“And Jesus went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.”
Have you ever wondered what that message might be? We have portions of what we believe were some of his sermons, but can you imagine hearing him preach for yourself? Talk about a message that transforms your life! Think about the most inspiring message you have ever received, and then imagine that the person who delivered it was able to remove all of your doubts and fears and make you feel more complete and purpose filled than you ever thought that you could.
I don’t mean to dumb Jesus down to the level of a motivational guru, but isn’t the message of Jesus that repentance draws you into God’s presence in a way that connects you with all of creation? Isn’t salvation as much about our lives today as it is the promise of eternity? Isn’t that the Gospel – the Good News?
I imagine that if we asked each person here to say what he or she believes is the Gospel, the Good News, or the message of Jesus, we might get a few different answers. We might also get some answers that repeat what we’ve been taught to say or answers that give us comfort to hear.
According to our texts today, I believe the Good News we have received is that redemption comes through community, that salvation is experienced between us mutually, and that Jesus came to demonstrate the active presence of God and to invite us to participate in it. In order to get at the heart of these passages, I’d like for you to think of them from three perspectives: an exiled Jew, a member of the Church in Corinth, and from a Citizen of Capernaum. By that, I mean that I am going to attempt to narrate a retelling of certain portions from those perspectives. First is the exiled Jew.
“That Prophet is at it again. Isaiah, they call him – I think. He always speaks at difficult times. His words were shared in our palaces and public squares before the Babylonians took us, conquered us, and divided us like things to be traded. He told us of our sin as a nation while mothers cried because the old and young suffered a miserable fate. I’m not even sure if it is the same man who speaks now. Perhaps he is as much an idea as he is a man. Somehow, he speaks the very words of God.
It’s not so much about predictions coming true. It is more about representing truth. His words point out the truth we can hardly bare to see. This time his words offer a certain assurance. We have paid for our sins, and even more! We are even hearing rumors that Jerusalem is being restored.
Not that I want to go back. That place is in shambles. Slavery – if you can call it that – was not as bad for me. I’m a scribe. I am useful to our captors, and I have been given opportunities to earn money and support my family. It wasn’t so easy for those with no skill and strong backs. Let’s not even start talking about what the women have endured.
Now they are calling for us to return and restore Jerusalem, and this Prophet has to remind us how vast the creative force of God is and how limited our efforts to control the world must be. Not only that, he reminds us that God is always restoring us – not just me, but us. And our connection as God’s people gives us hope. Not only that, but it allows us to be defined by what God is doing – no matter what we have done. That’s good news – we are a people that God restores and redeems over and over and over again!”
Several centuries later, a letter from Paul is read to a gathering of people who follow in the way of Jesus.
“What an amazing letter! It was all about the way that Jesus offers us salvation, and how we impact one another’s experience of salvation! I have to say, though, Paul can sound a little conflicted at times. I mean, he talks about how important it is for the Gospel to be free, and that he is commissioned by God to do these things for God. Then he says, “so that I may save,” and then he speaks about the Gospel like it depends on us to survive. And then he says he’s doing it for a share in the reward! There is also all that stuff about becoming everything to everyone. As if that could happen. Sounds like a good way to end up not believing anything.
Well, the more we talked about it – and the more we opened ourselves up to the Spirit of God – the more we realized that Paul was talking about connecting with others through shared experiences. We can do that. We can appreciate what someone else loves and find the common ground that honors God. It’s a lot harder than just telling people that they are wrong, but we can do it.
Not only that, but we recognize that God chooses to work through us in those relationships. And then our choices – our experiences – are what open us up or closes us off to the active presence of God! In the same way that he told us not to eat things that distract others from knowing about God’s love, Paul is telling us that what we do affects each other’s salvation. And salvation begins in our everyday brokenness!”
And around the same time, stories about this Rabi, Jesus, were being written down to share with people like you and me. Perhaps there was a person in the synagogue in Capernaum one day who saw Jesus teach with authority and cast out a demon. Perhaps that man helped Jesus’ reputation spread throughout the Galilee!
“You won’t believe it. I followed him to that disciple, Simon’s, Mother-in-law. I tell you, she went from flat on her back to serving lunch in no time! Weird, I know. You would think someone else would let her rest, but she seemed fairly unstoppable. Perhaps her gratitude was so great that she felt like she had no other choice. Well, of course everyone and their cousin showed up, and he healed as many as he could. And he told some of them that seemed possessed to be silent, but it seemed like he wasn’t just talking to them. He was talking to the things that controlled them. You should have seen them afterwards! It was like he reached in and pulled out their doubts and fears. But then he snuck off in the middle of the night.
At first, we were devastated. But then we came to see that we could actually take care of each other. We could be God’s presence for each other. We could receive God’s presence from each other! The good news is that when we realized that salvation has already come, then we wanted to do something in response. We wanted to share it, to seek others out, and to demonstrate it in new ways everyday!”
And that is the message of Jesus! God offers redemption through a community of believers. In community we find that our salvation is not exclusive. It is dependent on our relationships. It is lived and shared and happening right now. And Jesus invites us, even here, even now to be a part of God’s salvation in and through our relationships with others.
There is another story to tell. In fact there are hundreds more sitting throughout this sanctuary. In those times in which you have acted on faith and demonstrated love for one another – simply because of the message that you have received from Jesus – you have offered the presence of God to one another. In those times that you have shown compassion to the stranger, stood by someone in their grief, and felt compelled to share your faith you have participated in the active presence of God.
As we move toward the Season of Lent, let us hear the message of Jesus once more. Let us consider what new direction God has in mind for us as a people and as followers of Jesus. Let us think about the story someone else will tell about us and our faith in the One who redeems, restores, and saves us again, and again, and again. And to that One – the Holy One of Israel – be all praise and glory, now and always. Amen!