Change my Heart, O God
Jesus rejected at Nazareth: Luke 4:14-21
14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, stood up and read these words from the prophet Isaiah. Have you ever felt “Full of the Holy Spirit? Fired up about your faith? It’s the “end of CLW” experience. It’s the time when no-one else seems as inspired, and they frustrate you. And you can get yourself in trouble.
Well, here he was, and he read these words that talked about this strange thing: the Year of the Lord’s Favour. He had returned to Galilee fired up after his desert temptation experience, he came back to his home town, his ministry had just begun, he was off and running and he hit the ground with a bang. He stood up and read this prophecy from Isaiah, and then applied it to himself and stated that this scripture is now fulfilled.
It would have been like throwing a hand grenade into the room at his home-town synagogue.
There is some evidence that what this was referring to, this “year of the Lord’s Favour” was the practice of the year of Jubilee that God instituted for his people in Leviticus25. Jubilee went like this: you had a sabbath every seven days, and every seven years you had a sabbath year, as did your land, you had to let it recover and rest, and after every 7 lots of sabbath years, after every 49 years the 50th year was to be a year of Jubilee.
In this year, all debts were to be wiped off the ledgers and forgiven. All people that had to sell themselves into slavery because they had fallen on hard times and were poor were to be freed by their owners, seeing their debts were now cancelled, and all land that had been bought was to revert to it’s original owners, because it was God’s land, originally divided between the 12 tribes of Israel as he saw fit after the Exodus.
And do you know how many times we have evidence of these things occurring? Do you know how many times the Old Testament reports the people observing the year of jubilee?
It’s one of those things that sounds great and noble in theory, but that would be really painful for a lot of powerful, wealthy people if it were actually to occur in practice. And it’s amazing how much people can turn a blind eye to what they know should happen, in order to protect their power and wealth and security and position.
You see good news to the poor isn’t good news to the rich. And freedom for the oppressed isn’t so good for the oppressor. And we so often fear that if someone is going to gain, then we might have something to lose.
I once heard a sermon that had as the refrain running through it the constant repetition of this phrase: Lord, reform your church and let it begin with me.
But that is not the reality, is it? That is not what we really want. What it normally comes down to is: Lord, reform your church, and let it begin with someone else.
Jesus mission was to proclaim that the Kingdom of God was near. In fact, it was coming even now! TODAY this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing! But if we are really going to be honest here, we need to admit that we really don’t want that. It might ask for us to change something!
I would put to you that as children maybe we do. We are happy to be Jesus’ little lamb. We are happy to have him at our confirmation “take thou my hand and lead me”. So why are children and teenagers and young adults more comfortable with the idea of radical life change, of scary things that Pentecostal churches talk about like renewal, and of sanctification, becoming every day more like Jesus, than adults are?
Why? Because they have not yet spent decades building their own kingdoms! But as we get older for some reason we start to think: If God’s kingdom comes, and it comes here, to me, what is that going to mean for my bank account, my land holdings? My reputation, my title? I have organised my life the way I like it, and I have my leisure time, I have my boat and my swag and my 4wd, and I enjoy the way things are set up, and I don’t really want that messed with, thank you very much! Even if we don’t consciously think those things, that resistance builds up in us.
Do I want God to reform his church and let it begin with me, or honestly, do I want it to be someone else?
There is a beautiful song in our All Together song books called “Change my Heart, O God”. But is that what most of us really want? Do we want to change? Do we want to grow?
Do we really believe that God is the potter and that we are just the clay, or do we hold onto that concept that it is in our heart from infancy: Mine! It’s mine, you can’t have it!
As Lutherans, across the board, we are not even very comfortable with this sort of life-changing conversion happening to other people, as having them around tends to scare us. They remind us that everything can change. There is a Pastor in the Queensland district of the LCA who used to manage a multi-million dollar company, and then due to stress and health issues and crisis of faith stepped away from it all and entered the ministry. Does that scare you that God might require that of you?
Well, You may remember that in some of the old traditional worship service orders of the church we have three questions asked of us in the Confession of sins.
And it was once pointed out to me that we never really think about this one, and the full consequences of what it means:
Do you intend with the help of the Holy Spirit to live as in God’s presence, and to strive daily to lead a Holy Life, even as Christ himself has made you Holy? In other words, do you really expect anything to change when you leave here today?
Have you ever, when you have said those words?
We say that the church is a hospital for the soul, and people on the outside shouldn’t look it at it like some sort of exclusive country club. But it is? Is it like a hospital? Why do people go to hospital, and what do they expect? They go because they are sick, and because they expect that to change.
Do we? Because if we do not, then the country club analogy is a lot closer to the truth than we might like to admit.
We talk about the old sinful self, and original sin, and the wages of sin being death, and we want the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience etcetera, but we are not going to get them unless something changes from our original condition. But then we don’t want to change? Not today God, not this week.
You might have come here expecting to hear a Gospel sermon, that God loves you just the way you are. And it’s true. He sent Jesus to die for you, he loves you so much.
But he loves you too much to leave you the way you are. He wants to make you every day to be more like Jesus, to change, and grow, and that is going to be painful! Growing Pains are a real thing! Today is a pre-Lenten challenge to you and to me to let him change us. Don’t be afraid of that! He has us, we are safe, no matter what. Even if we were to lose all those things that are so important to us, we would gain so much more! Let’s get ourselves out of the way of God changing our selves into what he wants us to be.
Lord, reform your church, and let it begin, as scary as it might be, with me.
Change my Heart, O God.