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Monday, April 25, 2016

Give Hope to the Hopeless

Luke 4:18-19 

The people of Pleasant Grove UMC are on a mission from God to tell people about Jesus and the Holy Spirit empowers us to do it.  Say it with me:
·       “I am on a mission from God
·       to tell people about Jesus
·       and the Holy Spirit empowers me to do it.”

            A few years ago, a device became popular that has revolutionized travel--the GPS.  No longer do you have to ask for directions.  You can just enter an address and a friendly voice will give you turn by turn instructions from where you are to where you want to go. 
            I bought my first GPS back in 2007.  It was very handy.  I even used it to visit my sister when she lived in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  I just programed in her address and the GPS took me right there.  After a couple years, I decided to get a new GPS.  So, I gave my old GPS to my Mom, who was planning a trip to see my sister who had moved from Ft. Lauderdale to Raleigh, North Carolina.
             I wanted to make it easy for my Mom, so I put my sister's address in the GPS before Mom left on her trip.  After a couple of hours, Mom stopped to get some gas and use the restroom.  She turned off the car and went in a convenience store.  When she came back out to the car, the GPS had reset to the home screen.  So Mom looked up the recent entries and found the one that said, "Lisa's House" (Lisa is my sister).  So Mom selected "Lisa's House" and was very proud that she'd figured it out all by herself without having to call her son for help.  Well, after about an hour of driving, Mom was concerned the GPS was giving her the wrong directions.  So she called me and said, "I think something went wrong. Maybe I missed a turn or something."  I said, "It doesn't matter Mom.  If you miss a turn, the GPS will recalculate and give you new directions.  Just follow the GPS's instructions and you'll be OK."  Well, she did for another 30 or 40 minutes and then called back, "I still don't think this is right.  I seem to be going south when I should be going north."  So I guided her to look up the map on the GPS and we figured out what happened.  Mom and selected my sister's old address from Ft. Lauderdale, which was still saved in the GPS!  The GPS was giving her directions to Florida, not North Carolina!  Mom had wasted about 2 hours going in the wrong direction!
Every now and then, it's good to reflect on whether we are heading in the right direction.  Back in 2011, Pleasant Grove UMC determined the three primary goals we believe God wants us to focus on are:  1) give hope to the hopeless, 2) build new relationships, and 3) help our community.  Our mission and these three goals should guide everything we do at Pleasant Grove.  So I want to spend some time over the next few weeks looking at each of these goals.  My hope is to remember our goals and reflect on our attitudes so we can make sure we are all going in the right direction.
Today I want to reflect on our first goal – Give Hope to the Hopeless.  As we consider this, listen to Jesus words in Luke 4:18-19.  Quoting the prophet Isaiah, Jesus explained why he came: 

Luke 4:18-19
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.

Jesus Gives Hope to the Hopeless
Isn’t that amazing!  Jesus came to give hope to the hopeless.  He made it clear from the very beginning of his ministry.  He said in Luke 4:18 – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me… He has anointed me…” In other words:  God set me apart and empowered me for this special task.
What task?  “…to bring Good News…”  Jesus didn’t come to bring judgment or to scream “God is angry!”  “God sent [Jesus] into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17)  What an amazing, uplifting message! 

Let’s look at the context our scripture reading (Luke 4:18-19).  It is very near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  Luke 4 begins with the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness prior to his ministry.  Then in verses 14 & 15, Jesus begins his ministry by teaching in Galilean synagogues and his reputation starts growing rapidly.
In Luke 4:16 it says, “When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.”  Nazareth was Jesus’ hometown and he was going to preach in his hometown church.  This tells us a couple things.  First of all, he is speaking to church people.  Usually we read about Jesus out preaching in the community or in people’s homes; he is usually with sinners and non-church people.  In this story, Jesus is speaking specifically to church people.  And Jesus is speaking to the church people he grew up with.  He knew them and he knew their hearts.  He also loved them.  He is about to speak the Truth in love they need to hear.
Luke 4:18-19, the scripture he read was the same passage we read, though he read it from Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58:6).  Then he is ready to begin his sermon.  Verse 20 says, “He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down.”  I used to think when it said he “sat down” it meant he was done, but I was wrong.  It really meant was Jesus was about to start preaching.  In those days Rabbis sat down to teach. 

