Function: that the hearers find hope in every place
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Today we continue in our five-part sermon series focused on distinctively Christian hope – Where it comes from, what it points to, what it makes us do now. This is the fourth of five, Hope In Every Place.
Where do you expect to find God?
I can tell you most often where American culture would like to find God: nature. It would have you climb up into a tree stand at 4 in the morning to see the sun creep up over the horizon. Our culture would have us climb mountains and stand under waterfalls to feel transcendence. It would have you go to the same places every culture would have you go, to ancient places, to rare places, down into the depths or up in to the highest heights.
And also, I can tell you what the Christian answer is: Church. And I can tell you what one friend of mine said when I asked him about his summer Sunday morning routine, which involved one or two rounds of golf, and he said: Paul, wouldn’t you rather me on the golf course thinking about church than in church thinking about the golf course?
Now, that’s a smart-alecky response, but it helps us remember how Christians usually think of church. We think of it as a place filled with all kinds of beautiful artwork and reminders of God’s promises, and it’s a place where pastors do their thing, where members come to worship, where God comes to us in Word and in Sacrament, and where people leave worship to serve God in their daily lives.
Dear Christian friends, the text we have before us is a text where Jesus reconciles these two views, but he doesn’t do it how you would think he would. Last week, Jesus had been in Capernaum and all kinds of small towns before coming to Nazareth and doing much the same thing in Nazareth that he had been doing around other places, and in last week’s text, we saw Jesus go to work preaching. This week, we see all the other kinds of ministry that his preaching led to.
You see, Jesus didn’t enter into a vacuum when he was born of a virgin, grew up, and began his ministry. He came, preceded by the prophets, preceded by John, preceded by the temple, the synagogues and all kinds of opportunities for his people to hear the words about him, day in and day out. When he comes, he comes into the midst of his people so that he can bring those words to life.
And then things get real. First, the Spirit leads Jesus to a synagogue to preach and a man with an unclean spirit shows up. And then, the same word that had just explained the Scriptures in a new way – and with authority – is the word that rebukes the demon and restores peace.
Second, the Spirit leads Jesus into Simon Peter’s house to see his mother-in-law, and the same word that had rebuked the unclean spirit now rebukes a fever and brings peace, a peace that lets Simon’s mother-in-law to heal so completely that she return immediately to normal life.
And after rebuking all kinds of physical and spiritual ailments, third, the Spirit leads Jesus into the desert where the purpose of Christ once again becomes clear. He’s no physician who heals himself – His father is sending him to other towns still.
So, where does this get us with our question? Where do you expect to find God?
Well, it seems as though the first place that we found God in our readings for today was in the synagogues. The same God who had been with his people in the flame of Moses’ day also filled the temple of Solomon’s day with the cloudy train of his presence and the same God who filled their hearts with sorrow and joy in the reading of the book of the Law in Nehemiah’s day also gathered his people in synagogues to be with them as they remembered his promises to them in the day of Jesus.
Because back then as well as today, Church isn’t a place; it’s a people. It’s a people that gather around God’s word so that they listen with their ears and believe in their hearts that Jesus is Lord and let that simple confession of the early church fill their hearts and their lives.
So, first, our answer to this question is to say that we find God where he promises he’ll show up and he says, where two or three are gathered, there I will be. He says, you are the body of Christ and all of you are body parts in the body of Christ. He says, find me in the bread and body, the wine and blood that I’ve shed for you. He says, find me in the waters of baptism that wash over you to deliver to you a faith that reaches far, far deeper than simple understanding. It delivers to you a relationship we can only begin to describe by calling God “Father.”
If it doesn’t start here, it doesn’t start. If it doesn’t come from the promises that God has told from the beginning of humankind, then as Paul says, It is a false gospel told by a false angel, and as a starting point, it’s worthless. The hope that flows from the second person of the Trinity and his ministry is the same hope that the Father has sent through the Son and now delivers to us in the Spirit. If it weren’t then it wouldn’t be hope.
But notice in our text where Jesus goes. From the gathered congregation around, he brings the church to all kinds of places. He takes them to the daily places of their lives – “to the privacy of Peter’s house, to the common streets of the city, and then in the roads that travel to [all kinds of] other places in the world.”
From the Word spoken in the synagogue, Jesus does something remarkable. Second, our answer follows Jesus from the synagogue to the streets. He begins to claim the whole world as his own. He rebukes demons and fevers. He is absolutely letting His word do its work wherever he would go. Because he’s on a mission to save the whole world, first the Jews, then the Greeks. First to redeem man, then to redeem the whole kit and caboodle. And this is important. “Jesus claims all places in him as places where he can bring hope.”
Do not be afraid to walk highways and byways with Christ. If you are searching for the church, you need look no further than the people of Christ doing the things of Christ. You need look no further than Christian carpenters making really good tables, you need look no further than kind and generous people hurting for others and rejoicing with others, you need look no further all kinds of broken and hurting people hearing as for the first time the promise of God’s forgiveness, and that can happen at any time, in any place where the people of God are listening to the Word of God.
Third, notice that Jesus doesn’t just go to these places. He transforms them. He fills them. Where unclean spirits would torment men, Jesus leaves a trail of people-made-whole. Where ailments would pull people onto hospital beds, Jesus leaves a trail of people grateful to God for how hope had come to their place. When he searches out among the common streets and the highways, they become the holiest temple of God, where God’s word is spoken, where the release of the kingdom of heaven changes lives, where God himself shows up in his promises, and where people lie prostrated on the ground worshipping their God. He brings hope to many places and then that hope transforms them.
C.S. Lewis writes it like this: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has rise: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Knowledge of God and worship in his word transforms every place, whether it’s beautiful or common, into a place of worship. But it does so not as to replace his word but as an extension of it.
This is the reason why we teach our children memory verses – so that those verses and stories follow them around all their days. This is the reason that we remember feasts and festivals, why we speak the same rich words week in and week out. So that, when we really need them, the words are there. They come to life in a way that took years of repetition to deepen.
And I would ask you to hold one last insight: Christ is there before his disciples and followers. That is, the people following Jesus around are following him around. They trail where he leads. And more than that, as Jesus walks around, he is led by the Spirit on his path and the Father sets all kinds of people in his path.
One of the prayers that our office people pray at the beginning of our day together is that God would bless all the god-ordained divine appointments we have today, whether we scheduled them or not. Wherever you go, whatever you do, you are joking, talking, laughing and crying with people within whose lives our Lord and savior is already moving, working, and guiding. The God of the universe precedes you into their lives, and he will be there working even after you are gone.
So, in our days, I would urge you to pray this prayer: Dear God, Thank you for letting me be a part in this person’s life. Please show me where you are already working. Lead me to be a part of what you’re already doing, and when we part, please keep on following them around with goodness and mercy all their days. In Jesus’s name, Amen.