By Rev. Tracey Leslie
Scripture: Luke 4: 14-21, 42-44
If you were raised going to Sunday School or Vacation Bible School or even were enrolled in a church pre-school, odds are good you were raised on the song “This Little Light of Mine.” If you remember it, join me in a verse: This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
That song title is also the title of our current sermon series. It’s an appropriate title for a multitude of reasons. For one thing, we’re currently in the church season after Epiphany, a time when we celebrate how Jesus came to bring light – and enlightenment – to the world. Also, we’ve rounded the corner on winter darkness and, with each passing day, the light increases. We’re no longer leaving for work and eating dinner in the dark. But this year, in particular, we need a light to dispel the darkness our nation and world have been enduring, don’t we? As of February 9, there have been a total of 910,373 COVID-19 deaths here in the U.S. Political pundits report that our nation is now more divided than it has been at any time since the Civil War. And things like mass shootings and deadly weather events have become so common they often don’t even open the news reports. We need light, don’t we? And we need some good news… which is what Jesus came to bring.
On these Sundays after Epiphany (a word meaning revelation or manifestation), we also often focus on scriptures that reveal Jesus – who he is and what he came to do. This morning’s gospel reading leaves no doubt about what Jesus came to do. Jesus, in that synagogue in Nazareth, boldly announces what he has come to say and do. It is his mission statement, of sorts, and it is grounded in the words of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah.
In scripture, context is important. After all, we can pluck verses out of context and make the Bible say nearly anything, right? So, context is critical. I want to invite you to grab a pew Bible right now so that, together, we can take a quick look at the context of this morning’s Bible story. If you turn to page ____, you’ll see Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism. I’ll give you a minute to get there. What I want us to notice in this story is the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in the bodily form of a dove. Now remember, the Holy Spirit comes upon us in our baptisms, as well. Throughout the New Testament, baptism is associated with the Holy Spirit. Next in Luke’s gospel, after a quick genealogy, our gospel writer tells us, at the start of chapter 4, that Jesus “full of the Holy Spirit” is led by the Spirit into the wilderness. This is the story of Jesus’ testing in the wilderness. Jesus passes the test and emerges from the wilderness and – take a look at Luke 4:14 – Jesus “filled with the power of the Spirit” returns to Galilee. So, just in case you didn’t get it the first time or the second time or the third time, Jesus will give it to us straight in that synagogue in Nazareth when the first words out of his mouth – his first public words recorded in Luke’s gospel – are “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.
What Jesus does, he does in the power of God’s Holy Spirit and what he does is to carry out what has been God’s will even since Old Testament times: Jesus brings good news to those who need it most. That is, in fact, what the word “gospel” means: good news. The ministry of Jesus, what Jesus does and says, the story of Jesus is always good news for those who need it most.
In recent weeks, we’ve been focusing on the topic of evangelism. We’ve learned that the foundation of evangelism is hospitality, relationship and integrity. We must be able to welcome people into our space, into our hearts, into our lives. We must be willing to invest in building new relationships with people; not just maintaining the ones we already have. And we must be people of integrity so that people know that we are sincere and trustworthy. But, we can’t stop there. We do, in fact, need to share the good news of Jesus to those who need it most. And, we don’t do it under our own power. We are enabled and equipped to bring good news to others because we, like Jesus, are filled with God’s Holy Spirit.
Now, you may have also noticed that I skipped some verses in this morning’s gospel reading and, if you are not familiar with the story, you may want to read them later at home. If you are curious what occurs when Jesus delivers his mission statement to the synagogue congregation in Nazareth, spoiler alert, it goes south pretty quickly. The story, itself, can be a bit confusing; but here’s the crux…
If you turn again to Luke 4:14, you’ll notice something there: a report about Jesus spread through the surrounding country. Jesus’ reputation preceded him that day he stood up in his hometown synagogue and his hometown, apparently, had big expectations. Jesus was their boy. Whatever good he’d down elsewhere, they expected even more once he came back home. He “belonged” to them; he was part of them. So it only stands to reason that they should get the biggest piece of him. But Jesus reminds them that God has always been about welcoming the outsider. Everywhere Jesus goes, it seems, people want to keep him for themselves. But, in the final verses of this chapter, Jesus reminds us (take a look at Luke 4:43): “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” Friends: I trust that many of you value what you have in your Trinity family; the fellowship we share together in this church. I consider it an enormous blessing. But we can’t keep it for ourselves. We, too, must proclaim the good news to others because, in the times in which we’re living, who wouldn’t want good news?
If you have watched the NBC Nightly News in recent years, you might know the news ends with a segment called “There’s Good News Tonight.” It’s a good way to end since the “breaking news” at the top of the broadcast is pretty much always bad.
What you might not know is that “There’s Good News Tonight” didn’t originate with NBC and Lester Holt. It began with Gabriel Heatter. Heatter was the son of immigrants who grew up in Brooklyn in the early 20th century. Although not a good student in school, his passion for reading led him to a career in journalism, beginning his work with newspapers and then transitioning to radio. During World War II, he had a 15 minute nightly newscast for Mutual Broadcasting and he opened each broadcast with the words: "Good evening, everyone—there is good news tonight." Incidentally, Heatter was also a dog lover. He said of his own career: “news of heroism, either of men or dogs, and of people holding to their faith, these are Heatter stories.” Now, there were some who criticized Heatter for having optimism during such a difficult chapter of our nation’s history. Yet far more people felt that the news Heatter delivered and his hallmark opening, “there is good news tonight,” helped to get them through a dark hour. In fact, many of his listeners were so encouraged by Heatterthat he received letters addressing him as Reverend Gabriel Heatter.
Friends: not all churches proclaim good news. But, I think Trinity is truly a place to hear gospel, to hear good news. We don’t proclaim condemnation of different groups of people, be they queers or Muslims. We do our best to reach beyond our doors with graciousness and hospitality. As best we can, we seek ways to collaborate and support local NPO’s, civic leaders, small business owners, students and teachers, and even city government in making our community a better place, especially for those most vulnerable and most in need of good news. Friends: evangelism doesn’t mean you have to preach at people, chase them down, or learn a bunch of theological jargon. The message we bear is good news.
And it’s all as simple as this:
Graciously welcoming others into our space – our homes, our church, our hearts;
Taking time to build new relationships, especially with those who may need a caring friend;
Being sure that we demonstrate integrity and trustworthiness;
And then looking for opportunities to let people know that there is good news: Jesus loves them.
In fact, Jesus loves all of us and wants us to live in peace with one another. Friends: God’s Holy Spirit has come upon all of us and we don’t need to be fearful. We are the bearers of good news and in the times we are living in, people are desperate for good news. The Spirit of the Lord is upon you and has anointed you to bring good news.
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