The Sermon
Verses 20b-22 say, All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”  22 Everyone spoke well of him and was amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips. “How can this be?” they asked. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”
It’s fascinating to watch this scene unfold, to see how the people are reacting to Jesus’ sermon in real-time.  As a preacher, I’m always wondering how my sermon is being received by you.  I’m looking out at you wondering what you are thinking.  Here in these verses, we are getting the play by play of how Jesus’ sermon is being received. 
At first, they are delighted in their hometown boy.  “Boy, he’s a good preacher!  We raised him right.  Can you believe how graciously he speaks?  That’s our boy! No wonder his ministry has been doing so well!”  Everything would have been fine if he’d stopped right there, but Jesus had to cross the line.  In verse 23, we find the pivotal word.  It reads, “Then he said…”  The word “then” is the turning point of the whole story.

Verse 23-27, ““You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’—meaning, ‘Do miracles here in your hometown like those you did in Capernaum.’ 24 But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.  25 “Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.”
The Jews of Nazareth in Jesus day were engaged in a great debate: Should they teach Gentiles in nearby gentile cities about God or should they keep separate from them because they were “unclean” people.  The Jews of Jesus day believed they were God’s chosen people, beloved more by God than any others.  Surely, they were God’s favorites.  Jesus addresses this attitude directly in his sermon.  Jesus recalls another dark time in Israel’s history from the OT when Elijah was prophet.  It was a time when Israel rejected God, so God took His mercy to the Gentiles.  
I want to make sure you understand something:  Neither your nationality nor your church membership entitles you to God’s favor.  Being a “good person” does not earn you God’s mercy.  Jesus came to offer hope to those who humbly recognize their hopelessness rather than those who think they are somehow specially favored by God. 
That’s what Jesus told the religious Jews of Nazareth.  In fact, Jesus had the audacity to imply they were actually in a worse spiritual state than the Gentiles!  It made the people in the synagogue so mad, they tried to throw Jesus off a cliff! 

The Gospel is Not for “Good” People
Notice what Jesus said (verse 21), “The scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day.”  In other words, it’s been fulfilled just now.  What has been fulfilled?  Good news has been preached to the poor, release to captives, blind will see, oppressed set free…  Jesus just proclaimed this message to the synagogue people.  In other words, Jesus was saying these good church people were all of these things—poor, captive, blind, and oppressed.  It was not “should we good people reach out our merciful hand to help those poor, unfortunate Gentiles…”  It was that the good Jews of that synagogue were no better than the Gentiles and just as poor, captive, blind, and oppressed.  Wow!
Here we are 2,000 years later.  The Church in America finds herself full of people who are trying to be good.  In fact, we’ve become so good, that we often no longer feel comfortable being personally involved in ministry to the poor, imprisoned, blind, oppressed sinners of our community.  Oh, we might give a little money to help, but don’t ask me to be personally involved.
 Why do we have this us and them mentality?  The Truth is:  We are them and they is us! 
 Goal #1 – Give Hope to the Hopeless
Jesus came to bring hope to the hopeless.  Let us, therefore, go out and give hope to our brothers and sisters as we receive hope ourselves. 
In the movie “Finding Nemo,” there is a moment when a school of fish are caught in the net of a commercial fishing boat.  At first, they are all frightened and each individually swimming in all different directions trying to escape the net, but it is hopeless.  They are trapped.  Then little Nemo has the solution.  He tells them to all swim together.  And so the whole school of fish swim downward together.  The net begins to go back down into the ocean.  Up on the surface, the fishing boat strains to pull up the net and then the beam holding the net breaks under the tremendous force of the whole school of fish swimming together.  The net opens and all the fish go free.  In the same way, when we all strive for the same goal together, God can do amazing things through us to bring hope to the hopeless.
What are some ways we could “swim together” and bring hope to the hopeless?  Some things we are already doing: our sack lunch program provides meals for hungry kids over the weekend when they are out of school.  Through Family Promise we house homeless families in our church for a week.  But what else could we do?  What about some ongoing ministries?
              My purpose is not to tell you what you should do, only to get you thinking about the possibilities.  I also have another purpose.  I want you to reflect on your attitudes. Giving hope to the hopeless is a principle we members of PGUMC seek to live by.  It should guide the way we minister, the policies we make, the way we worship, the way we think and everything we do.  I challenge you to reflect on your own attitudes and actions.  Are you truly committed to giving hope to the hopeless?  What needs to change in you so we can all swim together and give hope to the hopeless? 

Christ came to give hope to the hopeless.  If you find yourself in a hopeless situation, there is good news for you today.  Jesus came to give you hope.  No night is too dark.  No battle is too hard.  No situation is too hopeless.   No chains are too strong with Jesus by your side.  Jesus invites you to come to him today and lay down all your burdens before him.  Let him take control of your life and you will find hope you never knew before.  Then, you will be inspired to do the same for others--to give hope to the hopeless.

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