Sunday, January 24, 2016

What Are Your Credentials?

Luke 4:14-21 January 24, 2016 Upper Rogue UMC

Having been baptized by John in the Jordan, and spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness where he argued with the devil and won, Jesus now turns his attention to the task for which he was sent. He begins in Galilee, his old stomping grounds, and soon found himself in his hometown of Nazareth. As both a local boy who achieved some degree of notoriety, and a visiting rabbi, he was, as custom dictated, invited to speak to the home congregation. They handed him the scroll of Isaiah, and he read:
Luk 4:18-19 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed (19) and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people."
It was traditional, in those times, to read the scriptures standing, and to preach sitting. So after reading the scroll, Jesus handed it back to the attendant charged with its care and keeping, sat down, and announced to all: "This passage came true today when you heard me read it." This announcement, and the interaction which follows, serves two purposes.

First, Jesus answers the unspoken questions of the local leaders: “Who do you think you are.?” “Who gives you the authority to preach?” “Show us your credentials!” When you go to your doctor, he or she probably has their diploma and license from the state in a frame on the wall. Lawyers must pass the Bar, and meet other state requirements before setting up shop. The C in CPA stands for the certification they have from the state; Our daughter Dannielle is certified to prepare taxes; I am credentialed by the church. I have been trained at a seminary, examined by the Board of Ordained Ministry, served my probationary period, and was ordained to a life of word, service and order by Bishop Dew, representing the church. I even have a certificate I can present to verify my status.

In Jesus' times, things were different. There were no seminaries to train young rabbis; no universities to grant diplomas. One's actions and teachings were the only credentials one could offer; and so our Lord offers the credentials of Isaiah, which he claims for himself; the credentials of concern for others, and care for the POP, the poor, the oppressed, and the powerless. These are still the credentials of the People of God. Where the Spirit of God is at work, the care and concern for the P.O.P. are being practiced. The work of the Spirit is the work of caring, feeding, housing, healing, and loving. These are our real credentials; these are the proof of who and who's we are.

When we visited Tennessee, we walked past a bar with a sign promising: “Free beer tomorrow.” I would guess there has never been a free beer poured in that beer tomorrow is no free beer. In much the same way, when we Christians start living in some “Pie in the sky in the sweet by and by” world; simply waiting for a future eternity. Jesus steps into the synagogue, and into our lives proclaiming that eternity is here, eternity is now...or, rather, now is part of eternity. Like too many modern churches, the synagogues had lost relevance in the daily lives of the people, concentrating instead on finding God through praise, and study. Far too often entertainment has replaced worship, and there is little, if any, time for prayer. It was much the same when Jesus walked into the synagogue and spoke of God in the here and now...and that's uncomfortable. It's far easier to speak, and hear of God in the distant past of Jesus' day and before; or in the far off future of the second coming and Revelation. the reality is that if God is only the God of creation and the God of the Eschaton—the final days, there is no God. When Jesus announced: “What you have just heard me read has come true today,” he was announcing that God is present among us in the here and now. God is real.

And a real God demands a real response. As long as we can keep God in his little box of Sunday morning and past and future glories, we are in control; and we like being in control. But Jesus calls us to be under God's control, to break down those barriers and confront the uncomfortable reality of God in our daily lives.

God in our daily lives. God in control of our daily lives. What would that mean? What does that mean? If we start where Jesus started, then it begins with service to others; good old fashioned Christian works. Service performed not for our self-aggrandizement, but solely for others; solely for God. Richard Foster tells us: Self-righteous service comes through human effort. True service comes from a relationship with the divine Other deep inside.
Self-righteous service is impressed with the "big deal." True service finds it almost impossible to distinguish the small from the large service.
Self-righteous service requires external rewards. True service rests contented in hiddenness.
Self-righteous service is highly concerned about results. True service is free of the need to calculate results.
Self-righteous service picks and chooses whom to serve. True service is indiscriminate in its ministry.
Self-righteous service is affected by moods and whims. True service ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need.
Self-righteous service is temporary. True service is a life-style.
Self-righteous service is without sensitivity. It insists on meeting the need even when to do so would be destructive. True service can withhold the service as freely as perform it.
Self-righteous service fractures community. True service, on the other hand, builds community.

Or, as A.T. Pierson wrote in The Truth: Whatever is done for God, without respect of its comparative character as related to other acts, is service, and only that is service. Service is, comprehensively speaking, doing the will of God. He is the object. All is for Him, for His sake, as unto the Lord, not as unto man. Hence, even the humblest act of humblest disciple acquires a certain divine quality by its being done with reference to Him.

The supreme test of service is this: 'For whom am I doing this?' Much that we call service to Christ is not such at all....If we are doing this for Christ, we shall not care for human reward or even recognition. Our work must again be tested by three propositions: Is it work from God, as given us to do from Him; for God, as finding in Him its secret of power; and with God, as only a part of His work in which we engage as co-workers with Him."

Service to others is at the root of all Christian living, all Christian mission, and all Christian evangelism. In serving others, our lives proclaim our faith, and, at the same time, our faith is strengthen. Unamuno, the Spanish philosopher, tells about the Roman aqueduct at Segovia, in his native Spain. It was built in 109 A.D. For eighteen hundred years, it carried cool water from the mountains to the hot and thirsty city. Nearly sixty generations of men drank from its flow. Then came another generation, a recent one, who said, "This aqueduct is so great a marvel that it ought to be preserved for our children, as a museum piece. We shall relieve it of its centuries-long labor."
They did; they laid modern iron pipes. They gave the ancient bricks and mortar a reverent rest. And the aqueduct began to fall apart. The sun beating on the dry mortar caused it to crumble. The bricks and stone sagged and threatened to fall. What ages of service could not destroy idleness disintegrated.

Faith unlived is only belief. It is when our actions preach good news to the poor, when we work to relieve the oppressed, when we heal the sick and bring sight to the blind, that we present out true credentials. It is in acts of serving, both big and small, that we walk through this part of eternity with the eternal God, and we proclaim the acceptable Year of The Lord. AMEN

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