of God just to be “politically correct.” It will happen by everyone, pastor and lay people alike, telling others the good news about Jesus Christ. By telling them what our Savior, their Savior has done for them. By inviting them to come here to this church to hear more about what Jesus has done for them. By sharing with them the good things that God is doing at St. Paul’s/St. Paul/Mt. Zion Lutheran Church, and how they can get involved with that too!
That’s what we have to offer our community that’s different from the world out there! And there are a LOT of hurting people in our world today who need what Christ has to offer them in this place. Some people have been used and abused by others, and left alone, wondering if anyone could love them. We have the privilege of telling them about someone who loves them so much, that He gave His life for them so they could be with Him forever! To those who are mourning the death of a loved one, we have the promise of eternal life, that for those who believe in Jesus Christ as their savior from sin, death, and the devil, that they will see their loved ones again in a place where there is no suffering, grief, or death! For those who are afflicted by sickness or injury, we have the good news to proclaim to them that Jesus Christ is the ultimate physician of body and soul. While He may not grant healing in this life, He will one day release us from this world of sickness, pain, and injury, to an eternity with His Father, where those things will never afflict us again! That’s some good news! That’s what Jesus is talking about in our text when He says that “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” When we hear His Word, when we take it to heart, when we share it with others, we realize quickly what He really came here to do for us! And when we recognize that treasure we have in His Word, we’re going to want to share that with others!
It’s quite a bold statement Jesus makes toward the beginning of His public ministry, and quite a bold statement for me to preach about as I begin my ministry in your midst: “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Yet, today, we have come to see that indeed, it has. That Jesus is our ultimate source of healing, freedom, and hope. We see why we can have such great joy to share that message of the Gospel with those around us in our families and in our community. And we see why God has brought you and I together in this Pastor-Parishoner relationship: to bring the Word of Christ to our neighbors, friends, community, and the world! I’m looking forward to doing that with you in the months and years to come. It’s not always going to be easy, but I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. May God be with each one of you as you go out into the world this week to tell the good news about Jesus Christ! Amen!